Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Counsel To Israelis/Jews
“What were we thinking?”  Perhaps an appropriate sentiment from a representative of an Israeli lobby group in Ottawa as he mulled over with me the fallout from the flotilla incident.  As the Globe and Mail pointed out yesterday: the tragedy “has made the country vulnerable to international condemnation and has seriously harmed its long-standing good relations with Turkey, a key Muslim ally.”
For the nation of Israel and its supporters, it must feel like they can never win in such circumstances.  An island of democracy in a sea of hostile states, it believes it requires more support and understanding.  It now appears to have lost that war of perception.  Having one of the great intelligence services in the world, it must have known that the flotilla possessed no sophisticated weaponry that could have advanced the interests of Hamas.  What it did contain were some extremist Turkish supporters of the Palestinians, some of who died in the incident.  That fact alone should have caused them to hit the pause button.
In claiming that its actions were legal, the Israeli government missed the point.  Now they have perhaps missed the opportunity to secure Turkey’s partnership in stabilizing the region.  The two were planning coordinated war-game practices in the near future – a clear sign some new light was emerging.  With the ship attacked in the flotilla happening to fly under the Turkish flag, Turkey feels it must call off future cooperation until this is settled.
I spoke with a prominent Jewish leader who happened to be in a session in Israel last week where discussions at a government level were taking place about what to do when the flotilla approached.  My friend advised them, “sometimes being right is not the same thing as being smart,” and urged them to negotiate.  His advice now appears prescient.
Israeli leaders will be ruminating in their own corridors of power about what went wrong.  They would be better to start considering a game change.  In light of the world slowly turning against what it sees as Israel’s extreme responses to threats, the leaders must come to terms with the reality that their recent policies have failed.  The corruption and limited reach of Hamas can no longer serve as a reason to respond with an overwhelming force that merely turns the world against them.  Furthermore, have their forced reprisals actually been effective?  They lost a leader over the catastrophe of Lebanese war in 2006 and world support after their brutalizing attack on Gaza two years ago.  With this incident, they have now lost the tentative support of Turkey.  What’s so productive about that as a political/military strategy?
It is time for a change.  It used to be believed by both sides that the best way forward was peace through compromise.  Today, neither side believes that or even practices it.  Leaders of the flotilla poked Israel in the eye.  Israel took the bait, following it own policy of response with overpowering force, and lost the battle in the court of world opinion.
And there is one more thing Israel must come to terms with.  It is no longer acceptable to maintain a security policy around Gaza that permits hundreds of thousands to suffer and die in abject poverty just because Hamas represents a limited threat.  Amidst all the dialogue, violence, ideology, pragmatism, cause and effect, lies a Palestinian people that must be permitted their freedom and their own state.
Obama was right last night when he said the status quo is no longer an option.  It is time for a new approach based on the old two-state solution.  This will require the Arab world to find ways of dealing with the extremism of both Hamas and its key supporter Iran.  Israel has every right to expect support for its right to exist, but not this way.  The favour it lost can only be recovered by admitting the sheer insanity of the approaches of both sides and its own willingness to stop it.  The oppressed people of Gaza and the troubled citizens of Israel deserve better than what they’re getting right now.
Tomorrow: Counsel for Canadians
Sunday: Counsel for people of faith