Gaza Flotilla Raid May Not Change U.S. Policy Towards Israel
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Amid the uproar over Israel's deadly raid on the flotilla bringing aid to the Gaza Strip, it's important to note what is not happening.
The White House does not expect the violent incident to sink already-minimal relations between Israel and the Arab world. Arab support would be essential to the long-sought Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Nor is the United States, unlike most of the world, chastising Israel for forcibly halting an aid flotilla bound for Gaza. Quite the opposite.
"You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not, but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know - they're at war with Hamas - has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in," Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose on Wednesday.
A day earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not question Israel's motives in trying to enforce its 3-year-old blockade of Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.
The aim, he pointed out at a White House briefing Tuesday, is to keep weapons, not food, out of the territory.
Gibbs said the U.S. is "working to improve the humanitarian conditions" in Gaza. At the same time, he stressed the administration was "greatly supportive" of Israel's security and "that's not going to change."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also did not call for an end to the blockade, but she pressed Israel to allow greater access to humanitarian relief supplies.
In New York, meanwhile, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, suggested to reporters that the flotilla "may have been intended to provoke."
The impact on efforts to promote a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians may be minimal.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a meeting with President Barack Obama to return home to deal with the aftermath of the raid, he spoke three times with the president.
U.S. mediator George Mitchell is due back in the region Wednesday and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' June 9 White House meeting with Obama has not been canceled.
The raid provoked some angry rhetoric from Turkey, and seemed to threaten Israel's historic warm ties with Ankara. But the long-range impact on Israeli-Turkish relations may be limited.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan furiously told parliament Tuesday that the "bloody massacre" of at least four Turkish activists among nine passengers slain by Israeli naval commandos was a turning point in the long-standing alliance.
"Nothing will be the same again," Erdogan said, gesturing angrily, his voice shaking at times.
But Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc took a softer tone. "We will find a solution within law and diplomacy," he said. "No one should expect us to declare war on Israel over this."
When Obama telephoned Erdogan Tuesday, according to the White House, the U.S. president said it was important to find better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel's security.
Gibbs, meanwhile, suggested Obama's effort to build ties to Arab countries would not be damaged.
"In terms of our relationship with the Muslim world, I think the president has obviously spent a lot of time on improving our relationship with countries throughout the world, and special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world.
"I do not think that this will have a great impact on that," he said,