Thursday, February 26, 2009

Clinton warns Israel over delays in Gaza aid.

When Obama appointed Clinton as Secretary of State I said that I suspected that he had done so because he was serious about finding a solution to the Israel/Palestine dispute and that Clinton's pro-Israel credentials might allow him to put more pressure on Israel than would otherwise be possible.

I am slightly reading the tea leaves here, but there are signs that this theory might, in fact, be correct.

From yesterday's Ha'aretz newspaper:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has relayed messages to Israel in the past week expressing anger at obstacles Israel is placing to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. A leading political source in Jerusalem noted that senior Clinton aides have made it clear that the matter will be central to Clinton's planned visit to Israel next Tuesday.

Ahead of Clinton's visit, special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is expected to issue a sharply worded protest on the same matter when he arrives here Thursday.

"Israel is not making enough effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza," senior U.S. officials told Israeli counterparts last week, and reiterated Washington's view by saying that "the U.S. expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."
It would have been unthinkable to imagine the Bush administration criticising Israel in any way, shape or form. And yet here is Clinton expressing "anger" at Israel's reluctance to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

That's a definite change of tone. Nor is it a change of tone which is occurring behind closed doors. This has been leaked. Clinton and her aides want us to know that the tone has changed.

Just as Obama wanted us all to know that he called Abbas before he called Olmert after taking office.

It goes without saying that one can read far too much into this stuff, that what matters is what Clinton and Obama actually do regarding the solving of this intractable conflict, rather than what messages they send, but these subtle changes of tone do give us a hint that change is afoot.
Sources at the defense establishment confirmed last night that pressure is increasing on Israel to reopen the crossings to larger volumes of aid for the Gaza Strip. Defense sources said that Israel will find it increasingly difficult to counter the pressure, and may agree to more extensive use of the crossings for aid. Currently, fewer than 200 trucks carrying aid are allowed through daily. The U.S., the EU and the UN are demanding that at least 500 trucks carrying aid be allowed into the Strip daily.
For the past eight years Israel has done as she pleased, knowing that the Bush administration would offer unconditional support.

Those days appear to be over.
However, an incident occurred last week at a crossing into the Gaza Strip that gave a very different impression to a senior observer. When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that "Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid - only rice shipments."

Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official's intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip.
The Obama administration is leaning harder on Israel than their predecessors did. That is a change which is long overdue and one which, I hope, is a sign of things to come.

Click title for full article.

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