THE ISRAELI raid that killed at least nine activists who sought to break the blockade of Gaza is a turning point in the Middle East. The likeliest reaction is a new wave of terrorism and conflict. The less likely — but absolutely critical — reaction should be a renewed commitment to the peace process. No event could demonstrate more clearly to all parties that the current situation on the West Bank and in Gaza is not sustainable, and that a two-state agreement is essential for world peace.
The United States’ overwhelming goal is to bring about peace talks. Arab allies in the Middle East are eager for the Obama administration to join in international condemnation of Israel, and such a yearning is justified. The attack on a flotilla of ships in international waters off Gaza was unnecessarily provocative. The 600 activists, from many nations, on board the ships clearly intended to try to break an Israeli blockade and provide supplies to Palestinians in Gaza. But Israel didn’t wait for the ships to reach Israeli territory; launching a military raid in international waters was a disproportionate response. Israel bears responsbility for the loss of life. It is reasonable to inquire whether Israeli soldiers feared for their lives before firing. But the Israeli army, in ordering the raid, had to know that bloodshed was a possible outcome.
At the same time, the United States must make clear that Israel’s adversaries will gain more by restraint than by any corresponding act of violence. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come under intense international pressure to resolve the standoff in Gaza and to move toward peace in the West Bank. That means other nations must do all that is in their power to get Israelis and Palestinians to the bargaining table as quickly as possible.
The United States should condemn the Israeli attack, but with the overall goal of moving Israel and the Palestinians toward negotiations. The best interests of the United States and Israel and the other nations of the Middle East are aligned. They are in favor of a two-state peace agreement. Every action by President Obama should be dedicated to that purpose.