A violent clash between Israeli soldiers and pro-Palestinian activists took place in the Mediterranean Sea just as direct negotiations on an Israel-Palestine peace deal appeared possible again after years of stalemate.
This incident refueled a fiery debate over the neutrality of humanitarian aid especially in the Middle East.
A few days before the standoff, Israel warned the flotilla against entering the Gaza Strip, calling it a “provocative act,” suspecting the vessels to carry arms to Hamas. An Israeli official claimed that Gaza was stable and did not need humanitarian relief. The flotilla would violate international law, compromise Israel’s security and politicize humanitarian aid unnecessarily, Israel argued.
Some flotilla passengers interviewed this week did not dispute that part of their goal was to highlight what they see as Israel’s overly strong stance on Gaza. But they also claimed that the amount of aid Gaza receives falls far short of what is needed in the enclav.
Four days prior to the flotilla attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he’s fervent “to move as speedily as possible to direct talks” with the Palestinian authorities as the conflict can be resolved in peace and can be arranged only by going beyond mere proximity talks.
Indirect peace talks between Israel and Palestine, mediated by the United States, began early this month. Now, a major cause for concern is how the bloody incident will shape the prospects for direct negotiations.
Facing a storm of international criticism, Israel tried to defuse the rising tension by freeing the hundreds of arrested activists, who claimed that they were roughed up and humiliated before being deported. Such move also seemed mostly to repair deteriorating ties with Turkey, whose foreign minister branded Israel’s act as “murder conducted by the state.”
While releasing the detainees serves as a Band-Aid solution, the main pressure for Israel is to finally end its three-year blockade of the coastal enclave. That’s where the friction lies.
“Opening a naval route to Gaza will present enormous danger to the security of our citizens [Israelis],” Netanyahu said. “Therefore, we will stand firm on our policy of a naval blockade and of inspecting incoming ships”, he added.
The prime minister noted that the blockade was necessary to prevent the smuggling of rockets and missiles to Hamas, thus preventing the rebel groups from strengthening its troops and arming the local population. An anti-terrorism judge also found out that the Turkish Islamic charity behind the raided aid vessels had ties to terrorism networks, including al-Qaeda.