When the Israeli Navy raided the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that was part of an aid flotilla attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, and killed nine activists in international waters, the world took notice. Condemnations of the raid and calls for the end of the economically crippling 3-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza rung out from across the world. Even the United States, Israel's strongest ally, pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease the siege on Gaza, calling the situation there "unsustainable."
But that was then, and this is now. Over a month after the deadly raid, and after an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress signed onto an American-Israel Public Affairs Committee letter that expressed "strong support for Israel's right to defend itself," the Obama administration is letting Israel get away scot-free. Israel will continue with the status quo of occupation and blockade while the prospects for a Palestinian state continue to whither away.
Israel and the United States' loving embrace was on full display this week when Netanyahu came to the White House. Essentially a "kiss and make up" session meant for domestic political consumption in both countries, Obama repeatedly affirmed that "the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable." The president praised Netanyahu for making "real progress on the ground" in Gaza by allowing in more consumer goods and for being "willing to take risks for peace." Netanyahu, with Obama's backing, called for "direct talks" with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and said that Israel wants peace as long as the West Bank "isn't overtaken by Iran's proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks."
Netanyahu will head home with a smile on his face, satisfied that he has been given full blessing to continue his destructive policies. As for the Palestinians? They will continue to be blockaded in Gaza, squeezed in East Jerusalem and faced with threats of expulsion, deportation and, for Palestinian citizens of Israel, calls to strip them of their citizenship.
Despite Obama's praise for Netanyahu's showing "restraint over the last several months" -- apparently a reference to the "settlement freeze" -- the dire situation on the ground for Palestinians remains the same. The meeting served as a reminder that in the thoroughly lopsided game of "peace talks" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, people on the ground in the occupied territories don't gain a thing.
For the residents of Gaza, Israel's deliberate policy of "economic strangulation," as Sen. Charles Schumer, a staunch defender of Israel, revealingly put it, will continue. The "easing" of the blockade is now legitimized by the United States, who praised the allowing in of more consumer goods, but the naval blockade remains. The private delivery of construction materials into Gaza -- badly needed since three-fourths of the coastal strip's damaged infrastructure, sustained during the 2008-09 Israeli assault, remains that way -- is still prohibited and exports are still banned. The people of Gaza remain trapped in their open-air prison, most of them unable to enter and exit as they please.
The "settlement freeze" was never really a freeze, and construction on illegal settlements continues. Settlements in the occupied West Bank, which constitute 42 percent of the land, according to a new report by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, will continue to encircle Palestinian towns and villages and eat up Palestinian land supposedly meant for their state.
East Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel following the 1967 war, remains a keg waiting to explode. A recently approved plan to demolish 22 homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem led to clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian residents, and served as a reminder to the world that Israel has no intention of settling the conflict. Four Hamas lawmakers who are residents of East Jerusalem are facing the prospect of being deported, which the U.N. rapporteur on human rights in the territories called a possible war crime.
As for the "peace process," President Abbas is under intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel to enter into direct talks, instead of the indirect negotiations currently being conducted. But it's unclear what ordinary Palestinians on the ground would gain from those talks, and the legitimacy of the P.A.'s involvement is questionable, as it only governs the West Bank and Hamas remains in control of Gaza.
The steady drumbeat of land confiscation, settlement building and the blockade of Gaza will not be challenged by the Obama administration. Israeli impunity for violations of international law have won out again. The only hope for Palestinians remains in the growing international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. If the Obama administration won't impose costs on Israel, that leaves the task up to global civil society.