Greece is in deep economic trouble. The headlines tell the story (e.g., “Ghizzoni says selective default for Greece problematic”), but seeing it first hand, as I did last week, gives one a full appreciation for the country’s plight. Shops are closed, business is weak and locals talk openly of the pain the country must undergo. While Athenians rioted, a woman in Katakolon bluntly told me, “The government is too big. We made promises we can’t keep.” (Sound familiar?)
Despite Greece’s pathetic fiscal status, it has stepped up to play a critical role in the latest anti-Israel publicity stunt. We saw that Greece intervened to interrupt the second flotilla aimed, as was the first, at creating an international incident and exacerbating international hostility toward the Jewish state.
Is Greece looking to Israel for financial help? Maybe. Certainly Israel’s entrepreneurial success is a fine example for Greece, which must, as Israel did in the 1990s, throw off the shackles of an invasive, socialist system that stifles economic growth. But more likely, Greece is practicing the adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In other words, the opportunity to rankle the Turks is too good to pass up. Whatever the motivation, the Greeks have, it seems, disrupted the stunt.
Activists, whose flotilla to challenge an Israeli blockade on Gaza has been confined to Greek ports, vowed on Tuesday to complete their mission but accused Athens of being deaf to appeals to let their ships go.
Greece, just over a year after nine people were killed when Israeli marines stormed a pro-Palestinian flotilla, imposed the ban saying it feared for the safety of the activists who are now trying to find a way to set sail for Gaza.
But the chances that they will reach their destination soon are fading due to the vigilance of the Greek coastguard which has intercepted two of their ships so far and is closely watching the other seven, moored in ports across Greece.
The purpose of the flotilla is obviously not, as the activists claim, humanitarian. Reuters report notes, “In an effort to calm the activists, Greece offered to ferry the aid to Gaza in cooperation with the United Nations. The activists turned the offer down saying this was ‘insufficient’ as their mission was also about the rights of the Palestinian people and not just about aid.” Translation: There is no humanitarian “crisis”; this is about exploiting the Hamas-ruled Palestinians to drum up more anti-Israel international sentiment.
Here in the U.S., as least one lawmaker is speaking up against the flotilla. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) has sent a “Dear Colleague” letter that reads in part:
I am concerned about a second flotilla which has attempted to set sail in recent days. Far from representing a humanitarian effort, this flotilla is a political endeavor that will do little more than raise tensions and set back the peace process. Organizers’ rejection of Greece’s offer to transport humanitarian cargo in a legal manner reveals their true goal of making a political statement. It is a provocative, dangerous, and unnecessary action that endangers lives.
There are established ways to provide assistance to the residents of Gaza, and the humanitarian situation has improved significantly. Israeli expansion of civil policy toward the Gaza Strip has resulted in an increase in the range and scope of goods and materials flowing into and out of Gaza. Israel is also working with the international community and the Palestinian Authority to implement donor funded projects that help ensure the needs of the people of Gaza are met.
In fact, Gaza’s economy is growing. Recent reports detailed new infrastructure projects, including the building of roads, homes, and schools. Two new luxury hotels recently opened, and a new shopping mall is set to open this month. Yet despite economic development and access to goods and services, Hamas continues to deprive the poor in Gaza as a means of maintaining political power. Over 70 percent of people in Gaza still live below the poverty line, and unemployment sits at almost 25 percent.
The blockade is legal; Israel has the right to defend itself. Since June of 2010, there have been over 470 rocket and mortar shells launched at Israeli communities. These attacks are aided by illicit arms smuggled into Gaza as evidenced by the recent seizure, by Israeli and Egyptian authorities, of advanced military systems, weapons and ammunition headed for terrorist groups in Gaza. In order to provide security to its citizens, Israel must be allowed to screen cargo bound for Gaza for illegal arms and dual-use materials. . . .
I urge you to condemn the upcoming flotilla. It is nothing more than a public relations stunt that could result in violence or, worse, further loss of life. Instead of this type of provocation, we need to work together toward lasting, peaceful solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This comes at an inconvenient moment for the Obama administration. It hasn’t yet figured out how to both cajole Israel to the bargaining table with the Palestinians and abide by the president’s promise that Israel shouldn’t have to sit dow with those who want to destroy it (Hamas). The incident is yet another reminder that while the White House bullies Israel and spins the American Jewish community at home, there are realities on the ground that override Obama’s Herculean effort to head off a U.N. showdown that would necessitate a U.S. veto. The most sobering of these realities is that the PA has climbed into bed with Hamas terrorists, making any negotiations with Israel impossible.
What does the U.S. do? Join in a mealy mouthed Quartet statement. (A sample of the diplomatic double-talk: “The Quartet remains concerned about the unsustainable conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza but notes that efforts have improved conditions over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the facilitation of some exports. In that regard, the Quartet commends the recent approval by Israel of materials for new homes and schools to be constructed by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], but notes that considerably more needs to be done to increase the flow of people and goods to and from Gaza, including a liberalization of the market in aggregate, steel bar and cement.”)
With mush like that, is there any wonder that the U.S. has become increasingly ineffective and irrelevant in the Middle East? It is a sad state of affairs when Greece (yes, Greece) is a more effective and savvy player in the region.