Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid. The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).
Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region. The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera). As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA. He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered. He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post).
Though Obama’s statements are a small step in the right direction, it is unclear whether or not such promises will translate into policy. In 2009, Washington promised $900 million to the West Bank and Gaza. Patty Culhane, an Al-Jazeera reporter, tried to find out how much of this promised amount had actually been produced, and was told by the State Department that the U.S. spent $200 million. This is in comparison to the $3 billion dollars of U.S. aid to Israel per year.
Israel’s hawkish government and policies have gained attention from the world, creating a perception of Israel as oppressive and quick to resort to military force. The Gaza flotilla raid exemplifies this trend of Israel’s self-induced isolation and condemnation from the rest of the world. Such a trend is beginning to change the nature of U.S.-Israeli relations. Historically, Israel has been viewed as an ally to the Middle East for its supposed democratic nature. However, as Israel continues to act as anything but democratic, it is creating problems for the U.S.
The lack of an equitable solution to the area is fueling anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Middle East, making it more difficult for Obama to make progress in his campaigns in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Israeli Mossad (foreign intelligence) Chief Meir Dagan states the situation aptly when he says: “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”
Though Obama is trying to slightly disengage from the U.S. policy of unconditional support of Israel, it is unclear how far the U.S. government, and especially Congress, is willing to change. According to the Economist, a letter affirming the value of a close relationship with Israel was signed by 334 of the 435 members of the House, and a similar one by 76 of the 100 senators. The article also states that although support for Israel is still strong, internal division are growing. Division between Democrats is increasing, as some are becoming wary of staunch U.S. support of Israel. However, Republicans continue to support Israel through thick and thin. With midterm elections coming up as well, Obama may be cautious and not “pick a fresh fight with Israel.”