Middle East

Gaza Overtakes Obama's Mideast Shuttle Diplomacy

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President Obama meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday. The plan was to focus on the peace process. The crisis over Gaza, however, has put that issue first. Some analysts say it is time for the administration to recognize that it can't just promote a peace plan without dealing with Gaza, where Hamas is in control.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

President Obama is hosting the leader of the Palestinian authority today. It's a discussion that was supposed to focus on revising Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The meeting takes place, though, when much public attention has turned instead to the Gaza strip.

That's been the case since a deadly Israeli raid on ships trying to deliver aid to the Palestinian territory. The United States is looking for ways to get more humanitarian supplies into Gaza while still addressing Israel's security concerns. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the tricky diplomacy of Gaza.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Obama administration officials say they do understand that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. Michele Dunne, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says it's not just because of the humanitarian situation in the territory, but also the political situation.

The militant group Hamas rules Gaza. It refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence. But Dunne says the international effort to isolate Hamas, and seal off the region, just hasn't succeeded in forcing Hamas to change.

Ms. MICHELE DUNNE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): This idea that Gaza would continue to be sort of an island, with no internationally recognized authority at the borders, just sort of drifting off on its own - this is what has become unsustainable.

KELEMEN: And the flotilla incident showed that the international consensus on this issue has broken down. The Obama administration says it's working on ways to get more supplies into Gaza without allowing Hamas to smuggle in more weapons to threaten Israel.

State department spokesman P.J. Crowley says that's likely a topic of discussion during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Washington visit.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, State Department): We are committed, as we have said, to supporting the people of Gaza, you know, while obviously, continuing to isolate Hamas.

KELEMEN: There are several ideas floating around about how to do this, including having the European Union step in to check cargo onboard ships heading to Gaza - an idea that's been criticized in Israel.

Crowley would only say that the U.S. is talking with various players to come up with solutions.

Mr. CROWLEY: We're talking to Israel. We're talking to other countries and other entities about how best to do this.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration wants to avoid giving Hamas a victory, though a former New York Times reporter in Gaza, Taghreed El-Khodary, says that line of argument misses the point.

Ms. TAGHREED EL-KHODARY (Former New York Times reporter): Of course, Hamas will benefit if the siege - to be lifted, but at the same time, think about it. Right now, whose benefit - Hamas is benefiting, too, with the siege or without the siege. Hamas is in control of Gaza, period.

KELEMEN: She told the Carnegie Endowment, where's she currently a visiting scholar, that the U.S. needs to recognize that reality and stop discouraging Palestinian reconciliation. The U.S. says Hamas needs to renounce violence and recognize Israel first.

Carnegie's Michele Dunne says in a new report that the U.S. has a long history of trying to ignore or frustrate Palestinian politics. While she doesn't advocate U.S. dealings with Hamas, which is on the U.S. terrorism list, she says the Palestinian authority needs to resolve its differences with the militant group before any peace deal with Israel is possible.

Ms. DUNNE: I do think that Obama should be talking to President Abbas about the need to get the West Bank and Gaza back together, and the need to somehow encourage him to get the Palestinian house in order.

KELEMEN: But that is a conversation, she says, that should take place behind closed doors. In public, the administration is likely to encourage Abbas to open up direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So far, the administration has only been able to start so-called proximity talks, with U.S. envoy George Mitchell shuttling between the two men.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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