Biden says US looking at 'new ways' to address Israel's Gaza blockade
Vice President Joe Biden spoke about Israel's Gaza blockade after meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak today. But he did not say anything about reported election irregularities last week.
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“We are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza,” Mr. Biden said after the meeting, according to a statement released by the White House.
Biden also used his visit to press Egypt to keep the US-sponsored proximity talks with Israelis and Palestinians alive, and said progress toward direct negotiations is vital. “The status quo is unsustainable for all sides,” he said.
But while Biden praised Egypt’s “leadership and support," the US has little to show for relying on its key Mideast ally to push US policy in the region. Egypt, without the regional heft it once had, has been unable to deliver Palestinian reconciliation, and has been weakened by its participation in the Israeli blockade. It now faces intense internal and regional pressure from Egyptians angry about the blockade and resurgent regional powers who see an opening in Egypt’s failures.
“The Egyptians have always been able to muddle through these crises,” says Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But this is a critical moment and the political pressure is building.”
Analyst: US not looking to overhaul Israel blockade
Biden’s visit comes amid the fallout from Israel’s fatal raid on the 'Freedom Flotilla' that tried last week to break the three-year-old blockade on Gaza. The raid, during which nine activists were killed, provoked outrage in the Muslim world. It has also prompted the US to reconsider the tenability of Israel’s policy of keeping Gaza closed to all but a trickle of humanitarian aid – a policy Egypt has largely supported, to the chagrin of many of its citizens.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Israel’s raid on the flotilla Friday, reportedly chanting slogans in support of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group.
Egypt has helped Israel keep Gaza’s borders largely closed since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 in an effort to weaken the Islamist group. In an effort to relieve some of the pressure, Mr. Mubarak ordered the border at Rafah opened indefinitely on Tuesday, and thousands of Palestinians have since crossed into Egypt.
Dr. Cook says Biden’s comments on Gaza likely mean the US will try to ensure that more aid is allowed into the Palestinian territory, rather than an entire rethinking of the blockade strategy. Biden, who was sympathetic to Israel's security concerns in a recent Tel Aviv speech, said last week that Israel has the right to stop ships headed to Gaza.
“The administration has accepted the Israeli and Egyptian position on this,” says Cook. “They’re going to try to work with the Israelis about how things can go into Gaza without undermining Israeli security.”
Biden, Mubarak on same page
Those measures might include easing the blockade on Egypt’s side, but Egypt’s move last week has not radically changed the situation for Gazans.