President Barack Obama said Thursday that the Gaza flotilla incident is damaging to the long-term security of Israel.
The shooting of nine pro-Palestinian activists by Israeli commandos aboard ships on Monday touched off a diplomatic crisis, with several European nations and Turkey strongly condemning Israel's actions.
The White House has been more measured in its remarks than its European allies, but still has pressured Israel to cooperate with an investigation of the incident.
Obama said it is premature to condemn Israel and said that the Israelis and Palestinians should use the incident as a signal to come to the negotiations table.
"I think that we need to know what all the facts are," he said. "But
it's not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the
Palestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region, that the
status quo is unsustainable. We have been trying to do this piecemeal
for decades now. It just doesn't work.
Several pro-Israel members of Congress, including many Democrats, have offered a staunch defense of Israel and have called on the White House to give a stronger defense of its Middle Eastern ally. They have dismissed the flotilla as purely an attempt to break the blockade and not to deliver humanitarian goods as its organizers said it was.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) even blamed Obama for creating an environment that allowed the flotilla incident to occur.
The incident has also sparked a debate over the legitimacy of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, a Islamic extremist organization sworn to Israel's destruction.
Israel has claimed the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from getting weapons, but others say the blockade should be lifted because it limits Gaza's ability to develop economically. Israel currently lets humanitarian supplies enter Gaza if they are first inspected, but others say that is not enough.
Obama said that more is needed to get the economy in Gaza moving, but recognized Israel's need to stop weapons from getting into the hands of Hamas.
"You've got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns, when they've got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I've been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people's bedrooms," he said. "Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you've got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future."