Leading article: Israel must listen to the world

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Allow us to do something difficult and necessary: to set out the pro-Israeli case for lifting the blockade of Gaza. Condemnation of the Israeli Defence Force's killing of nine people on the Mavi Marmara on Monday is justified and important, but it is hardly unusual.

The operation was, at best, badly botched and a breach of international law. But the argument that ought to matter is that it was counterproductive and not in Israel's interest. As Professor Ilan Pappé depressingly but accurately writes on page 39, the "Israeli official and public mindset" is the main barrier to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Holy Land.

The perception of Gaza in Israel could not be more starkly at odds with that of the rest of the world. The reporting of the storming of the flotilla could not have been more different in Israel from anywhere else in the world. Public opinion in Israel sees Gaza, ruled by Hamas, as a threat, and the actions of the Israeli Defence Force in boarding ships as self-defence. These attitudes are not delusions. Hamas is formally sworn to the destruction of the state of Israel, while Gaza has been the source of indiscriminate rocket attacks, which have diminished since the Israeli military re-invasion of Gaza in December 2008. Nor is Israeli public opinion closed to the possibility of negotiation. Opinion polls – depending on the phrasing of the question – consistently report support for negotiations with Hamas.

And, if Israeli public opinion is an obstacle to peace, so is Palestinian opinion. The reason that Hamas cannot be ignored, wished away or isolated, is that it won elections in Palestine in 2006, and continues to enjoy the support of the population, at least in the Gaza Strip.

The more important side in this asymmetric conflict, however, is the Israeli. It has the military strength and the economic power. Until the Israeli "mindset" can be changed, any hope of changing Palestinian attitudes is futile. Of course, mistrust on each side feeds the other, but Palestinian hostility towards Israel is partly a reaction to humiliations and suffering of an unequal relationship. The idea that a people will respond constructively to ever harsher treatment is not supported by many historical examples.

And the wider Muslim resentment of Israel, which is threatening to destabilise the region, is a reaction to Israeli muscularity. What is happening in Turkey and Egypt, until now fixed posts of stability, is an attempt by political elites to assuage popular outrage against Israel. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, may be sincere in his anger, but his threat to try to go to Gaza himself by ship seems designed to put himself at the head of the mob.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, meanwhile, has sought to appease Islamist exploitation of fellow feeling with Palestinians by opening the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. That is a huge propaganda gain for Hamas, because Egyptian support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza confirmed that fellow Arabs regarded Gaza as a security problem.

Israel is losing ground, and the Israeli people and government need to realise that before it is too late. The potential shift of Turkey and Egypt from the neutral to the hostile camp cannot be in Israel's interest. Equally, countries such as Britain that have long supported Israel should not be finding it more difficult to do so. As we report today, the anti-Israel movement is gaining strength and cultural cachet (if you can call Gorillaz and Klaxons that).

For decades, Israel has relied on the support of the US. So far, Barack Obama has lacked the will to exert meaningful pressure on the Israeli government. Mr Obama has not even got back to the position of George Bush Snr three decades ago, threatening to withhold loans unless settlement building ceased.

But Israel should not take Mr Obama or American opinion for granted. Yesterday the White House described the blockade of Gaza as "unsustainable".

Unexpectedly, perhaps, this newspaper finds itself in agreement with Tony Blair, the representative in Jerusalem of the UN, US, Russia and the European Union. Last week he pointed out that the policy of blockading Gaza was "not helping the people and isolating the extremists" – it was "in danger of doing it the wrong way round". He did not spell it out, possibly because it would offend rather than help to change the Israeli "mindset". But the only hope in the Middle East is that Israelis can be brought to see that the blockade is isolating the people of Gaza and helping the extremists.

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