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Another Crisis On Obama’s Crowded Front Burner

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December 29, 2008

Barack Obama’s first day as President is still three weeks away.  Nevertheless, on that first day in the Oval Office, he will be expected to focus his attention on a number of crisis situations.  How many are there now?  First, we have the economic crisis and all of its subplots:  infrastructure spending and job creation, stopping the foreclosures, oversight of the TARP giveaway (which should include bringing the TARP thieves to justice), a new economic stimulus package, getting the Securities and Exchange Commission to start doing its job, responding to cries of help from state governments and deciding on what to do about the American automakers.  As if those economic emergencies weren’t enough, the new President will need to multitask his crisis management skills to take on a number of other issues.  These include health care reform, undoing all of Bush’s “midnight” Executive Orders, winding down the Iraq war, building up troop strength in the neglected Afghanistan war and, speaking of neglect, the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has again reared its ugly head.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the Executive Director of J Street, which he describes as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement”.  On December 27, Mr. Ben-Ami issued the following plea to the Obama administration from the J Street website:

The need for diplomatic engagement goes beyond a short-term ceasefire.  Eight years of American neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

We urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.

This is a fundamental American interest as we too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined.  Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability.  None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.

The December 27 Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip was code-named:  “Operation Cast Lead”.  Reaction to the strike from the Israeli media ran the spectrum from support to outrage.  On December 28, The Jerusalem Post ran a favorable editorial approving the attack:

The IDF’s mission is not to bring down the Hamas regime, but to bring quiet to the South.  In a sense we are asking Hamas to stop being Hamas. The Islamists need to decide whether they want to go down in flames or are prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with control over the Strip. T hey may give Israel no choice but to topple their administration.

On the other hand, Gideon Levy wrote a scathing commentary on the incident for the December 29 edition of Haaretz:

Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work.  Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault.  Once again, the journalists described the pictures of the damaged house in Netivot as “a difficult scene.”  Once again, we had the nerve to complain about how the world was transmitting images from Gaza.  And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality.

On December 28, Barak Ravid of Haaretz provided an excellent, objective “back-story” on the planning and execution of this air strike.  The article explained that prior to the offensive, Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, went to Cairo to inform Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, of Israel’s decision to strike at Hamas.  Ms. Livni is the candidate from the centrist Kadima party who will oppose Likud party stalwart, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the February 10 election for the office of Prime Minister.  Netanyahu had been ahead in the polls, prior to the execution of Operation Cast Lead.  If Israel can avoid a ground war in Gaza, she may win the support of the more hawkish voters who would have voted for Netanyahu.  A televised broadcast by Haaretz in conjunction with Channel 10 News, reported that   “Palestinians said 180 of those killed were Hamas officials, the rest — civilians.”  As of the present time, the total death toll from the assault is believed to be 280.  If 180 of those individuals really were “Hamas officials”, this could work to Livni’s advantage in the upcoming election.

The Obama administration’s diplomatic initiative on this conflict will redefine America’s role in the Middle East.  A December 28 editorial in The Washington Post concluded that the Gaza incident could prove to be a costly distraction from the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Nevertheless, if Hillary Clinton were to dispatch an envoy to Syria to engage the al-Assad regime in getting control over Hamas’ activities in Gaza:  Could this undermine Iranian hegemony in the area?  Ultimately, everyone in the world is hoping that the Obama administration will provide the aggressive diplomacy that has been lacking in the Middle East for the past eight years.  The pressure for immediate results will be just one more headache waiting for him on Day One.