Obama Breaks his Silence; Promises Effective, Consistent and Immediate Action on Gaza After January 20

 Update Number One:

Read Roger Cohen’s column in today’s New York Times. It is not to be missed. He throws some cold water on the hopes recorded in this posting and my How come there ain’t no brothers on the wall? posting. 

I trust you are able to link to Cohen’s column because I don’t want to spoil it for you with excerpts.  If you can’t link to it, go out and buy the paper, like in the old days! Then write to Cohen and sing his praises. He says the obvious and on this issue it is precisely the obvious that Team Obama team does not want to hear. Be thankful that this is in the New York Times.  Team Obama DOES read that newspaper.  

By James M . Wall

An alert reader writes to say that President Elect Obama has not been completely silent on the Gaza conflict, contrary to what I had written in an earlier posting.  She is correct.  

The good news is that Obama’s comments were noted in Politico, a news website, and Reuters News Service. The bad news is that the MSM (mainstream media) treated Obama’s breaking of his silence with indifference.  Few in the public even noticed.

Bob Smith, of Politico, had this specific reference in his January 6 column:

Breaking his silence on the conflict in Gaza, the president-elect deplored the civilian casualties, which have been overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side, after a meeting with fiscal and economic advisors today.  “I’m very concerned with the conflict taking place there,” Obama said. “I’m monitoring the situation on a day to day basis.  “The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern to me, and after January 20th I’ll have plenty to say about the issue.”  Obama said he was “not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign” and that “starting at the beginning of our administration, we’re going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.”  Obama’s emphasis on civilian casualties breaks slightly with the White House line, which has been to blame Hamas first.

A day later, Reuters News Service had this follow up:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Barack Obama, who has avoided commenting on foreign policy matters, said on Wednesday he will “engage immediately” in the situation in the Middle East when he becomes president.  Obama . . . .  repeated that he was deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza but said he it would be imprudent to send signals that his incoming administration is running foreign policy.  “I am doing everything that we have to do to make sure that the day that I take office we are prepared to engage immediately in trying to deal with the situation there,” he said at a news conference. “Not only the short-term situation but building a process whereby we can achieve a more lasting peace in the region.”

Obama is still not specific as to how he will act in the Gaza crisis. He continues to repeat his “one president at time” mantra while only hinting at some as yet unidentified bold action. This absence of specificity bores the media, which is why we read or hear so little about it. But the breaking of Obama’s silence is real. It could bring a dramatic new move toward peace after January 20. 

Meanwhile, the US Congress remains oblivious of the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza. Both the Senate and the House have approved a pro-Israel resolution that overwhelmingly endorsed Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The resolution was so disconnected to the reality of the more than 800 dead Palestinians (including at least 300 children) that it could only have been written by AIPAC.

Ha’aretz points to the oxymoronic (my terms, not theirs) Congressional resolution which defined Israel as simultaneously a Jewish and a democratic state. This inherent contradiction ignores the ways in which non Jews in Israel do not have equal rights nor legal protection under the current Israel government. The list is long. It is documented by a Palestinian NGO. Adam Horowitz posted his reaction on Phillip Weiss’ Mondoweiss.

 Few media outlets bothered to report on the congressional vote.  Congress endorsing a pro-Israel resolution is not news. It remained for television voices like those of Bill Moyers to speak up for the dead and suffering in Gaza. 

 Glenn Greenwald reports that Moyers “delivered a poignant essay on Israel/Gaza” Friday night on his PBS Journal. The Moyers segment began with a video clip of  “a mostly ignored anti-war march this week in Washington (while media hordes, down the street, fixated on the Roland Burris circus).” It concludes with Moyers’ insightful take on the disproportional suffering of the Gazan civilian population.  

The American public is starting to notice the carnage in Gaza, even in unexpected outlets like this link from the conservative Wall Street Journal: “Israel is Committing War Crimes: Hamas’s Violations are no justification for Israel’s actions”, written by George E. Bishart, a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. 

Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel’s acts.

In the online The American Prospect, January 8, Matthew Yglesias writes:

 . . . an active American role is vital to obtaining peace. Absent external pressure, the internal logic of politics tends to point toward momentary conflict escalating out of control. But playing that role effectively requires something more than diplomats who understand the situation. It requires political commitment.

Yglesias cites the January 12 Newsweek article by Aaron David Miller, which is also referenced in one of my earlier posting

[Miller’s article] . . .  included his widely quoted revelation that he “can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity — including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions — does to the peacemaking process.” That is, indeed, a remarkable (and deplorable) fact. But equally interesting was Miller’s observation that Bill Clinton was often “privately frustrated with Netanyahu’s tough policies” back during Netanyahu’s spell as Prime Minister, but Clinton did not “allow those frustrations to surface publicly.” Miller’s criticism of Clinton-era policy cuts deep — not that the administration was too sympathetic to Israeli views but that even when the administration wasn’t sympathetic, it didn’t want to say so . . . 

Jimmy Carter has just written a column for the Washington Post which explains why the Gaza invasion could have been avoided. Carter will be out around the time of the inauguration with another book on the Middle East, a sequel to Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Any Carter book on this topic is guaranteed to drive the Israel Lobby up the wall. Nor does it please the Lobby that A Man from Plains, the film documentary on Carter’s recent book tour is now available on DVD.

There is clearly a stirring in the land toward a desire for Obama’s “change we can believe in” to make changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For this reason, we must pay close attention to what President-elect Obama is promising: “effective, consistent and immediate engagement” with “the situation” in Gaza. Obama’s approval ratings are currently high enough for him to take bold action. 

Now is the time, as my mother would say, to look on the bright side. Obama’s popularity will soar even higher after his inaugural address. Another national nightmare may soon come to an end. The darkness may be lifting for Gaza and Israel. 

So what are we to say about those AIPAC certified Middle East envoys who are waiting to be announced? (See my earlier blog posting). Good question. Here is a scenario that makes sense to me. It is a strong possibility that those envoys, veterans of Middle East diplomacy, will join other pro-Israel Obama appointees (Emanuel and Clinton, e.g.) as players in an Obama “trip to China”, a dramatic rerun of the  ploy that worked so well for Richard Nixon that it gave the US its new World Banker.  

Obama’s AIPAC-certified appointees bring experience to their positions. But Obama has assured us he will set the policy. Which is why we may surmise–with no evidence in hand–that Barack Obama will instruct his Middle East team that they will be expected to reassure their Israeli friends that Israel’s security is not in danger under an Obama administration.

At the same time, Obama will expect his team to join him in making sure that both the Palestinians and the Israelis understand that the word “honest”, as in “honest broker”, will once again really mean an honest US policy.   

Finally, there is this promising development: The London Guardian is reporting that a President Obama will reach out to Hamas leaders. It will be US policy to reverse the Bush doctrine that Hamas must always be treated as a pariah. In his story in the London Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes:

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say. The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.

One week from Tuesday, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America. On that day he will become “the only president we have”.  Will his “effective, consistent and immediate” actions on Israel-Palestine propel the region toward a stable peace? A world weary of war, waits for the answer.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Middle East Politics, Politics and Elections. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Obama Breaks his Silence; Promises Effective, Consistent and Immediate Action on Gaza After January 20

  1. Harris Fawell says:

    Thanks again for your most helpful update of the Israeli – Palestinian issues. Harris

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