The Obama administration appears to be in a state of quandary regarding what to do next as far as the unrest in the Middle East, primarily the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His administration has virtually remained handcuffed and powerless.

Valerie Jarrett, the White House senior adviser, says Israeli strikes near civilian havens in Gaza were indefensible. She told CBS’s Face the Nation television programme last Sunday: “It is a devastating situation. Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself, and we are Israel’s staunchest ally. But you also can’t condone the killing of all of these innocent children,” adding “I think everyone involved is frustrated, but you can’t let your frustration get in the way of trying to be constructive player here, and that’s what {Obama’s) determined to do.”

If so, Obama has a major task ahead, especially if the right-wing Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, remains in office, now that his popularity has reportedly lost 20 per cent of support after attaining a high of 80 per cent in the first days of the war that started on July 8. The Israeli carnage in the Gaza Strip, described as an open-air prison, totalled 1,888 dead, 84 per cent were civilians including 373 children. More than 8,400 were injured and 225,000 displaced from their homes.

The Israeli military says 64 of its soldiers have been killed in the conflict, but Hamas puts the fatalities at more than 150, including three civilians. However, the American media has virtually ignored Israeli deceptions about its invasion of the Gaza Strip or its deplorable conduct there. A memorable case in point has been the alleged kidnapping by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, last week of an Israeli soldier, a report that has been highlighted in major newspapers in the US and Britain only to be dismissed a few days later. Similarly, the alleged kidnaping by Hamas of three young Israeli colonists in the West Bank, an Israeli allegation that triggered the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip only to be dismissed nowadays.

Ali Jirbawi, a former minister of the Palestinian Authority and a political scientist at Birzeit University, wrote that he saw “the Israeli left (a)s a relic, all but extinct, and the extremist right is entrenched in the Israeli political establishment.”

He went on: “Attacking the Palestinians has become officially sanctioned policy, embedded in Israeli public consciousness and politely ignored in Western political circles.”

Israel’s objective in launching the war on the Gaza Strip which has been run by Hamas after it won the election there in 2006 is believed aimed at disrupting the recent reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority which is dominated by Fatah, the leading Palestinian group led by President Mahmoud Abbas. As much welcomed by many Palestinians, the reconciliation however did not entitle Hamas to hold any position in the new government of technocrats — a step meant to placate Israel which has been fearful of the merger. Hamas was prompted to undertake this step since it was in dire need of economic and political support after both Egypt and Israel practically sealed their borders with the Gaza Strip. But Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Strip has misfired since Hamas uplifting clash with Israel has now gained amazing popularity among Palestinians and others in the Arab world, a turnaround that should unify all Palestinian factions and lead to one government in the near future.

Former President Jimmy Carter and former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who was also the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, saw this this Palestinian reconciliation as “a promising move towards peace”.

They wrote in Foreign Policy: “The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods through Israel, Egypt, and the (Mediterranean) sea. Concurrently, the United States and the EU (European Union) should recognise that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognising its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.”


George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at