If Barack Obama doesn’t support Israel’s Gaza offensive, he needs to say so now. January 20 will be too late
Barack Obama has remained silent about the war Israel launched in Gaza, which has killed 540 in 10 days. Instead he’s letting spokeswoman Brooke Anderson issue statements that do not call for peace: “President-elect Obama is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza, but there is one president at a time.”
Meanwhile David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, was asked two Sundays ago on CBS’s Face the Nation about Israel’s assault on Gaza. “The Bush administration has to speak for America now,” Axelrod said on a feed via Chicago. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.”
Axelrod, and the president-elect he speaks for, should have an opinion about Gaza. On Monday, Israel rejected another ceasefire. George Bush and Dick Cheney continue to support Israel and blame Hamas. If the current administration doesn’t want to act, Obama must speak up and distance himself from the tacit support Axelrod gave.
Gaza is a uniquely oppressed conflict zone. With its borders and ports closed, and the IDF on the march, civilians do not have the option to flee to refugee camps, and Gaza is on the brink of humanitarian collapse. It is not time to stress our “special relationship” with a state that violates basic human rights. An all-out war in Gaza, where civilians have nowhere to flee, fits the definition of terrorism.
Axelrod seems to want to pretend that the campaign is still on, that he can grandstand on TV while Gaza burns and spin a non-policy. “[Obama] will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that – toward that objective,” Axelrod vaguely offered. Gone was the proactive campaign rhetoric. Instead he offered support for Bush, even though White House policy (“Israel has a right to defend itself”) has failed for eight years running.
Obama built a two-year campaign on criticising Bush but is now towing the line just three weeks from legitimate power. The “one president at a time” ideal might work domestically. Bail-outs are one thing. No one is going to die when a bank or automaker goes under. But wars involving billions of dollars in annual American military aid demand swift reaction from all political participants, even those not yet in power. A British government official, Douglas Alexander, had no trouble speaking out: “The human cost of this conflict is unacceptable and the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the hour.” January 20 will be too late.
“This is the world Obama will inherit,” pundits are saying. Unfortunately it’s also the world he lives in, and silence or agreeing with Bush isn’t the way to peace. He is not limited for options. In the middle of this American power vacuum Obama should publicly pressure Ehud Olmert and Bush to resolve the conflict. He should push for a ceasefire and ask Israel to halt its invasion. He should call for immediate regional talks that include Syria and Iran, and ask Bush to dispatch Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East. He should call for the opening of Gaza’s borders to allow aid workers and journalists inside. He and Hillary Clinton, his incoming secretary of state, should begin preparations to engage Hamas, a legitimately elected government that no one wants to deal with but without which peace will remain out of reach.
And he should speak up now, because a third intifada and renewed Israeli occupation of Gaza would be blamed on both Israel and America. Further angering the world’s Muslims is not in the interest of a nation bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.