(HOST) The latest Middle East violence in Gaza adds still another crisis to President-elect Barack Obama’s challenges when he takes office in just eighteen days. This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore, who covered the Middle East for ABC News for thirty years, examines the situation the new administration will face.
(DUNSMORE) When bombs and rockets are crashing into heavily populated areas, killing and wounding innocent civilians, it is natural to ask, "Who is responsible for this new bloodshed?"
As usual in this region, the answer is complicated. The latest fighting in Gaza erupted at the end of a shaky six-month cease fire between Israel and Hamas, the radical Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza strip. In agreeing to the cease fire last summer, Israel wanted to shut down Hamas’ rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. But it did not end selective assassinations against Hamas leaders – and mostly maintained a strict land and sea embargo designed to keep Gaza in near total isolation. Hamas accepted the cease fire in the hope the Israeli siege would be eased – but still didn’t completely shut down its rocket attacks – nor would it soften its refusal to recognize or make peace with Israel. And so, absent any serious outside mediation, it was probably inevitable that fighting would resume once the cease fire expired.
For would-be mediators, one of the easiest traps to fall into in the Middle East is the blame game. After more than forty years of personal experience in this region, I promise you there is plenty of blame to go around. In their own ways, all of the parties have innocent blood on their hands. They will tell you they were only responding to the latest outrage from their enemy. But, while that may be true, that has long since become totally beside the point. What is relevant is that the deadly cycle that feeds on revenge and retaliation has brought neither peace nor security to Israel and has not delivered the Palestinians a homeland free of Israeli military occupation.
When candidate Barak Obama was in Israel last summer he visited the area close to Gaza that has been regularly hit by Hamas rockets. He said he understood Israel’s determination to end this situation and suggested if his own young daughters were under similar threats he would respond the same way. That is a fatherly way to feel.
But what if the situation were to be presented in a different context? What would Obama do if his daughters – and, in time, their daughters and sons – had to spend their lives facing the real dangeers, the daily humiliations, the deprivations of basic necessities and fundamental freedoms, that constitute what passes for normal Palestinian life under Israeli military occupation?
I would hope that the Obama administration will not continue the Bush policy of giving a green-light to the Israelis to do whatever they please. A true friend of Israel – and the Palestinians – will try to help them extricate themselves from the endless spiral of death and destruction that has gone on far too long.
That will mean a new diplomatic initiative that, if it is to succeed, must demonstrate that the United States can be genuinely even-handed – as it works to achieve a just peace for all the people of the region.