(CNN reports that Obama had an 8 minute telephone call with Condoleezza Rice about the Gaza situation.)
Overseas, however, commentators are actually speaking up about Israel's brutal actions, which are inevitably causing severe civilian casualties especially among children. Two leading left-of-center British newspapers for example, The Independent and the Observer, have already run pertinent editorials. The Independent's editorial, perhaps somewhat naively, looks forward to Obama's taking office and applying some wisdom and common sense to the disaster that the Bush administration pretty much ignored for the last 8 years:
Even in the midst of this depressing new turn of the cycle of violence, however, there may be hope. Already, we can imagine how Barack Obama, as US President, might respond to this bloodshed, and contrast it with George Bush's refusal to criticise the Israeli action in Lebanon.
I think it quite possible that Obama and Hillary Clinton will act more positively to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, but doing so will require acknowledging what the Independent editorial also states clearly: Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza, and as a result of Israeli policies:
The conflict between Israel and the people of Gaza is driven by democratic impulses. Hamas, the Islamic political party and paramilitary organisation, won control of the Gaza Strip in free and fair elections in January 2006. Its charter famously calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, although that was hardly the issue on which those elections were fought, there can be little doubt about the depth and extent of hostility towards Israel felt by the majority of the population of Gaza.
On the other side, Israeli politics are dominated at the moment by the campaign for Knesset elections on 10 February in which Tzipi Livni faces the hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu. Ms Livni, having advocated a policy of restraint, now supports the use of military force against the Hamas infrastructure.
The Observer, on the other hand, more squarely puts the blame on Israel, and predicts that the current attempt to crush Hamas will not only fail but make the organization stronger:Even those Israeli and Palestinian politicians who are minded to negotiate are boxed into uncompromising stances, and for both the main reason is Hamas. But attempting to remove the problem with military power will not work. Hamas craves confrontation because its support increases when ordinary Palestinians are collectively punished, as has happened under the blockade. There are compelling reasons why Israeli politicians do not try to talk Hamas out of its militancy. But the near certainty of failure is also a more compelling reason not to try force instead.
The strength of Hamas in Gaza, as many observers have pointed out over the years, is squarely due to the failure of the United States and Israel to broker a deal with more moderate Palestinians as represented by Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. Instead, we read every month about new houses going up in West Bank settlements, new humiliations against the Palestinians, and new provocations to Palestinian militants. This is a one-sided war, in which Israel holds all the cards, bankrolled by the U.S. and encouraged by the fecklessness and political weakness of Europe.
If Obama and Clinton wish to play a new role in the Middle East, the time for them to speak up for new policies is now. There is indeed only one President of the United States at a time, and Obama has made it clear who that is: himself. This is not the time to be coy or shy about the disaster unfolding in Gaza today.
Photo: Palestinian children killed by Israeli gunfire in Gaza in 2007.
Update: Humanitarian disaster in Gaza. A new report from CNN.
How we got to where we are today. Some important background, a bit dated (2002 in the New York Review of Books), from Hussein Agha and Robert Malley about what actually happened at Taba and Camp David. Israel has done everything it can to avoid making peace with the Palestinians, in hopes that it can crush them into submission instead. But the myths and propaganda say otherwise.