OPINION

Obama’s awkward silence

Barack Obama’s presidency is starting off in the middle of a new flareup of tensions in one of the world’s most intractable problems. As has been happening since 1948, when the state of Israel was founded, political tension has led to a new round of bloodshed. The United States, as always, has taken a stand clearly in support of Israel. Since 1948, 11 US presidents have come and gone and the United States has been an unwavering pillar of support for the Jewish state, provoking the rage of Arab and Muslims and stoking anti-Americanism across the world. Some presidents, more than others, have pressed Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The outgoing president, in the simplistic world that he wanted to present, was not one of them. His father, who created a coalition against Iraq in 1990 that included many Arab states, pressed Israel as few others; Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1978; Bill Clinton devoted the last months of his presidency (in 2000) to pursuing the elusive overall solution to the Palestinian problem. Clearly Israel did not want to lose the unique opportunity that the waning days of the Bush presidency provided, as no one can know whether Obama will be as tolerant of Jerusalem’s policies. The Hamas movement has governed the Gaza Strip since expelling President Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and as so is burdened by the responsibility of its rocket attacks against Israel – just as Israel’s overwhelming response burdens Jerusalem. Obama chose not to say anything substantive, pointing out that George W. Bush is president at this time. But leaving Bush to pull the chestnuts out of the fire appears to be a confession that Obama has no plan for the Palestinian problem and no illusions that he, after so many have failed, can do much. But, as these days have shown, whether he wants to or not, Obama will have to grasp the Palestinian nettle.