President elect Barack Obama was cautious with his comments about the Gaza crisis while appearing on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday morning. Obama agreed with Israel’s right to self defense, while calling the violence heartbreaking. He also hinted at a return to Clinton era Middle East policy.
Obama reiterated his belief that Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks, “I think that’s a basic principle of any country is that they’ve got to protect their citizens. And so what I’ve said is that given the delicacy of the situation, the one area where the principle of one president at a time has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy.”
The president elect answered Arab critics about his silence on the issue, “Well, look, I have said — and I think I said this a couple of days back, that when you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it’s heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now.”
He also said that the United States needs to be more engaged and involved in the peace process, “And I think that players in the region understand the compromises that are going to need to be made. But the politics of it are hard. And the reason it’s so important for the United States to be engaged and involved immediately, not waiting until the end of their term, is because working through the politics of this requires a third party that everybody has confidence, wants to see a fair and just outcome.”
Obama is limited in his ability to comment on the crisis, because he is not president yet. By appointing Hillary Clinton as Sec. of State, he sent a strong signal that his Middle Eastern policy is going to be focused on getting the peace process back on track.
I believe that the most effective role for the United States is not to be a unilateral cheerleader for Israel. Instead, the president should be using his influence to broker a lasting peace. Notice the little shot that Obama took at Bush for waiting until the end of his term to work for peace. I suspect that Obama has an idea of what he wants to accomplish, but getting the two sides to trust each other might be impossible.