Obama faces the Gaza challenge

America has a long and very close relationship with the state of Israel. US commitment to Israel's existence, safety and security is important and necessary. 

However, too often, it has been at the expense of the Palestinians who are equally entitled to a state, security and safety. Indeed, the original UN resolution allowing for the creation of Israel also called for a Palestinian state.

While the track record of most American presidents, as witnessed by its voting record in the UN has demonstrated our consistent tilt, George W. Bush has taken America's relationship with Israel to the next level. 

As in Lebanon, so now in Gaza, the Bush administration has entered into an unholy alliance with Israel to promote a war whose major casualties are civilians. 

Israel has not simply attacked militants to destroy their infrastructure, but Gaza's society. Its military has slaughtered civilians who account for a majority of the 1000-plus killed and nearly 5,000 injured, mainly women and children; destroyed the infrastructure and institutions of society (homes, neighbourhoods, universities and schools, mosques, police stations, hospitals); and contributed to the radicalisation of a future generation of Palestinians. 

Not content to stand on the sidelines deflecting blame from Israel, the US has staunchly defended Israel to the point of adopting the Israeli government's blaming of Hamas for the civilian deaths in Gaza just as it blamed Hezbollah for the high civilian casualty count in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. 

Despite calls from the international community, including the UN, EU, international human rights organisations and many religious leaders including Pope Benedict XVI for an immediate ceasefire, Israel with the blessing of the Bush administration has continued, even escalated its air and ground war. 

As Professor Avi Shlaim, an Israeli and a distinguished Oxford Professor of International Relations, concluded, Israel has become a "rogue state" 

A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has also severely criticised Israel's conduct of the war, "We are seeing a continual massacre in the Holy Land where the overwhelming majority has nothing to do with the conflict, but it is paying for the hatred of a few with their lives&. Let's look at the conditions in Gaza: It's looking more and more like a big concentration camp."

If the shoe were on the other foot, if Palestinians were engaging in the same kinds of actions against Israelis, newspaper headlines and sound bites from the Bush White House and sectors of Congress would be decrying the massacre, barbarism and new holocaust perpetrated by Palestinians or Hamas militants. 

It is important to remember that "they see more than we see." Israel's barring of foreign reporters from Gaza and a generally timid American press have enabled it to downplay the tragedy of Gaza, a tragedy all too evident to Arabs and Muslims who have access to Arab television, in particular Aljazeera.

Palestinians and Israelis are both losers. The destruction of Gaza with its devastating impact on the lives, psyches and economic condition of its peoples will reinforce a sense of injustice, humiliation, rage and hatred in the Muslim world. 

Israelis long term will not be more secure and their image, moral stature and reputation internationally will be undermined in many parts of the world. 

As in the aftermath of the Israeli-Hezbollah war, when Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, emerged as the most popular leader across much of the Muslim world, Israel may win the battle but not the war. 

Hamas resistance will enhance its stature in the Arab world and reinforce for many that it remains the only independent viable Palestinian alternative to a complaint and compromised Mahmoud Abbas. 

Nasrallah's blunt criticism of Egypt will be applied by many in the region to Arab leaders. Demonstrations throughout the Arab world, popular political discourse, and the internet discredit the ambivalence and failure of Arab leaders and the Arab League to respond effectively and reinforce for many the belief that, as in Palestine, Islam is the only viable political alternative in the Arab world. 

The failures of Arab and Western governments and resultant inflamed anti-American/Western popular sentiment provide fodder for militants and threaten the security of mainstream Muslim societies and the West.

Soon-to-be President Barack Obama will have to move quickly both to distance himself from the Bush legacy and to set America on a bold new path in its relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. 

The Obama administration must send a clear message that America stands for self-determination and the rule of law and human rights for all - Palestinians as well as Israelis. 

The road to a just and enduring peace will require that the United States take a new path that denounces illegitimate acts of violence, whether Palestinian or Israeli, as not acceptable. The US can no longer support or turn a blind eye to Israel's illegal occupation and partitioning of Palestine, territorial expansion and continued building of colonies. 

It can no longer provide Israel with advanced weaponry and arms that are used not in legitimate defence against militant attacks but to wipe out a legitimately elected Palestinian (Hamas) government, kill civilians, in particular women and children, and leave the civilian population of Gaza facing starvation and a lack of medicine, water and electrical power. 

This is not what the US stands for; nor is it the re-appropriation of American principles and values that candidate Obama promised.

John L. Esposito is University Professor and Professor of Religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

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Older Comments:
A new era of hope peace and progres justice and equality is hopefully dawning with the incoming of the Obama Administration.Almost everyone is hopeful Obama will be a bridge builder between all Nations Black and White with a Kenyan Father from Africa and a White Mother and later raised in Indonesia the most populous Islamic Nation although Obama himself a Christian.There is hope as a lawyer he would carefully look into the Palestinian question with a view to bringing all the parties together ie. the Palestinians and the Jews with a view to finding a just amicable lasting solution.So many have tried without much success hopefully Obama with the cooperation of everyone would achieve this very objective.So let us all work to find a just and lasting solution without much bitterness and let bye gone be bye gone as the Prophet said don't say if I did this and that I would have achieved that as this opens the gate of Shaitain as the near meaning of the Hadith says.So let us all unite and work together to help him achieve his object which is our collective objective Muslims and Non Muslims alike.We should not forget that Palestinians like all of us as human beings needed to be treated with much respect and dignity like all other human beings.As the saying goes do to others what you want others do unto you they also need shelter peace and prosperity making us a common family of Allah as human beings who should look after the welfare of one another.We have been created as different Nations so that we know each other and the most honourable in the sight of God is the God Fearing.If all of us fear God and act fairly with justice we will definitely achieve our objectives.May Allah help us.

I feel that action must be taken now. As an muslim from the US, I am angered by the imbalanced news reporting. I recommend that all muslims must unify our efforts. I will spread the word that Al-jazeera is the place to get accurate news. We all need to boycott any government or organization that kills innocent civilians, especially women and children. We will see what our new President does.

america the so called modern democracy is sickeningly smiling at isrealis atrocities (murdering children, women and old folks). Where now the hundred of thousands of palestinians para militaries who parade and marches in gaza every now and then. why dont they fight now? or they are now dispersing to start another war against another arab country for not helping them against the israelis. they are so divided that no arab state will help each other when attack by foreign forces. at the same time the israelis is drawing a new map for greater israel. the arabs will even argue the existence of this greater israel map !

Excellent article. Very well said and provided a great argument. I would recommend everyone reads this article, especially Obama and other in-coming government officials. Hilary, this is an article you must read as you are going straight down Bush's path with your latest comments about Israel.

Thank you very much Mr. John L.Esposito for your fair just thinking.
The President-elect must leave the legacy of Bush administration n listen to his own fair conscience.