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The War as Warm-Up Act for Obama

January 18th, 2009by Gershom Gorenberg · 16 Comments · Politics and Policy

Gershom Gorenberg

I’ve been asked whether the Gaza War was deliberately timed to take advantage of the American interregnum, with the aim of avoiding U.S. diplomatic involvement. Since it will be 40 years before the archives open and we can read the minutes of the cabinet meetings, I can’t answer that question with any certainty now.

But if that was the intent, as I explain this morning in Ha’aretz, the effect is likely to be very different from what Olmert, Livni and Barak hoped for.  For those who read from East to West, the Hebrew original of my article is here. The translation is here.

The diplomatic timing for the war looked lovely. The U.S. president who loved military action was still in power, though fading into the shadows. The new president, dynamic and popular, hadn’t yet entered office. There was no one to interfere, to pressure us to stop.

We don’t know if the Olmert-Livni-Barak triumvirate deliberately picked that window of opportunity. If so, it already looks like another of the war’s mistakes – perhaps the only welcome miscalculation. For instead of preventing American involvement, their decision to go to war on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration may well force him to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian arena and push for a diplomatic solution.

In recent months, foreign-policy experts from Obama’s camp have debated whether there’s any point in a new peace initiative. Robert Malley, known as the most dovish veteran of Bill Clinton’s peace team, has written – surprisingly – that such an effort is hopeless. In an article in the New York Review of Books (written with Hussein Agha), Malley argues that the weakness of Israel’s leadership and the Palestinian political rift will prevent a two-state solution at present. Arguing the opposite, former ambassador Martin Indyk – who is likely to join the Obama administration – writes in Foreign Affairs of the “urgent need for a diplomatic effort.” The Middle East can’t be ignored, say Indyk and co-author Richard Haass. It will “force itself onto the U.S. president’s agenda.”

The Gaza War proves Indyk’s thesis. After the years of neglect under Bush, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blown up again, on Obama’s doorstep. Grim photos appear in the media. Relations between Israel and Turkey, both American allies, are crumbling. While careful not to conduct foreign relations before the inauguration, Obama promised last week that his team would become “immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process.” At her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton spoke of the “tragic humanitarian costs” borne by Gazans and of the incoming administration’s “determination to seek a peace agreement.”

Read the rest in Hebrew here, or in English here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment

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