Monday, January 12, 2009

870 Dead in Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll now exceeds 870 and there is no sign that international pressure is going to stop Olmert from his killing spree.

Olmert said the war in Gaza, now in its third week, would continue and he spoke out defiantly against the growing international criticism of Israel's killing of hundreds of Palestinians, many civilians. A UN security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire late last week did nothing to halt the conflict and diplomacy has moved only haltingly since.

"No decision, present or future, will deny us our basic right to defend the residents of Israel," Olmert told a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

I suppose in his mind he has to keep going as he has set various standards for victory, neither of which has yet been achieved and, I suspect, neither of which will ever be achieved by what he is doing.

At first he was going to destroy or topple Hamas, then the aim of the war became stopping the firing of Palestinian rockets. And, as he employs Israeli reservists, one is left hearing him talk of goals being achieved whilst wondering just what goals he is talking about.

The rockets are still flying into Israel and there is no sign whatsoever that Olmert has destroyed Hamas.

The only outcome I can see after Israel's ill thought out attack is that a ceasefire is negotiated which lifts the siege on Gaza, the very condition which Israel refused to grant Hamas as the previous ceasefire ran out. It's hard not to see Hamas declaring that as a victory.

And there's worse news for Olmert and Livni. Barack Obama has promised to restore America's reputation in the world and he cannot be unaware that, even in the city's of some of his best allies, George Bush's image is being burned alongside Israeli flags as outrage against Olmert's actions turn to violence.

Israel's assault is being seen - rightly - as happening because George Bush has given the green light.

Yesterday, Obama finally broke his silence on this conflict:

The US president-elect, Barack Obama, described the death of civilians in the conflict as heartbreaking after being asked if his silence over the crisis could be interpreted as callousness.

"When you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, it's heartbreaking. Obviously what that does, it makes me much more determined to try and break a deadlock that has been going on for decades," he said on ABC television.

He vowed to act quickly after his inauguration to position the US as a trusted third party that could act as an interlocutor between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A determined Obama would have to give up the pro-Israeli bias which haunted both the Bush and Clinton administrations and finally engage the US in this dispute as an honest broker.

If Obama is serious about restoring America's image then this is the area in which most work needs to be done.

And if the worldwide outrage at Israel's actions inspires Obama to take a much fairer stance on this dispute than either of his predecessors, then Olmert and Livni may very well regret that they didn't simply lift the siege rather than indulge in this orgy of violence.

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