by Akram Baker

After almost three weeks of brutal bombing, it is time to call a spade a spade. The unprecedented Israeli offensive in Gaza, which is offensive in every way, has nothing to do with Hamas, primitive rockets, Mahmoud Abbas or a little town in southern Israel. It also has little to do with the upcoming Israeli elections. All of these bit players are sideshows in the face of Israel’s true, multi-pronged strategy: the denial of Palestinian independence.

Tony Clifton, Newsweek Magazine’s then-Beirut correspondent, wrote in his heart-breaking book about the Israel siege of Beirut in 1982, “God Cried”, that he had come to the conclusion that the systematic destruction of the Lebanese capital one hot summer 27 years ago had nothing to do with “destroying the PLO infrastructure of terror” and was nothing but an elaborate and deadly diversionary action. He claimed that it was all done to divert the world’s attention from Israel’s determined thrust to settle and colonize the West Bank and pre-empt any kind of two-state settlement based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

His words, written over a quarter of a century ago, have proved to be prescient. Like clockwork, Israel could be relied on to do two things when it felt that something could obstruct its grand design: increase settlement activity and wage a war against whoever was out of favor at the moment. In 1982, 1987, and 2002 it was the PLO/Fateh/Palestinian Authority who were the bogeymen. During the so called “peace years” between 1995-2000, settlements in the West Bank doubled in size and grew at a rate previously unseen. Now, it is Hamas’ turn.

The repercussions of this strategy are and will be disastrous for the region and the world at large. But the question which begs to be asked is, “why now?” Any sort of peace deal seems extremely remote so what is the hurry? One reason: Barack Obama.

The assault on the Palestinian coastal strip can only be carried out, like all the others were, with the clear acquiescence of the United States. George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan, has given the Israelis carte blanche to do whatever they please, to the detriment of all, Israel included. Olmert, Livni and Barak are just not sure what the man from Illinois will do. But they are fairly certain that he won’t risk vital US national security interests to please the Jewish lobby or the pathetically subservient Congress. While the president-elect’s statements have calmed many Jewish Americans, the cabal in Tel Aviv is acutely aware that Barack Obama is like nothing they have seen before. And that worries them.

Unlike most recent US presidents, he is not beholden to the Jewish lobby and other special interests. He represents hope, change and a new, rational way of thinking. And if there is anything that worries the Middle East powers that be (the corrupt Arab regimes very much included), it is hope and change. Hence, the wanton bombardment of an already miserable Gaza. If the situation wasn’t so tragic, it would be farcical. The lame attempts, slavishly parroted by much of the world’s press, by Israel’s mouthpieces to put Hamas’ AK-47s on a par with one of the most powerful and well equipped militaries in the world is simply preposterous. Israel is killing Palestinians, most of them innocent civilians, at a rate of 100 to one. The fact that all of this is ridiculously disproportionate is only topped by the way the Bushies seem to be more Israeli than Ariel Sharon.

Israel, which has drifted steadily to the right of Augusto Pinochet over the past 30 years, was in a panic. Livni and Barak found themselves confronted with the great unknown, completely unsure how it would affect their dismal electoral chances and the disgraced Olmert was willing to do just about anything to divert attention from his corrupt and scandal-ridden present. So they did what they know best: create facts on the ground. They are doing their utmost to box the soon-to-be president into a corner where he loses himself in the distractions of the moment. Barack Obama’s brilliant victory was solidly based on sticking to his core message while translating that message into real support via one hell of a team. He is not easily distracted or led astray. But Bush has left him a country in such dire economic straights that he truly has his hands busy even before he takes the oath on January 20. And no matter what any Palestinian may say, he has wisely held his counsel regarding Gaza for he realizes he has nothing to gain and much to lose. Yet, herein lies the opportunity.

Out of the death and destruction wreaked by the Israeli army, air force, and navy on Gaza, Barack Obama can make the ruins bloom. By breaking the paradigm of procedure over substance, by insisting on serving US national interests (as opposed to Israel’s), and by leading his national security team with a crystal clear vision that doesn’t allow for the support of either corrupt Arab regimes or the Israeli occupation, he has a chance, by sheer force of will, to alter history in a lasting manner. I am quite confident that he will find a receptive audience around the world, once he holds his own against the sure to be toxic and concerted attacks of his detractors.

The line is clear: US security lies in a safe and secure Israel and Israel’s security lies in peace and not in blatant militarism and occupation. More than that, Israel’s future is directly tied to the freedom of the Palestinian people. A real friend of Israel would do well to make sure they understand that. – 15/1/2009 ©

Akram Baker is an independent Palestinian political analyst. He is co-president of the Arab Western Summit of Skills, a platform for Arab professionals dedicated to reform and development in the Arab and Islamic worlds.