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Obama's Gaza silence condemned
Is the US president-elect "complicit" in Israel's Gaza raids by remaining silent?
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2008 04:36 GMT

Hundreds have been killed after days of Israeli bombardment of Gaza [AFP]

Despite growing pressure on Barack Obama to speak out on the crisis in Gaza, the US president-elect has remained silent on the issue.

Obama, holidaying in Hawaii, has made no public remarks on Israel's unrelenting military assault on the Palestinian territory, which has left more than 380 people there dead.

The former Illinois senator spoke out after last month's attacks in Mumbai and has made detailed statements on the US economic crisis.

But some fear that the US president-elect's reluctance to speak out on the Gaza raids could be sending its own message.

"Silence sounds like complicity," Mark Perry, the Washington Director of the Conflicts Forum group, told Al Jazeera.

"Obama has said that Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket attacks but my question to him is 'does he believe that Palestinians also have the right of self-defence?'"

Support for Israel

Israel says the operation is necessary to prevent Palestinian rocket attacks on the south of the country.

And Obama repeatedly spoke out in support for Israel during his election campaign, describing the country as one of the US' greatest allies and has vowed to ensure its security.

Obama was shown Palestinian rockets during his visit to Sderot [AFP]
He caused anger in the Arab world when he told a pro-Israel lobby group in June that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.

He also visited Sderot, the Israeli town close to Gaza regularly targeted by Palestinian rocket fire, in July, to show his support for residents.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, has cited comments Obama made during that visit in his own justification for launching the assault.

"Obama said that if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it," Barak was reported as saying on Monday.

Obama's aides have repeatedly said he is monitoring the situation and continues to receive intelligence briefings but that he is not yet US president.

But George Bush, the current US leader, has also remained silent on Israel's attacks although the White House has offered its support to Israel.

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Many Arabs were cautiously optimistic about Obama's election victory in November, in the belief that a fresh face in the White House would be better than Bush, who invaded Iraq and gave strong support to Israel.

But his choice of a foreign policy team, especially Hillary Clinton as US secretary of state and Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief-of-staff, have raised doubts that much will change.

But some see his see his silence as symptomatic of caution over his own position and the power of the Israel lobby.

"He wants to be cautious and I think he will remain cautious because the Arab-Israeli conflict is not one of his priorities," Hassan Nafaa, an Egyptian political scientist and secretary-general of the Arab Thought Forum in Amman, told Reuters.

"Obama's position is very precarious. The Jewish lobby warned against his election, so he has chosen to remain silent (on Gaza)," added Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Protests demand change
 
However many in the US have called on Obama to speak out personally on events in Gaza.

Protesters gathered at Obama's transition office in Washington DC on Monday, and outside his holiday residence in Hawaii on Tuesday, to demand he do more.

"The Obama administration is working hand in glove with the Bush administration and...there is no reason that they can't work together to get something done," Mike Reitz, a federal government worker, told Al Jazeera at the transition office protest.

At another protest against Israel's actions in Gaza outside the White House on Tuesday, some were sceptical about Barack Obama's commitment to Middle East peace-making.

"Is this the change that you were talking about?," said Reza Aboosaiedi, a computer specialist from Iran.

"If this is the change, you have a very, very deep problem, because if you add them up with the other economic problems and other problems in America, having this kind of problem in the Middle East, I don't think he can manage it."

But others at the protest still saw some hope that the former Illinois senator could make a difference.

"I would like to think that he would be more active than Bush in trying to push an agenda to bring Israel and Palestine together to have peace talks, but I don't know," said Bob Malone, a lawyer. 

"But I'm an optimist, so I hope so."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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