November 20, 2012

OUR OPINION: Mideast crisis needs long-term, focused resolve

While Sunday morning's talk shows were all abuzz about what UN Ambassador Susan Rice said or did not say on a previous round of Sunday morning talk shows, news was happening in the Middle East.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday targeted what are believed to be long-range missile launch sites hidden in a residential neighborhood.

It was the bloodiest day in the five-day crackdown, with one missile strike killing at least 11 civilians, including four young children and an 81-year-old woman.

These strikes come into response to a steady stream of missiles fired into Israeli neighborhoods.

Now the world's diplomats are focused on resolving this crisis before it escalates further. A ground offensive by Israel, no matter how well justified, would introduce more uncertainty into a region that's ready to blow apart.

This may seem less terrifying than it really is, because the situation seems so familiar. The Israeli-Palastinian conflict has been in the same unhealthy stalemate since the election of Hamas to lead the government of Gaza early in the Bush administration.

To protect its security, Israel seals Palestinians in Gaza, and Hamas lobs missiles into Israel to provoke a reaction.

When the reaction comes, like previous interventions and the current crisis, the world takes notice, and then moves on to something else.

This lack of focus is especially glaring in the United States, where domestic politics have made almost any attempt to broker peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict politically toxic.

This is surprising because there is very little difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to Israel. But you wouldn't know that if you had been watching the recent presidential campaign.

President Barack Obama has been treated with suspicion by friends of Israel and was the subject of a steady barrage of attacks by Mitt Romney and other Republicans, who accuse him of turning his back on a friend.

This belief was heightened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made extraordinary efforts to give a winking endorsement to the president's opponent in the race.

Keeping the president on the defensive might be good politics, but it does not make for good Mideast policy, which should include reaching out to moderate Palestinians, and mediating their conflicts with Israel over settlements and other issues.

Presidents from both parties have long supported a two-state solution in which Israel's security is guaranteed. Never an easy goal, but made impossible when domestic politics won't stop at the water's edge.

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