POLITICS

Gaza Crisis First Test For Obama

01/29/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza worsens, numerous news organizations have looked at how the crisis will challenge President-elect Barack Obama's plans for Middle East peace.

Bloomberg writes that recent events have spoiled Obama's plans for a quiet renewal of the peace process. But it also gives Obama a chance to move things in a new direction.

"The president-elect's foreign-policy brain trust very much hoped for a quiet backdrop against which to re-inaugurate the Middle East peace process," said Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "That backdrop instead now looks jagged, chaotic and loud."

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If Obama responds to the situation by taking an active role, it would contrast with the hands-off policy of Bush. The president disengaged from Middle East peacemaking until the last year of his administration, then failed to hammer out an accord as Israel dealt with political upheaval and the Palestinians remained divided.

"The problem is for eight years, there's been no adult supervision, which is what the United States can do," said James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

According to Time, Israeli leaders had hoped to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on "the backburner" of the new Administration, with Iran as their main focus. That no longer seems likely.

So, when he sits down at his desk in the Oval Office in January, President Barack Obama will be confronted with compelling evidence of the failure of the Bush Administration's and Israel's policy on Hamas rule in Gaza -- and with the urgency of bringing some fresh ideas to the table.

Diplomats tell the Wall Street Journal, however, that Obama will be in a very difficult situation. One former State Department adviser says the violence will only "reduce already slim odds for peace."

And the New York Times points out that for now, Obama is deferring to the current president.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said little specific about his foreign policy -- in contrast to more expansive remarks about the economy. He and his advisers have deferred questions -- critics could say, ducked them -- by saying that until Jan. 20, only President Bush would speak for the nation as president and commander in chief. "The fact is that there is only one president at a time," David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's senior adviser, told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. "And that president now is George Bush."

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