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Why Obama Needs to Stop Netanyahu's Dangerous Driving

If you were at a party and saw a drunken friend heading for the door with his SUV keys in his hands, you'd manhandle him to the ground; you'd do anything to stop him getting into that vehicle and killing himself or innocent bystanders.

Innocent people like the Dalou Family in Gaza, 11 members of which were killed in an Israeli airstrike during the latest round of violence.

Like most dangerous drivers who get behind the wheel, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, clearly didn't intend to wipe out this family, but then what can anyone realistically expect will happen when bombs are dropped onto one of the most densely populated pieces of land on Earth?

Paradoxically, one of the forces which is driving this incredibly unhealthy and violence fuelled dynamic is that unpredictable and unruly beast -- democracy.

During the presidential election, both the Romney and Obama campaigns spared no effort in lavishing praise on Israel lest they endanger those tens of thousands of Jewish votes they hoped were just waiting to swing their way. Surveys have actually shown that most Jewish voters don't vote based on a candidate's policy towards Israel. But with Professor Alan Dershowitz, one of Israel's staunchest defenders supporting the president in Florida, it was clear which way the cookie was crumbling. As Margaret Thatcher would say, "this is no time to go wobbly," and judging by his wholehearted support for Israel's recent actions in Gaza, Mr Obama duly obliged.

Israel's own elections are due in January and Mr Netanyahu's recent foray into Gaza, just like the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians at the end of 2008 before Israelis last went to the polls, all seems rather déjà vu-ish. However much the Prime Minister might have been hoping that the assault on Gaza would bolster his security credentials with his own voters, it certainly hasn't helped his country's cause in the eyes of world opinion.

On Thursday at the United Nations, Israel and the U.S. found themselves among only 9 countries voting against granting the Palestinians "non-member observer" status, a largely symbolic but historic milestone on the road to the statehood which the Oslo 'peace' process has singularly failed to deliver in two decades of futile negotiations. Even Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, supported the Palestinians' move, recognizing that if the vision of two states living side by side in peace and harmony is to be resuscitated, then this was a sensible rather than a radical step.

In rejecting this logic, Washington has found itself in opposition to European allies including France, Italy, Denmark, Spain and Norway, who voted in favor of Palestinian statehood. When even the Norwegians understand that Oslo is in its death throes, it's time for the U.S. to start getting serious on an issue which has so damaged American interests, as well as those of Israel and the Palestinians.

Without leadership from the White House, the day will arrive very soon when Israelis will wake up in either a non-democratic Jewish state which controls a subjugated majority Palestinian population without the right to vote, or in a single democratic state including Palestinians which "will no longer be a Jewish one." This is where President Obama needs to start spending some of the political capital he earned through his election victory to help restart the peace process, which has stalled since Mr. Netanyahu took office four years ago.

Friends are meant to stop other friends from doing stupid things, and occasionally give them a few home truths. Despite Margaret Thatcher's assertive advice to George HW Bush not to go wobbly in standing up to Saddam Hussein, her views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict were altogether different from her friend Ronald Reagan. In 1986 on a visit to Washington, she lambasted the president's secretary of state, George Shultz, for the administration's policy of giving "uncritical support to every Israeli action." Plus ça change!

For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis, the American president needs to lock Mr. Netanyahu's car keys away in the resolute desk in the Oval Office and convince the Prime Minister to start an honest conversation with his own people, including the settlers, and prepare them for the task of working with Mahmoud Abbas to lay the foundations for a viable Palestinian state, while there's still time. Otherwise people are going to get run over.

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