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Can Obama Stop the Israeli Assault on Gaza?

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By Ben Cohen

"The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years," - Eli Yishai, Israel's Interior Minister

The continued Israeli assault on the Gaza strip that now counts 96 Palestinians dead, 50 of them civilians, is being backed explicitly by President Obama who told reporters at a press gathering in Thailand:

"Let's understand what the precipitating event here that's causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman made the following statement to the press on the official US line:

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to de-escalate.

So much for a balanced approach.

The US retelling of the conflict really is astonishing if you look at what actually happened, and given only 3 Israelis have died during the latest episode of violence, it borders on the grotesque. Obama's argument that Israel has the right to attack Gaza because 'no country would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens' is patently absurd when you look at what Gazans deal with on a daily basis. The minute land strip that houses roughly 1.7 million, most of them refugees, is a virtual prison suppressed by continuous economic and military blockades, routine incursions and attacks from its Israeli neighbors. It cedes control of its borders, sea and airspace to Israel, and is almost completely reliant on foreign aid to exist. Would any other country on earth tolerate that? Would the US allow Canada or Mexico to do the same to them without retaliation or resistance?

Of course they wouldn't. But because Palestinians are dark skinned Arabs, apparently they must.

It is important for people to understand that while politicians and the media paint Arabs as uncivilized barbarians incapable of human feeling and committed to frenzied Jihad, Arabs do not of course view themselves this way. Arabs are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who feel emotion, pain and love the same way everybody else does. They love their countries and have pride in autonomy and self reliance the same way Americans do and want peace and prosperity for their children the same way Israelis do.

It's easy to pretend that Palestinians don't feel loss of life like Israelis. It makes the incredibly disproportionate violence unleashed upon them that we see on live television a more palatable process. It's ok, because Arabs don't respect human life, so killing more of them is fine. And given Arabs only understand force, the only way to deal with them is through force. If they are continually subjected to humiliation and violence, they will cease wanting the same things Israelies do. Or so goes the logic.

The problem with this narrative is that the Palestinians will not comply with it. They are resisting the slow colonization of their land by any means necessary, and they are paying a huge price in human lives.

The US could put a halt to the occupation quite easily. It bankrolls the Israeli military to the tune of $3.1 billion a year, and could threaten to cut funding as long as it illegally occupies Palestinian land.

But it won't, and it is highly unlikely Obama will deviate from what is now fairly entrenched US policy towards the conflict.

What Obama can do, however, is to use Egypt to prevent the violence from escalating. With its new government, Egypt is now a far more important player in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis as it will not cede as easily to US demands as was the case under Hosni Mubarak. Egypt's new President, Mohamed Mursi has openly supported the Palestinians and condemned Israel's assault on Gaza, giving him far more credence in the Arab world than Mubarak did, who did little to stop Israel's continual attacks on Gaza in the past. Since coming to power though, Mursi has made efforts to keep good relations with Israel, understanding the impact of jeopardizing important trading relations. Israel does not want to put those relationships at risk either, and will listen to Egypt if it intervenes in its action in Gaza.

According to Reuters, the Egyptian government believes a truce between the two sides is imminent, having spent days pressing both sides to pull back. While publicly backing Israel, President Obama is clearly aware that another war on Gaza is not good for US interests in the region and has been urging Egypt (and Turkey) to negotiate a truce.

It isn't much to get excited about - given the leverage the US has over Israel, the conflict needn't have occurred in the first place - but putting a stop to the violence is an absolute necessity. Because Gaza is close to breaking point and can't take much more.

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