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Opinion

Needed in Gaza: US inspectors, peacekeepers, and aid workers

We must stop lecturing – and start helping.

By Timothy Rieger / December 30, 2008



Miami Beach, Fla.

At a recent forum of the New America Foundation, scholar Walter Russell Mead reminded the audience that Israelis – and by extension all Jews – and Palestinians are the two peoples most betrayed by the history of the 20th century, albeit in vastly different scales.

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The US response thus far to Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip suggests that this double dose of human betrayal will be every bit the geopolitical phenomenon in the 21st century as it was in the 20th.

The politics are different from the past, as are the weapons, but the human willingness to shaft the lives of innocents in the name of realpolitik hasn't changed a bit.

President Bush has reflexively sided with Israel in the first days of this latest battle as he has for all of his presidency. President-elect Obama has indicated he will react according to the rules of the same domestic realpolitik playbook: giving the imprimatur of the US government to Israel's operations in the Gaza Strip, increasing casualties notwithstanding.

The message the entire Arab and Muslim world takes away from the US government is this: Dead Palestinian children are, in the larger scheme of things, an acceptable price to pay for Israel's security.

Through his senior adviser David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's response to the current crisis appears to be a reiteration of the point he made while on a trip in July to Sderot, an Israeli town often besieged by Hamas rockets.

Namely that he can understand, as the father of two girls, how besieged he would feel if Katyusha rockets were raining down on his neighborhood, threatening his own children as they sleep at night.

This raises the question: Can Obama similarly empathize with Palestinian moms and dads whose children have been killed in the violence?

Authentic empathy, and especially empathy for children killed and maimed with rockets or bombs, has no moral double standards. Well-rehearsed empathy has plenty.

No 7-year-old boy or girl, Israeli or Palestinian, should live in a universe where they are to blame for the destruction of their own little bodies. And yet that is precisely the implicit dictum, gussied up in political rhetoric soothing to some, macabre to others, that is and has been guiding American foreign policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly at moments when tensions ratchet up, as they have over the weekend.

If the US is to have any positive impact on finding a resolution to this conflict, we must stop lecturing Israelis and Palestinians about "ending the cycle of violence" and take stock of our own failures. We, the American people, need to end the cycle of abandoning all the innocent people of that region.

In its place, the US should commence negotiations with Israel and Hamas with the aim of ensuring not only an end to the firing of the Katyusha rockets, but an end to the manufacture and stockpiling of those weapons. Should Hamas agree to allow US inspectors access to all of its dual-use facilities (those that can be used for both peaceful and military aims) on a random, rolling basis, the US should offer volunteer peacekeeping forces to the Gaza Strip to implement a full scale and state-of-the-art humanitarian relief operation.

The Israelis should have no need to fear or resent such an inspection force, with US peacekeeping forces to back them up. If successful, the operation could end the Katyusha rockets once and for all and get Gaza on the road to economic recovery.

The Israelis should not take umbrage at the deployment of such US peacekeeping volunteers to the Gaza Strip; they should take it as a sign that the United States has moved beyond the failed business of lecturing Israelis and Palestinians and is now in the business of making sure that neither of them will be abandoned.

With strong indications that Iran is moving full speed ahead with its undeclared nuclear weapons program, now could not be a better time for Israel to realize how worthless US involvement can be when lectures in this or that direction make up too much of our approach to the region. And the entire Middle East could learn how much of an asset Americans can be when we stick to our highest humanitarian principles – not with the pointing fingers of politicians, but with the open arms of those who just want to help.

Timothy Rieger, a Miami-based writer, is a former congressional lobbyist for the US Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu.

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