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Gaza crisis: a crossroads for Obama

It could bring renewal – if Obama is bold enough to stand up to Israel.

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In 60 years of failed negotiations, one-sidedness has simply not worked. In 2000, the Clinton team undermined the Camp David negotiations by repeatedly pressing Israel's agenda while dismissing Palestinian arguments. This past year, when President Bush helped Israel celebrate its 60th anniversary, he pointedly declined to attend any similar commemoration by the Palestinians of their Nakba, or Catastrophe, when 750,000 Arabs of Palestine fled or were expelled.

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An Obama administration that recognizes the inherently equal value of Palestinian aspirations will promote a new ethic and a new pragmatism. For talks to succeed, the US must tell hard truths to old friends and make a clean break with the tired road maps of the past.

Obama's team should follow the advice of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and bring Hamas into future talks. Any agreement reached only with Mahmoud Abbas, the beleaguered leader of the West Bank Palestinians, would be backed by only a fraction of his people.

Future negotiations will also be fraught with thousands of new facts on the ground. In 1993, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously shook hands, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank was 109,000; now, after 15 years of the "peace process," it's up to 275,000. East Jerusalem, the supposed future Palestinian capital, is now ringed with Jewish settlements. The hard reality of any new negotiation is that because of Israel's Judaization of the West Bank, the two state solution, long considered the only path to peace, is on life support.

Early signs suggest the Obama team is inclined to continue the Middle East status quo. But Obama is nothing if not practical and shrewd. He surely recognizes that in the aftermath of the carnage in Gaza, he will have the opportunity to make visionary change in the long-term interest of all parties. And he knows that the bleak alternatives – a new Palestinian intifada, diplomatic rifts across the Arab world, more wars without end – would undermine his desperately needed efforts to remake the image of America in the world.

Sandy Tolan is author of "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East" and a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.