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Palestine-Israel conflict, a test for Obama
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15:44, January 14, 2009

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Since Israel launched a large-scale offensive into Gaza Strip, code-named Operation Cast Lead, on December 27, 2008, the most intense in 18 days of war has left more than 900 people dead and about 4,100 others wounded. A humanitarian tragedy caused by the offensive has drawn the greater, high-level attention of the international community.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is bound to be an international crisis U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has to face when he takes office. It will also pose a direct test for him to display his capability and wisdom in managing international crises.

The Israeli army's choice of timing for the offensive shows its worries for Obama's election as the US president: First, Barack Obama has not been so pro-Israel as his predecessor President George W. Bush. Since he was elected the president, Jewish Israel and American Jews all fear that Obama could possibly tilt his policy in favor of Arab countries.

Second, Israel has a lot of doubts in mind about the Middle-East policies of the new US government. In view of Obama's open speeches or statements, the Israeli side deems the new US administration could possibly adjust its policies toward Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas with a fear that such adjustments will disfavor Israel or be disadvantageous to it.

Thirdly, Obama's endeavor to adjust the U.S. foreign affairs policy and security policy would even misplace Israel's interests. Obama has announced his troop exit plan from Iraq, proposing that the Middle East would no longer be the central battleground in the war on terrorism. Obama said he would withdraw combat forces from Iraq and instead switch his focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This indicates U.S. would possibly lower its attention to Israeli security.

Israel has multiple motives behind the Gaza onslaught: First, weakening Hamas' hold on Gaza and altering the proportion of Hamas militants in Gaza Strip to Palestinian political forces, propping up President Abbas' moderate faction and increasing the Fatah influence in Gaza. Second, removing the shadow from its defeat in the Lebanon War in 2006 and re-boosting the military morale in a bid to seek more votes for the incoming Feb. 6 general election and, thirdly, "exhorting" Obama with backed-up forces of arms as a warning to the new US government against its deviation or veering away from the existing US-Israeli track.

The test of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for Obama is, in essence, a test for the U.S. Middle-East policies, which will inevitably weigh impact on the future development of the Middle East situation. First of all, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict constitutes the core issue of the Middle East situation. How Obama tackles the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will provide a new basis for the future US-Israel ties and US-Arab ties. If the conflict fails to be handled properly, the U.S.' Middle East policies for the years ahead will be hampered, and the entire Middle East Peace process will be put to a severe test.

Besides, the conflict can possibly affect the resumption of the U.S. ties with Arab countries and the Moslem world as a whole. During his presidential race, Obama committed himself to engaging Arab countries and improving relations with the Islamic world in a brand-new, positive manner; he plans to deliver a major speech in an Islamic capital, perhaps within the first 100 days of his presidency. If Obama is regarded as a pro-Israel element in the ongoing, escalating conflict, however, it will have a dramatic negative effect on the U.S.' Middle-east policies.

Moreover, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can also possibly jeopardize the adjustment of U.S. policies concerning Iraq and on the war against terrorism. The aggravated conflict will give rise to intense vibrations in the Middle-East region, and this could possibly compel Obama to observe carefully again and mull over to shift the anti-terrorism center to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To date, President-elect Barack Obama has declined to comment on Israel's ground offensive into Gaza, and media has therefore used the wording "deafening silence" to describe his apathy to the bloody conflict. The maintenance of silence, nevertheless, may give him "some leeway" before his inauguration in a week to come. But once he comes on the stage, he will be confronted with an "encounter" battle, which is hard for him to avert. So, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the first major international crisis Obama has to face squarely when he enters the oval office, and it will be a direct test for him to show to the full his diplomatic wisdom and his capability in coping with crises.

By People's Daily Online and contributed by Tang Zhichao and Chen Shuangqing, respectively the director of Middle-east Studies and an associate research fellow of West Asian and African Studies under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations


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