Leading article: We must not let despair dash hopes of peace in Gaza

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The Independent Online

The relatively muted response from the capitals of the Western world over the conflict in Gaza is a sad testament to a kind of collective failure of the will and imagination on all our parts. There are now more than 300 dead in the territory while thousands of others have been rendered homeless. But where are the signs of urgent diplomatic activity aimed at bringing an end to the killing?

So far, there has not been much to be seen. The reaction yesterday of our Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was the familiar message – surely rendered redundant by the events of the last few days – about how all sides need to show more restraint. The UN Security Council is calling for a return to calm.

What is so desperately ugly about this latest conflict in Gaza is that the two sides involved, object and subject, have a quite malevolent interest in keeping the whole operation going: in Israel's case, a weak government clearly feels that it needs to act tough before the general elections in February in order to end the rocket attacks on southern Israel fired from Gaza.

And indeed, the latest assaults have already delivered Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party a sudden bounce in the polls, vis-à-vis the right-wing Likud party.

Then there is Hamas. With its fundamentalist tunnel vision, this Islamist movement appears to have an interest in the virtual destruction of what is left of society in Gaza, perhaps believing that such a dreadful social upheaval can only tighten its theocratic control over a frightened and shattered population.

There is, in other words, no strong incentive for either party in the deadly tango to disengage from the conflict right now, which makes it all the more important for outside factors to involve themselves and force matters to a halt on their own initiative. That means, primarily, the United States, the only power that has any real clout with the Israelis.

The omens ought to be good here. Barack Obama comes into office in January as the first President of the United States in decades to enjoy any real credibility in the non-white world. True, his popularity is considerably less in Arab countries than in Africa, but he is still regarded with far less suspicion in the Middle East than any other recent occupant of the White House. And in Hillary Clinton he has a Secretary of State who should bring a wealth of experience to the post. But Obama's silence till now on the subject of the carnage in Gaza could be indicative. It is true, as the Obama team maintains, that America has only one President at a time, but it would surely not have been out of place for the President-elect to say something significant on such a pressing issue as this.

The fact that he has chosen not to utter a word on Gaza in public should serve as a salutary reminder that as president, Obama will inevitably be far more interested in the salvation of America than of the world. If so, that is a pity for Israel-Palestine and still more for Gaza, because it's just not true, as the do-nothings and the doom-sayers say, that there are no solutions and no route map out of this morass.

Whether it is about going back to the Camp David talks of 2000, or looking harder at the more recent Arab peace initiative backed by Saudi Arabia – which Israel did not reject – there is no shortage of potential solutions on the table. What there is, regrettably, is a dismal lack of willpower on the parts of world leaders to see at least one of those solutions applied.