Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Obama holds silence over Gaza

Leonard Doyle
Monday 05 January 2009 02:47 GMT

President-elect Barack Obama maintained his silence on the situation Gaza yesterday as America's next first family moved into a luxury hotel steps from the White House and his children prepared for their first day at school in Washington.

Mr Obama has left the ritualised hand wringing about the humanitarian situation in Gaza to the Bush Administration, with his aides repeating the mantra that there is only one president at a time in America.

But as the bombs rained down, Vice President Dick Cheney went on television yesterday implying that Washington had effectively given Israel a green light to take down Hamas before the Obama Administration could make any changes to US policy in the Middle East.

Mr Obama has received the same national security briefings as President Bush since his election on 4 November, but he has opted to remain silent on growing crisis as have his new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and usually voluble Vice President elect Joe Biden. By contrast Mr Obama has been all over plans for dealing with the US economic meltdown. He also broke his silence on foreign affairs to condemn the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

In the absence of either President Bush or President elect Obama, Mr Cheney told CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday that Israel “didn’t seek clearance from us.” He revealed that he was briefed on Israeli plans during a recent visit and told the situation would turn “very ugly” if Hamas did not end its rocket attacks.

By formally ending its ceasefire with Israel on 19 December, Hamas provided Israel with the opening for its onslaught, he added. “They (Israel) haven’t told me exactly what they planned to do,” Mr Cheney said before adding, “We’ve been very concerned about the Palestinian people.”

But Mr Cheney made it clear that the Bush administration had no interest in demanding a ceasefire in Gaza unless it was “durable and sustainable.” There was no point, Mr Cheney said, in freezing the situation in a way that would allow Hamas to fire rockets into Israel once again.

There is much unease in the outgoing administration that Mr Obama’s yet to be revealed policy towards the Islamic world and concern that he may jettison many of the hard line policies of the past eight years.

During the election Mr Obama seemed to bend over backwards to express support for Israel, at one stage going further than official US policy to endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But he has also promised to transform US foreign policy towards the Islamic world and signalled his intention to make a keynote policy speech at a "major Islamic forum" within 100 days of entering the White House.

"I will make clear that we are not at war with Islam, that we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future, and that we need their effort to defeat the prophets of hate and violence," he said.

Mr Obama’s determination to end the war in Iraq, close the military prison in Guantanamo and conduct foreign policy is a way that is more than a “war on terror,” is not something either the outgoing Bush administration or Israel have applauded.

Mr Obama has not come under pressure to speak out on the crisis in Gaza however.

“Almost everyone in Washington agrees that the timing of the latest crisis had at least one benefit,” the New York Times said yesterday, “It came before the inauguration of Mr. Obama.”

Despite his staunch support for Israel — at one point justifying a response to Hamas rocket attacks — he “has raised expectations of a change in policy in the Middle East,” the paper said.

A recent Pew survey reveals that US voters are far more worried about their jobs and the economy than foreign policy. And finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict comes bottom of US foreign policy worries.

Mr Obama is still in his honeymoon period with a Gallup Poll indicating that his transition is more than weathering any criticisms it has endured since the election.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in