The current fighting in Gaza is the result of decades of terror, oppression, and violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. Sparked by the recent kidnapping of three Israeli teens, the Palestinian group Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have exchanged deadly fire, leading to the death of more than 1,000 Palestinians and 48 Israelis in the last three weeks.
Israel seeks to prevent the launching of Hamas’ rockets into Israel and to eliminate the numerous tunnels burrowing under the Israeli border. Although Israel cites its right of self-defense, the IDF’s use of overwhelming force and seemingly blatant disregard for civilian casualties further tarnishes the reputation and moral standing of Israel. Unfortunately for the Palestinian people this will have no positive effect on their future.
Bad press is nothing new for Israel. And without outside pressure or a viable threat, Israeli policy will not change. Benefiting from military superiority, nuclear deterrence, and U.S. support, Israel is secure from overt military assault. Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israeli territory, but they are of low quality and poorly aimed. The success of the Iron Dome missile defense system further reduces the threat of rocket attacks. On a whole, the status quo favors Israel; minor security concerns without the hassle of integrating a new Arab population or engaging with a legitimate Palestinian neighbor. Israel continues to build settlements, wall off its border, and maintain security control over the West Bank.
If Israel is to halt its current policies, there needs to be outside pressure. Without that pressure there will not be change. The only external actor with the influence or authority to do so is the United States. To date, the current administration has played the role of a facilitator, bringing both sides to the negotiating table and mediating the discussion. Due to the nature of our “special relationship”, foreign aid, and the sale of arms, the United States is uniquely positioned to pressure the Israeli government.
The Obama Administration has been unwilling or unable to exert that pressure. Clearly domestic political concerns like campaign finance, electoral math, lobby groups, and an obstinate Congress have all played a role in stymying efforts to utilize the United States’ influence. Pro-Israel lobbies, fundraisers, and politicians work to prevent the United States Government from deviating from a position of full support for Israel.
The United States has played a leadership role in bringing the two sides together again and again, to no avail. That level of leadership alone is not sufficient. If the Obama Administration hopes to have a lasting effect on the conflict, they need to exhibit a more uncommon form of leadership. This means standing up to the domestic pressure and risking political blowback.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Solving this crisis will not only end the deaths and suffering of two peoples but could have a rippling effect, changing the landscape of the Middle East and eliminating a black mark on the United States’ international presence. As President Obama nears the end of his second term and begins to consider his legacy, he should seize this opportunity to be remembered as the president that did what 11 presidents before him could not, resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.