Barbara Ferguson
Arab News
January 1, 2009 - 1:00am

As the siege of Gaza by Israel enters its fifth day, Ziad Asali, president and founder of the DC-based American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), said the US should be working toward a cease-fire as its No. 1 priority of the moment.

“All other political considerations have to be negotiated in the absence of fighting on both sides,” he said.

Asali added that Hamas does not seem to have suffered seriously from the Israeli attacks, “because they were prepared and in hiding. It is the Palestinian people that have suffered, and the blame is being laid entirely on Israel, especially in the Arab world.”

What happens next is extremely hard to predict, but he warned that an Israeli ground offensive would prove more costly to the Israelis than air strikes.

“If there is a ground assault, it will create the real possibility of more Israeli causalities and military causalities. I’m sure the Israelis are giving this a lot of serious thought,” he said.

He also spoke in defense of Egypt, which is being criticized by the Arab community for inaction and for shutting off the border to fleeing Palestinians in Gaza.

“Egypt is very rightly concerned about keeping the unity between the West Bank and Gaza, which is why it wants to keep the legitimacy of the two-state solution as one entity,” Asali said.

Asali lamented the silence coming form both President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama, but hoped there were negotiations going on behind closed doors.

"They're not talking publicly, neither are the Obama people," he said. "So we have to conclude that they're doing their diplomatic work quietly, and we know that they've both been engaged with the diplomatic leadership in the Arab world."

Asali added that the world “needs to hear from the incoming Obama administration; we don't know where they stand.”

Asali gave more credit to incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“The person who really matters is the president-elect, and also the person who is running the foreign policy as the secretary of state. Clinton knows the issues,” he said. “She was the first person who talked about a Palestinian state when she was First Lady. When she became the senator of New York she became amiable to the constituency there; now she is playing a different role, and she hasn't yet spoken publicly about it. She's a heavyweight and alas a clear understanding and has the ability to influence.”

Meanwhile, much of the world remains unable to watch Israel's treatment of Gaza, since numerous humanitarian aide workers, along with reporters and photographers, have been barred from Gaza by the Israeli authorities for the last several months to keep witnesses from reporting to the outside world on the tragic human cost of the siege.

“The international community should seriously address the question of whether Israeli is fulfilling its responsibly as an occupying power, which is to meet the basic needs and protect the interests of the people it's occupying,” said Geoffrey Aronson, Director of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace.

“They are going to push Hamas to the diplomatic center stage, and will in the future marginalize Abu Mazin and Fatah,” he said. “If that’s the result that this operation was intended to produce, then I guess you can consider it a success ... the sum result of Western and Israeli diplomacy has been to further empower Hamas at the expense of Fatah,” said Aronson.


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