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2009-01-20 00:00

THE welcome news over the weekend of an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire came only days before Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States and it could only be assumed that there was some coincidence in the timing of these developments.

Nothwithstanding Israeli polls which suggest that Israel’s leaders have, at home, been strengthened by the conflict ahead of next month’s Israeli legislative elections, news reports have cited Israeli officials confirming the link between the withdrawal of troops and Obama’s inauguration. The suggestion is that such a pull-out would spare the Obama administration the pressure of having to deal with an ongoing conflict Gaza on its first day.

Indications are that president-elect Obama has been understandably cautious about issuing policy statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until he is officially ensconced in the Oval Office. While such reticence has been interpreted in different ways by critics on either side, what is not in doubt is the pivotal role that the office of the U.S. president plays and will continue to play in Middle East politics.

Under the circumstances, it is to be hoped that Obama’s term of office will usher in a more temperate approach to conflict. It is now widely recognised that the response of the U.S. under George W. Bush to the 9/11 attacks — epitomised by tenuously motivated military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq —helped to nurture even further the conditions and discourse (“axis of evil”) in which ideological and military excess could flourish and individual agendas could be pursued.

It is now time for moderation to prevail. Fringe elements on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still advocating intemperance in the face of the cease-fire must be urgently curtailed.

Whatever its origins, the timing of the Mid-East cease-fire augurs well for the new U.S. administration. It reminds us that in the rapidly evolving world of global politics, the U.S. still retains its title as the world’s great power. What time will hopefully show is that if managed by the right people, such power, which also comes with enormous responsibility, can be harnessed to achieve peace and understanding rather than distrust, anger and conflict.

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