The cycle of violence between Israel and Hamas has entered its sixth day. Three Israelis and 100 Palestinians have so far been needlessly killed, and more than 500 Palestinians are injured. With a potential ground offensive of 75,000 Israeli troops into Gaza in the offing, many are asking: Where is Washington?
Washington is where it has always been in this conflict: 100 percent on Israel’s side against Hamas, which Washington considers to be a terrorist organization and a proxy of Iran. "We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself," President Obama said on Sunday. "There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."
Obama’s words are not surprising, considering America’s consistent support for Israel. What is astonishing, however, is that it has taken Obama five days to utter these words. In a previous era, it would have come to Washington to bring an end to the conflict; a senior American official would have been traveling by now between Washington, Tel-Aviv, and Cairo seeking an end to this violence. Remember Mr. Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy?
Yet, six days on, the Arab League and the Europeans appear to be more active than the White House in finding a solution. The French are reportedly sending in their Foreign minister to help broker a cease fire. Britain, an ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu, is warning that Israel risks “losing international support and sympathy” if it continues with this conflict. But, no senior Obama administration official has been dispatched to the region, not even for the sake of optics. Instead, Washington is seeking the assistance of an inexperienced regime in Cairo and the leaders of Qatar and Turkey to exert pressure on Hamas to agree to a cease fire.
Amidst the backdrop of missiles in Gaza, President Obama and his Secretary of State Clinton are on a landmark visit to Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. The world has clearly changed. Aparent it is that America’s energy and long-term interests are clearly no longer in the Middle East. They lie elsewhere, in Asia, where the Obama administration has been ‘pivoting’ since 2009.
Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is a contemplative and pragmatic. With the lessons of Iraq in mind, Mr. Obama does not want to get bogged down financially, militarily, and diplomatically in the Middle East. Not even for the Israeli Palestinian issue. Obama prefers to spend his energy securing the future with a relationship with a rising and more prosperous Asia. This explains why the Israeli Palestinian peace process is dead, with signs for a revival.
The Middle East was victim to the Asian pivot during the crisis in Libya, where the Americans refused to take the lead in ousting Muamar Gadhafi. For close to two years, the Middle East has been victim to the Asian pivot in Syria, where the United States has chosen to opt out of an active role in supporting rebels fighting against the Assad regime.
Because of the Asian Pivot, Obama’s words on Sunday were glaring for what they did not contain: a figment of hope for the Palestinian people that America will remain engaged in finding a solution to their crisis with the Israelis. Because of the Asian pivot, do not expect a quick end to this conflict with Gaza. Nor should you expect a two state solution anytime soon.