Ex-pres. Obama: ‘How Israel prosecutes this fight matters’

Ex-pres. Obama: 'How Israel prosecutes this fight matters'

Former US president Barack Obama released a lengthy statement Monday evening about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The statement, posted to Medium, runs about 1,000 words and goes into significantly more depth than Obama’s previous statement on the war, a brief paragraph that condemned Hamas’s attack on Israel and called on Americans to “stand squarely alongside our ally, Israel, as it dismantles Hamas.”

The new post focuses on Israel’s responsibility to civilians who are caught in the Gaza Strip ahead of an anticipated ground invasion to remove Hamas’s rule over the territory. “Israel has a right to defend its citizens,” Obama wrote, “but even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight matters.” The ex-president, who governed during Israel’s last ground operation in Gaza during the summer of 2014, wrote that “any Israeli military strategy that ignores the human costs could ultimately backfire.”

“Already, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the bombing of Gaza, many of them children; hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes,” he said. The statement then  goes on to question Israel’s siege of the Hamas-run territory, warning that “The Israeli government’s decision to cut off food, water, and electricity to a captive civilian population threatens not only to worsen a growing humanitarian crisis” but also to “further harden Palestinian attitudes for generations, erode global support for Israel, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, and undermine long term efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region.”

Obama called on Israel’s allies to “encourage a strategy that can incapacitate Hamas while minimizing further civilian casualties” and to also provide “aid and supplies to an increasingly desperate Gaza population.”

The ex-president then reiterates his support for a two-state solution, repeating that “Israel has every right to exist” while also making reference to Palestinians’ “legitimate aspirations for self-determination” and encouraging regional actors to engage with “those Palestinian leaders and organizations that recognize Israel’s right to exist,” even as “the prospects of future peace may seem more distant than ever.”

The statement first condemns antisemitism, including “the morally bankrupt suggestion that any cause can somehow justify the deliberate slaughter of innocent people,” and then condemns “anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian sentiment,” including “dehumanizing language towards the people of Gaza.” Obama concludes by calling on readers “not to always assume the worst in those with whom we disagree,” and advocating “respectful dialogue.”

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the burial ceremony of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Israeli leaders maintain that the state has been following all relevant laws of war, and taking appropriate measures to avoid civilian casualties.

Statement comes amid surge of anti-Israel rhetoric

The statement is generally in line with Obama’s rhetoric and policy as president. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to exist, but his rhetoric about IDF tactics, and his actions behind the scenes during the war, remain a matter of controversy and dispute. Obama had a notoriously poor relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister for the entirety of Obama’s term as president.

The comments come against a backdrop of contention within the Democratic Party, of which Obama was leader as president, over whom to support and how to support them in the ongoing war in Gaza. It also comes amid a more extreme conflict over the issue among liberal activists and academics.

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