BEHIND THE NEWS: Middle East crisis

December 29, 2008 1:05:27 PM PST
Obama is deferring to Bush, and Bush is deferring to his not-quite-old-enough-to-shave spokesman.

Which means everybody is punting on the question of Israel's air-assault (and soon-to-be, perhaps, ground assault) on Gaza. Which means everybody is punting on what could be all-out war between Israel and the Palestinians.

It's terrible that Hamas called a halt to the six-month-old ceasefire 10 days ago. Terrible that it didn't extend it. Terrible that they lobbed rockets into Israeli territory - rockets, which, by the way, killed -- wait, let me calculate this -- no one. Until after the Israeli attacks. Since then, four Israelis have been killed and more than 20 hurt.

But perhaps that's not the point. Israel clearly sees that as aggressive - how could they not? - and they reacted. Over-reacted, according to many -- bombing for days and killing nearly 350, while injuring hundreds more and reducing the already quarantined Gaza to an isolated, rubble-filled shell of its former self. Among those killed: more than 120 civilians, including eight school kids with their teacher at a U.N. School, and 5 girls from the same family at a refugee camp.

Also killed: 180 policemen and 45 militants from Hamas' military wing.

But it is the sound of women wailing for their husbands and sons that is beyond sad. Anyone who's been to Gaza knows that this ain't a huge piece of property we're talking about. Police stations are next to houses. Bomber jets targeting a police station will find it hard to also not hit the adjacent buildings, which become "collateral damage."

Dang I hate that term.

Pres. Bush said his goal was to forge a new peace agreement before he left office -- a last-minute, nice-sounding bit of pie-in-the-sky after nearly two terms of ignoring the hotspot.

Now, not only will a peace agreement be a far-fetched notion, a full-on war could very well be underway by the time he dons his overcoat, helicopters to Andrews Air Force Base and makes the last of oh-so-many trips aboard Air Force One to his ranch in Crawford on January 20. (Harper's Magazine has a great tidbit in its "Index" section that Mr. Bush spend 25% of his time in office either traveling to or from, or on holiday.)

The "crisis test" that then-candidate Joe Biden said would face his running mate during the first year may not be India-Pakistan or Iraq or Iran. It may be the Gaza Strip. And during his first year? Hey, it might be during his first week.

My first trip to Israel was in 1987, and I felt certain after that visit that the problems there were intractable. I have waffled over the years and on each subsequent trip there on the issue of whether peace is possible. A ceasefire between Hamas and Israel seemed a positive step, although there were man at the time who reasoned that it was purely temporary, just a time-out for calm before more bloodshed.

They have turned out to be right, at least for the past few days.

In this supposed season of peace on earth, it would be great if they were wrong.

It will take more than fingers-crossed to make it so.

We'll have the latest on the crisis in Gaza, tonight at 11, including several protests and mock funeral processions planned for New York City.

If you'd like to express your opinions about the situation, please CLICK HERE. And let me know if you DON'T want your name used in tomorrow's column.

We're also following the Caroline Kennedy situation, which is quickly turning into its own mini-crisis. Was the sole-survivor of that First Family better off remaining a quiet, behind-the-scenes mover and shaker? Perhaps.

The first time I wrote about her in this space about replacing Hillary Clinton as the U.S. Senator from New York, I was singing her praises for apparently rejecting the notion that she should be appointed. I said, good for her, for passing the word that she wasn't interested. Good for her, because she had never been elected to office, never even run for office, and if she were up for doing the job, then she should seek it -- through the ballot box, not through appointment. That was my column. I spiked it, when word came down from her cousin, Robert Kennedy, Jr., that she was indeed interested.

Since then, she's been criticized from all quarters, although praised by many, including Michael Bloomberg, who is also trying to backdoor the voters and try for a third term, despite the term limits law prohibiting another run.

Kennedy was lampooned for not speaking to the press. Then, when she did speak -- over the holiday weekend, when the audience was much smaller than normal -- she was criticized because, guess what? She's not as smooth-talking as people thought she'd be.

The New York Times kept in the "you know" asides in the transcript of their interview with Kennedy. And there were many. A lot.

So, she's not the smoothest speaker? No one will doubt her intelligence, or her passion.

The issue remains the same as the column I spiked a few weeks ago: If she wants to run, she should run. Hillary Clinton never held office till she was elected U.S. Senator. Robert F. Kennedy's first elected office was that seat as well. Mayor Bloomberg's first elected job was as New York City's CEO. So was Rudy Giuliani's. The point is they were all elected, not appointed.

I know politics rules, and Gov. Paterson -- who also wasn't elected to the job -- wants to make sure that his own election has a name candidate who can raise money for the ticket in 2010. But the best public policy would be to appoint a principled caretaker. Someone who promised not to run. Someone who would fight for New York's interests without politics playing a role.

We'll have the latest on the Kennedy affair, at 11.

And how about Eric Mangini? The youngest NFL coach when he was hired, is now an out-of-work coach. The New York Jets huge late-season collapse is being laid in the lap of the head coach. Is that right? We'll explore that tonight -- Scott Clark leads our coverage. And we'd love to hear what you think? Please CLICK HERE to have your opinion in this space tomorrow. You can also express yourself in our Question of the Day poll by clicking here.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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