It is astonishing to see how the United States and its allies have defended the right of Israel to self-defence, but remained virtually silent over Israel's killing of many innocent Palestinians in the past week alone and its strategy of encamping the 1.5 million population of the tiny squalid Gaza in order to punish the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.
It is even more disconcerting how they have said little against the Israeli Deputy Defence Minister, Matan Vilnai, threatening the people of Gaza with shoah, meaning catastrophe or holocaust. This term has been used mainly to describe the Nazi extermination of the Jews. If such a threat were made by a leading Arab or Muslim, there would be an international outcry, most of all from Washington.
All the Bush Administration could do was to call for the resumption of peace negotiations in pursuit of implementing the President, George Bush's, vision of a two-state solution.
When Bush announced last November that he expected the protagonists to reach a settlement within a year, he appeared ignorant of the complexities of the conflict and the effect his own policy has had on complicating the search for a settlement.
A majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people wanted peace. They supported enthusiastically the Oslo peace process, which was initiated in September 1993 but was opposed by the former right-wing Israeli prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, and also subsequently backed the two-state solution, which still awaits implementation. The problem is that the Bush Administration, the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority do not have the will and capacity to deliver what most Israelis and Palestinians and, for that matter, the world desire.
Bush has persistently acted in support of Israel - a policy designed to strengthen America's geopolitical dominance in the Middle East and to realise his personal predilections as a born-again Christian. This support has been encouraged by his neo-conservative advisers and has fallen within the defining framework of the so-called war on terrorism. He has relentlessly backed successive Israeli governments in their attempts to pressure the Palestinians to suppress Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Even when under international pressure he has mildly criticised Israel for expanding its illegal settlements or for erecting an illegal security wall, incorporating more Palestinian land into Israel, he has done nothing to act upon that criticism.
The Israeli governments since 2001 have not shown any serious commitment to a peaceful settlement. They have found it expedient to focus their policy actions on how to weaken and divide the Palestinians so that Israeli leaders could claim that there is no single Palestinian authority with which Israel could negotiate, and that more and more Palestinians have turned to terrorism.
In the process, Israel and the US have backed President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah organisation, which was once condemned by them as a terrorist group and which now controls only the West Bank, against Hamas that governs Gaza as a popular force. Now that the Olmert Government is very weak and unpopular largely as a result of its Lebanon debacle of 2006 and the Abbas Administration is very much at the mercy of the Olmert and Bush administrations, and the Bush Administration is on the way out, little can be expected on the peace front.
As long as Israel remains fixed on its current course, it is hard to see how Bush's optimism about a settlement, based on a two-state solution, could materialise before the end of this year. A particular difficulty is that if Hamas is not part of a peace deal, it would always be in a position to wreck it.
The recent Israeli actions have once again united the Palestinians in their common struggle for freedom and independence. Whatever one's view of Hamas, it is part of this struggle. The sooner the Israeli and US governments as well as the Abbas administration recognise this, the better for the cause of peace. It is time for the US and its allies not only to condemn the Palestinian militants' actions against Israel, but also to pressure Israel to abandon its policy of occupation and collective punishment. Israel should not persist in the kind of rhetoric and actions that demean its own people upon whom a holocaust was truly inflicted.
Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) at the Australian National University.
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