So, why didn’t they give peace a chance? Why did the leaders of Hamas and Israel not wait for the incoming U.S. president’s inauguration before mutually escalating hostilities? Here was a president-elect chosen, in part, on the expectation that he could enhance prospects for Mideast peace, even if it meant negotiating with people thought to be enemies.

Why not give that approach an opportunity to succeed regarding the future of Palestine? Why not see if Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband had been more successful than any other president in advancing the prospects for peace in the Mideast, could have accomplished more than the lame-duck secretary of state she will soon replace?

The question answers itself.

Unfortunately, neither Hamas’ nor Israel’s leaders believe that a meaningful peace of the sort all U.S. presidents have endorsed is in their interest. That peace stipulates two independent and viable national entities, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. Clearly, Hamas and its hard-line supporters in the region reject the goal of an Israel at peace with its neighbors and secure within its boundaries, even if those borderlines return to those existing in 1967 at the time of the Six-Day War.

Further, Islamic nations in the region obviously don’t want a secure Palestine, as some support only the most radical of Palestinian movements, and the oil wealthy regimes, while eagerly throwing money at Wall Street, refuse to invest in any serious way in the Palestinian economy.

What is less obvious, particularly to Israel’s many knee-jerk supporters in the United States, is that the dominant Israeli politicians of all parties just as consistently reject the goal of a meaningful two-nation solution, if by that is meant a vibrant and truly independent Palestinian state. This last sentence represents heresy to those many who insist, as an article of faith and despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that Israel has never wanted anything but to live in peace with its neighbors.

Their view is colonialist propaganda, pure and simple. I first heard it while reporting from Gaza and the West Bank in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War, brought on by Egypt and Jordan, which were then the occupiers of what remained of Palestine. Maybe Israel’s leaders, most prominently the conquering war hero Moshe Dayan, meant it when they claimed that they had no desire to permanently occupy this land. After all, they were mostly secular Labor Party Zionists, who shunned any notion of a divine mandate to remain in control of the Promised Land.

Whatever their original intentions, the occupation created its own logic of suppression, first breeding discontent and then rebellion. It doesn’t matter whether that rebellion takes the form of stone-throwing or rocket launching; the Israeli response will always be wildly disproportionate, further damning the prospect for rational solutions. And uncritically underwriting that disproportionate Israeli response to any and all dissent will be the United States, the supplier of those F-16s doing so much damage in Gaza today.

But most U.S. presidents, with the possible exception of George W. Bush, came to view the blank check for Israel as a loser’s game. The madness at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been widely acknowledged as the prime source of a much greater madness now codified as terrorism. And even Bush, as represented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, recently has been forced by that reality to put pursuing a meaningful peace back on the agenda.

The fact that settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is central to international stability ends up informing U.S. policy, much to the chagrin of the region’s hard-liners on both sides. Throw in the prospect of a new U.S. president, who has put the waging of peace into the conversation, and it is understandable why that would threaten many in the Mideast who are wedded to the old ways of doing business. It is why Jimmy Carter, as an ex-president, has worked so courageously to confront that deadly dynamic.

Barack Obama’s challenge will be to turn his mantra of change into a practical road map for Mideast peace, a prospect made much more elusive by the Israeli blitzkrieg. But if he fails to do that and simply panders to those who have grown comfortable with this disastrous status quo, he will seriously undermine the prospects for his administration. With our severe economic problems, the last thing we need is increased Mideast instability, driving up U.S. military expenditures and the price of oil.

Robert Scheer is editor in chief of Truthdig and author of a new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.”

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