More of the same

The Baltimore Sun

In her first visit to the Middle East as the United State's chief diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finds herself in the same position as her recent predecessors. She is defending Israel's right to protect itself against Hamas-launched rocket attacks and offering financial aid to Palestinians under the condition that it won't fall into the "wrong hands," a reference to the Islamic militants in control of the bomb-ravaged Gaza Strip.

The intended beneficiary of America's $900 million reconstruction pledge is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who needs to make inroads in the Hamas-governed strip to shift the balance of power among Palestinians in his favor - and perhaps toward a resumption of peace talks.

The latter is a long way off, however, and Mrs. Clinton gave no indication while attending the meeting on international aid for Gaza that the Obama administration has anything up its sleeve to move the stalled process forward.

Despite conveying a genuine interest in not wasting any more time in achieving a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mrs. Clinton signaled no shift in policy and reiterated the changes required of Hamas for the U.S. to accept it as part of a unity government.

To be fair to the administration, Israel's new government has not yet been formed, though it will be led by conservative Benjamin Netanyahu and a likely coalition of hard-liners.

After a pause in hostilities during President Barack Obama's inauguration, Hamas has resumed its defiant lobbing of rockets into southern Israel, even though its last volleys resulted in three weeks of punishing airstrikes by Israel and the deaths of thousands. Gazans should recognize that they are pawns in Hamas' war against Israel and demand a change.

Whether international efforts to rebuild Gaza can improve the political equation for President Abbas is hard to gauge - reconstruction won't occur overnight. But the U.S. must help improve Palestinians' way of life to advance prospects for a two-state solution.

The Obama administration should be more forceful on the contentious issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and put some teeth into American objections to expansion in any form. Mrs. Clinton is likely to confront that very issue today in a visit to the West Bank.

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