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Barack Obama's election as US President was hailed around the world. He gave many people hope that the US would lead all of us to a new age of enlightenment.
Internationally, Obama has to deal with the fallout of Bush administration policies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also, more vigorously than any other president, tackling problems between Israel and the Palestinians. While the security of Israel must be inviolate, he has also made it clear that expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem must stop.
Too many Israelis believe that Muslims generally will not accept the fact of Israel's existence and that their objective is to establish a fundamental Islamic domination of the entire region, and thus the destruction of Israel. Such arguments exhibit a fatal hopelessness.
Even though Israel has defence guarantees from the US, it has not relied on that commitment and has instead pursued its own substantial nuclear arsenal.
Having refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel's nuclear program is not subject to international inspection, supervision or criticism. But its actions promote proliferation and have clearly influenced Iran.
There is significant debate within Israel itself about policy regarding the Palestinians. However, attempts by others to debate issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians, and most recently Israel's attacks in Gaza, often lead to a charge of anti-Semitism.
Those who believe Israel's policies are misguided should not remain silent and governments should not be locked into uncritical support of Israel. Let me give one example.
After Hamas won a legitimate democratic election in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel and the US led the international community to isolate Hamas and diminish its ability to negotiate by requiring the organisation to forswear violence and recognise Israel's rights before any talks could begin.
Obama has suggested he might have a different approach. He believes that the US should talk to potential enemies to see if some area of agreement can be reached. This is similar to the attitude that president Eisenhower and subsequent presidents took in relation to the Soviet Union. Little by little agreements were reached.
The Baker-Hamilton report in the closing stages of the Bush administration recommended that all parties in the Middle East be involved in a search for a peaceful solution. James Baker himself defended the need to talk to all parties and gave instances from his own experience where that had led to success.
The International Crisis Group, until recently led by Gareth Evans, also believes that the isolation of Hamas should be ended, and that peace will not be advanced under current policies. There are many Americans on the board of the International Crisis Group.
More and more influential people support such views in relation to Hamas. After the election that led to their total isolation, it would have been possible to say: ''From our perspective certain of your views will have to change but you have won a legitimate election, we welcome your participation in the democratic process and therefore we will get into the room with you to see if there are areas of agreement between us.''
But Hamas was isolated, violence - predictably - resumed and the whole region paid the price.
Israel and America also made attempts to strengthen Fatah, to weaken or destroy Hamas. Such attempts have failed. Fatah's leadership was not up to that challenge and too many Palestinians thought that Fatah was self-serving and incompetent.
What happens now? Does Australia have a role? Do we wish to advance the Obama agenda?
Australian governments have paid lip service to even-handedness between Israel and the Palestinians. We have spoken against the expansion of settlements, but along with the rest of the world we have not been effective.
Obama is showing more resolution: can we help him? Should we help him? Cessation of settlement expansion is critical to progress. Can the Palestinians legitimately be expected to negotiate when more of the territory they believe to be theirs is taken month by month?
If there were agreement on the boundaries of a Palestinian state, Israel would have no problem about recognition. If the boundaries that existed before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June 1967 were accepted, negotiations would clearly move forward. But that is not the case. Progress between Israel and Palestinians is critical to peace in the Middle East and important in combating terrorism worldwide.
Australia could urge, as others have done, that Hamas be brought in from the cold. But do we have the courage? In doing so, we would be a real partner of the US contributing to peace in the Middle East and removing an important source and inspiration for fundamentalist terrorists.
Fear of criticism from the Jewish lobby in Australia has so far prevented Australian governments taking effective action. If we want to be a real ally to the US, if we want justice and peace, we have an opportunity.