BARACK Obama is under criticism because he has made no more than an even-handed appeal to Israel and Hamas to cease hostilities and observe a ceasefire since Israel launched its devastating attacks on Gaza. His critics say that his silence is being interpreted in the Middle East as support for Israel. Mr Obama's response - or, rather, that of his chief spokesman Brooke Anderson - is that the United States has only one president at a time, and for the next two weeks that is still George W Bush - who is saying very little beyond expressing his view that Hamas is a terrorist organisation. The expectation that Obama should say something before January 20 is surprising. Although it is unsatisfactory that no clear US view on the Gaza conflict is available, it might prove to be even more unsatisfactory if the President-elect were to make a statement that exacerbated the present situation in Gaza. Almost anything that Obama might say would be examined in depth and interpreted in different ways by those involved - leading possibly to the need for him to explain, clarify, deny or amplify. He could be pulled into the dispute without having the power to act appropriately. It is, of course, very unsatisfactory that the interregnum between the US presidential election and the winner's inauguration is so long. It is an invitation to trouble-makers to act while Washington seems without a leader. Is that what Israel had in mind when it chose this period to attack Gaza by air and then invade it?


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