Obama talks about Hamas

As violence mounts in Gaza, the president-elect is letting President Bush handle foreign policy. But during the presidential campaign, he made several statements about Hamas.

Published December 27, 2008 10:34PM (EST)

For now, Barack Obama's response to the deteriorating situation in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes appear to have killed more than 200, is to point out that he doesn't take office for more than three weeks. In a statement, Obama's chief national security spokesperson Brooke Anderson said, “President-elect Obama is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza, but there is one president at a time."

Yet, as more than one observer, including former Salonista Jake Tapper, has noted, Obama has made statements about Hamas in the past, and they've been almost unequivocally negative. Would the Obama White House be saying anything much different from what current White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said today, which is that the Bush administration holds Hamas responsible for breaking a cease-fire and urges the Israelis to avoid civilian casualties?

Back in July -- when there was much (groundless) Democratic worry about Obama's supposed problem with Jewish voters -- the presidential candidate visited Israel. He met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and a boy who lost a leg to a Palestinian rocket attack.

In Sderot, a city near Gaza hit by many Palestinian rockets, Obama was asked whether he would negotiate with Hamas. "I don't think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens," he said. "The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if -- I don't even care if I was a politician -- if somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

Obama had sounded the same theme four months earlier. In March, Obama said, "The violence in Gaza is the result of Hamas's decision to launch rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, and Israel has a right to defend itself." In fact, he also said something that sounds nearly identical to what Bush spokesperson Johndroe said today about civilian casualties. Said Obama, "I remain very concerned about the fate of civilians and urge Israel to do all it can to avoid civilian deaths and to keep its focus on Hamas, which bears responsibility for these events."

Still earlier, in February, Ralph Nader said on "Meet the Press" that Obama was pro-Palestinian before he ran for the Illinois state Senate, but since then had been "censor[ing] himself" on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Obama's campaign released a statement that said, "Barack Obama's long-standing support for Israel's security is rooted in his belief that no civilians should have to live with the threat of terrorism. In Gaza, Hamas continues to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians every day, and that's why it is long past time that Hamas renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel's right to exist, and abides by past agreements."


By Mark Schone

Mark Schone is Salon's executive news editor.

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