Israel Girds for Visit by President Obama's New Envoy, George Mitchell

Former senator George Mitchell is heading to the Middle East to discuss the aftermath of the Gaza war


By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

With George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, due in the region on Wednesday to mark the Obama administration's debut in Mideast peacemaking, Israel is worrying about American pressure, something it felt very little of during the Bush years. The conservative Jerusalem Post's editorial reflects the apprehension, while counseling Mitchell and his boss to turn the pressure on the Palestinians and Iran instead:

There would be virtually no support among Israelis for concessions to a Palestinian unity government in which an unreformed Hamas plays any role. Conversely, if the Obama administration could devise a strategy of sidelining the radicals and defanging their chief backer and the most destabilizing force in the region - Iran, the prospects for a sustainable peace would improve dramatically.

However, President Shimon Peres, the granddaddy of peace-processors, counsels optimism, as the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reports:

"In three days George Mitchell will arrive, and I've been reading in the papers that we need to prepare for pressure and almost to wear a bullet-proof vest. I'm not sure we should feel so pressured. How will the US pressure us? To make peace? To fight terror? To prevent Iran from wreaking havoc? I see Mitchell as an envoy of a good thing, of a country we support," Peres said on Sunday.

War boosts Israeli right's election hopes

With Israeli elections coming up February 10, the war appears to have strengthened the right-wing parties as well as the centrist Labor Party, which is led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu continues to be the favorite to become Israel's next prime minister, while Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the center-right Kadima party, has fallen further behind. Ha'aretz publishes the opinion survey's findings:

The poll also states that the gap between the Likud and Kadima stands at 8 mandates, with the Likud expected to bring in 30 and Kadima 22. According to the poll, Labor can expect to win 17 mandates, Yisrael Beitenu 16, Shas 10, Meretz 5, United Torah Judaism 5, Hadash 4, National Union 3, The Jewish Home 3, United Arab List 3, and Balad 2 seats.

Gaza 's humanitarian crisis worsens

In Gaza, where the cease-fire has held for a week after 22 days of relentless Israeli attacks, the suffering is far from over. Human rights groups, including the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights, speak of a worsening humanitarian crisis, as the Palestinian IMEMC (International Middle East Media Center) reports:

A group of Israeli doctors with Physicians for Human Rights released a report Saturday with their observations from a delegation to the Gaza Strip. They say that due to the overcrowded conditions, lack of medical supplies, and intermittent electricity resulting from Israeli bombardment, hundreds of Palestinians are in danger of dying.

In addition to the lack of medical equipment and supplies, there are sewage leaks in many areas in Gaza, animal carcasses are strewn about the streets and trash is everywhere after the massive bombardment of homes and schools for three weeks straight. The Physicians for Human Rights warn that this will lead to contamination of the wounded, many of whom are suffering from acute burns and amputations of limbs.