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US President, President-elect Watch Israel, Hamas Carefully

Since President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, the White House has been involved in trying to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But until now, no U.S. president has succeeded.

The effort has become more difficult not only because of the current Israeli operation in Gaza, but also as a result of internal Israeli and Palestinian politics - both fractured. And, on January 20, the pro-Israel administration of President Bush will be replaced by President-elect Barack Obama, who many on the Arab side hope will be more sympathetic to their cause.

President Bush has spoken repeatedly about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to work together and reach a lasting peace.

But during its two terms, the Bush White House, despite hosting the 2007 Annapolis peace talks, has shown solid support for Israel and its military operations against Palestinian militants.

The current Israeli strikes against Hamas in Gaza are no exception, as White House spokesman Gordon Jondroe made clear.

"Hamas has once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization that refuses to even recognize Israel's right to exist," Jondroe said. "In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire."

Some observers believe Israel started bombing Gaza now because it wanted support from President Bush but also the upper hand with Mr. Bush's successor.

"So Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, who is an ex-general, is, in a sense, seizing the ground while he has the chance. And so, the situation confronting Barack Obama when he comes in will be Israel having a stronger position," said analyst Paul Schram of the Middle East Institute.

Many Palestinians and Arabs hope Barack Obama will be more supportive of the Palestinians and a Palestinian state than President Bush has been. One group calling for better balance is the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"America has to show leadership - a new leadership," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the council. "And the team of Barack Obama should not repeat the mistakes of George Bush and even Bill Clinton. We need new change, and we need to exercise pressure on Israel."

In his campaign to win the White House, Barack Obama went to Jerusalem and expressed solidarity with Israel.

Mr. Obama also supported Israel's right to defend itself.

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I am going to do everything in my power to stop that," Obama said.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said nothing beyond repeating his desire to push for a a Jewish and Palestinian state living side by side in peace.

At the Brookings Institution, Middle East analyst Shibley Telhami said "one thing that he has to be careful of is not to say something that is going to tie his hands when he starts and comes into office."

Mr. Obama has also made it clear that there is only one president at a time, and for now, that president is George Bush.