US has critical role in complex search for peace

Middle East specialist Prof Bill Harris sees no sign of a ''miracle'' to break recurrent cycles of violence involving Gaza but says the United States remains ''critically important'' to finding a solution.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has been visiting the Egyptian capital Cairo as part of efforts to promote a ceasefire, proposals for which have already been advanced by the Egyptians.

And US President Barack Obama has urged a ceasefire to end the bloodshed, after the death of more than 500 Palestinian civilians, while defending Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas, in Gaza.

Prof Harris, of the University of Otago politics department, said all recent loss of life in Gaza, including the death of hundreds of civilians, was ''terrible'' and the ''intractable confrontation'' continued.

He believed a ceasefire was coming, but one was needed immediately to halt the continuing civilian loss of life.

Asked if he could see a miracle happening which could stop the recurrent cycles of violence involving Gaza, and result in a wider settlement involving Gaza and the West Bank, he was not optimistic.

Sometimes there had been talk of the rising economic power of China and the role of other outside powers, such as Russia, but the United States remained the only, main, ''critically important'' actor that could help resolve longer-term issues between the parties.

The United States had a crucial combination of military power and ''soft power''- the latter a form of moral authority arising from indirect influence and including the favourable opinion of other nations.

US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had also previously invested a great deal of ''presidential time'' in trying to resolve issues involving Gaza and the West Bank but this had ultimately proved unsuccessful.

It was in the interests of the wider world and New Zealand for the United States to continue its efforts, and the US ultimately was the country which could help bring a ''circuit-breaker'' to achieve an eventual overall peace settlement.

Complicating the peace process were the ambitions of some other powers, including Iran, which had been supporting Hamas, he said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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