A Way Out of Gaza?
New York Times
Published: January 15, 2009
We agree that Israel had to defend itself against Hamas’s rocket attacks. But we fear the assault on Gaza has passed the point of diminishing returns. It is time for a cease-fire with Hamas and a return to the peace negotiations that are the only real hope for guaranteeing Israel’s long-term security.
We are encouraged that a cease-fire finally seems to be gaining traction. Although not much detail is known, reports have focused on an Egyptian proposal for a phased-in truce, followed by a pullout of Israeli forces and the reopening of border crossings to ease the economic blockade of Gaza.
The sudden diplomatic activity came as Israel unleashed its heaviest shelling of Gaza neighborhoods, including a hit on a United Nations compound where hundreds of Palestinians had taken shelter.
Israeli officials acknowledge that the 20-day offensive has not permanently crippled Hamas’s military wing or ended its ability to launch rocket attacks. It is unlikely that Israel can achieve those aims militarily any time soon. The cost in human life and anti-Israeli fury would be enormous. Already more than 1,000 Palestinians have died in the densely populated Gaza Strip, where an always miserable life has become unbearable. Thirteen Israelis have died.
We also fear that the war is further weakening the palestinian [sic] president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah faction — Hamas’s sworn enemy. We know Mr. Abbas’s limitations, but he believes in a two-state solution. If there is going to be a negotiated peace, he is the best hope.
As part of a cease-fire deal, Israel is right to demand a permanent halt to Hamas’s rocket fire. Israel is also right not to rely on Hamas’s promises. Hamas used the last cease-fire to restock its arsenal with weapons ferried in through tunnels dug under the Egypt-Gaza border.
The best protection would be to place monitors on the Egypt-Gaza border to stop the smuggling that is Hamas’s lifeline. The Israelis also must be ready to ease their blockade of Gaza to allow more food and normal economic activity.
The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is expected in Washington on Friday where she will sign a hastily arranged deal to accept United States equipment and technical assistance to help monitor the Israeli-Gaza border.
American and Israeli officials say that Israel would never accept a cease-fire without that help and both are eager to heap praise on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for making it happen. But Washington could have provided that assistance years ago — just as it should have been pressing harder on every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President-elect Barack Obama says he will work for a peace deal from Day 1. We hope Israel picks a new leader in elections next month who is truly committed to a two-state solution. With the support of the new American president, he or she must make an early downpayment on peace by ending settlement construction, cooperating seriously with Mr. Abbas and improving the lives of all Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.