Monday, November 27, 2006
Sunday's implementation of a fragile cease-fire between Israel and most
Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip demonstrates how quickly progress can
be achieved when actors on both sides refuse to be held hostage by those who
insist on using violence. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert broke no new
intellectual ground when he acknowledged that his military strategy has failed
utterly to prevent Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza, but the realization
nonetheless constitutes a breakthrough of sorts: The Jewish state's leaders
have tried for decades to make various Arab grievances go away by applying
armed force to problems that require political solutions. If at last an
Israeli prime minister has truly come to recognize the futility of that
approach, there just may be hope for an imminent and productive resumption of
the peace process.
One encouraging aspect of the cease-fire was that while outside parties have
been making the usual calls for "restraint" for months, it was Palestinians
and Israelis themselves who sought and achieved Sunday's agreement, and they
did it with alacrity. This indicates the possibilities that arise when both
sides have the political will to make difficult decisions that might not
necessarily sit well with particular sectors of their respective populations.
The negotiation and implementation of a full and fair peace will require vast
amounts of that same resolve.
While the Israelis and the Palestinians managed to take this small step on
their own, going much further will require considerable support from the
international community. The Palestinian economy is a shambles, and people in
both Gaza and the West Bank require urgent assistance to recover from months
of financial strangulation. Restoring their confidence in the possibility of
peace demands that they first be convinced that the rest of the world has not
Hopes for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - and, by
extension, the wider Arab-Israeli one - have been raised repeatedly in the
past few years, only to be dashed by a variety of wrong-headed moves by both
sides. Olmert and his Palestinian interlocutors have another chance. The
former reacted to an early breach of the cease-fire, by militants who reject
it, with surprising self-control and promised more of the same. Palestinian
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya, a confirmed hard-liner, publicly condemned the
violation and has committed his Hamas movement's armed wing to the cease-fire.
Only time will tell if this kind of sanity can persist.
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