By Haaretz Editorial
The developments of the last few days are liable to arouse hope. The agreement
on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, together with the prime minister's
impressive speech in Sde Boker, could generate a new atmosphere in Israel's
relations with the Palestinians - an atmosphere that would enable the start of
serious negotiations between the parties. Israel must not waste this rare
window of opportunity.
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to understand the opposition of certain
Israel Defense Forces officers, and the reservations expressed yesterday by
the defense minister, with regard to an expansion of the cease-fire to the
West Bank as well - especially given the Palestinians' declarations that they
would be interested in expanding the cease-fire.
The cease-fire will be able to take hold only if it applies to both the Gaza
Strip and the West Bank. It is impossible to separate what happens in these
two places: Every military operation in the West Bank is liable to draw a
response from Gaza, and vice versa. Therefore, the IDF's predawn operation in
Qabatiyah on Monday, a day after the cease-fire in Gaza took effect - an
operation that resulted in the deaths of a Popular Resistance Committees
operative and a 55-year-old woman - was harmful and unnecessary. Anyone who
wants to give the cease-fire a chance must impose maximum restraint on
Israel should therefore declare it seeks a total cease-fire, in the Gaza Strip
and the West Bank, and the IDF should be ordered to hold its fire in both
areas, if the Palestinians commit to a similar move. The fact, reported
yesterday, that the IDF has already hastened to revise its new rules of
engagement in the Gaza Strip in order to once again permit soldiers to open
fire on Qassam rocket launchers will also not serve the efforts to consolidate
the cease-fire. The Palestinians must be given a real opportunity to work to
stop the Qassam fire. Given their complex situation, this cannot be done
"The State of Israel is so strong that it can allow itself to hold back in
order to give the cease-fire a real chance," the prime minister correctly
stated on Monday. The IDF must act in this spirit and exercise restraint.
Israel can only gain thereby.
But a cease-fire is not enough. If Israel wants to begin a new chapter, it
must immediately take a series of practical steps aimed at giving real force
to the straightforward words of Ehud Olmert's Sde Boker speech.
A demonstration of intentions that included a symbolic prisoner release, even
before a deal over the release of Gilad Shalit is finalized, as well as the
removal of some of the dozens of checkpoints in the West Bank, an end to the
policy of "isolation" that divides the West Bank into cantons, and a
relaxation of the draconic movement restrictions at the roadblocks, would help
change the rules of the game.
The fact that, for instance, Nablus residents between the ages of 18 and 25
are not allowed to leave their city at all, while Jenin residents aged 16 to
35 are not allowed to pass through Tapuah Junction, makes daily life
unbearable for tens of thousands of Palestinians. This must stop.
This is the time to demonstrate openness and generosity. Israel must give the
cease-fire a chance, and not bring about its collapse through unnecessary
military operations, as has happened more than once with past cease-fires. The
order of the day must now be: Cease the fire, both in the Gaza Strip and in
the West Bank.
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