Relentless players

January 27, 2008

Bomb making has never been a problem for Hamas engineers. An explosion at the Gaza Strip's southern border last week crumpled sections of the barrier wall, sending thousands of Palestinians streaming into Egypt. The handiwork also should have shattered anyone's notion that the Islamic militant group could be confined to its Gaza prison and isolated there. The U.S. and Israeli policy of containment looks increasingly irrelevant as the Jewish state endures countless rocket attacks in its southern region and Egypt succumbs to the manipulative tactics of Hamas leaders.

Like it or not, supporters of a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must find a way to mediate the influence of Hamas. Whether through a third party, peace envoy Tony Blair or an ally of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a conversation has to begin because the Qassam rockets terrorizing the Israeli city of Sderot and its people won't end.

Gaza militants have relentlessly provoked Israel, which has been as restrained as possible in responding to these brazen attacks. There's only so much that can be expected of Israel, and yet Palestinian civilians shouldn't have to suffer the repercussions of an Israeli blockade. But those who silently condone Hamas attacks ensure the status quo will remain. Palestinians have to reject militancy if they expect to live in an independent Palestine anytime soon.

Hamas-inspired mayhem not only provokes Israel, but it also undermines the authority of Mr. Abbas, who established a government in the West Bank after a ruling coalition with Hamas ended in violence last year. And for that reason alone, Mr. Abbas needs outside help. He can't afford to lose any more political ground or support. A U.S.-sponsored effort begun last fall in Annapolis to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks has made little headway because of the trouble in the south.

Hamas' leaders in Syria intend to compel Egypt to keep the Gaza border open, which would further impede talks between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And don't count on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to mount much of a defense.

The Bush administration, its Arab allies and the European Union must intercede and try to broker a cease-fire. The peace process won't move forward as long as terrorist rockets continue to fall.

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