A break in the violence

Our view: A cease-fire could help solve the Hamas dilemma

June 19, 2008

A cease-fire at the Gaza-Israel border would give Jews in the south a well-deserved respite from near-daily rocket attacks from Islamic militants and offer 1.5 million Palestinians some relief from a blockade that has kept needed goods and supplies from the impoverished area.

An agreement negotiated by Egyptian mediators on behalf of Israel and the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip is an achievement months in the making, but the real accomplishment will be maintaining the cease-fire.

A cessation of cross-border violence will require Hamas leaders to police other militant groups that have fired rockets into southern Israel, which they have refused to do in the past. The cease-fire also signals a recognition by Israel that its retaliatory attacks that selectively target militants - as recently as Tuesday - have done little to stop the barrage of rocket fire into southern Israeli towns.

The cease-fire is expected to begin this morning. To show good faith, Hamas should follow it with the release of an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by its militants more than a year ago. And Israel should reciprocate by allowing a full resumption of trade in addition to basic necessities into Gaza.

The continued blockade, supported by the U.S., has put Israel in a harsh light as the plight of Palestinians in Gaza has intensified.

Ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and routed forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the question of how to deal with the Islamic militant group has proved to be thorny. Hamas leadership's popularity increased at the expense of the more moderate Mr. Abbas and complicated efforts to resume peace talks. Neither Israel nor the United States would deal with Hamas because of its past terrorist attacks and refusal to recognize the Jewish state.

The cease-fire may provide an opening - and a transition period - to help resolve this standoff.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr. Abbas, who is operating from a base in the West Bank, have been meeting under the auspices of the United States, any movement on a peace agreement would have to deal with the problem of Gaza. A pact in which only half of the Palestinian people are represented would be doomed to fail.

In another gesture toward peace, Mr. Olmert has reached out to Israel's other nemesis, Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran and Syria. The prime minister has offered to discuss the future of a strip of disputed territory in south Lebanon that Hezbollah's leaders claim as theirs.

These efforts, however tenuous, should be welcomed and encouraged as hopeful signs for Israelis and Palestinians in urgent need of new beginnings.

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