Cease-fire needed before talks resume


POSTED: Friday, January 02, 2009

Israel's military assault on the Gaza Strip not only has escalated the hostility between Israelis and Palestinians but also threatens to cripple any attempt to attain a two-state solution to the Mideast situation. The United States and other countries should insist that Israel call for a cease-fire and make negotiations possible.

Israel was justified in retaliating against homemade rockets and mortar shells fired into southern Israel, ending a six-month cease-fire. In the past week, Israel has overpowered Gaza with an air campaign that has left more than 400 Palestinians dead.

With an election scheduled Feb. 10 to determine who will succeed Ehud Olmert as Israel's prime minister, the Gaza conflict is resulting in the question of who would be the most powerful warrior. The leader is reported to be conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister in 1996-99.

Among Palestinians, the schism between the Hamas and Fatah parties is more pronounced than ever, with presidential and parliamentary elections expected within a year.

In 2006, the militant Hamas party, which never has recognized Israel, won control of parliament and exercises control over the coastal Gaza Strip bordering Egypt. While Gaza's 1.5 million people endure the effects of an Israeli embargo, 2.5 million Palestinians live 30 miles away in the prosperous West Bank under control of the Fatah party's administration of Mahmoud Abbas, who favors negotiations leading to two states.

The question in Gaza is whether Israel is to be blamed and Hamas embraced as the party of resistance, or Hamas is to be scorned for having provoked the conflict. Future negotiations for a two-state solution might depend on the answer.