The Boston Globe (Editorial)
December 21, 2007 - 3:22pm

THE ISRAELI government reacted warily at first - and understandably so - to the proposal of a ceasefire in Gaza from Ismael Haniyeh, leader of the group Hamas. But after initially rebuffing the offer, Israeli officials are seriously considering it, according to an Israeli television report yesterday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government would be wise to explore a ceasefire with Hamas, for it could not only save lives but also prepare the way for a comprehensive peace agreement.

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Tensions have been rising in recent weeks. In response to continuing rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces have been targeting and killing not merely the rocket-launching teams but also leaders of the militant group Islamic Jihad and of the armed wing of Hamas. And there have been hints that the IDF is preparing a large-scale military incursion into Gaza.

To forestall such an operation, leaders of Palestinian armed groups meeting earlier this month in Damascus reportedly discussed a ceasefire proposal that would be negotiated by Egyptian intermediaries. Islamic Jihad, which had already seen more than 50 of its operatives killed, was willing to accede to a "hudna" - a truce - if that meant a suspension of Israel's targeted assassinations of the group's members and leaders. For Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since seizing power there last June, the central aim of a ceasefire would be to preclude a major Israeli military assault on Gaza, where living conditions for most people are already unbearable.

If there are now several Israeli officials communicating with Hamas through Egyptian mediators, as reported by Israel's Channel 10, it is because Israel has a lot to gain from a ceasefire. Haniyeh says he can and will enforce a ban on rocket and mortar firings into Israel by Hamas's own armed wing and by Islamic Jihad. If so, that would mean an end to the traumatizing terror experienced by Israeli children in the nearby town of Sderot.

One result may be abatement of the political pressure Olmert feels from Israelis who want their government above all to protect them. This pressure makes it hard for Olmert to pursue the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that were supposed to be launched at the recent peace conference in Annapolis, Md.

A mutually beneficial agreement between Israel and Hamas - even one negotiated through Egyptian go-betweens - could also begin a process that ends by transforming Hamas from a spoiler to a participant in the forging of a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such a transformation may not be possible anytime soon. But Israel, the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, and their Arab neighbors all share a profound interest in trying to bring the spoilers of Hamas into the tent of the pragmatic peacemakers.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017