The New York Times (Editorial)
January 6, 2009 - 1:00am

With its ground incursion into Gaza, Israel has gambled that it can finally silence the Hamas rockets that have terrorized its people for years. We sympathize with that goal. But we are concerned that short-term success on the battlefield might encourage the Israelis to keep pressing further and longer in an attempt to decimate Hamas and wrest Gaza from its grip.

That is also a goal we can sympathize with — there is no justification for Hamas’s attacks or its virulent rejectionism. But it is highly unlikely, and there is a point of diminishing returns that could be easy to miscalculate.

The longer the Israeli incursion, the more casualties mount (550 Palestinians and 5 Israelis have died so far); the more Hamas’s popularity grows among its supporters; the more moderate Arab states, which have correctly blamed Hamas for ending a six-month cease-fire, are alienated; and the more regional instability is fueled.

It will also make it harder for President-elect Barack Obama to pick up the pieces of peacemaking when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Israel, aided by the United States, Europe and moderate Arab states, must try to end this conflict as soon as possible and in a way that increases the chances for negotiating a broad regional peace.

That means ensuring at a minimum that Hamas — a proxy of Iran — is not seen as gaining from the war, that the rocket fire is halted permanently and that the terrorist group can no longer restock its arsenal with more deadly weapons via hundreds of tunnels dug under the Egypt-Gaza border.

Israel has made it clear that it is in no rush for a diplomatic solution, but there will have to be one. That will require compromises from Israel, including acceptance of international monitoring of a cease-fire and an increased flow of goods and people between Israel and Gaza. Accepting those conditions would help persuade skeptics that Israel’s goals are as narrowly defined as it says they are.

Israel must immediately allow foreign journalists access to Gaza, as the Israeli high court ruled on Dec. 31. As in every war zone, reporting by journalists — and human rights monitors as well — can discourage abuse and is essential to full public understanding of the conflict.

We applaud European and Arab officials for intensifying efforts to try to achieve a meaningful cease-fire. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in Washington telephoning foreign leaders (wasn’t Middle East peace supposed to be her legacy?), it is Europeans like President Nicolas Sarkozy of France who have traveled to the region for face-to-face talks.

We understand Mr. Obama’s decision to leave the current crisis to President Bush. But we hope he and his team are prepared for whatever faces them in this immediate crisis, and that they are working on a broader strategy for the region.

There is little chance of restraining Hamas without dealing with its patrons in Syria and Iran. Mr. Obama will also have to move quickly to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza need to see that there is another way out of their misery and that Hamas and its rockets are not the answer.


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