(photo credit: AP [file])
On Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will arrive here to ratchet up the international pressure on Israel to halt its assault on Hamas.
Sarkozy distinguished himself by issuing fierce criticism of Operation Cast Lead on its very first day, December 27, as a "disproportionate use of force."
On Sunday his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, architect of the Israeli-spurned bid last week for a "humanitarian" time-out and potential renewed cease-fire, branded the Israeli ground offensive "a dangerous military escalation."
France's stop-the-fighting-now efforts were echoed on Sunday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "The blame game can continue afterwards," Brown told the BBC. What was urgent now, he said, was to "work harder than we have done for an immediate cease-fire."
Brown and Sarkozy both made high profile friendship visits to Israel last year. Both stood at the Knesset podium and assured Israelis of the unshakeable nature of their respective countries' ties to Israel. Both encouraged Israel to seize the opportunity they claimed to perceive for achieving a permanent accord with the Palestinians.
Both, now, in their pressure for a cease-fire, seem to be missing the imperatives behind the current Israeli resort to force.
Israel's effort of nine days and counting to deter Hamas's attacks on its civilians, and its more recent ground offensive to physically deprive Hamas of some of the means to wage terror, is designed to quash the emboldened Islamists. Anybody who has an interest in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian accommodation might be expected to recognize the shared stake in Israel's success.
Anybody who has an interest in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian accommodation might also bear in mind that the Israeli government leading this assault is the same government that offered the greatest ever concessions to the Palestinian Authority. This is the successor government to that which pulled Israel out of Gaza less than four years ago, vowing never to return. It did return, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted on Saturday night and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert repeated on Sunday, only after it had explored every other option.
In the Knesset last summer, Brown urged Israel to push for a two-state solution "alongside a peaceful, democratic and territorially viable state of Palestine that accepts you as its friend and partner."
Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in a violent coup 18 months ago, has made plain at every opportunity that, rather than seeking to be Israel's "friend and partner" in a viable two-state solution, it considers Israel to have no right to exist.
As a former British foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, noted in an article in The Telegraph, "The Israeli attacks on Hamas are not unreasonable... Imagine if, for several years, the IRA had been allowed to fire missiles into the villages of Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic with the consent and approval of the Irish government... Every government has a first duty to protect its citizens."
Rifkind added the key point to be borne in mind by would-be mediators: "Israel will never concede a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians provide an absolute guarantee of an end to hostilities by all Palestinian parties."
In the absence of any such guarantee, Operation Cast Lead is designed to help create a climate in which the threat of Palestinian hostility recedes.
What Sarkozy's hosts in Jerusalem will doubtless be telling him on Monday is that Israel will not be coerced by the international community into an unsatisfactory cease-fire.
The fighting may be far from over. Hamas has trained for the incoming Israeli troops, and has no compunction about using the foulest means against them. But when the diplomatic resolutions are finalized, they must feature parameters that prevent Hamas from reviving its terror capacity. Hamas must not be free, as it was under the misnamed truce, to refine its rockets, establish underground missile silos, train for conflict or import arms. The last of these considerations requires a whole new arrangement along the Gaza-Egypt border.
Furthermore, Israel's leaders will continue to stress, Hamas must not itself be a party to any cease-fire. It is an illegitimate terror government, and its unprovoked and relentless rocket assault on Israel should not be rewarded with the legitimacy that the international community has rightly denied it thus far.
As President Bush noted in a radio address over the weekend: "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice."
The diplomatic resolution of Israel's war with Hizbullah in 2006 left that Iranian-inspired army free to reestablish and enlarge its military capability. The confrontation with Hamas needs to end very differently.
A premature and ill-conceived cease-fire that leaves Hamas relatively intact and capable of restrengthening itself is the last thing that supporters of peace in the Middle East should be pushing for. The strategic goal, instead, should be an end to Hamas rule in Gaza - the downfall of an organization that has relentlessly targeted Israel's defenseless civilians while cynically hiding behind its own citizens' schools and places of religious worship and hospitals and homes.
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