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(photo credit: AP)
Six days into Israel's confrontation with Hamas, just one world leader has steadfastly shown genuine understanding of our dilemma - George W. Bush.
The initial reaction of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for instance, was commonsensical: "I understand the Israeli government's sense of obligation to its population." That sympathy, though not dissipated, was soon watered down as the Foreign Office brought London's policy into harmony with the European Union by calling for an immediate cease-fire.
In contrast, from Texas, where the president has been marking the holidays, his spokesman Gordon Johndroe placed the onus for the hostilities where it belongs: "Hamas's continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," he said. The administration was satisfied, Johndroe added, that the IDF was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, he said, the best way to ensure that violence didn't flare up again was for Hamas to stop smuggling weapons into Gaza.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also blamed Hamas: "We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence there."
As the week progressed, however, a certain slippage in Rice's rhetoric was discernible. "The cease-fire must be restored immediately and fully respected," she said.
But absent a fundamental deterioration in Hamas's military capabilities, a premature cessation of IDF operations would simply set the stage for more violence later.
In all fairness, Rice has been grappling with the wording of a binding UN Security Council draft resolution trying to mediate between the Israel, EU, Arab and other positions.
The Arab League version "strongly condemns all military attacks and the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israelâ€¦" It makes no mention of Hamas's aggression.
At some point, Rice will meld her own proposals with those of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who ostentatiously boycotted Israel on his fact-finding tour of the region), and the proposals of a bitterly divided Arab world, along with Israel's thoughts, to produce a workable cease-fire proposal.
As this scenario plays out, we hope Hamas's military capacity will, meanwhile, become considerably eroded.
With sirens wailing and the population of Israel's South absorbing blow after blow from Hamas gunners, with everyday-life from Beersheba to Ashdod torn asunder, and with our citizen-army poised at the gates of Hamastan, this newspaper expresses its appreciation to President Bush for his goodwill, and for the diplomatic backing of his administration. We do not take this support for granted.
IN JUST 18 days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as America's president. We are reasonably confident that the incoming administration will cut Hamas no more slack than the outgoing one.
As Obama said in July on a visit to Sderot: "When bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act and try and put an end to that."
Sure, there will be those, like former State Department official Aaron David Miller, who argue that by fighting Hamas, Israel is making "a difficult situation even tougher" and reducing the prospects for a durable Palestinian-Israel agreement.
In fact, the opposite is the case. A negotiated settlement requires Arabs and Israelis to want to live in peace. Hamas, meanwhile, is uncompromisingly dedicated, in creed and in deed, to pursuing a zero-sum struggle against Israel. No amount of territorial concessions, no matter how far-reaching, will make a Jewish state palatable to the Hamas fanatics.
Thus any policy predicated on bolstering the relative moderates in the Palestinian polity - Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad, for example - must, logically, seek to chip away at those who denigrate them as Zionist collaborators.
For 100 years, Palestinian politics has seen rejectionists assassinate those who voice any willingness to accommodate Jewish national aspirations. Put differently: If Hamas thrives, peace dies.
Miller isn't entirely wrong about the "Arab street" being resentful of Washington's commitment to Israel's survival. The smart response, however, is not to force Israel into making suicidal territorial concessions - which would only promote endless upheaval - but to help broker the kind of peace that both Israel and the Palestinians will see as just and lasting.
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