Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting.
Burning Issues 1-13:
Kadima, The Future of US Jewry, US midterm elections, Saddam on death row, the Lieberman factor, Gaza mess, Katsav scandal, North Korea, system of government, Abbas vs. Hamas, talks with Syria, Bush vs. Ahmadinejad, pope remarks.
While many argue that the cease-fire in Gaza has no chance of holding, some believe it can, arguing that it is in the best interests of all sides involved (Israel, Abbas, Hamas) to reach a more comprehensive deal that would include the release of Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. What's your position?
Contributions by David Horovitz, Daoud Kuttab, Calev-Ben David, MJ Rosenberg, Gerald Steinberg, Daniel Pipes, Isi Leibler, Jonathan Tobin and Michael Freund.
Bitter past experience can only require the heaviest doses of skepticism as to the long-term viability and benefit of a time-out. If it is not turned into something of more significance, it will backfire, merely giving terrorists who were on the run the luxury of planning more and worse violence without fear for their lives in the interim.
The path to progress must of course lead via a cessation of violence, but there'll be no progress unless or until the Palestinians' leadership genuinely accepts the fact of Israel's existence here, works concertedly to prevent terrorism, and begins to preach conciliation to its own people, and most importantly to its younger generation.
There's no reason to believe that this cease-fire represents the beginning of that process. If it does, then both peoples will be the beneficiaries. If it does not, then, terribly, it will merely set the stage for more bloodshed.
Editor's Notes: Ignoring the lessons of the past
Why should this particular "cease fire" arrangement with the Palestinians hold when all of the others, since 1948, have failed, and led to increased terror? Other than hope, what is the basis for assuming that the combination of Mahmoud Abbas (the PLO leader and President of the Palestinian Authority) and the Hamas leadership, headed by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, and backed by Iran, are interested in and capable of using force to prevent attacks against Israelis?
If economic development and an independent Palestine based on a two-state solution were the main goals of most Palestinians, they could have been realized many years ago. In reality, the dominant rhetoric remains focused on Arafat's goals of reversing history and ending the existence of an independent Jewish state. Aided by the UN and powerful "human rights" groups, every Israel effort to defend against terror is used for demonization.
Under these circumstances, and based on the history of the past 60 or more years, the best that can be expected is a temporary period for rebuilding the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, increasing the range of rockets, and planning other forms of attack.
As in the past, prisoners that may be released by Israel will return to the various terror groups to take part in more attacks, and the process will continue. Funding for the next round is already streaming in, through the border crossing at Rafah, while European Union "observers" simply observe.
Unless all of activities can be halted, the history of previous cease-fire agreements and peace efforts will be repeated, with the expected disastrous results.
Still 'third world' after all these years
Israel must always be the position of accepting any reasonable opportunity to decrease violence and pursue peace.
It's too soon to tell how realistic or genuine this ceasefire is on the Palestinian side. But even as a temporary measure to lessen the suffering of the residents of Sderot, and of Gaza, this is a step worth taking.
Whether it leads to any further progress with the Palestinians will depend on their willingness to crack down on the terror groups responsible for the Kassam fire.
Snap Judgment: A touch of the Irish
I have regularly called for a cease fire agreement between the Palestinians and the state of Israel and therefore I am quite happy to hear that it has finally seen the light.
I have said that three factors will make sure that the ceasefire holds or not. First that it is bilateral, second that a neutral party monitors and has the courage to publicly say who has violated it and thirdly that simultaneously a serious negotiating process must begin in order to reach a political agreement.
So far as I can see only the first factor seems to have been accomplished and this is not complete. True, the Israelis have agreed to a cease-fire agreement but as far as the public knows we have no specifics of this agreement so that (second factor) any violators of it will be exposed.
Finally and unless both Israelis and Palestinians engage in serious direct negotiations, it is unlikely that this cease fire agreement would last very long.
Honor the agreement you signed
Israel agreed to many peace deals and truces over just the past 13 years. Perhaps this one really will work out better than all the others. But I can think of no rational reason why that should be the case.
Writing from the safety of the Diaspora, it is easy to point out that Prime Minister Olmert's Palestinian partners lack even a shred of credibility and that any fool (except apparently the ones running the Jewish state) can see that Israel's enemies will use the cease fire to further strengthen their military capabilities while neither giving Israel peace nor much of a diplomatic boost.
Like all the other attempts at making a rational peace, even on a temporary basis with the Palestinians, this one is surely doomed to failure. Israel is surely strong enough to survive this as it has survived past blunders but the cost of folly is not cheap.
I don't doubt that the move will be popular in Israel. I can't blame Israelis for wanting to try again or for hoping against hope that they will at least get a respite of some sort from violence before the next round of fighting inevitably begins. There is no reason to believe that any good will come from this but let's all pray that it works out for the best. It is their decision and their lives and anyone living in America must respect that.
But I can't help thinking that the only reason Olmert and his colleagues are doing this is largely because they have no idea what else to do. The Kadima Party and its allies are bereft of discernable principles, ideas or even the semblance of a workable plan. So they seem to just drift along doing whatever seems least objectionable at that moment. And the results they have produced have been predictably disastrous.
As the expression goes, if you don't have a plan as to how to achieve your goal, you're already there. And where Olmert is "leading" Israel does not appear to be a good place.
View from America: Reversal of fortune still possible
The Gaza cease-fire - along with Prime Minister Olmert's offer of a prisoner exchange followed by the resumption of negotiations - is very good news.
True, Olmert was in a corner (as were the Palestinians) but nevertheless he could have chosen to simply stick with the pointless and deadly status quo. In Israel's history there have been two kinds of prime ministers. There is the Golda Meir- Shamir- Netanyahu model who dig in and simply adhere to failed policies rather than move boldly to change the situation. Then there is the Ben Gurion-Rabin-Begin model. These leaders look around, size up Israel's situation, and act. It is now clear that Olmert is in the second camp.
No doubt Olmert will be roundly attacked by right-wingers who will argue, as they always do, that taking possible risks for peace is infinitely more dangerous than pursuing the certain risks of war. These people think only in terms of today and tomorrow while real leaders calculate the long-term effects of action or inaction. Olmert understands that without an agreement with the Palestinians, Israel faces a very dim future. He also understands that if his initiative collapses, Israel will have lost absolutely nothing.
I can only hope that Olmert succeeds - that the cease-fire holds, a major prisoner exchange takes place, and negotiations toward a final status agreement begin.
The United States also has a role to play. It needs to encourage this process. If George Bush plays his cards right, he can end his White House tenure with an Israeli-Palestinian signing ceremony on the White House lawn. Hopefully, this thought has occurred to former Secretary of State James Baker who is working on a plan to help rebuild America's standing in the Middle East. An Israeli-Palestinian agreement is the place to start.
In Washington: What's your solution?
Hamas has repeatedly stated that a truce is a temporary strategy and adamantly insists that it will in no way detract from its ultimate objective of wiping out Israel.
Prior to the Lebanon war we buried our heads in the sand whilst the barbarians at our gate were creating an offensive infrastructure. We are now repeating this with Hamas.
The truce will enable our enemies to continue flooding Gaza through Egypt with deadly new weapons including Katyushas and more sophisticated missile launchers, anti aircraft batteries, anti tank missiles and high-grade explosives. The IDF will also not be able to prevent them from manufacturing and replenishing their depleted stocks of Kassams and other weapons.
Under Iranian training 10,000 Hamas terrorists will replicate the Hizbullah infrastructure in Lebanon. When they are ready for the next round, they will launch missiles encompassing most of Israel, including densely populated cities like Tel Aviv. The newly armed Hizbullah will undoubtedly also join the fray creating a two front war.
We are transforming Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus based Hamas leader into a hero. We are enabling him to break the Hamas boycott by the international community without compromising an iota from the Hamas declared aim of destroying Israel. He will be perceived as the liberator of 1400 or more prisoners that Olmert will be releasing in exchange for Gilad Shalit and will be hailed as a symbol of proof that terror pays real dividends.
Whilst the prime minister may gain a few weeks respite from his political problems, the ultimate price in blood that we will pay could be devastating. The truce will in all likelihood represent the most irresponsible act yet initiated by this disastrous government.
A response to Al Jazeera
This cease-fire, like those before it, has little or no chance of holding over the long-term, for the simple reason that the Palestinian leadership continues to view terror against the Jewish state as an effective tool for advancing its strategic interests.
Indeed, the media today is filled with reports from Israeli military and intelligence sources indicating that various terrorist organizations are busy plotting the next round of attacks. In effect, then, the cease-fire only serves as a "rest stop" for the Palestinians, a place where they can pull over for a few minutes to relax, before returning to the road of anti-Israel violence and bloodshed.
Obviously, we wish for the violence to end, once and for all. But we cannot and must not delude ourselves into thinking that our foes share a similar motivation. Israel is making a grave mistake by not employing overwhelming military force against the terrorists and against those who fire rockets at our towns and cities.
The simple truth is that the only way to eliminate terror is to eliminate the terrorists. And it is for that reason that a true and lasting "cease-fire" can only come about once the Palestinians finally cease terror.
To suggest otherwise is to ignore history and experience, while embracing fallacy and illusion.
Eyewitness: aliya voyage across the millennia from India
Until Arabs give up their effort to eliminate Israel, a cease-fire is all that Israelis can hope for. From the Rhodes Armistice to the Egypt-Israel treaty to the Oslo accords to the 2003 hudna, each respite in warfare has been temporary.
Cease-fires benefit Israel in two main ways. They end the killing and they offer the time for Israel to improve its war-making abilities.
But these cease-fires invariably come to an end, warfare resumes, and Israel must again fight and win before a new cessation of hostilities begins. Each cease-fire, in other words, contains the seeds of its own demise, each war contains the premise for the next lull.
All that said, the instant and multiple violations of the most recent cease-fire makes it unlikely to have much staying power.
A devastating thesis