Hamas is offering Israel a cease-fire if Israel lifts the siege on Gaza - and Israel should take it. It would have been nice if we had been been the ones to make the offer. Then we, not Hamas, would have been the ones calling the shots. But apparently we're too full of ourselves to admit that we, too, are up a tree, so it's Hamas, not us, that's putting out the ladder for us both to climb down and avoid a new, terrible Middle East war. The way out of such a war is for Israel to lift the blockade - to let trucks, ships and planes pass to and from Gaza - and, in return, for Hamas and the other Gazan factions to stop firing rockets at Israeli border towns. They don't bother us, we don't bother them - that's the idea. And if the Palestinians broke the cease-fire, Israel could reimpose the siege, and if that didn't work, we could break the cease-fire, too - much more lethally, in fact, than they could. What's so bad about that? Where's the terrible humiliation for Israel in that? The alternative is to let the fighting keep escalating until very soon, we end up in a war in which nearly a million Israelis come under rocket fire; Gaza becomes a killing ground for Israelis and Palestinians alike; Israel ends up with the privilege of ruling the Strip and its 1.5 million desperate, hostile people again; and the dilemma of "what to do about Gaza?" not only doesn't go away, it becomes incomparably harder to solve. And that's if the war doesn't spread to the West Bank and the North. This is crazy. But this is what's going to happen if we don't get a new, improved cease-fire very soon, because Israel cannot allow Ashkelon or any other city within Gaza's rocket range to become Sderot. Anything is better than that, even a war, even the permanent re-occupation of the Gaza Strip. There is a way out, but it requires Israel to admit that it made a huge mistake, a mistake borne of arrogance and blindness going back at least to the disengagement a little over three years ago. Right then, right after we got our soldiers and settlers out of the Strip, we should have offered the Palestinians the deal that Hamas is offering us now - you don't bother us, we won't bother you. You don't fire rockets at Sderot, we won't blockade Gaza, just like nobody blockades Israel or any other free country. BUT ISRAEL wasn't willing to live and let live with Hamas - it was intent on making them cry uncle or, ideally, on getting rid of Hamas altogether by turning Gaza's population against them. That's the reasoning behind the blockade - to make life for Gazan civilians so miserable that they turn Hamas out and bring in new leaders who will agree to leave Sderot alone. It hasn't worked that way, though. What seems to have happened, instead, is that the prolonged deprivation caused by the blockade has made Gazans feel they have nothing to lose from a war with Israel. "IN THE Strip, they're waiting for the war," ran the headline on Yediot Aharonot's man-in-the-street story from Gaza on Sunday. One resident said: "Israel doesn't want to take over Gaza and doesn't want to open the border crossings, so everyone wants Hamas to start the war to bring some kind of change to Gaza." Another resident said: "You [Israelis] want to pressure us into becoming Hamas's enemies, but you hurt every resident in Gaza, so Israel has to pay the price." We don't want to see how people in Gaza are living, we block it out of our minds - which, I suppose, is natural for a society at war, but which also keeps that war going longer than it might if we would recognize that Gaza is getting so much the worst of it. The Kassams have terrorized the 25,000 people in Sderot and its environs, but have caused very, very few deaths or serious wounds. By contrast, Israel has terrorized 1.5 million Gazans, locked them inside their awfully narrow borders, throttled their economy, and killed and seriously wounded thousands of them. Yet we imagine that the people in Gaza are laughing at us. We picture them sitting around twirling their moustaches and sniggering at the innocent, frightened Jews as they think up new tortures, new tricks. And so the idea of ending the blockade in return for an end to the Kassams seems to us like surrender - the Palestinians have already got the upper hand, and now we're supposed to give them even more of an advantage? Never. We'll see who blinks. We won't go like lambs to the slaughter. If they want war, they'll get it. THIS IS crazy. Israel is the superpower of the Middle East, but because we still think we're the Jews of Europe in the 1930s, or the Israelites under Pharoah, we spend a lot more time fighting our enemies than we might if we looked at the whole picture, not just our half of it. There may be a way out of this war, and if Israel does not take it - if it does not accept Hamas's offer of a cease-fire, which it should have offered Hamas from the beginning - then the principal blame for the war will lie with us. Our arrogance and blindness will get a lot of innocent people killed. And no one has a clue about when, or where, or how it will end.