Palestinians require permanent ceasefire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 January, 2009, 12:00am

Hours after Israel announced a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, the territory's controlling militant group Hamas said it too would hold fire, but only for a week. What will happen after that is anybody's guess. There is no doubt, however, that the carnage and destruction there will end only when the Palestinian group ends its rocket attacks on Israeli settlements. There can be no condoning the Israeli actions; the air and ground offensive of the past three weeks has been disproportionate to the threat, and international laws protecting civilians have been ignored. Ultimately, though, the Islamist militants have to bear responsibility for the terrible toll.

Israel has a right to defend itself. The rockets Hamas has for the past eight years lobbed across the border have caused death, damage and fear. When a six-month truce ended last month and was greeted by a rain of missiles, Israel had to respond with force. But in doing so, little effort has been made to limit civilian casualties. A blockade of the Gaza Strip has wrongly remained in place, keeping medical help from the wounded and limiting humanitarian aid, food and fuel to the poverty-stricken population.

Arab and western leaders are trying to broker a durable truce. Only when agreement is reached can the peace process be put back on track. The goal will be a Palestinian nation beside Israel. Hamas does not want this; it remains illogically dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip three years ago. In that time, Hamas has had every opportunity to forsake extremism for responsible government. It has squandered this chance, instead opting to use the territory as a rocket launching pad. Palestinian civilians have suffered, and will continue to do so, as long as Hamas' leaders put their political and ideological agenda ahead of their people's best interests.

Israelis and Palestinians have to learn to live with one another. This is the reality of their circumstances. For Hamas to contend otherwise is to deny the region peace - and Palestinians a viable future.