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Israel and Gaza, now

Two unilateral cease-fires at the end of a 22-day war in the Gaza Strip will buy another pause of limited duration in the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but nothing more. There are no bilateral agreements to prevent a resumption of fighting, let alone to resolve the underlying causes of conflict. Israeli officials say they dealt a significant blow to the Hamas military infrastructure and that the leveling of large swaths of Gaza will deter future rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas leaders, emerging from the rubble to resume control of Gaza, declare the organization’s very survival a success; they live to fight another day. Both sides’ claims may be true, yet they are false victories that cost more than 1,300 lives, the vast majority Palestinian civilians, and brought devastation to Gaza. There are no winners without negotiated solutions.

It used to be said that the road to peace runs through Jerusalem. Now the path to peace starts with road work and rebuilding in Gaza. This page was heartened to hear that on Wednesday, his first full day in office, President Obama called the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan pledging to work for Mideast peace. He must engage fully and evenhandedly to ensure this cease-fire. The shelling of Israel and the flow of weapons to Hamas must be halted for good, with Egyptian and international monitors at the border. Israel must let humanitarian aid into Gaza, as well as supplies for the reconstruction of government buildings and an estimated 25,000 homes. The borders must be opened for economic activity.

Before any long-term negotiations can begin, both sides must get their houses in order. Palestinians must bridge the divide between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; Israelis cannot make peace with some Palestinians while others remain poised to destroy them. Israel, we hope, will elect leaders in next month’s elections who are committed to making the strategic concessions on settlements and other issues that are necessary for a negotiated peace.

We know this won’t be easy. Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Viewing all Israelis as occupiers, it has long sent suicide bombers and rockets into Israel with criminal disregard for civilian life. In this war, Hamas also cynically exposed its own people to attack by firing from heavily populated areas. For its part, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and refuses to meet with its leaders. In this war, Israel regarded even civilian institutions as legitimate targets, hitting the parliament, the Ministry of Justice and the Islamic University because they are the backbone of Hamas-run Gaza. Although Israel said it tried to avoid civilian casualties, Palestinians believe this was a war on all Gazans, combatants and civilians alike.

No one gets to pick their enemies. Ultimately, Hamas must accept that Israel is here to stay, and Israel must acknowledge that Hamas is part of Palestinian society, just as the Palestine Liberation Organization was when the two sides began negotiating in the 1990s. And Hamas is an elected political party. Trying to convince themselves that their enemies will disappear or that force alone can bring their opponents to the table will prove as fruitless as it has in the past.


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