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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op-ed: The case for a ceasefire

The Jewish Advocate

March 21, 2008

By Steve Masters

Supporters of Israel are living through painful days. With Israeli-Hamas hostilities in Gaza, and the massacre of eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem, many pin their hopes for conflict resolution on Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Indeed, when Abbas called off talks in response to the spike in violence, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice herself flew in to encourage him to return to the table.

Abbas has long opposed armed resistance to the occupation, and has spent the last two decades pursuing a two-state agreement. But he is president of the Palestinian people, and when Israel and Hamas engage in open warfare threatening a sizeable portion of those people – the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza – it is politically very difficult for Abbas to sit at a table with the Israeli government.

The Jewish community and Western world are rightly horrified by the ideology of Hamas, currently in control in Gaza and best known for gruesome acts of terrorism. Israel and the U.S. have refused to engage with Hamas, and both continue to oppose a negotiated ceasefire to stop the rockets – this in spite of the fact that 64 percent of Israelis support direct talks with Hamas for a ceasefire.

What the U.S. and Israel don’t understand is that Gazans see their own lives, not Hamas, under attack. In the course of the incursion, Israeli forces killed some 120 Palestinians, of whom at least half (according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem) were noncombatants, including children. Homes, offices, whole neighborhoods were destroyed – and the people left behind don’t blame Hamas.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have bravely conducted peace talks under low-level violence (proving the adage that one doesn’t make peace with friends, but enemies), but to suggest that any Palestinian leader can successfully negotiate while over half of his people feel themselves to be under siege is to engage in wishful thinking. And absent a negotiated ceasefire, the sides are but one provocation away from renewed escalation.

The two pieces of the puzzle – negotiations with Abbas, and battles against Hamas – can’t be disconnected. True negotiations can’t move forward without a ceasefire.

Moreover, a ceasefire would allow Palestinians the space to judge Hamas for its own actions. A decisive majority of Palestinians has said repeatedly that they want a two-state solution; large majorities oppose the imposition of an Islamic theocracy. Polls and election results show that when Hamas has the chance to implement its agenda, it loses supporters in droves.

And finally, if the events of recent weeks prove nothing else, they demonstrate the futility of military solutions to Israel’s troubles. The Middle East’s most powerful military can’t stop the launch of home-made rockets into its territory; without a ceasefire, rockets will continue to threaten the people of Israel.
If we truly care for Israel’s future, we’ll support a substantive peace process; to get there, we have to support a ceasefire with Israel’s enemies. It’s now clearer than ever that if we are pro-Israel, we must be pro-peace.

Steve Masters is president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. Come hear him speak at Congregation Eitz Chayim in Cambridge on Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m.

 

 

 

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