Pursue cease-fire to stop Gaza carnage

Everyone knows the only promise for lasting peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors is a two-state solution. Reaching that goal appears as remote as ever.

For the third time in six years, Israel and the Hamas forces that control the teeming Gaza Strip are engaged in a bloody battle. The goal of each is not to find a means to co-exist, but to eliminate the other.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set as its policy neutralizing Hamas as a terrorist threat. Its periodic military actions to destroy Hamas missile sites and cripple its ability to wage attacks within Israel is chillingly referred to as "mowing the grass." Terribly, the Israeli war machine captures many civilians in its blades.

As for Hamas, it has the stated goal the eradication of the Jewish state of Israel. Hatred and revenge fuel its adherents.

The focus of the conflict is the small coastal enclave of Gaza, only 25 miles long and about four miles across at its narrowest point. Packed into this strip, wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, are 1.7 million people. Hamas routed the more moderate Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007, relegating PA control to the West Bank.

Israel's latest attempt to rein in Hamas has proved militarily questionable and a public relations disaster on the world stage.

In addition to damaging Hamas' ability to lob rockets into its territory, Israel has launched a ground war to destroy tunnels used by Palestinian militants to launch attacks within Israel and to smuggle weapons, defeating the purpose of a security fence erected around Gaza.

While air attacks have proved effective in damaging rocket launch sites (only a small percentage of rockets reach Israel because of its effective Iron Dome air defense system), the land attack on the tunnels has proved far more difficult and deadly.

As of Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 650 Palestinians had been killed, 4,000 wounded, about 70 percent of the casualties civilians, while 28 Israeli soldiers had died, along with the killings of two civilians.

While Israel has blamed Hamas for not encouraging civilians to heed warnings and flee from conflict sites when warned, the growing civilian carnage resulting from the attacks is generating international condemnation.

Meanwhile, reports suggest Israel is finding its tunnel destruction plan difficult to implement, with more tunnels and greater complexity than anticipated.

And tunnels can be rebuilt.

Given the questionable strategic returns and the horrifying loss of civilian life, Mr. Netanyahu should explore the off ramp a cease-fire could offer. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon landed in Cairo, Egypt, late Monday to explore cease-fire options.

The radicalized Hamas may reject a cease-fire deal even if Israel is willing. Its leaders seem more intent on inflicting damage on Israel and weakening its world standing than they are concerned about the welfare of their fellow Palestinians.

Meanwhile, right-wingers in Israel push for their military to reoccupy the Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005 after seizing it in the 1967 war. Mr. Netanyahu would be foolish to take this iron-fist approach, again making Israel an occupier and undermining any hopes for a lasting settlement.

The great tragedy is that a two-state solution would offer the best chance for lowering animosity between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Instead, the large-scale killings of civilians will serve as a great recruiting tool for Hamas and terrorists groups throughout the region. Meanwhile, the menace of anti-Semitism is growing again in Europe, fueled in some measure by anger with Israel.

As Israel's biggest supporter, diplomatically and in supplying weaponry, the United States is also the target of the anger and criticism the offensive in Gaza faces, making Mr. Kerry's cease-fire efforts all the more important.

Israel has the right to defend itself, but the military campaign of the Netanyahu government appears out of proportion to that goal. The United States must try to persuade Mr. Netanyahu to seek an end to the hostilities.

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