A welcomed pause in the violence

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Hostilities between Hamas and Israel have stopped, but for how long?

Change can come in a manner of minutes, but there was some reason for optimism that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas might hold for a while. It had held Wednesday, though whether that would continue overnight and today was something that could not be known at this writing.

The respite from violence was welcome news in a conflict that seems to be, at best, a stalemate. Both sides claimed a victory of sorts Wednesday, but it’s hard to envision anyone thinking his side had come out on top. According to Reuters News Service, the death toll for Israel on Wednesday stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians. The numbers were markedly higher for Palestinians in Gaza, where health officials said 2,139 people, mostly civilians, had been killed since early July.

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, which started Tuesday evening, called for an indefinite end to the hostilities. In return, blockaded passages to Gaza would be reopened and the Gaza territory’s fishing area in the Mediterranean would be expanded. Reuters indicated Hamas leaders were receptive to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ government controlling the passage points.

If the cease-fire holds for a month, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss construction of a Gaza seaport, prisoner releases and the return of the remains of fallen soldiers, reports said.

Meanwhile, for the first time in a while, life was starting to gain some sense of normalcy on the West Bank.

Whether that is a lull in the storm or a step forward is anyone’s guess, though history, unfortunately, points to the former in that there are those who will not be satisfied unless Israel is erased from the world map. As long as that mind-set is accepted by residents of the region with a proclivity for violence — or underwriting violence — battles such as those that have been waged will happen again and again.

Meanwhile, both sides are trying to put the best face on a bad situation with the home folks. Hamas leaders were touting their accomplishment of firing rockets deeper into Israel than others have been able to. Israeli officials countered that they had managed to kill a number of Hamas military leaders and destroyed many of the tunnels Hamas used to sneak into Israel.

The facts indicate both sides have taken heavy blows. Hamas has used up much of its weaponry — part of the truce negotiations will be figuring out how to keep more weapons from falling in Hamas militants’ hands — and many lives were lost. Israel withstood two months of attacks that disrupted its commercial center and caused residents of border communities to leave them.

On a cost-benefits analysis, both sides lost more than they won, and little has changed in the grand scheme of things.

If, however, this cease-fire results in discussions that have some chance of leading to peace — a peace that recognizes Israel’s right to exist — perhaps some lessons were learned amid the senseless bloodshed. The question is whether those lessons will be taken fully to heart. If not, those in Gaza who want to destroy Israel will try again, and Israel will respond in kind.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board