Prime Minster Ehud Olmert on Saturday night announced that Israel’s security cabinet has voted in favor of a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which went into effect at 2 A.M. local time (8 am Singapore time).
The announcement comes after three weeks of fighting in the coastal strip, as Israel launched a massive military offensive aimed at halting years of daily rocket fire on its southern communities. Palestinian sources say that more than 1,100 Gazans have been killed since the offensive began on December 27. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israel Defense Forces have been killed during that period.
I’m relieved to learn that the Israelis have finally decided to call off their brutal assault on Gaza, which medical sources in Gaza City have reported has killed 1,203 people in Gaza and injured more than 5,000 more, many of them Palestinian civilians. 410 children have died.
However while the blitz has ended, the occupation of Gaza has just begun again. After a three week campaign of aggression in response to Hamas rocket attacks, what prospect is there of peaceful negotiations towards a viable two-state solution?
It is interesting to note that this ceasefire comes just two days before the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. Obama, like all US presidents since the 1970s, has declared his unwaivering support for Israel. However, there are subtle differences between his position and that of his predecessor, George Bush. Israel is aware of this. Rather than wait for the Obama administration to apply pressure on them, they have taken the smart step to stop the assault before he takes over the leadership.
I believe that while Obama will do what it takes to defend Israel, he will not necessarily do it the way the Bush hardliners did it. I hope that he will seriously engage the Palestinians (and not only the factions led by President Mahmoud Abbas) with the help of the Middle East Quartet, to negotiate a lasting solution to this long-drawn crisis.
Decades of violence have proven that it does not provide the answer. I’m sure the Palestinians, with the exception of a few factions, are ready for peace. The hardliners (both in the US and Israel) who advocate the use of force as the first and only solution must be sidelined to set the stage for genuine negotiations.