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Ha'aretz Editorial: "Time for diplomacy"

This is the time to move from war to diplomacy. After a week of aerial activity, we cannot let a ground operation deepen, prolong and complicate the chances for a quick end to the operation.
1/4/09

After eight days of fighting in Gaza, it is still difficult to ascertain whether general goals have been achieved, and whether we have reached a strategic turning point. The assassination of senior Hamas officials, the partial destruction of tunnels and the bombing of buildings used by the Hamas leadership have not stopped the rocket fire on Israel, nor have they prompted Hamas to announce a policy change.

The need to present an achievement has compelled the civilian leadership to add a ground campaign to the aerial onslaught. After being repeatedly postponed last week, a ground campaign was launched last night. Those who back the operation are already imagining Hamas collapsing, its leadership fleeing or killed, and house-to-house searches for weapons to be destroyed. After the operation, Gaza would be returned to Palestinian Authority control, purged of terrorism - the Lebanon dream realized in Gaza. This is what these people believe.

It would be best to cut this dream short before it turns into a dragged-out nightmare, and to limit the ground operation to more modest goals.

The ground operation's enthusiasts were boosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in his remarks two days ago. Bush expressed understanding for Israel's need to defend itself, and even characterized the war in Gaza as a war on terror. They can also seemingly grab onto Egypt's criticism of Hamas. Yet Israel's problem is not the legitimacy of the war, but the increasingly growing legitimacy of Hamas. This legitimacy is not intrinsic to Israel's battle for public opinion, but to Israel's solidifying image as a regional bully. Some here are still convinced that the bully image is good for deterrence, but this image has yet to help prevent war.

On the other hand, we may now be seeing an opportunity to conclude the war diplomatically. A number of proposals are on the table, including those by Egypt, Turkey and the UN secretary general. In addition, the French offer of a humanitarian cease-fire, which would allow Gaza to receive hospital supplies, food and fuel shipments, still stands. It will not hamper Israel's military or diplomatic capabilities to consider these proposals seriously. They are even likely to bring Israel the important achievement it has been seeking: a change in the security situation on the Gaza border.

This is the time to move from war to diplomacy. After a week of aerial activity, we cannot let a ground operation deepen, prolong and complicate the chances for a quick end to the operation.