Israel's assault on Hamas has finally been enough for the Bush administration, which joined the international community in pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza on Monday even as it continued to defend the widening offensive. Ultimately, reducing the threat of militant Islamist groups will depend more on diplomacy than military action. A prompt cease-fire could produce better results than escalating a war already widely seen as excessive.
Of course Israel has to protect itself from Hamas' rocket attacks. No one should have to live with the constant threat of indiscriminately fired missiles landing in their neighborhoods. Hamas' refusal to extend a cease-fire in December and its repeated violations of the truce in the fall were serious threats. But Israel's military alone cannot achieve the objective its defense minister laid out Monday: to bring "peace and tranquility" to southern Israel. That will require cutting off the militants' access to guns, suicide bombers and money, winnowing the influence of such pariah states as Syria and Iran and putting some tangible gains on the table for moderates.
The prospects for a timely cease-fire may look grim, but continuing hostilities only sour the climate for a long-term peace. Halting the rocket attacks and placing a supervising force on the border could safeguard Israeli communities and curb the militants' efforts to rearm from the outside. For Hamas, a cease-fire would ramp up international pressure on Israel to reopen the border cargo crossings and revive Gaza's economy. A truce would also give both sides time to contemplate their next steps. Is Israel prepared to reoccupy Gaza for the sake of taking out every rocket, and for how long? Have Palestinians tired enough of Hamas' strategy of provocation to switch their allegiance to the more moderate Fatah leaders?
The Bush administration, which has defended the Israeli military offensive, has little time in office and leverage left. Whether or not Israel exploited the timing of its assault, the reality is that its well of support will likely evaporate as long as the ground offensive continues. Much will depend on how Israel conducts its ground war, which poses grave risks for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Despite its sustained assault and ground attacks in Gaza, Israel has not stopped the rocket attacks. Hamas fired more than two dozen into southern Israel on Monday. If Israel is seen as punishing Palestinians — more than 500 have been killed so far, a third of them civilians — and not dismantling the terror network, it will have overplayed its hand at a time when Islamic militants are enjoying newfound popularity. A cease-fire may be imperfect, but it at least offers both sides a way out of a war that is destined to deteriorate quickly.
Starting this month, Progress Energy customers will pay an $11.42 surcharge per 1,000 kilowatt hours for early construction costs toward a $17-million Levy County plant. The amount of the surcharge was incorrect in a Monday editorial.