Israel is offering the Hamas-led Palestinian government an opportunity to give peace a chance by accepting a truce to halt the mutual bloodshed that began in May after a wing of Hamas captured an Israeli soldier. If the Palestinians fail to honor the truce, they will have only themselves to blame for much of the pain and suffering that will widen in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Although Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under intense pressure to retaliate hard against the Palestinians for continuing to launch Qassam rockets into Israel, he has - in a rare move for an Israeli leader - told the military to hold its fire for now, even after Hamas and Islamic Jihad shot nine rockets into Israel a few hours after the truce had been agreed upon.
"The state of Israel is a very strong country," Olmert said during a news conference. "It is strong enough to fight terror, and it is strong enough to show restraint in order to give an opportunity for the cease-fire to come into full comprehensive and practical effect."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to be commended for bringing together the various factions of the moderate Fatah party, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to negotiate an agreement to stop the rocket attacks. The agreement among the factions is notable because this is the first time that Islamic Jihad has formally accepted any kind of truce with Israel.
If the truce holds, it could be a win-win situation for all parties involved. Olmert has said that he would treat an ongoing truce as a reason to kick-start wider and long-range peace efforts, including an exchange of prisoners. Until now, any discussion of a prisoner exchange was out of the question.
As matters stand, the success or failure of the truce lies with the Palestinians. Olmert is showing restraint. Hamas and Islamic Jihad need to join Abbas in forming a unity government that honors the truce with Israel. Only then will the United States, Israel, the European Union and Asian nations lift the economic and political embargo that is destroying Gaza.