Many assert that the recent Egyptian-brokered "truce" between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip might open the door to a new peace initiative, but just the opposite can be expected.
The truce actually undermines peace, undermines the secular Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that is steadily losing ground to the religious extremists, and only sets up Israel for more violence.
Aside from the fact that Hamas will never be a partner to any true peace process, the "truce" also has a negative effect that will further discourage future peaceful negotiations.
Instead of allowing Egypt to broker the peace, it should have been negotiated through Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. By excluding Abbas, the "truce" sends a clear signal that Hamas is in control.
Although Hamas really achieved nothing substantive except a brief reprieve, it did achieve a major public relations coup, reinforcing the notion among the increasingly despondent Palestinian masses that religious fanaticism rather than reasoned secular strategy will achieve their goals of a Palestinian state.
The "truce" also weakens Abbas and the Fatah-led government in the West Bank among their own supporters who while opposing the rising religious fanaticism, believe they have to step up their militant and violent response to Israel just to stay competitive with the Islamicist movement.
For nearly three years, the people of Gaza Strip have lived under an oppressive economic stranglehold and military siege and Israeli military assaults and rocket attacks that have taken hundreds of lives.
During the same period in nearby Sdereot and other cities, Israelis have been besieged by constant Kassam rocket fire that has taken far fewer civilian lives but that has imposed a state of fear.
Both sides have been far from the freedom they had each hoped would come when Israel voluntary evacuated its settlers and military forces in August 2005.
Egypt brokered a "truce" that took effect on Thursday June 19, intended as a first step towards improving the situation for both sides. But that's not what the truce will achieve.
The "truce" is a short term recipe for future disaster
What Palestinians and Israelis really need is not a "truce" but rather a peace agreement based on a genuine, long-term strategy to disarm militant groups and kick-start a Palestinian-wide economic revival.
The truce is set up for failure. While Hamas is incapable of embracing any compromise with Israel - extremist religious doctrine demands total submission to faith, not reality -- Israel's government is incapable of delivering true concessions.
Palestinian chatter in the media and society is already predicting that the truce will not result in long term tranquility, but rather an even more brutal and fierce military confrontation. They, naturally blame Israel and not themselves.
Israel, they assert, reluctantly agreed to the truce in order to secure the release of their captured soldier, Gilad Shalit, and also as an excuse to later re-enter the Gaza Strip in another massive reoccupation to wipe out the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israel's corruption besieged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had no other choice but to sign the "truce," hoping to secure Gilad Shalit's release while easing the situation for Israelis near the Gaza Strip, many of whom evacuated their homes months ago to escape the rocket attacks.
The "truce" is really a formula for disaster for both sides.
What could have been done?
Israel should partner with the secular Palestinian leadership to separate the people of the Gaza Strip from the oppression and suffering that has wedded them to Hamas' violent but failed strategies.
Any future agreements with Hamas should be brokered not through Egypt but through Abbas.
Olmert and Abbas should also outline both a strategy for economic revival, but a real roadmap that defines a vision for what a Palestinian State will look like down the road.
And, when Hamas returns to firing Kassam rockets across the Gaza border, an inevitability that everyone expects, Israel needs to change its past policies.
Instead of punishing the Palestinian population with gun-slinging military reprisals that take more civilian lives than kills or captures alleged terrorists, Israel needs to act more like a law-abiding government that places the well-being of innocent civilians even above the need for justice.
Genuine peace cannot afford Israelis and Palestinians making the same mistakes that reinforce the hand of religious fanatics not just in the Gaza Strip but in the West Bank, too.
Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author, and managing editor of the Arab American Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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