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Collective punishment will not guarantee peace for Israel

Policies of siege and occupation will not bring the security it seeks

Considering that Palestine has been under virtual occupation by Israel for decades and that the latest wave of cross-border attacks has already claimed more than 220 Palestinian lives, Wednesday's announcement that Israel would halt its air strikes on Gaza for five hours to let in humanitarian aid might not seem a big deal.

But, for the residents of Gaza who are experiencing the might of the fourth-largest military in the world, any break in the onslaught is certainly welcome.

The pause is a far cry from a sustainable ceasefire, of course. Palestine's Hamas government has rejected a proposal by would-be peace broker Egypt for a ceasefire, on the ground that it was not consulted over the fine details.

Cairo should know it is not exactly an honest broker, given that its current military-backed government comprises the people who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, the sister organisation of Hamas.

Although Israel has said it is targeting Hamas positions with its air strikes, they were nothing less than a collective punishment inflicted on the world's largest open-air prison. Of the 200-plus Palestinian dead, nearly 80 per cent were civilians and more than 20 per cent of them children. More than 1,200 Palestinian homes have been destroyed and another 1,400 people have been wounded.

Gaza remains a prison in just about every sense of the world, in spite of the fact that Israel withdrew its settlers in 2005. Gaza's air, land and sea borders remained blockaded. Shortly after seizing power, Israel's friends in Cairo shut down the tunnels that for years served as an economic lifeline for the Gazans.

In this respect, lifting the blockade to ease up on the economic hardships in Gaza should be under consideration. Negotiation is about give and take and Israel would not be compromising its security by doing so.

The origin of this wave of violence is debatable, but Israeli incursions, including attacks on Palestinian civilians by armed West Bank settlers, began after US-sponsored negotiations collapsed earlier this year.

Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinian civilians, but few observers around the world cared. But when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, the government immediately launched a nation-wide campaign to rescue them, even though the authorities knew from the start that their kidnappers had already murdered them.

From the Hamas perspective, it was a pretext to launch an all-out crackdown on Hamas throughout the West Bank.

In the course of the search for the Israeli teens more than 500 Palestinian activists were arrested.

Hamas retaliated with a barrage of rockets launched from Gaza, and the rest is now unfolding history. Credit has been given to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not giving in to the demands of more conservative partners in his coalition to go even further.

Perhaps Netanyahu should look at his own convenient excuse for his abiding unwillingness to grant the Palestinians full sovereignty under a two-state solution.

At a press conference he cited recent gains by the Islamist extremists in the Middle East as a warrant for action.

But, with or without the State of Israel, the extremists' objectives have long been fermenting. Their ultimate goal is to overthrow the Shiite-backed and secular-oriented, post-colonial Arab states that have failed to deliver promised goods and services to their own people.

The challenge for Israel, it seems, is to end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank while at the same time satisfying their demand for continued Israeli security.

But this apartheid-like approach to Palestine will always comes with a price.

And the Palestinians will continue to find a way to raise the price, making blockade and occupation that much more expensive.


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