Israel's cease-fire has managed to hold so far, which is something of a surprise. After all, this is a cease-fire few like — especially in Israel.
Some of the government officials who secured it wasted little time in saying that they did not expect it to last and that, when it did collapse, Israel would launch its long-deferred invasion of Gaza.
Critics say that all the cease-fire will accomplish is a delay in the deaths of dozens or hundreds of Israeli soldiers and hundreds or thousands of Palestinians. Rather than plunge hundreds or thousands of families into mourning this weekend, the cease-fire provides a delay of a week, a month or six months.
I suppose this is a classic example of the half-empty/half-full syndrome. But in this particular case, it is indefensible to insist on viewing the glass as only half-empty. Even if the inevitable dead are spared for just a week or a month, it is something. Another week, month or year with the kids, with parents, with friends. How much is that worth?
I recently saw an interview with a woman whose 22-year-old son was killed in Iraq. She viewed his death as a total waste — an unnecessary death in an unnecessary war. She said that she would give everything she has or ever will have to have just one more day with him.
Some think: "Better to fight them now. They will use the cease-fire to get ready for war."
No doubt that is true. Both sides will use the intermission to enhance their combat capacity. There probably has never been a cease-fire in history during which the combatants did not work to enhance their ability to fight. Of course, that is what Hamas and the Israelis are doing anyway. Cease-fire or no cease-fire, neither side is turning its swords into plowshares.
Nonetheless, this cease-fire is a very good thing. A lot of people's kids are being spared. A celebration, albeit a limited one, is in order and, in fact, media reports from the region today tell of children again playing freely in Sederot's playgrounds and Gazans relaxing on the beach. Let's focus on that, rather than bemoaning the lost opportunity to "take them out, once and for all."
There is no "once and for all."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to be resolved by way of some decisive military action. Palestinian extremists are not going to achieve their goal of dismantling Israel (without committing national suicide in the process), and Israeli extremists are not going to achieve their goal of Greater Israel (again, not without national suicide). The invasion and reoccupation of Gaza, for which some people are so eager, would not solve anything. If reoccupying Gaza could provide security for southern Israel, the original occupation would still be in effect.
A cease-fire is a start.
Israel should do everything it can to make it last. That means living up to the promises it has made to the United States and to President Abbas about improving conditions for the Palestinians. That means finally adhering to a settlements freeze in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. It means removing redundant and unnecessary checkpoints within the West Bank.
As for Hamas, it means maintaining the cease-fire, preventing others from breaking it, and releasing Corporal Gilad Shalit. In short, ending the violence.
That is no small thing. The one demand that supersedes all others is an end to bloodshed. Nothing else comes close.
Although the Israelis have to implement more steps than the Palestinians, they also have infinitely more power. It is the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who hold almost all the cards. It is time to play them.
One thing is certain. The cease-fire will not last if both sides simply sit back and wait, taking no proactive steps to preserve and deepen it.
At this point, there is no way of knowing what will happen next. It is always safe to be pessimistic — safe but unproductive. There is an opening here.
Seizing it is infinitely less risky than letting the moment pass.
M.J. Rosenberg is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.