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Editorial: Gaza cease-fire may be all Israel achieves

An Israeli soldier stands tank staging arenear Israel GazStrip Border southern Israel early Tuesday Nov. 20 2012. U.N. Secretary-General Ban

An Israeli soldier stands on a tank at a staging area near the Israel Gaza Strip Border, southern Israel, early Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging Israeli forces and Gaza militants to hold their fire, warning that a further escalation of the seven-day-old conflict would endanger the entire region. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

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Updated: December 22, 2012 6:21AM

Under what circumstances should Israel sit idly by as Hamas shoots rockets from Gaza into the Jewish state?

The simple answer is none.

Since taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has shot thousands of rockets into Israel, with the rockets now reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel responded in kind last Wednesday, launching a punishing campaign of airstrikes on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israel has every right and an obligation to defend itself, as President Barack Obama emphasized over the weekend. This editorial page strongly agrees and, despite the heavy loss of life on the Palestinian side, the Israeli attacks likely will have the desired effect: ending the daily rocket attacks on Israel that are terrorizing its citizens.

As of late Tuesday, a cease-fire — featuring an end to air strikes by both sides — appeared at hand.

But that may be all Israel achieves.

Given the altered landscape in the Middle East since the Arab Spring, Israel could end up losing more than it gains in this most recent conflict. The limits of military power, as well as the shortage of diplomatic alternatives, may never be so painfully clear.

Israel’s escalation in Gaza, though justified, has inflamed its enemies and could weaken its prospects for long-term peace. The calm in Israel that emerges after a truce will likely be short-lived.

♦ Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have abandoned the more moderate but ineffectual Palestinian Authority in favor of Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terror group. The Israeli air strikes over the last week likely further isolated the authority, Israel’s only potential peace partner.

♦ As part of a cease-fire agreement, Israel will likely ease tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of Gaza — a welcome development for the Palestinians but a concession that sends the message that aggression yields results.

♦ The Gaza flare-up has also further antagonized Israel’s neighbors, making it that much harder to build international support for the effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

The prospects for long-term peace look especially bleak, though we would be remiss not to note a glimmer or two of hope.

As long-term cease-fire talks continue with Egypt leading the way, Israel will learn the sincere interests and firm limits of Egyptian enthusiasm for a continued alliance with Israel. We are betting that new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who talks tough against Israel, may be more cooperative behind closed doors, particularly when it comes to trying to stop the flow of weapons into Gaza.

Moving forward, Israel has but no choice to prop up the weakened Palestinian Authority. As Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Roey Gilad told us, Israel faces a coalition of the unwilling in Hamas and a coalition of the unable in the Palestinian Authority. “We have to go with the unable,” Gilad told us.

Hamas rejects a Jewish state and stops at nothing to make the point. Whatever Hamas gains in this conflict comes at the price of death and destruction for their own people. Hamas all but begged for this reaction from Israel.

In the end, the only solution for Israel is a two-state one, hammered out now while there is still a chance. This requires stepped-up support from a re-elected Obama and, from Israel, a cessation of settlement building that understandably infuriates the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the cusp of re-election, needs to make up for time he has already squandered.

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