OPINION: Nobody on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is under any illusion that the truce called on Thursday after eight days of slaughter will last forever.
It will take much more than a hastily-brokered 157-word ceasefire agreement to end the hatred and bloodletting that has kept the two sides in an almost permanent state of war since Israel declared itself a nation state in 1948.
All the latest truce will achieve is a temporary, though welcome, respite for innocent civilians on both sides of the border. Before it was signed, five Israelis and 162 Gazans, including 37 children, had been killed in rocket attacks fired from Hamas forces in Gaza and by Israeli air raids, and Israel was considering a land incursion that would have caused hundreds more deaths and widespread destruction of property and livelihoods.
The reprieve could last another day, till the end of this week, a month or a year. The only thing certain is that until there is a durable political solution to the conflict, the bloodshed will sooner or later start anew in the name of liberation on the Hamas side and national security on the Israeli side.
Nobody can blame Israel for reacting to the continuous rocket attacks Hamas has launched against its southern towns and cities since even before the militant group took control of Gaza in 2007. Every nation has the right to defend itself, and Israel's leaders could not sit by while their people were targeted.
The Hamas practice of siting its installations and bases among heavily populated civilian areas in Gaza is repugnant. It means innocent civilian deaths are inevitable whenever Israel responds.
At the same time, Israel must realise that a military solution to the issues at the heart of the conflict will never be possible. If it were, it would have happened by now.
The firepower possessed by its air force alone easily outstrips the rockets and small arms of Hamas and other militant groups that seek to destroy it. However, were it to be unleashed in full, the international condemnation that would follow would force even Israel's staunchest ally, the United States, to distance itself. Therefore, while Israel's military can protect its citizens and inflict damage on its enemies, it does not hold the key to peace.
Only a negotiated settlement can achieve that, but Israel has refused to engage seriously in efforts to find a resolution. Its provocative construction of new settlements and heavy-handed treatment of citizens in the West Bank, where the more moderate Palestinian Authority holds power, is also proving counterproductive.
Last week, the New York Times reported growing support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians as the authority and president Mahmoud Abbas came to be seen as increasingly ineffectual and irrelevant following the latest defiance from Gaza's rulers.
That should sound alarm bells not just in Israel, but Washington. The authority is the group that offers the best – if not the only – prospect of a negotiated settlement. Israel cannot afford to contribute to its position being undermined.
- The Dominion Post