By Mario Sznajder (for Safe Democracy)

In Mario Sznajder‘s view, the current Israeli policy of not negotiating with terrorists is completely irrational, and is leaving both sides with heavy losses. Seeing as how a military solution would only perpetuate the cycle, Sznajder believes that the only way to end the violence wracking the Middle East is to open careful negotiations between both sides with the help and guidance of Egypt. The Egyptians have been doing considerable work in order to liberate Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas, and to end the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Let Olmert believe what he wants, the rest of the world recognizes that negotiation is the only real way for Israel and Palestine to put an end to violence once and for all.

Mario Sznajder is a Leon Blum chair and professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a researcher for the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He has published hundreds of articles in scientific journals on fascism, human rights, democracy, and the Middle East.

THE RECENT RISE IN VIOLENCE OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS between Israelis and Palestinians shows that peace is still getting nowhere in the Middle East.

For years now Israeli politicians have been clinging to their faith in unilateral policies. And following the successful withdrawal from Gaza, many, including Ehud Olmert, persist in their belief that the only way to end violence is by acting alone. But the violence continues. Palestinian extremist groups have begun launching missile attacks from the Gaza strip to Israeli cities in the south like Sderot, and most recently Ashkelon (a city of 120,000 in the south, about 12 kilometers from the Gaza Strip), were major targets, making many people in Israel doubt the effectiveness of unilateralism.

The past few months have seen the speedy decline of Mahmoud Abbas from power, with no replacement to take up the voice of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has no spokesman, no uniting leader and therefore, in the Israeli leadership’s opinion, no one with whom to negotiate.

Yet, not negotiating will lead absolutely nowhere. The Israeli military can do nothing in order to calm the region, short of a full out war, as Palestinian extremists continue to up the intensity of their attacks.

A taadyeh, or cease-fire, had been called by Hamas in order to win the elections and create a stable government, but since has fallen apart. And in its place has come the violence of Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa martyr’s brigade, dead-set on persisting in their strategy of terrorism.

Olmert, therefore, finds himself confronted with two options: he can either negotiate directly with the Palestinians, or withdraw all troops from the West Bank and turn the dividing fence into a full-scale border. Yet, deliberations over dialogue and withdrawal are being overshadowed by the crisis in the Gaza strip.

The situation in Gaza is grim. As the missiles rained down upon the south of Israel, Hamas disregarded all known international conventions and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. In return for his safe release, Hamas has demanded the liberation of Palestinian prisoners, most of them women and children, some serving long sentences in Israeli prisons.

But perhaps the most shocking of all was the call of the PA’s Minister of the Interior to all Palestinians to open fire on Israeli soldiers if they see them. This declaration goes directly against the Oslo accords, thus creating a situation of open war.

On the outside, Israel has taken a hard stand, refusing to negotiate the liberation of Gilad Shalit, and demanding his immediate and unconditional release.

Yet, within the Israeli cabinet there is a great discrepancy of opinions. Israel has negotiated in the past with terrorist organizations, and liberated prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages. And while many continue to reject open negotiation, Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter declared that he would push to free Palestinian prisoners in order to save the life of the kidnapped soldier.

As hard as the situation may be, Israel and Palestine are not alone. Over the last few days Egypt has gone to enormous lengths to mediate between the two peoples.

Yet, the negotiations are not easy. Israel is demanding that Palestinian missile attacks cease in the south, while at the same time responding with naval, aerial, and land strikes in the Gaza strip. The perpetuation of the cycle of vengeance confuses any negotiation effort.

Even if the Palestinian Authority wanted to stop the missile attacks, they would not be able to. The Gaza strip has become increasingly unstable since Israel’s withdrawal. With insufficient security forces to control the people, the region is beginning to turn into an armed chaos.

The black market for weapons from the Egyptian border has increased in Gaza as well, further endangering and frustrating the lives of the impoverished Palestinians who live there.

There is no immediate solution to the problem. No remedy that can be implemented with instant success. The only way to end the cycle of violence consuming the region is to begin negotiations. Terrorism can be stemmed, Gilad Shalit can be liberated, and military operations in Gaza can be terminated, but only through careful negotiation.

Let Olmert believe what he wants, the rest of the world has begun to recognize that negotiation is the only real way for Israel and Palestine to put an end to violence once and for all.

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