This weekend the bloody ritual in the south exacted the life of a resident of Ashkelon, interfered with the lives of thousands of citizens and caused extensive damage to property. As in previous rounds, after the inhabitants of the region - on both sides of the border - paid the price of the violence a truce was declared, which was violated in short order. The spokesman of the military arm of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip announced that "the organization reserves the right to react to any aggression from the Israeli side," and boasted that "it is the enemy who will beg for a cease-fire."
For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the Talmud at the government meetingm, saying: "If someone comes to kill you, kill him first" - and threatened that anyone who harms us will pay with his blood.
Presumably, Islamic Jihad would not succeed in operating the Grad launchers and firing dozens of rockets without the help of Hamas, the organization that controls the Strip, or at least without it intentionally turning a blind eye. Like any political power seeking to shore itself up, Hamas is interested in improving the living standards of the inhabitants of Gaza. To that end, it should bring about the lifting of Israel's continuing blockade, which among other things includes arbitrary restrictions on the entry of consumer goods, and a situation of being almost totally cutoff from the outside world - even from the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Long years of the blockade of Gaza and the boycott of Hamas, as well as Operation Cast Lead, have not led to quiet for the inhabitants of the south. At the same time, the isolation of the Gaza Strip has augmented the international isolation of Israel and has contributed to a profound crisis in relations with Turkey.
In addition to the danger to lives of Israeli civilians, the hostilities in the south are damaging the small chance that remains for renewal of the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah.
The time has come for the government of Israel to reexamine the Gaza blockade policy, the total boycott of Hamas, the assassinations and the aerial attacks. The Shalit deal shows that even though the Hamas ideology does not enable it to recognize Israel's existence or contribute to negotiating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinians conflict - with Egypt's help, the organization can be an interlocutor which will help to manage it in nonviolent ways.
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