Considering his contribution to Israel's improved standing in Europe, it would do well to respond affirmatively to Sarkozy's proposed cease-fire agreement.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Jerusalem today provides Israel with an exit ramp from the fighting against Hamas in Gaza. Sarkozy proposes declaring a lull in combat, which would test whether Hamas would agree to halt firing rockets. Israel would do well to respond affirmatively to the proposal, which protects its right to respond with force in the event the Palestinians continue firing from the Gaza Strip.
The lull would also be a good opportunity to halt the ground operation and pull back the Israel Defense Forces to Israel proper. In its decision to deploy ground troops in the operation, Israel showed that it is not deterred from assuming risks to defend its citizens, and it proved that its army is not afraid of engaging "armed" Palestinians in combat. But it is difficult to understand the purpose of prolonging the ground operation, which is liable to end in a difficult entanglement and casualties.
Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead with the aim of stopping rocket and mortar fire on its territory, weakening Hamas and improving the security situation in the south. It is vital to preserve these goals and not get dragged into a futile pursuit of Hamas in an effort to topple its regime. Experience teaches that expanding the set of objectives complicates achieving them, turning a lightning-quick operation into a long war of attrition. The government and IDF succeeded in mustering domestic and international legitimacy to an extensive military operation against the rocket fire, and it would be a pity to risk that legitimacy if the fighting drags on "until Hamas waves a white flag."
It is in Israel's interest that Hamas, which has absorbed a blow, hold its fire and impose the lull on other organizations in the Strip as well. The IDF operation is designed to lend credibility to Israel's threats that it will not tolerate rocket fire on its sovereign territory. A few more days of fighting and hundreds more dead on the Palestinian side will not enhance Israeli deterrence; it will only undermine the political and moral basis of the operation.
Sarkozy is a friendly leader who during his term in office has contributed to Israel's improved standing in Europe. Israel can return the favor for his support and bestow on him a diplomatic achievement if it adopts his initiative for a lull in the fighting and declares its readiness to begin immediate negotiations on a new, stable security arrangement in the Gaza Strip.