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Dunsmore: Elusive Cease Fire

When I went into the Sinai desert with Israeli forces in June of 1967, I harbored no doubts about the morality of that war. Against the backdrop of bellicose Arab boasts to drive the Israelis into the sea, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser demanded the removal of 3400 UN forces forming a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, setting the stage for a new round of fighting. The Israeli’s preemptively attacked and it was a rout. The Egyptian air force was destroyed largely on the ground, in the first hours of the war. By week’s end, the Israeli troops on that front had captured the Suez Canal, the Sinai desert and the Gaza strip. Elsewhere Israel captured the Golan Heights, belonging to Syria. And it reunited the city of Jerusalem, driving the Jordanians back across the Jordan River which gave Israel control of the West Bank of the Jordan - then home to 600,000 Palestinians, now close to three million.

At that moment Israel seemed in a strong position to ultimately achieve the peace it had been seeking since its modern-day inception in 1948. The formula for agreement was contained in the United Nations November 1967 Resolution 242 which called for the exchange of “land for peace.”

But in over fifty years, only in the case of Egypt did that happen. In the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Egypt got its land back. But although there has been an almost permanent “peace process” involving the Israelis and Palestinians, what has dominated the decades is the endless cycle of attacks and reprisals. With the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, Palestinian resistance became synonymous with terrorism, which did irreparable damage to the Palestinian cause. But neither have the interests of peace been served by Israel’s insatiable appetite for expanding settlements in occupied Arab territory. Over time this policy has effectively rendered moot, chances for a viable, independent Palestinian state, without which peace is illusory.

The Israelis claim to have the right to defend themselves from the rockets being fired indiscriminately into Israel by the Hamas militants of Gaza. That right is not in question. But more people are finally now asking a different question – after more than a half century of stultifying and demeaning Israeli military rule, do the Palestinian people not have the right to resist oppression?

Israel is acknowledged as one of the strongest military powers in the world, with the most sophisticated weapons on land, air or sea. Gaza has rockets with primitive guidance systems - and no defenses. Its 1.8 million people are jammed into a space a quarter the size of the District of Columbia - trapped by Egypt to the south and Israel on its other sides. The answer to Gaza is not just another cease fire. Unless Gazans are given meaningful release from this unacceptable captivity, this war will keep recurring - to the shame of those who refuse to recognize only one side’s version of justice.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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