Middle East moral equivalency watch: Reporter Ethan Bronner took care to balance things in his Friday filing from Jerusalem reviewing the state of the tattered ceasefire between the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the state of Israel.
Two weeks ago, Bronner painted protesting Jewish settlers as being on an "angry rampage" against Israeli police. But no such pejoratives were applied to Hamas leaders in Gaza firing deadly rockets at Israeli citizens.
Rockets are flying from Gaza into southern Israeli communities again. Israeli warplanes are firing missiles back, and Israel is closing the crossings through which food and fuel are supplied. The United Nations agency that feeds Palestinian refugees in Gaza says its stocks of flour are exhausted. In other words, the six-month truce that Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian leaders of Gaza, agreed to on June 19 is over. On Friday, Hamas officially declared in a statement that the ceasefire had expired, saying the truce would not be renewed because Israel was failing to fulfill its "fundamental conditions and obligations." The end of the truce was greeted by relative calm, with only a scattering of rocket attacks and no major Israeli military activity. Officials and analysts on both sides say that things are likely to deteriorate further in the short term, but that both sides need the truce, so they will probably grope their way back to it. The question is how soon and after how much suffering.
Israel and Hamas accuse each other of bad faith and of violations of the Egyptian-mediated accord, and each side has a point. Rockets from Gaza never stopped entirely during the truce, and Israel never allowed a major renewed flow of goods into Gaza, crippling its economy. This is at least partly because the agreement had no mutually agreed text or enforcement mechanism; neither side wanted to grant the legitimacy to the other that such a document would imply.
There was more of Bronner's bizarre balancing act between Israel and the terrorist group, as if what they think of each other is equally valid.
Hamas considers Israel an illegitimate state and is doctrinally committed to its destruction, while Israel views Hamas as a terrorist group that must be dismantled. Yet each needs the other to hold its fire. That is why negotiations over another truce have started, again through Egypt. Separately, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was due to hold what is likely to be a final meeting with President Bush in Washington on Friday to discuss peace negotiations. He had called for Hamas to renew the truce.
The real giveaway is talk about the "cycle of violence," as if both sides were equal participants. In this case, it's a defensive move by Israel that is in Bonner's telling responsible for driving "the cycle of violence to a much higher level."
In addition, Israeli forces continued to attack Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, prompting Palestinian militants in Gaza to fire rockets. The Israeli military also found several dozen improvised explosive devices used against its vehicles on the Gaza border and about a dozen cases of sniper fire from Gaza directed at its forces.
While this back-and-forth did not topple the agreement, Israel's decision in early November to destroy a tunnel Hamas had been digging near the border drove the cycle of violence to a much higher level. Israel says the tunnel could have been dug only for the purpose of trying to seize a soldier, like Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli held by Hamas for the past two and a half years. Israel's attack on the tunnel killed six Hamas militants, and each side has stepped up attacks since.