It is clear that the shelling of Sderot and now Ashkelon cannot be allowed to go on. There are very few alternatives and as far as I can see none are good for the Palestinians. Let me explain.
Israel's response to continued and even increased shelling cannot be allowed to be good for the Palestinians. There can be no IMPROVED situation. Israel cannot allow there to be a benefit for shelling, otherwise the shelling will certainly resume rapidly with new demands. Ceasing the rocketing must be a pre-requisite to discussing possible means of improving life for Palestinians. Firing rockets must be seen as necessitating a forceful and damaging response from Israel.
Hence if there is a "Cycle of Violence" it is the following:
Palestinians use violence against Israeli civilians in order to harm Israel. Those using the violence are not the same as those who wish to seek peaceful coexistence with Israel, but those who wish to prevent any permanent peace agreements between Palestinians and Israel. They want to destroy Israel. Their goal is not to seek concessions from Israel to improve Palestinian lives alongside Israel in 2008, but to eventually eliminate Israel altogether. Should Palestinian lives worsen in 2008, it is largely irrelevant to the longer term goal. Even a few hundred or even thousands dead are not unreasonable losses.
Those wishing to coexist alongside Israel act as if those conducting the attacks are "freedom fighters" rather than "warriors to eliminate Israel." There are those who would call the latter "Jihadis" or give them some other religious motivation, but I am not among them. From what I can see, religion is secondary to the political/nationalist goal. Those in rocket squads are not the same as those strapping explosives to their bodies. The men launching rockets have no death wish. They are fighting a war. The war being fought is regularly misconstrued to be the remnant of that of 1967, but is in fact the continuation of the war of 1948.
Those seeking coexistence wish to portray these warriors as acting out of immediate suffering and not out of long term nationalist hopes. Why? Because that suffering can be blamed upon Israel. "Look at the roadblocks and checkpoints! Look at the wall! Look at the targeted attacks! How could anyone live this way!" That certainly makes it appear to be reasonable violence, namely that of an oppressed people fighting their oppressor. The problem is that the context is wrong and therefore the analysis of the situation is wrong.
Are there roadblocks and checkpoints simply to oppress Palestinians? Has the separation barrier, some of which is indeed a wall, but most of which is a fence, been construction solely to take over Palestinian lands and to make the lives of Palestinians miserable? Have targeted attacks been aimed at people publically professing and honestly striving to coexist? The answer to all of these questions is NO. In fact, the answer to all of these questions is not only NO, but that EVERY ONE of these has been done to attempt to reduce violence against Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants with nationalist aspirations including ALL of what is Israel today.
In other words, what is really going on is a cycle in which militants wishing to destroy Israel attack it, Israel responds by attacking the militants or their organizations, the Palestinian leadership that seeks a state alongside Israel then pretends that these fighters are NOT opposed to the existence of Israel, but are only fighting for freedom from the suffering imposed by Israel, the media buys the explanation, the UN condemns Israel's response AND the militant attacks as if the two were equal in justification (a falsehood) and then the militants, now justified, attack again.
As I see it, the only possible long term resolutions of the Gaza conflict are as follows:
1. Israel gives up trying to stop the militants and lives with shelling that will regularly kill, maim, or injure its citizens, knowing that the range of the rockets will continue to increase and therefore that more and more of its citizenry will become at risk.
2. Militants stop on their own from firing rockets into Israel.
3. Militants are prevented from firing rockets into Israel by Palestinian authorities.
4. Israel kills anyone wishing to fight to the death and everyone who gets in the way.
Diplomacy attempted to reach options 2 and 3 has failed miserably. Israel is now faced with options 1 and 4. In my mind and in the minds of most of the Israeli public, option 1 is not tolerable for long and the urgency to choose option 4 is gaining in support. Clearly being the only real option for Israel to pursue itself with the failure of the Palestinians to give it another option, it is only because of concern for the lives of those who would be killed, many on both sides, that has brought pause.
Egypt could offer another solution, namely to open its border and to bring Gaza under its wing permanently. But Egypt would rather make Gaza Israel's problem and the world is all to quick to agree, forcing the Israelis and Palestinians toward a devastating lose-lose situation, war.
We shall see how things playout in the days ahead. It will not be pretty to watch.