Using Strength to drive Middle East peace

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Whether or not a proposed cease-fire takes hold in Gaza in the days ahead depends on the willingness of the Palestinians to embrace a durable peace instead of extremist dogma. Sadly, history has shown that the Islamic militants who control Gaza cannot be trusted, as they have repeatedly violated their international commitments. Hamas has no legitimacy to negotiate a cease-fire while continuing to smuggle arms into Gaza and launch deadly rockets into neighboring Israeli towns, whose residents have lived for years under the sword of Damocles.

Over the years, the people of Israel have made significant sacrifices in support of a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people, including the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The Palestinians, both under Fatah and Hamas, were provided the opportunity to govern themselves.

But rather than forswearing violence and pursuing a Palestinian Arab state, Hamas is fighting to annihilate the Jewish state. Israel's response has been carefully calibrated to halt the rocket fire by surgically eliminating Hamas militants and rocket-launching teams, while making every effort to prevent civilian casualties.

Conversely, Hamas has committed multiple war crimes by seizing humanitarian relief supplies destined for civilians, as well as embedding its fighters, leaders and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques and hospitals. The callous use of innocent Palestinians as human shields means that Hamas, and not Israel, bears responsibility for civilian casualties on both sides of this conflict.

America and Israel are not without options. In addition to Israel's military operations in Gaza, the United States should pursue robust diplomatic efforts in support of Israel. We must cut off support to Hamas at every turn by holding Iran and Syria accountable for sponsoring Hamas; by eliminating Hamas's infrastructure of violence and incitement; and by encouraging the development of truly moderate Palestinian movements and leaders who reject violence, accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and care enough about their own children to reject efforts to kill Israeli children.

As Israel remains under siege, the United States must continue to stand with our vital ally. The choice facing America, Israel and responsible nations everywhere is whether to capitulate to those who seek our destruction, or to steadfastly defend our land, our citizens and our liberty.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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