Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- There is no question -- none -- that Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified. No nation can tolerate a portion of its people living in the conditions of the London Blitz -- listening for sirens, sleeping in bomb shelters and separated from death only by the randomness of a Qassam missile's flight. And no group aspiring to nationhood, such as Hamas, can be exempt from the rules of sovereignty, morality and civilization, which, at the very least, forbid routine murder attempts against your neighbors.

Israel's response has been criticized as "disproportionate," which betrays a misunderstanding of proportion's meaning. The goal of military action, when unavoidable, is not to take one life in exchange for each one unjustly taken; this is mere vengeance. The goal is to remove the conditions that lead to conflict and the taking of life. So far, Israel's actions have been proportionate to this objective. And the convoys of fuel, medical supplies and food sent by Israel into Gaza show an appropriate concern for Palestinian suffering, even during a broad assault on Hamas forces.

Israel's immediate goal is simple: to stop missile barrages by Hamas on southern Israel. But it is not a coincidence that this action was taken by the primary sponsors of the peace process in Israeli politics. The Israeli public will not accept any further risks for peace as long as Hamas missiles fly. Those missiles are a daily symbol that Israeli territorial concessions result in the strengthening of committed enemies and the death of Israeli citizens. The removal of this threat is not an obstacle to the peace process. It is the prerequisite for the resumption of the peace process.

It is also not a coincidence that the Israeli attack took place in the last days of a reliably favorable Bush administration -- for which the president-elect, above all, should be grateful. If Israel concludes the main phase of its Gaza operations by Inauguration Day -- as it seems to want -- this will allow Obama to renew a peace push with a fresh start and a large obstacle (hopefully) removed.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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