Paul Greenberg

Like all other wars, this fresh hell must eventually move into the diplomatic arena to be settled. Developments there, or the lack thereof, will be the surest reflection of the balance of forces on the ground. Till then, international demands for a cease-fire will vary in inverse proportion to the progress of Israeli arms. It's an historic pattern in the Mideast, and there is no reason to think it will change now.

Only when its clear that Israel isn't facing defeat will its adversaries agree to a truce. It happened in the Six Day War of 1967, the Yom Kipper War of 1973, and again in Lebanon only a couple of years ago. Only after Hezbollah's section of Beirut was reduced to rubble, and that country's population became hostage to both sides, did the fighting conclude indecisively.

Now the United Nations and the world's diplomats scurry about attempting to patch a peace together in Gaza. There were no meetings of the UN's Security Council, no hurried missions to the Middle East by the French president, no effective diplomacy at all so long as Hamas' rockets were falling on Israeli towns. Only when the Israelis decided, after issuing repeated warnings, that if there was to be no peace in Ashkelon, there would be none in Gaza, either, did the UN spring into action.

The surest indication that Israeli forces have managed to suppress or at least significantly degrade Hamas' capacity to wage war will come if a cease-fire is hammered out -- one that constrains Hamas, too, and not just the Israelis. A cease-fire that would be enforced by UN forces, perhaps a makeshift international force, or even Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian faction on the West Bank, where an uneasy peace still reigns and a two-state solution slowly, painfully slowly, begins to emerge.

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished -- a real, enforceable cease-fire rather than a unilateral one, but it's not likely till Israeli forces have achieved their aims, or seem on the verge of doing so. At that point, if the historical pattern holds, and surely it will, those who have been holding out for a truce that would apply only to one side might agree to make it bilateral. But not till then. Till then? Suffer, little children.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.