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Cooling the hatred

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Now, the violence concentrates within the Gaza Strip - a narrow stretch of land only 140 square miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea just north of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

This violence in Gaza has a new component. It has not been a fight between Israelis and Palestinians, although this perennial clash is far from resolution, but between factions of Palestinians themselves.

The problem is complex, and that peace will not easily be achieved.

In Gaza, poverty is the way of life for a staggering 80 percent of the population. Unemployment is at 30 percent.

The current fighting means a breakdown in social services, and obviously a sense of personal safety, for the people of Gaza.

Admittedly, these elements have never been sufficient in the face of human needs.

Gaza's present troubles create one more flashpoint for an already enflamed Middle East. Tragically, it is nothing new. It also is a source of genuine concern for U.S. interests for a variety of reasons. No one in the United States can dismiss the turmoil in Gaza lightly.

However, U.S. interests, despite the logic or nobility of any arguments to protect these interests, cannot be the first consideration in creating an environment of peace in Gaza. The first priority must be to create an atmosphere in which hope and national and individual self-esteem can bloom among the people of the region.

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During the years since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted into open warfare, hundreds of world leaders have looked at the situation and proposed remedies.

None of them has been as sensible as have been the successive popes.

The formula, most recently put forward by Pope John Paul II and then by Pope Benedict XVI, has rested upon two objectives. The first is the initiation of a policy that puts human needs central in the development and fulfillment of strategy. The second is the establishment of a realistic independence and sovereignty for Palestine's people, without threatening the independence and stability of Israel.

Frankly, neither of these ideals has been served in earnest, and so today, once more, the world, and especially the Middle East itself, reaps the whirlwind.

In the latter objective is the opportunity for the United States, the states of the European Union and other tranquil and productive societies in the world. Arms must be put down. Independent national structures for Palestine must be created. Critical to healing are programs to provide decent livelihoods and infrastructures to uplift the quality of life. Prosperous nations can mightily assist in creating such programs.

Nothing will bring true concord in the region unless the generations-old, even centuries-old, hatreds are cooled. This cooling of hatreds is the greatest challenge. Unfortunately, no one can expect it to come overnight, even if the best restoration programs should end the fighting. Such is human nature. Such is the depth of feelings among so many people in the region.

But, it will never come unless the Palestinians, and at this moment, the people of Gaza, have something to live for other than killing others.


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