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SPLIT WIDE OPEN

There were not too many brows raised when the deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in captivity by Hamas for five years, was sealed with the promise of the release of more than a thousand Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners in 2011. Any kind of exchange between Israelis and Palestinians has long been acceptably disproportionate. So, there is even less surprise at Israelís decision to pound Gaza to avenge the death of the three Jewish teenagers allegedly killed by Hamas. With the six apprehended for the revenge killing of an Israeli Arab boy in east Jerusalem firmly behind bars, Israelís prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, thinks he has his conscience clear enough to proceed with the aerial bombing of Gaza that has already led to the death of close to a hundred. On its part, Hamas also assumes this to be routine business. It has started its own retaliatory attacks, this time with more sophisticated Syrian Khaibar missiles that it hopes would penetrate Israelís Iron Dome air defence system.

The cost-benefit analysis of neither of the parties involved in this Dance of Death is likely to get bogged down in unnecessary details of how the lives of the people inhabiting the cramped, putrid environs on the Gaza Strip or West Bank, a little distance away, might be affected. For the Netanyahu government, the dilemma is about whether to opt for deterrence now ó with Iran preoccupied with Iraq and Hamas left on its own without Egyptís support ó or to go for the occupation of Gaza. For Hamas, the choice is more simple. Be it the ongoing Israeli slaughter of Gazaís population or a future Israeli occupation of Gaza, it can only look forward to a resurgence of its strength and numbers that appeared to be shrinking of late.

Yet, only days ago, things appeared to be looking up. The reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, and the formation of the unity government, which acknowledged Israel as a Jewish state, meant that Israel could now deal with a more coherent and confident Palestinian authority. Peace negotiations under the aegis of the United States of America had fallen through in April, but a unified Palestinian body had a reasonable chance of driving a peace deal. The reason why the situation in the region has nose-dived so easily within a matter of days is the same as the reason why the conflict has festered for so long ó the mistrust between the two peoples, which grows with every chance that the Middle East misses to resolve the territorial jumble. While Israelís political space gets taken over by the ultra-Right and Palestinian militancy splinters into more and more radical groups, years of disaffection and hat-red get translated into the ďprice-tagĒ wars that are now common between Jewish and Palestinian Arab villagers. The kidnappings and brutal murders were perhaps carried out by people more ordinary than committed members of organized groups. But they have given their leaders another reason to keep peace away from their tortured lives.