The trouble with calling for a 'truce' between Israel and Hamas as Foreign Secretary David Milliband and numerous non governmental organisations now have is...the underlying assumption that if Israel and Palestinian groups such as Hamas can simply be made to talk to each other, then the whole squabble can be solved.
However, there are 3 reasons which fundamentally prevent that ever happening and at least the first two are deeply grounded in Hamas' very raison d'etre:
1. Domination: Islamist groups exist to create an Islamic government with Islamic law (sharia) imposed not merely on Muslim majority areas, but ultimately on the whole world, including Israel. Islamic theology held both by Islamist and historically by Sunni theologians holds that it has been divinely decreed that the whole world should be subjected to Islamic government and law (not the view of a great many ordinary British Muslims who understand Islam primarily in devotional rather than political terms). Therefore once an area has at any time in past history been subjected to Islamic government, it then become an act of 'defensive' jihad to fight to reimpose Islamic rule on that area. Palestinian Islamist groups such as al-Jihad and Hamas therefore see their actions in firing indiscriminately into Israeli towns as an act of divinely commanded defence, restoring Islamic government and sharia over an area where it once held sway.
2. Deception: Hamas have very different concepts of 'truth' and 'treaty' from the western world. Lying is not necessarily regarded as 'bad' if it gains one a strategic advantage. There is an Hadith (Islamic tradition traced back to Muhammad) which states that it is permissible to lie to reconcile friends, to any woman and in jihad. The concept of 'truce' used by Islamist groups such as Hamas largely reflects the last of these. When Hamas broke their truce with Israel on 19th December, it was not a treaty in the western sense of the term, but what is termed in Islamic theology hudna (a temporary truce before war is recommenced). It is based on the sunna (example) of Muhammad who agreed a peace treaty known as 'the treaty of Hudabiya' with the pagan Quraish tribe who then controlled Mecca. Muhammad then dispensed with the 'treaty' a year later when he had become strong enough to take Mecca by force. The concept of Hudabiya is so widely known in the Middle East that even a predominately nationalist leader like Yasser Arafat is reported to have silenced the criticisms of the Arab press when he signed the peace accord by simply saying 'well brothers, let's just say this is Hudabiya'.
3. Dehumanisation: Hamas is an extremist Islamist organisation. It is extreme not just in relation to western norms of freedom and democracy as all islamist organisations are, but also in relation to mainstream Islam. Put simply, it does not regard Jews as genuine human beings, but as merely having the appearance of being human, a situation somewhat similar to the Nazi ideology that referred to the Jews and Slavs as being untermenschen (sub human beings). As such Hamas believes that any Jews, including civilians, women and children are a legitimate target for bombings. Hamas base this on a twisted interpretation of a few verses in the Qur'an (Q2:65-66). These narrate a story that some ancient Jews did not keep the sabbath and as a punishment were turned into apes by God. Islamic scholars have historically tended to interpret this as simply referring to one small group of Jews in ancient history. However, Hamas interpret these verses as meaning that all Jews alive today are actually apes and merely have the appearance of being human - and as such are a legitimate target for suicide bombings and indiscriminate rocket attacks etc.
These three aspects - an ideology of expansionist domination of others; deception - deliberately breaking treaties and promises once a strategic military advantage has been built up; and dehumanisation - treating other racial or religious groups such as the Jews as being sub human, were defining characteristics of Nazi Germany. When this is considered carefully, the calls for a 'ceasefire' by British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and others - a call directed primarily at Israel - is naive in the extreme. In fact, Mr Milliband's calls for a 'ceasefire' starts to bear an ominous resemblance to Neville Chamberlain's 1938 declaration of 'peace in our time' after his Munich meeting with Hitler, a declaration that ultimately contributed to an horrific world war.
Today the world stands at a crossroads. There is no question that the current fighting is causing immense suffering to many people, particularly Palestinians, many of whom simply want to be allowed to get on with their family lives, as so many ordinary people in war zones do. However, the alternative to Israel's actions is not peace. Hamas and Israel are not two school boys fighting in the playground who just need the headmaster - be that Barak Obama or anyone else - to get them to listen to each other and live in peace. That whole paradigm of 'peacemaking' may have worked elsewhere, but it simply will not work with Hamas any more than it did in 1938 with Hitler. It won't work because Hamas, like the Nazis holds to an expansionist totalitarian ideology.
The alternative to Israel's current military action against Hamas is likely as not another Middle East war in a couple of years' time. By this time Iran may well have acquired nuclear weapons and on past form is likely to prompt its allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas - whom it is bankrolling in the south - to attack Israel again. The consequences of that are at the very least likely to be a major war that may well be regional and will almost certainly cost thousands more lives than the current conflict. Moreover, the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran raises the real possibility of Islamists using nuclear blackmail in their attempt to impose their own form of government on the area we presently know as Israel. One should never be in any doubt that when it comes to Islamist terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah - Israel is fighting for its very survival as a nation. Moreover, the peace of the world depends on Israel's survival as the only free democratic country in the Middle East to a much greater extent than the present British government appear to realise.
When it comes to dealing with Hamas, the present Labour government must stop living in a 1930s pacifist dream.