While the focus of world attention has been on Lebanon, the situation has not improved in the south of Israel/Palestine where the people of Gaza continue to suffer.

For those with short memories, Gaza was being pounded indiscriminately in what many considered a collective punishment of the Palestinians to force them to release an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in late June.

It is too early to judge whether the war on Lebanon has helped or hurt the embattled Palestinians of Gaza. On the one hand, the vast majority of the political and media attention has shifted almost exclusively to put out the fires in Lebanon and the north of Israel, allowing the Israelis to continue punishing Palestinians without any international protest.

Palestinians continued to be killed on a daily basis — not only in Gaza, but also in Nablus. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed since the capture of the Israeli soldier. Many believed that the Hezbollah attack on Israel, in which they captured two Israeli soldiers, would reduce the pressure on Palestinians, but this has not been the case. The statements by Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, echoed by Hamas leaders, about negotiating a prisoner swap with Israel for all three captured prisoners seems to have further compounded the problem.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas quickly realized that this was a bad idea, one that would have negative results on Palestinians. He has tried very hard to separate the two cases, knowing full well that in this particular situation, dealing with one Israeli soldier held in Gaza is much easier than the case of those held by Hezbollah.

After much hesitation Hamas has recently accepted this fact and agreed to separate the two cases.

But while the war on Lebanon distracted attention from Gaza and complicated things, international leaders and experts were not as quick to discount the relationship. The visit of Condoleezza Rice to Ramallah, the statement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the analysis of all key experts cited the resolution of the Palestinian issue as a key to any regional solution.

In a special cover report on July 31, Time magazine listed the need to address the Palestinian issue as second in a six-point answer to the best way to defuse the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The crisis between Lebanon and Israel has brought to the forefront two very important issues for the peoples of the region: prisoners and unilateralism. After the two concurrent attacks aimed at capturing Israeli soldiers, the wisdom of holding prisoners for a long time is now being questioned.

Those most likely to benefit from the present violence are Jordanian prisoners still held in Israeli jails. Jordan, a U.S. ally and only one of two Arab countries with a peace agreement with Israel, has not been able to win the release of its 30 prisoners, some held since before the Jordan-Israel agreement was signed in 1994.

Perhaps the biggest blow in this conflict will be to the notion of Israeli unilateralism. Both the uncoordinated withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza have proved that you cannot simply get out of an area, throw away the keys and forget about it. The needs of the population on the other side of the border can’t be ignored.

The unilateralism Israelis overwhelming voted for in the recent elections is based on the idea that security can somehow be achieved by erecting high cement walls. If anything, the barrage of rockets of all types, whether home-made or sophisticated, has shown the folly of such thinking. Although the West Bank has not seen the use of rockets against Israel, there is no reason why Palestinians will not resort to such weapons if the walls continue to be built deep inside their territories and the Israelis continue to act with arrogance and superiority toward them.

Military strategists would probably be the first to agree about the limits of military power in achieving long-term peace. It is time for political leaders on both sides, especially moderate ones, to understand that they need to work together, through negotiations, to solve the problems that simply can not and should not be solved by brute force.

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Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab, a journalist and columnist, is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University, in Ramallah and a founder of AmmanNet.net, the Arab world's first Internet radio station.