By Earle I. Mack

As I reflect on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, I feel a growing urgency for peace and the dire need to reach for a sustainable resolution. Decades of strife have left scars on the land and in the hearts of those involved. Fresh and brutal, these newest wounds gnaw at our shared conscience — a conscience that must never be forgotten.

But we can all see the dark path that continued violence, however just, is leading us down. As a Jew, a former ambassador to Finland and an advocate of peace through my work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, including four visits to war-torn Ukraine delivering heaters and generators, I believe it is time for a bold and decisive action to end this cycle of violence.

My proposal is simple yet comprehensive: Israel halts offensive operations for one week, and in turn, Hamas commits to a one-week cease-fire, stopping all attacks on Israeli territories and people. This cessation of hostilities is crucial to prevent further loss of life, destruction and suffering on both sides while laying the foundation for broader efforts toward peace. Israel’s commitment to cease offensive operations in exchange for a surrender agreement of Hamas fighters serves as a fundamental step towards de-escalation.

Hamas fighters who choose to surrender will be guaranteed humane treatment and their safety as prisoners of war. Their imprisonment will adhere strictly to international humanitarian laws, ensuring proper care, access to legal representation and basic human rights. The prison facilities will be accessible to regular visits from family members. This gesture can provide an opportunity for a nonviolent resolution and pave the way for dialogue.

Those who surrender would be guaranteed a prison sentence of no more than five years. Importantly, the proposed five-year period sets a reasonable timeframe, allowing for a period of reflection, deradicalization efforts and potential reintegration into society upon release. This sentencing duration is not about justice, there is no justice for such acts. It’s an effort to foster a balance between accountability and the possibility of eventual reconciliation.

It provides a way out of the conflict for fighters and their families whose only certainty today is death at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces. Moreover, a mass defection of fighters will further weaken Hamas’s ability to project violence and hasten an end to the conflict.

Most importantly, the remaining Hamas fighters, recognizing their weakened position, will then feel their own lives are in danger, making it much easier to negotiate the release of the remaining hostages. There are no guarantees that logic will prevail among dangerous zealots, but this practical approach paves a more concrete path toward winning back hostages than exists today.

In parallel, Israel’s commitment to spearheading international efforts for delivering humanitarian aid and a pledge of $1 billion to the reconstruction of Gaza demonstrates a genuine willingness to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population. The provision of aid addresses the pressing humanitarian crisis, including access to basic necessities such as food, water, healthcare and shelter. Reconstruction efforts will focus on rebuilding infrastructure, homes, schools and healthcare facilities that have been ravaged by conflict.

Collaboration with international organizations, governments and NGOs will be crucial to ensure the effective delivery and distribution of aid, guaranteeing transparency and accountability in the process with the ultimate goal of free and fair elections. This collaborative approach aims to mitigate the root causes of conflict by addressing socioeconomic disparities, fostering stability, and rebuilding trust within the affected communities.

Furthermore, this proposal seeks to create a framework that acknowledges the grievances of both parties, offering a pathway toward de-escalation, rehabilitation and rebuilding. It underscores the significance of international humanitarian norms and cooperation while emphasizing the shared goal of a sustainable and peaceful future for the region.

Israel stands as a cornerstone of American alliances, serving as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, deserving the right for its people to prosper without constant threat. Though peace may seem unachievable for some, the landscape remains unchanged from the conditions before the Hamas attack.

Arab leaders, notably the Saudis, are increasingly realizing Israel’s enduring presence in the region. They understand that pursuing extreme demands for a fully formed Palestinian state may not enhance its chances of actualizing. Moreover, they recognize Israel’s vital role as a key regional partner in confronting their mutual adversary, Iran.

The situation remains complex, and there are legitimate concerns on both sides. But to forge a pathway toward peace, we must take the chance to break the cycle of violence and foster an environment where dialogue, empathy and cooperation can thrive.

Let us choose the path of peace, not for the sake of politics or power, but for the sake of the innocent lives caught in the crossfire, mainly women and children, and for the hope of a brighter, more harmonious future for generations of Israelis and Palestinians to come.

The urgency of this situation demands courageous leadership and a willingness to set aside differences for the greater good. The road to peace is fraught with challenges, but history has shown that it is not an impossible journey.

As someone who has witnessed the transformative power of diplomacy, I implore leaders on both sides to consider this proposal earnestly.

Earle Mack is a former United States ambassador to Finland. He is a partner with the Mack Company, a real estate development and investment firm, and a trustee of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Read the full post from Earle I Mack on The Hill: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/4395645-peace-wont-come-easily-but-the-process-must-begin-in-gaza/