The prospects of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would hardly seem promising under any circumstances, given the former's unremitting pursuit of expansionist policies and latter's firm refusal to reconcile with the creeping occupation. The peace deal designed to put a stop to the almost daily hostile exchanges across the border between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish State has, therefore, evoked merely faint murmurs of hope; the voices of despair and doubt are much louder. History is, indeed, on the side of the pessimist; ceasefire agreements, painstakingly worked out in the past, have become ineffective at the slightest provocation. The most recent of them, enforced in November 2006, could barely last for a few weeks before the efforts to sustain it were given up. The enmity between the two sides is so deep-rooted and intense that any talk of peace is viewed with downright suspicion, not only by the parties concerned but also by the outside world. The fate of the current truce between Israel and Hamas that came into force last Thursday, therefore, hangs in the balance. Hamas established its unimpeachable democratic credentials when it emerged as the most popular political party in the 2006 general elections. However, instead of winning the support of Washington, which had repeatedly declared its encouragement to democratic forces in the region as an antidote to terrorism, it incurred its ire, and the epithet of "terrorist outfit" became a common currency to describe Hamas. Israel, the US, its political centres, media and allies in the West, all began bandying about its terrorist background to justify its boycott. Israel, the root cause of the whole trouble, freely raiding the Palestinian-controlled areas with helicopter gunships and tanks, butchering men, women and children and indulging in targeted killings without so much as international censure, had become some kind of a saint to be backed against this hostile reality called Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas (Al-Fatah) of the Palestinian Authority, commonly considered amenable to US pressure, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas), regarded as a diehard nationalist opposed to outside influence to the detriment of Palestinian interests, failed to strike a working relationship and finally Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority a year ago. Hence the people of Gaza became subject to all conceivable form of pressure to break their will and turn them against Hamas as the agent of their hardship. A studied campaign reviling Hamas was launched. Economic blockade of the worst kind and the withholding of dues Israel owed to the Gazans and humanitarian donations from friendly sources wrought great suffering to the 1.5 million people living in the Strip. The cut-off of vital supplies, the stoppage of imports and exports (even exports of perishable commodities their lands had produced like fruit, one of the principal sources of their earnings), endemic fuel and food shortages and a life in constant peril of military raids and airstrikes by Israeli troops - this man-made cruel scenario became their fate. It was a punishment the champions of human rights and democracy had decreed with the least possible sign of embarrassment. Such are the disgraceful double standards big powers adopt in pursuit of their strategic designs. The holed-up Gazans vented their anger and frustration by hurling rockets and mortars across the border. As their suffering intensified, efforts to put an end to the war-like situation began. Egyptian politicians and diplomats worked hard for months to broker a deal that stipulated the stoppage of all Gaza-Israeli violence, the gradual easing of the Strip's blockade and flow of vital supplies to it. The crunch will come when the opening of Rafah crossing with Egypt, a major Hamas demand, will be taken up. The Israelis are tying it with the release of their soldier, Captain Gilad Schalit, captured two years ago and the Palestinians are demanding freedom for hundreds of Palestinians in exchange. Rafah crossing hold great importance for Gazans; to Egypt and beyond they go for treatment and return to countries where they have taken up residence. On the other hand, the Israelis are loath to set free those whom they believe have been involved in deadly attacks against Israelis. Unless the issues of Captain Schalit, Rafah crossing and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails - all tied together - are resolved, it is hard to be optimistic about the truce's potential to hold. Some Israelis think that the peace deal will give more strength to Hamas to become more violent in six months' time, and if they are not in favour of it they would not be serious about making it hold. The Palestinian people, who have experienced the treacherous acts of Tel Aviv time and again during the past 60 years, are content to call it tahadiya, the Arabic word for "calm", rather than ceasefire agreement, to show its transitoriness. A most telling comment came from (to quote AP writer Amy Teibel) Khaled Abdel Halem, a 24-year old Gaza law student, who said, "I don't have much hope that this agreement will hold for a long time. We are not talking about an agreement between friends or brothers. We are talking about a deal between two enemies who wish death to each other all the time." E-mail: mqkay@yahoo.co.uk