Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Dare We Hope?

For years, critics had been claiming Yasser Arafat represented the biggest obstacle toward serious effort at a Middle East peace deal. Israel and the US had reached the point of waiting for him to die or be removed from power before any serious and lasting peace deal could be discussed. In the days and weeks since his death, there has been a growing optimism that peace might be much closer than anyone anticipated.

The Washington Post is reporting that:
The death of Yasser Arafat four weeks ago has brought a flurry of diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East by Arab, Palestinian and Israeli leaders aiming to strengthen the hands of moderates, repair strained relations among themselves and revive long-stalled peace negotiations on several fronts.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad and vowed to resume high-level contacts and policy coordination after more than 10 years of frayed relations.

srael and Egypt conducted an exchange of prisoners on Sunday that leaders from both countries said was a sign of warming relations after more than four years of tension.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly is considering returning his ambassador to Tel Aviv for the first time since withdrawing him in November 2000, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he is considering releasing additional Palestinian detainees as part of the prisoner swap.

Syria is seeking to reopen negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights that have been frozen for four years, and Egypt has offered to mediate. Israel has rebuffed the overture.

Last week, Abbas ordered a halt to anti-Israel incitement in government-controlled media, and Sharon said he was "going to make every effort to coordinate" the proposed withdrawal of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip with the new Palestinian leadership that is taking the place of Arafat, who died Nov. 11 at a hospital outside of Paris. Previously, Sharon said that what he calls his disengagement plan would be implemented unilaterally because there was no partner for peace on the Palestinian side.

A more moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership has begun to emerge since Arafat's death, but it has yet to win the endorsement of the Palestinian public through elections...

"The end game of the dialogue going on in Gaza, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon is to have all the Palestinian factions adhere to a cessation of violence against Israelis anywhere, as stipulated in the road map, and we hope that Israel will do the same" by ending attacks against Palestinians and stopping the expansion of Jewish settlements, said Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat. The road map is a U.S.-backed peace plan that has been dormant for more than a year.

Ziad Abu Amr, a member of the Palestinian parliament from the Gaza Strip, said that it was not just Arafat's death, but the reelection of President Bush in November and the continuing fighting in Iraq that gave rise to the new initiatives .

The early returns suggest that a single death has opened the way for thousands of lives to be saved and the chance for a region to move beyond a history of bloodshed.

I hope all parties involved keep this in mind as they move forward. I hope we will someday soon see a Palestinian democracy flourishing next to an Israeli one.