Cautious Progress toward Peace

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Now that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Cabinet have accepted President Bush's road map for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement the first time that an Israeli government has formally endorsed a Palestinian right to an independent state preparations are being made for a peace summit involving President Bush, Mr. Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days.

In the wake of recent suicide bombings, progress had appeared unlikely. But during the course of delicate negotiations last week with Dov Weisglass, Mr. Sharon's chief of staff, the White House secured Israel's agreement on a formula that would permit negotiations to proceed. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice issued a joint statement addressing Mr. Sharon's major concerns about the road map: that it did not force the Palestinians to drop their demand for the "right of return" of millions of refugees to Israel and did not force them to take immediate action against terrorist groups operating out of PA-controlled areas. "The United States shares the view of the government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the road map to fulfill the president's vision," Mr. Powell and Miss Rice said.

During the past week, there have been a series of hopeful signs suggesting that Palestinian terrorist groups are losing their grip on the Palestinian "street," and that Mr. Abbas may be in a stronger position to take action against them than previously thought. In Beit Hanoun, a Palestinian border town in the northern Gaza Strip, hundreds of residents staged angry demonstrations following a five-day incursion by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF entered the town in order to oust Hamas operatives who often fire rockets at the Israeli village of Sderot, located just half a mile away. But Palestinians, for a change, weren't protesting Israeli actions they were quite understandably venting their anger at Hamas for making Palestinian towns a target for Israeli counterterrorism operations. …