R ecently we have been skeptical of the prospect — trumpeted in some quarters — that the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of his longtime aide Mahmoud Abbas was likely to create a significant opportunity for a useful Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” to begin.
Well, when it comes to this issue skepticism is almost always in order … but some recent developments suggest a window just might be opening a crack.
Within a couple of days of Abbas’ election, an attack at an Israel-Gaza crossing point killed six Israelis, and Israel’s government broke off contact with the Palestinians. A few days later, as Abbas was preparing to go to Gaza to meet with militants and try to get them to agree to a cease-fire and perhaps more conciliation, another suicide bomber killed himself and one Israeli, wounding six other Israelis.
All this seemed to vindicate skeptics. Then came a couple of developments that might — just might — offer cause for hope.
First, Abbas may have made some progress in getting cooperation from militant groups. He didn’t quite get a firm commitment to cease actions against Israel, at least for now. But he seems to have made headway. Hamas, which has never been close to the Palestinian Authority, hasn’t agreed. But Islamic Jihad might be willing. Abbas then announced he would deploy troops along the Gaza-Israeli border to prevent militant incursions and deter missile attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli towns.
Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved a “security meeting” with Palestinian officials, which headed off plans for a large-scale Israeli incursion to curb violence in Gaza.
What is going on? “Israel has finally decided not to cede progress toward peace to the most violent and militant Palestinian elements,” said James Coyle, head of Chapman University’s Global Education Program.
Coyle, who spent two decades in the State Department, explained that so long as Israel’s position was that there would be no negotiations until all Palestinian terrorism was ended, any militant Palestinian with some explosives — most of whom don’t want peace or a peace process — could stymie negotiations easily.
If Israel is ready at least to talk about talking, even though a couple of recent attacks have not been avenged, and if Mahmoud Abbas can get Palestinian militants to halt new attacks, at least for a while, there just might be some hope.
Hopes for peace between Israel and Palestine have surged before, only to be dashed. The smart money might be on disappointment this time, too. But those who hope for peace might just have a reason to place a small bet this time. We hope it pays off.