thought it would be easy to get back on the road to peace, and this
week's maneuverings within the Israeli
government and the Palestinian leadership are certainly pounding
that point home. There's been plenty of din. Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon ousted a coalition partner, the secular Shinui Party, and
is cozying back up to Shimon Peres and the Labor Party, a move that
will further alienate Likud hard-liners like Benjamin Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, a fiery and charismatic leader of the uprising, Marwan
Barghouti, has thrown the Palestinian Authority into a tizzy over
his last-minute declaration of his candidacy for president. How
Mr. Barghouti would govern from prison, where he is serving five
life terms on terrorism convictions, is questionable, to say the
But amid the
racket, signs of hope continue to emerge. While Yasir Arafat was
alive, Mr. Sharon refused to have anything to do with him, and he
said he would carry out the Israeli withdrawal from settlements
in the Gaza Strip without consulting the Palestinian Authority.
Viewed cynically, such a move would have given Mr. Sharon a perfect
chance to make the withdrawal as difficult as possible for the Palestinians,
and then shrug his shoulders when things didn't work out. But Mr.
Sharon has apparently had a change of heart.
In recent days,
he has indicated that he will coordinate the pullout with the Palestinian
Authority. The subtext here probably refers to a Palestinian Authority
with the moderate Mahmoud Abbas as its head after the election.
And while the last thing Mr. Abbas needs is an endorsement from
Mr. Sharon, Israel can help his cause by showing right now that
it is willing to make concessions to Palestinian leaders who distance
themselves from terrorism.
Mr. Abbas, who
is the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, says that
he has ordered the government-controlled media to stop broadcasting
material that could incite hatred against Israel. If Mr. Abbas's
directive is actually followed, that means no more fiery broadcasts
praising the killing of Jews. There's a lot more the Palestinians
have to do to get serious about stopping the suicide bombings and
other attacks, but that would be a start.
There are also
signs that Mr. Barghouti's late registration as a candidate is drawing
disfavor from some of those who were once thought to be his most
likely supporters. Mr. Barghouti, 45, who is in prison for his role
in deadly attacks, is seen as more popular with young Palestinians
than Mr. Abbas, who is 69. If Mr. Barghouti cannot be a serious
candidate, perhaps he can serve those young Palestinians by withdrawing
his candidacy in exchange for the democratic reforms he says he
favors in the Palestinian Authority.
For now, it
appears that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are hanging
on tight to the recent lull in attacks and counterattacks. Could
it be that maybe both sides do want peace?