Sunday, June 29, 2003

Middle East: Three-month pledge

Make it last

Friday afternoon an announcement came from a coalition of Islamic militants that they were willing to halt attacks against Israel for three months. Perhaps it can be stretched to four, or five. Perhaps, if given a chance, peace will finally be able to take hold in this troubled land.

The announcement came as Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agreed on how Israel will withdraw forces from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem. These moves do not precisely follow the "road map for peace" laid out by the United States, which called for the militant groups to totally disband. But this is a start, a small start to be sure, but a start nonetheless.

Perhaps this is the way real peace has to begin - with the war-weary belligerents at last just laying down their arms to rest, and then realizing in the quiet that talking is better than killing.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have accepted the temporary ceasefire that was negotiated with the Fatah of Yasser Arafat. Israel agreed to stop targeting attacks against leaders of the militant groups.

It was unknown if all the militant factions would comply with the truce, but the Hamas leaders seemed willing to overlook a Friday raid by Israel against suspected bombmakers in Gaza.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice was due in the region Saturday for talks that were scheduled to coincide with the formal ceasefire announcement. The U.S. should do whatever it can to support this initiative.

There have been many false starts in this peace process. Indeed, we have no way of knowing if the ceasefire will still be in place by the time you read this editorial. But peace must begin with a willingness to stop shooting. If nothing else, Friday's announcement shows that at least some leaders in this region have that willingness.

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