Sunday, August 24, 2003


At the precipice

The Mideast cease-fire that began with such promise two months ago shattered this week, and the U.S. "road map" to peace in that region may have reached a dead end.

Palestinian leaders on Thursday declared an end to the cease-fire after Israeli missiles killed Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanab. As Israel planned further strikes against militant chiefs, anger over Abu Shanab's death built on Palestinian streets Friday and militants began launching crude homemade rockets into Israel.

But the tenuous peace was effectively over even before that. Tuesday's savage bombing of a Jerusalem bus filled with religious families killed 20 people and maimed more than 100. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, even while some Palestinian leaders maintained the fiction that the truce continued.

The truth is, Palestinian authorities have not reined in violent militants, making the truce a one-sided affair with three suicide bombings since Aug. 12. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat hasn't let Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas unleash security forces against the terrorists - although Abbas lamely claimed that he was about to act when Israel struck and "undermine(d) our planned action."

That's the spin - that Israel is at fault for retaliating against those it believes are planning and directing the butchery. But the real blame lies with the militant groups, being enabled by Arafat, that apparently have ruined a golden opportunity for peace and statehood.

And just as with the Tuesday truck bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, the violence is aimed at thwarting U.S. efforts toward peace and stability. American officials are scrambling to salvage the road map, but it will be difficult to again urge Israel to show restraint - and near impossible to stabilize matters.

The militants should be careful what they wish for. "The end of the road map is a cliff that both sides will fall off of," Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the United Nations.

At the bottom of that cliff may lie unimaginable chaos. Israel and the Palestinians must not go there. More important, they must not take the rest of the world there.

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