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Israel & Palestinians Plan to Declare Cease-Fire at Summit

Mideast road sign–but can we get there from here? (credit: Jim Hollander/European Pressphoto Agency)

How much hope is too much in the Mideast conflict? There’s a lot of hope these days among those who pray to see an end of the internecine war between Israelis and Palestinians. The New York Times covers a story yesterday that stokes the furnaces of hope quite high: 2 Mideast Rivals to State Intent to Halt Attacks . I freely admit to being profoundly skeptical at Bush’s promises after his election to re-engage with the Mideast peace process. I’m still skeptical. But Condoleezza Rice, on her current trip, seems to have accomplished something; or perhaps it’s the two sides themselves who have accomplished this. Whatever the reason, the announcement of ceasefire between the two combatants is a tremendously welcome development. And the added news that Bush will meet with both sides in Washington seems to cinch the seriousness of the attitude on the part of Administration. Would that he had shown such commitment from the beginning of his first term…

We must add that much remains vague. Rice said yesterday that she told the Israelis that hard decisions will have to be made–but what are they? Settlement freeze? Withdrawal? Who knows what she means?

An indication of how far apart the sides may still be lies in their public statements about the settlements:

Mr. Abbas, in Ramallah with Ms. Rice, made it clear that he expected prompt Israeli action on a number of fronts, not on just security but also on freezing the expansion of settlements and not taking any steps to seize property or let settlements grow in the vicinity of Jerusalem, which Palestinians and Israelis claim as their capital.

Later in the same article, it talks about a furious debate between hardliners and moderates within the Sharon cabinet about what should be the nature of Israeli concessions to the Palestinians:

So far, Israeli officials say, the advocates of concessions have won the day, but Mr. Sharon is not going to be able to go much further – for example, to meet American and Palestinian demands for dismantling scores of illegal settlement “outposts” in the West Bank and freezing the growth of settlements near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The battle lines are drawn. The Palestinians are clearly laying down their marker, saying they want a settlement freeze. But Sharon’s political allies seem to be playing for time and sympathy by telling everyone how little maneuvering room the PM has in granting concessions. But I’m afraid this will not do. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis will ever again be forgiving or understanding of the other side’s political limitations. They both want action. Sharon will have to make things happen (complete a Gaza withdrawal, dismantle real–as opposed to Potemkin–settlements, and prevent settlement expansion) if he wants the process to move forward. And if is “not going to be able to go much further [sic]” then he’s just whistling Dixie as far as advancing the prospects for real peace in the region are concerned.

On a separate linguistic note, why doesn’t any reporter or editor at the New York Times seem to know the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther?’ Farther denotes distance. Further denotes a sequence. I don’t know why this sets my teeth on edge, but it does. I see this mistake repeated in the Times at least once a week or more.

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