Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Step Forward

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared Tuesday that their people would stop all military and violent attacks against each other, pledging to break a four-year cycle of bloodshed and get peace talks back on track. . .

As part of the deal, Israel will hand over control of five West Bank towns to the Palestinians within three weeks and immediately release 500 Palestinian prisoners.

Those agreements, and the sight of Abbas and Sharon shaking hands, were the clearest signs yet of momentum in the peace process after Yasser Arafat’s death in November and Abbas’ election to succeed him in January.

One Israeli official, Gideon Meir, said “there was a great atmosphere in the talks ... smiles and joking.”

An invitation to both sides to meet separately with President Bush at the White House this spring added another round of momentum on the summit’s eve.

Saddam is gone, Arafat is dead, and hope is reborn in the Middle East. If peace and democracy in the Middle East are not yet officially on the march, at the very least they seem to be getting their boots on.

UPDATE: The self-proclaimed leading Middle East expert in the country, Juan Cole, so far today has nothing to say about this meeting and the agreements reached there. No, he is too busy with his spat with Jonah Goldberg.

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