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June 04, 2003

Bolstering the Palestinian Premier

Cautiously coming up to the plate, and careful not to be too forceful one way or the other, This New York Times editorial is a bit optimistic about Bush and his Road Map
It was gratifying to hear Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, say after the Arab summit meeting with President Bush yesterday that the five Arab states present oppose terror and will not finance or arm extremist Palestinian groups. But Arab states can do much more. They have one central task: to strengthen the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. This means conferring on Mr. Abbas the same authority they once gave Yasir Arafat and condemning violent groups like Hamas and their rejectionist agendas.

Mr. Abbas is the most important reason there is renewed hope for progress in the Middle East. He has stated clearly that the violence of the past 32 months has been a betrayal of Palestinian national aspirations and that the only solution is a negotiated one leading to two states living side by side. Mr. Arafat failed his people by encouraging that violence. He is now likely to try to trip up Mr. Abbas to show his continuing importance. Unfortunately, the Egyptian foreign minister recently stated his government's allegiance to Mr. Arafat. And no Arab leader has directly condemned suicide bombings or their sponsors. Syria and its client state, Lebanon, did not even join yesterday's gathering.

Mr. Abbas said last week that he was about to sign an agreement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad to end their attacks on Israelis. Yesterday, the Israeli military chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, told a parliamentary committee that the agreement looked likely. He also said there were signs that Mr. Abbas had started to fight terror within the Gaza Strip, where his security forces remain intact. These are encouraging developments that can, ultimately, lead to disarming such groups. In its own good-will gesture, Israel has opened its borders to some Palestinian workers and released about 100 Palestinian prisoners.

All of this, in addition to Mr. Bush's suddenly increased involvement, suggests a basis for guarded optimism. Mr. Bush holds further meetings today in Jordan with Mr. Abbas, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, and with the two together. For the U.S. efforts to bear fruit, Mr. Bush must remember that it will require a sustained effort to get Mr. Sharon to do what needs to be done.

Mr. Sharon has surprised many in the past 10 days by accepting the American-sponsored peace plan and stating clearly that Israeli rule over the Palestinians has to end. While he is likely to remove some illegal settlement outposts erected over the past couple of years in the West Bank, he nevertheless seems determined to hold onto the dozens of established settlements there, where some 200,000 Israelis live. This will lead nowhere. Mr. Bush knows that the Israelis will have to dismantle the settlements. It will not happen without the direct involvement of Mr. Bush in the months ahead.