Saturday, November 13, 2004


In death, Arafat’s legacy
can become one of peace


The passing of the Palestinian leader has removed obstacles for the United States and Israel to renew peace negotiations.

Dispatching a low-level official to Cairo for Yasser Arafat's funeral conforms to the Bush administration's lack of regard for the Palestinian leader who was both hope and hindrance for his people's national aspirations.

That should be President Bush's final expression of aversion to engaging in the peace process that has been suspended for four years because of Arafat. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who similarly abandoned negotiations, must use this singular opportunity to gain an accord with a new Palestinian leadership.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has stood steadfastly by Bush through the vexatious conflict about the continuing war in Iraq, has urged the president to use his second term and American muscle to undertake a new effort to marshal a Mideast peace process.

With Blair at his side this week, Bush said he recognizes that Arafat's death removes roadblocks. Still, he remains tentative, giving a half-hearted response to Blair's proposal for an international conference on the Middle East. "I'm all for conferences just so long as the conferences produce something," Bush said, as if guarantees of results can be had in advance of full involvement and commitment.

Arafat's passing clearly opens doors for progress.

For Palestinians, it is a chance to ascend from extremist militancy and their self-defeating pose as casualties of Israel's establishment to an authentic, legitimate government.

Israel must demonstrate its willingness for peaceful settlement by withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, reducing military operations in Palestinian regions and taking down Israeli outposts.

The United States, as the most powerful democracy in the world, must use its influence to press for negotiations, if for nothing else but to shut off the anger and despair that fuels terrorists like al-Qaida and the relentless insurgents that have yet to be quashed in Iraq.

The president's conviction that "the road to Jerusalem passed through Baghdad" has been invalidated by the new enemies U.S. forces are battling in doorways, alleys and rooftops in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq. It now appears that the path Bush carved out has been re-routed, circling throughout the region.

Even with Arafat gone, the challenges for resolution in the Middle East are enormous. No doubt there is great opportunity for peace and, without authentic efforts, an equally great chance for yet another failure.




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