Sunday, February 06, 2005

New Chance in Palestine?

There is an air of hope over the Middle East after a year of increasing desperation.

Key is what will happen between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and President Abu Mazen of the Palestine Authority. History has moved both of them to position where their respective political agendas are remarkably similar. Therein lies the historic opportunity.

Both now have to confront the forces of religious fundamentalism inside their respective socities. Both now that it is success or failure in this that will lead them to success or failure overall.

Sharon has promised to evacuate app 7 000 settlers in primarily the Gaza strip. He knows that their positions are untenable over time. But when pursuing this policy he is confronted by, and forced to confront, all those believing in the creation of an Israel within biblical boundaries through a policy of aggressive settlements on occupied Palestine lands.

This is a U-turn of large dimension. Ariel Sharon has been seen as the promoter and protector of this movement for decades. Now he is seen as betraying them, and it's no joke when the Israeli security services fear for his life. In turning Israel around, he's confronting important sectors in Israel society.

But he has no choice. The policy of expansion will only lead Israel to greater and greater problems. It didn't work in Lebanon.

Abu Mazens task is essentially the same. He must confront and marginalize the forces of the armed intifada and muslim fundamentalism in order to be able to continue building a reasonable democratic Palestine state that can live in peace with Israel.

So far, both of them are moving forward with determination on their respective agendas. The agendas are separate, but they are mutually supportive. Success for the one makes it easier to achieve success for the other.

It's much too early to see how far this can carry. Can the so called road map towards a settlement be revived?

We'll know more after the summer. Then there will have been parliamentary elections in Palestine, and we will probably have seen the beginning of the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza. Then, it might be appropriate to look at the possibilities ahead.