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An Eye for an Eye for Peace

June 26, 2003

A cease-fire by radical Palestinian groups would not only advance peace in the Mideast, it also would underscore inescapable realities about the cycles of violence in the region. Militant Palestinians must see that halting their attacks on Israelis will help them achieve their goal of an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and an independent Palestinian state. Palestinians also must understand that suicide bombers who murder Israeli civilians and snipers who kill soldiers in the West Bank play into the hands of vengeful Israelis.

Mahmoud Abbas, the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, hinted weeks ago that he was about to persuade the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa groups to stop the attacks that killed nearly 800 Israelis in the last 33 months. Yet when an official of one group said Wednesday that the cease-fire was a done deal, officials of the other two groups denied it. Soon after, Israeli forces attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians said four died. More than 2,300 Palestinians have been killed since their uprising started in September 2000.

To its credit, the Bush administration has pressed on with its newfound commitment to securing peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week in Israel to try to broker an agreement giving the Palestinians control over much or all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. John Wolf, the U.S. special envoy to the region, met with Abbas on Wednesday. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice is expected to take her turn in Israel soon.

A cease-fire would give both sides breathing room and a chance to implement the "road map" drawn up by the U.S., the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. The first steps must be ending attacks on Israelis and Israel's targeted assassinations of Palestinians. Israel has agreed to demolish outposts in the occupied territories; it also should bar new settlements. The Palestinian groups eventually must be disarmed. But, as happened in Northern Ireland, this won't occur until a cease-fire proves effective. The goal is to build up the Palestinian Authority's security forces so they, rather than the Israelis, can stop terror attacks.

Palestinians need to see signs of hope so they will abandon their support for suicide bombings and sniping. Israel could widen a peace by withdrawing its troops, dismantling roadblocks that prevent Palestinians from working in Israel and ending targeted assassinations. An eye for an eye can work for peace, as well as for war.

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