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Leadership for Peace

September 09, 2003

Though it would have been the height of folly to believe that the Israelis and Palestinians would follow the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace in swift, easy fashion, the process is in tatters now and the region threatens to spiral into greater violence. With all its huge challenges overseas, the Bush administration needs to renew its arm twisting, support the Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate and get the Israelis to ease their military crackdown on the Palestinians and stop their incendiary killings of members of the Islamic militant group Hamas. All the parties have no choice but to press for peace -- the alternative is unspeakable, endless bloodshed.

Much of the latest turmoil turns on the politics of personalities -- of the just-resigned Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, his feisty and reluctant would-be successor Ahmed Korei, the marginalized but omnipresent Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They pursue benighted policies at the expense of their long-suffering -- and dying -- people.

Abbas, who was backed by the U.S. and Israel but was unpopular with Palestinians, battled for four months with Arafat, especially over control of crucial security forces that might quell terrorism. When it became clear this weekend that he could not prevail in his power struggle, Abbas quit. Arafat then handpicked as his successor Korei, 65. He is the pragmatic parliament speaker and a moderate who was an architect of the Oslo peace accords. He has not formally accepted the post, insisting he needs guarantees of U.S. and European support and renewed Israeli pledges to pursue peace and to end the crackdown on the Palestinians.

U.S. and Israeli officials know Korei well. They could work with him, prodding him, as they did Abbas, to rein in radical Palestinians who wrongly oppose peace and murder Israeli civilians.

Korei would be an unelected official. A banker and an aristocrat, he is not popular among his people and lacks, as did Abbas, a political base beyond his long ties to Arafat. Korei, though, is supposed to be more politically astute and better able to steer Arafat. He could help himself and his impending regime by picking the Palestinians' best as ministers to fix a government that is an ineffectual mess.

Arafat, if he did not let Korei govern and negotiate for peace, would risk a historical ignominy far beyond his present isolation in his wrecked Fatah headquarters. Sharon, if he ignores stern U.S. warnings and yields to his hard-line instincts and supporters, just might rescue Arafat from the sidelines by exiling him from the Palestinian territories but pushing him onto a new global stage. That's the last thing the peace process needs -- the old chairman railing around the world against the U.S. and Israel. There already are enough obstacles on the hard road to Mideast peace, but the U.S. and other nations urgently need to get the Israelis and Palestinians back on it.

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