Painful compromises needed
If, as has been widely predicted, Israel's new Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are likely to struggle to find common ground upon which they can begin to rebuild the halted Middle East peace process, neither has indicated as such so far.
Instead, like the skilled antagonists that they are, the two men have surprised many by launching what can almost be described as charm offensives; both being eager to appear as the voice of reason and civilised restraint.
And yet to Arabs, and indeed to Mr Arafat, Mr Sharon's accession to power can only be seen as a nightmare scenario. Mr Sharon has long been a bete noire to thousands of Arabs. Added to this distrust is the plain fact that Mr Sharon has declared that he will never cede Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. That position would seem to make a peace deal all but impossible.
Despite their diametrically opposed positions, the two men have so far made noises that can only bring about optimism, even if it is cautious optimism. On Wednesday Mr Sharon surprised his critics with a speech to the Knesset in which he called for 'painful compromises for peace from both sides', as he talked of 'our Palestinian neighbours'. He also made it clear that the prospect of renewed peace talks was very much on the agenda. 'I extend my hand to the Palestinians in peace.' Coming from a man who has always previously refused during negotiations to shake Mr Arafat's hand (the refusal has always been reciprocated by Mr Arafat), Mr Sharon's words are significant.
Yesterday, Mr Arafat also adopted a conciliatory tone as he assured the new Israeli Government of his commitment to peace and called for talks to be resumed.
All this is good news. And yet while the speed with which channels of dialogue have opened is a healthy sign, beneath the gestures and overtures of good intentions, there lie what appear to be almost insurmountable obstacles to a deal. The most problematic are Mr Sharon's likely intransigence on the sovereignty of Jerusalem and Mr Arafat's insistence on talks continuing from the point at which they previously broke off.
That Mr Arafat was unable to reach a peace deal with Mr Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak - who offered the Palestinians far more than previously - does not bode well for Mr Arafat's dealings with the more hawkish Mr Sharon. So, despite the initial manoeuvrings, and behind the rhetoric, there needs to be an acceptance that without compromise the prospect of an end to violence is zero.