A bold step forward

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 12:00am

A vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is emerging amid the bloodshed in the Middle East, and it is significant that the United States has taken the initiative to lead the push to make it a reality. Its proposal, adopted by the United Nations Security Council, has set a tone of determination that the killing must stop and peace be allowed to take root.

Although Arab states have said the resolution, which also calls for a cease-fire, is not as strong as it could be, it has won their blessing. Israeli officials also seem open to the idea.

Nonetheless, the new atmosphere of hope has not stopped the blood-letting. More than 200 people - two-thirds of them Palestinians - have been killed in the past two weeks and the Israeli military continues to pound targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It will take more than a UN resolution to drag the sides apart from their brutal tit-for-tat strategies.

Washington's role in brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians has always been crucial, but its resolve has often appeared to waver.

As Israel's main ally, the US has held sway where envoys from Russia and the European Union have been unable to make headway. Without US determination to push Israelis and Palestinians, it seems there can be no peace.

Observers have been baffled by earlier half-hearted attempts by the US to get the sides together to consider peace proposals its own emissaries had made. In 17 months, the Palestinian intifada has claimed more than 1,000 lives and right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sidelined and humiliated Yasser Arafat, who still appears to be the only person who can truly represent Palestinians when it comes to talking peace.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's suggestion last month that Arab nations should recognise Israel in return for land captured in the 1967 Arab war has fired the imagination of potential peacemakers and it is on the back of this euphoria that the US has made its move. The Arab League will consider the prince's plan at its summit in Beirut on March 27.

But it is the new note of determination from the US, and change in its Middle East resolutions at the UN, that raises hopes. With Vice-President Dick Cheney on a 10-day tour of the Middle East and special envoy General Anthony Zinni arriving in Israel today, the American push for peace can begin in earnest.

Now that the US has taken its bold step, it must maintain the pressure on both sides. It must insist on an unconditional truce and make every effort to ensure that conditions are created to allow Israelis and Palestinians to meet face-to-face.