The widening gap
The suicide bomb attacks in Tel Aviv, a day after another Palestinian attack on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, appear to be another indication that the only way to bring peace to the region is through a negotiated settlement that meets the aspirations of Israelis as well as Palestinians.
The Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories do not appear to have reduced the willingness of Palestinians to attack Israeli targets. Neither have the Palestinian suicide attacks helped in any way to bring a political solution to the conflict any closer.
Both Israel and the Palestinians are stuck in a cycle of violence from which neither can extricate themselves. Israelis, bruised and battered by a string of attacks, are increasingly convinced that only tough military tactics can ensure peace. Palestinians, embittered and frustrated by continuing violence and the lack of progress towards the creation of their own state increasingly support the suicide attacks. Tragically, the gap between even the moderates in the Palestinian and Israeli camps grows wider by the day.
The latest attacks have overshadowed the creeping progress in international efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. In the face of opposition from Europe, the US appears to be stepping back from its ultimatum to the Palestinians to dump Yasser Arafat. Mr Arafat, demonstrating his consummate survival skills, has suggested he would appoint a prime minister, and take a more ceremonial role himself. This would help meet US demands that he step down from the Palestinian leadership.
The US, EU, the United Nations and Russia are meeting in New York to put some flesh on a new peace plan that would ultimately lead to the creation of a Palestinian state that would live in harmony with Israel.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who are also involved in the process, feel that the UN should go ahead and recognise a Palestinian state, even if the borders are indeterminate at present. Arab opinion feels that this would reduce support for the suicide bombers, and Palestinian hardliners. The US, on the other hand, feels that the creation of a Palestinian state can only come after a process of negotiation that begins with an end to violence from the Palestinian side.
The UN and the Europeans are suggesting a package of measures that include confidence-building measures under international supervision, and steps to lower tension and make it possible for Palestinian local elections to be held in an atmosphere free of violence.
These are sound, sensible, measures, which hopefully will not be derailed by the current violence.