The United States has decided to return to Middle East peacemaking and such a move has to be applauded. Washington is presently the only hope of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and it seems conditions are ripe for such an encounter. Months of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilian targets and Israeli military reprisals against alleged guerilla targets and buildings of the Palestinian Authority have deepened hatred on both sides. The right-wing views of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the apparent inability of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to meet his demands have prompted fears that the peace process had been taken back a decade to before the 1993 Oslo accords. In the midst of the unrest, the US withdrew its special envoy to the Middle East, Anthony Zinni, and it seemed Washington was turning its back on the region just when its presence was needed most. But the announcement that Mr Zinni would be back as early as today has re-ignited hopes so severely bruised by the relentless killings. Mr Zinni's last visit was met with a series of devastating suicide bombings in Israel that left dozens of young Jews dead. There is speculation that the attacks were timed to coincide with his arrival to show Arab displeasure at America's role in mediation. The bloodshed increased the longer he stayed and attempts at bringing the sides together were hopeless. As Mr Zinni was recalled, Mr Sharon began tightening the noose around Mr Arafat for failing to crack down hard enough on militants accused of being behind the suicide attacks. Mr Arafat became a virtual prisoner after being confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah after his airstrips, helicopters and offices were destroyed by missiles. His being barred from attending Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was proof of his political impotence. But the announcement of a Palestinian ceasefire and Israel's decision yesterday to ease the restrictions on the Palestinian territories are the strongest signs yet that there is still a glimmer of hope for peace. There is no doubt that the violence has drawn the sides farther apart, even to the point where Arab parents are prepared to sacrifice their children for the Palestinian cause. It is a good sign, though, that both sides are also willing to make compromises as a concession to their war-weary populations. It is the right time for the US to put the Middle East back on its agenda. Mr Zinni must do his utmost to ensure this time that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet.