A little peace breaking out?

Mideast: World crisis forces both sides into cease-fire steps as U.S. recruits anti-terrorist coalition.

September 26, 2001

ISRAELI AND Palestinian Authority exploration of a truce, with a meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and President Yasser Arafat scheduled for this morning, is a blessing for both peoples.

For a year, Mr. Arafat had refused.

Then he called a cease-fire.

Finally, he said the people were supposed to comply with it.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had responded to each act of terror with intrusive actions to provoke Palestinians more.

All this year, the Bush administration laid back, telling both sides to work out their problems. European Union pressure had, to some extent, replaced U.S. influence.

It took the crisis of terrorism to concentrate minds.

The United States is trying to form a coalition with as many Islamic nations - the real targets of Islamic extremism - as will join.

Mr. Sharon, under great U.S. pressure, did not want to stand in the way. Mr. Arafat does not want to be on the wrong side when sides are chosen.

Some people will wonder why Mr. Arafat did not show he could rein-in terrorism all along, why Mr. Sharon did not show restraint all along, why the Bush administration did not live up to its responsibilities all along.

As matters stand, the Israeli army has withdrawn from some positions, not all, and terrorism from the Palestinian side has subsided, not ended. The behavior of terrorist organizations remains to be seen. The position of Hezbollah, a client of Iran, must figure in the intricate U.S.-Iranian diplomacy going on.

Mr. Sharon is also under pressure the other way. His predecessor and would-be successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was telling anyone on U.S. television who would hand him a microphone last weekend why today's talks should not take place.

Israel, an enduring target of terrorism, is not invited into the coalition to fight it.

Israel understands why.

All this happened a decade ago in the gulf war, when Israel, though a target of Iraq's missiles, stayed out of the coalition that defeated Iraq.

It is not possible to call this fragile truce probe the good fruit of terrorism. But the search for a permanent cease-fire is welcome.

It can be the beginning for a firmer truce and interim coexistence. That must precede confronting the remaining substantive issues in future negotiations for a permanent peace.

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