Baby Steps

While the cease fire announced today is but a first step down a difficult road it should be greeted with optimism.

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt (AP) – In a crucial step heralded as a fresh start to peacemaking, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas promised Tuesday to halt all acts of violence and agreed to meet again soon to tackle the tougher issues that for decades have blocked the road to peace.

Even if their cease-fire pledge sticks, much negotiating lies ahead as the two sides work to rebuild the trust destroyed in four years of deadly attacks.

“What we agreed upon today is simply the beginning of the process of bridging the gap,” Abbas said after his first face-to-face meeting with Sharon since succeeding Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader made clear the two sides have yet to wade into more fundamental issues, including control of Jerusalem and “the settlements, the release of prisoners, the wall.”

The speeches by the two leaders at this Egyptian resort, broadcast live on Israeli and Arab TV stations, were greeted with a mixture of hope and skepticism on a cold, rainy day back home. Many people said they would settle for modest improvements in their daily lives.Much to the dismay of Bush critics the “hands off” approach to the Palestinian situation appears to be paying dividends. Now that Arafat is out of the equation look for the Bush administration to expend more political and economic capital on bringing about a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

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