before and failed. Cease-fires in Gaza and the West
Bank cities of Bethlehem and Hebron failed to hold
when the Palestinian Authority declined to confront
Hassan suggests that things will be different this
time. Speaking in Nablus last weekend, he said he
soon would present a detailed Palestinian proposal for
a cease-fire beginning in Ramallah, where Arafat has
Sharon also invited Fayyad to his farm, where he
been holed up in his battered headquarters for more
outlined reforms the Palestinian Authority must
than a year.
This time, Hassan says, a cease-fire would be respect-
make before serious peace talks can resume.
ed by all parts of Arafat's Fatah movement, including
Al-Aksa Brigade terrorists who have carried out dozens
of bombings and other attacks against Israel.
Sharon's main demand is that P.A. leader Yasser Arafat
Hassan acknowledges that one of the main reasons
be stripped of his executive powers and pushed into a
for the Palestinians' newfound seriousness is the antici-
pated war on Iraq, which he believes will radi-
cally change the rules in the Middle East.
The Palestinians must change course, he
believes, by stopping terrorism and turning
to political moves. "It is time to harvest the
political fruits," Hassan says, "and we can-
not afford to make any mistakes this time."
Both Jordan and Egypt are actively
involved in the efforts to revive the political
process. On Feb. 9, Weisglass went to
Amman to brief the Jordanians, while the
new chief of Israel's National Security
Council, Ephraim Halevy, has been keeping
Jordan and Egypt also are motivated by
visions of a changing Middle East: Egypt
especially hopes to impress a presumably
victorious United States by helping to
resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon listens as Israeli President
Egypt has made a major effort to get all
Moshe Katsav speaks to the media at the president's
Palestinian terrorist organizations to stop
residence in Jerusalem on Feb. 9 after Katsav formally tabbed
attacking Israel, and risked losing face when
Sharon to put together a ruling coalition.
the radicals refused. Undeterred, Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak invited Sharon
for talks in Sharm el-Sheik, the first invita-
tion by an Arab leader since Sharon was first elected
ceremonial role, with real power transferred to a prime
minister. Fayyad is a leading candidate for the job —
prime minister in February 2001.
and would probably be the first choice of Israel and the
In the few months since he took charge of
Still, some pundits argue that Sharon is only feinting
Palestinian financial affairs, Fayyad has proven himself
toward a peace deal to entice Labor into his coali-
competent and trustworthy, sincerely committed to
Bush's vision of Israeli and Palestinian states living as
tion. If so, it's not working.
Labor Party leaders say they don't believe Sharon
peaceful neighbors and cooperating economically. With
has any real intention of moving toward peace. In a
Fayyad as prime minister, Israeli and American officials
recent meeting with Amram Mitzna, they note,
believe Bush's two-state vision could become a reality.
But it's not clear whether Fayyad has sufficient stand- Sharon lectured the Labor chairman on the impor-
tance of Netzarim and Kfar Darom, two Gaza Strip
ing among the Palestinian public to win the job. Nor is
settlements that Mitzna says should be evacuated.
it clear whether American and Israeli support will hurt
Mitzna maintains that Sharon's attitude to the set-
Fayyad's chances of taking power.
Most pressing, however, is a cease-fire, without which tlements shows he isn't ready to make peace, and
that he wants Labor in his coalition so he can drag
nothing will go forward.
his feet indefinitely. Sharon aides retort that the
In talks with Hassan, Israeli officials are reviving the
idea of a "rolling" cease-fire that would begin in a limit- prime minister sees a post-Iraq situation in which
peacemaking with the Palestinians will be a real pos-
ed geographic area and, if it holds there, would spread
sibility: After Saddam falls, Sharon reckons, Arafat
until it encompasses the entire West Bank and Gaza
will be the next to go.
Then, says Sharon, people like Fayyad and
At that point, Israeli troops could withdraw to posi-
Hassan, who want a new deal for the Palestinians,
tions they held before the intifada began, and more
will be able to make reciprocal moves toward peace
comprehensive peace talks could begin.
The trouble is that similar ideas have been tried
without hindrance. Li
As peace moves quicken, is it sincere or just politics?
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
fter more than two years of a downward
spiral in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the
prospect of a new regional balance after
an anticipated American war on Iraq is
concentrating . Israeli and Palestinian minds.
Both sides want to be ready for any new
American demands after the dust settles in
Baghdad. And so, after months of icy silence, Israeli
and Palestinian officials have started talking again
— and the upshot could be a new cease-fire.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his aim is
to create a basis for a major peace initiative later in
the year. His critics, however, aren't so sure: They
accuse Sharon of going through the motions to
keep the international community happy and to
lure the Labor Party into his coalition.
Talks have been taking place on three levels:
• Sharon himself met Ahmad Karia, the speaker
of the Palestinian Parliament, to discuss renewing
the peace process and what it could offer the
• Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, has been
discussing cease-fire terms with the Palestinian
Authority's interior minister, Hani Hassan, who is
in charge of Palestinian security affairs.
• Ohad Marani, director general of Israel's
Finance Ministry, negotiated with P.A. Finance
Minister Salam Fayyad the transfer of $60 million
in Palestinian tax money that Israel had withheld
since the intifada (uprising) began in September
In addition to those cynics who say Sharon's
recent flurry of moves aren't sincere and are intend-
ed to attract the Labor Party to the
government, others say Sharon simply
recognizes that the overthrow of Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein will create a
window of diplomatic opportunity in
the region, and is signaling to the
international community that he is
prepared to move toward a Palestinian
state as envisaged by U.S. President
Geroge W. Bush.
But Sharon doesn't want to be
rushed. Therefore, he recently set up a
team under dovish Likud Party legisla-
tor Dan Meridor to coordinate future
moves with the United States, pre-
empting pressure on Israel from the
international community, especially
the European Union.
Meridor is said to be working on a
new Israeli-American peace plan based on under-
standings reached by Sharon and Bush in a number
of recent conversations.