Thu, 08 May 2003

Road map to Mideast peace

With the war in Iraq practically over, the world is again turning its attention to the conflict in the Middle East, one that has gone unresolved for more than half a century, between the Palestinian people and the Israeli government, and has caused the loss of thousands of innocent lives on both sides.

In fact, the international community is giving greater attention to the Middle East issue now that significant changes have taken place in the region, such as the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the emergence of the Palestinian Authority's reformed leadership under newly appointed Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and, above all, the new peace proposal jointly drawn up by the quartet comprising the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia.

The proposal, termed the "road map" for peace in the Middle East, envisages the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state by 2005 and calls for the belligerent parties to implement consistently the peace plan, in that Israel must immediately freeze all its ambitious settlement expansion and Palestinians cease attacks on the Israeli people and end all incitement to violence.

The Palestinians, represented by Abbas, have demonstrated their goodwill by accepting the road map and pledging to implement it faithfully. In a maiden interview since assuming his post last week, Abbas, saying that he was ready to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and crack down on illegal weapons, has urged Palestinian militant groups -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- to give up their weapons and join the Palestinian Authority's policy in trying to settle its conflict with Israel.

Such goodwill obviously deserves similar reciprocity from the Israeli side. If the Jewish state truly wants to live peacefully and securely with its neighbors in the region, it cannot help but return all Arab lands it occupied in 1967, an issue also stipulated in the "road map" proposal and which is also in line with UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397.

Now that the ball is in the court of the Israeli government, the Jewish state should not demonstrate any reluctance to accept the quartet's peace proposal, which might help solve the Middle East problem comprehensively so that the two peoples and nations can coexist peacefully.

As for the U.S., the key supporter of Israel, it has to abandon its double standards regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to convince the world community that, as a superpower that has taken the initiative in the peace proposal, it has drawn a realistically fair policy that does not treat the Palestinians as the "children of a lesser god".

Although the concrete result of the proposal has yet to be seen, it nevertheless sparks a ray of hope for a peaceful solution in the troubled region.

We believe that immediate implementation of it is of utmost importance to help alleviate the long years of the Palestinians' sufferings, especially if other Arab and Muslim nations also throw their weight behind it by giving more support to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian nation. At the same time, they should accept Israel as a neighbor living in peace, an offer made by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, which was also endorsed by the Arab League Summit meeting in Beirut in March last year.

Only when animosity between nations ends and confidence- building measures are accepted can lasting peace in the region prevail.