EDITORIAL - May reason prevail: The Middle East factions have bridges to build

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Political movement is taking place within the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships as the efforts of President Barack Obama's special envoy, George Mitchell, now in the region, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will visit next week, zero in on the problem.

One difficulty on the Palestinian side is the split between the two main organizations, Fatah and Hamas. Their leaders and those of 10 other Palestinian groups met yesterday in Cairo to try to construct a united front. The problems are many. The term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expired Jan. 9, with elections in the West Bank and Gaza to replace him expensive and difficult to envisage.

Besides the Fatah-Hamas split is friction between Palestinian leaders in exile and those living in the Palestinian territories, under Israeli bombs and harassment. The most serious Palestinian barrier to fruitful international negotiations is the Hamas position of not renouncing violence as a tool and not recognizing Israel's right to exist. Some believe that a Hamas folded into a reunified Palestinian movement can be persuaded to sand down those positions to something acceptable to all external parties and to the Israelis.

Once again, the Egyptians, who hosted the Palestinian meeting, will play a key role in trying to forge a unified position. The Egyptians also will hold a donors' meeting next week to raise international funds to repair the damage in Gaza inflicted by the Israelis in December and January. The Palestinians will be asking for $2 billion.

On the Israeli side, the composition of a future, post-election government is still in question. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is charged with putting together a coalition. There is some thought among Israelis that making it a government of national unity, including Kadima and even possibly Labor, rather than a coalition of hard-liners is the best course for the country to follow.

The future of a Middle East peace process, in which the United States has a large stake, is very much in play, as Mrs. Clinton prepares to travel. America can hope that the parties to the conflict will all make an effort to be reasonable.


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