Israeli and Palestinian leaders hail new era, USA optimistic
A new era, a ceasefire, the best chance for years, were respectively the reactions from Mahmoud Abbas, Ariel Sharon and Condoleeza Rice. However, how significant is the Sharm al-Sheikh Summit?
Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon have declared a truce. The President of the Palestinian Authority stated that the truce takes place immediately, heralding "a new era of peace and hope", while Israeli PM Ariel Sharon has promised to cease military action against Palestinian targets in response.
To begin with, the Middle East Peace Settlement involves the UNO, the EU and the Russian Federation, apart from the USA, Palestinian Authority and Israel and therefore the declarations of Condoleeza Rice, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas reflect part of the situation only.
Secondly, however significant the reaction from Israel to Mahmoud Abbas' tentative policy to reign in the Palestinian militants, the point is that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both refused to accept that they are bound by the ceasefire agreement, basically because they were not consulted.
Until all the players in the arena can come together and officially renounce violence, the threat that one or another group will perpetrate an attack remains. Today we can see that the careful approach adopted by Yasser Arafat was the realistic one, while the pushed and forced approach adopted by
Mahmoud Abbas, while it comes into line with the wills of Washington and Tel Aviv, may not be the most successful in the long term, because he is always dependent upon a consensus which he has not sought to achieve.
Hamas has already declared that the Sharm Al-sheikh agreement is not bonding on this movement, which declares that Israel has to move from all the occupied territories before any settlement is agreed upon. Islamic Jihad considers that the agreement is nothing new and for this reason reserves
judgment on the issue.
Therefore, despite the pleasantries and the handshakes, what has been achieved at Sharm-Al-sheikh? Good will from both sides. The handing over of some Palestinian political prisoners. The right for Palestinians to visit other prisoners held in Israeli jails. The promise by Israel to pull back from certain occupied territories.
Movement, certainly but is this enough for Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Probably not in the long term, given that both movements have declared that Israel has to pull out of all the occupied territories. The question is, how long can Mahmoud Abbas keep these movements under control?
A lot will depend on Tel Aviv keeping up the momentum of what it knows to be the writing on the bottom line: a full withdrawal of all Israeli forces behind the lines drawn up by the UNO, basically, a compliance with international law.