- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

President Bush, having concluded yesterday’s anti-terror summit with Arab leaders in Egypt, was preparing to step up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to narrow their differences on critical issues in the peace process when he meets with them today in Aqaba, Jordan. At yesterday’s meeting, Mr. Bush reiterated his call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state next door to Israel, and urged the Jewish state to relinquish settlements in the West Bank so there would be “continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home.” We support Mr. Bush’s call. The president also urged the assembled parties — in particular, Mr. Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad of Bahrain — to cut off sources of funding to terrorist organizations. Mr. Bush won commitments from the Arab leaders to crack down on terrorism. The administration also urged Arab parties to take action to end incitement of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the popular press.

In the end, the meeting in Egypt appeared to be a modest success — if the Arabs actually carry out their commitments. Mr. Bush, for example, won promises from the assembled Arab rulers to endorse his road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace and to cut off money and arms to terrorist groups. At the same time, Messrs. Abbas and Mubarak (and just about every Arab leader who goes on the record), continue to endorse PA Chairman Yasser Arafat — who nearly three years ago rejected an Israeli-endorsed proposal that would have created a contiguous Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank and embarked on a campaign of anti-Israel terror — as leader of the Palestinians. They continue to demand the “right of return” of millions of Palestinians to what is currently Israel — a political non-starter that not even the most dovish Israeli government would ever accept. It is true that Mr. Abbas is becoming more pointed in his denunciations of Palestinian terrorism. But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Abbas will settle for a ceasefire agreement with the terrorist elements or whether he is prepared to use force against them.

At the same time, the PA’s official media continue to disseminate incendiary propaganda. On May 28, for example, the PA allowed Hamas to stage a rally in which youths blew up the replicas of an Israeli bus and automobile. This is precisely the sort of behavior that Mr. Abbas will have to act forcefully against.

For his part, in the days leading up to the Jordan parley, Mr. Sharon made numerous gestures. Israel reportedly postponed at least one major anti-terrorist raid in Gaza. Mr. Sharon created a political firestorm by criticizing the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank, and his political allies speak openly of evacuating settlements (17 are on the list, according to Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin.) And, at Mr. Abbas’s request, Mr. Sharon has freed 100 Palestinian prisoners, including the Fatah terrorist who detonated an explosives-laden refrigerator in downtown Jerusalem on July 4, 1975, killing 14 persons and wounding more than 70.

Mr. Sharon is taking serious political risks in an effort to move the peace process forward. The question is whether Mr. Abbas is willing and able to do the same.

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