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A sign of hopein the Mideast

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears to be budging on settlements

The Oregonian

One tenet of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq has been that the fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of a democratized Iraq would have tectonic consequences across the Middle East. Well, we're a long way from a democratized Iraq, but the quick dispatch of Saddam seems to have brought one hopeful sign in the region's fiercest and longest running conflict: the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

In a Sunday interview, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suggested he would be willing to dismantle Jewish settlements in exchange for real peace with the Palestinians.

I know that we will have to part with some of these places.

And that's not all. Sharon also said that a Palestinian state was inevitable: I do not think we have to rule over another people and run their lives, he told the Haaretz newspaper. I do not think that we have the strength for that.

— All of which may seem rather ho-hum ' unless you're a prime minister from Israel's Likud Party. It rejects the creation of a Palestinian state, and many of party's members oppose dismantling any of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Obviously, the man who oversaw the establishment of some of these settlements understands that the war in Iraq has created a shock wave (Sharon's words) across the Middle East.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have promised a renewed effort to solve the Israel-Palestinian problem, and they're right to make it a top priority after the military operation in Iraq.

Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas seems to have his ear to the ground, too. He wants to put together a reform-minded cabinet that could allow a cleaned-up Palestinian Authority to set out on the pending U.S.-backed road map to peace. But it's not clear Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is ready to seize this new opportunity or let go of his old powers.

His backers are now opposing Abbas' cabinet picks, who are, of course, supposed to reform the corrupt and terror-stained mess Arafat has presided over for so long. Sharon and Abbas realize what seems to still elude Arafat and Syrian President Bashar Assad: The ground is shifting across the Middle East, and not just in rubble of Saddam's regime.