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Since the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, it has been in a constant state of conflict. The six-day war, the Yom Kippur war, and the attacks on Entebbe are just a small sampling of the types of combat Israel has waged since her modern regathering. During the past six years, the major threat has come from the Palestinian people.

Against this background, there is now a glimmer of hope that peace may be achieved in the near future.

A new era

On February 8, 2005, the New York Times reported that the Palestinians and Israelis have spoken in a face-to-face meeting for the first time in five years. “The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel today and afterward described the talks as ‘the beginning of a new era.’” The good news is that it is indeed a new beginning for both parties; the bad news is that the entire ‘agreement’ is based solely on a verbal promise rather than a binding contract, or, in biblical terms, a covenant.

The report continued: “Mr. Abbas said the Palestinians had agreed to cease all attacks against the Israelis, and that attacks on Palestinians by Israelis would also stop.” The announcements added to the growing momentum toward reviving a peace effort that was stalled until the death of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, in November. But while these were considered the most hopeful signs in more than a year, there were also warnings of potential pitfalls ahead.

Israeli and Palestinian officials characterized the actions as a cease-fire, but there will be no joint declarations or signatures on a document. Sharon and Abbas will unilaterally declare their intent to stop attacks, but each will emphasize that progress will depend on steps taken by the other side. “We expect a declaration on the Palestinian side of the cessation of armed conflict, the intifada,” said Raanan Gissin, Sharon’s spokesman. “Israel will also make a unilateral declaration that says if the Palestinians cease fire, we will refrain from military activity.”

History of failure

To put these statements in perspective, during the past four years, ten announcements of a cease fire have been followed by a resumption of violence. However, the new initiative may have a greater chance of cooperation after the death of Arafat. The whole handshake agreement lies with the ability of Abbas to rein in the militant Palestinian factions, particularly the Hamas organization.

Hamas has always rejected peace talks with Israel, which it refuses to recognize, but during 2003, while Abbas was the prime minister, he did persuade Hamas to halt attacks for a brief period, and he has been in regular contact with the group since his recent electoral win.

A senior Palestinian official indicated that the summit meeting would declare “a resumption of political relations and a mutual cease-fire.” But, as reported in the New York Times, “Palestinian officials cautioned that Israel would have to follow through on its promises to pull back its forces from West Bank cities and discontinue its attacks on Palestinians if the new arrangement were to work.”

Efforts to make it work

Within 36 hours of the agreement, 20 mortars and two rockets rained down on the main Jewish settlement bloc in the southwestern corner of Gaza. Hamas claimed responsibility for the action and this could have been the quick end to a fresh start. But within minutes of the attack, Abbas fired three of his security chiefs. In addition he convened an emergency session of the Central Committee of his Fatah movement, and they denounced the attacks by Hamas and other factions. The committee called the shelling “irresponsible acts that harm our security and the high national interests of our people.”

The Bible student will be watching this latest peace initiative with great interest to see if it leads to a meaningful condition of peace and security in this area of profound biblical significance.

George Rayner

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