A Mideast Summer of Hope

On a grand pendulum, the Mideast is once again swinging from reaction to action, from revenge to diplomacy, after far too much violence in recent months.

Yasser Arafat is free, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in Washington this week, spelling out his peace plan. Along with a Saudi plan, it will be put in a stew that the US is cooking up for the region at a conference planned for this summer.

All this motion reflects President Bush's hope for more foreign intervention. The UN, Arab states, Russia, and Europe are being invited to the conference. That won't sit well with Israel, which prefers to deal only with the US, because it can rein in any American president with a political tug by its lobby in Washington. But a regional approach fits Mr. Bush's other goal of rallying Arab support for toppling Saddam Hussein.

And Bush may also try to bypass another Israeli concern by trying to make a Palestinian state more viable through economic aid and other means. The peace process fell apart because Palestinians saw no future, especially under corrupt, ineffectual leaders. Israel may not think it can end suicide bombings by uplifting Palestinians, but the US does.

And the US will likely still deal with Mr. Arafat, despite Mr. Sharon's contention that he's little better than Osama bin Laden. The US can find no alternative to Arafat as a peace agent.

Barring more bombings and Israeli counterstrikes, this could be the summer of hope for the Middle East.

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