Bush the Peacemaker

Like a desert-fox general with victories to his name, President Bush spent two days this week in the hot sun of the Middle East, hammering away at Palestinian, Israeli, and a few Arab leaders, in essence, to get them to gird their loins for battle with their own radicals.

The primary conflict remains that between the Palestinians and Israel. But Mr. Bush has now altered the context of that conflict by forcing public commitments from those leaders to start making difficult decisions at home.

The president's even-handed and personal commitment to creating a Palestinian state and ending attacks on Israel comes just after a US victory in Iraq. That war revealed Bush's serious intent to reshape the region and end its terrorist-exporting business in order to prevent another 9/11.

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This new moment for peace is also driven by an intifada fatigue among Palestinians and Israelis, as well as a new attitude by Saudi Arabia after a terrorist blast in the capital killed both Saudis and foreigners.

A new readiness to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process means all sides must take unpleasant steps with their own people in order to build up trust with one another.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to dismantle a few dozen "illegal" Jewish settlements on the West Bank - by force if necessary - which may push Israel into an armed identity crisis over claims to ancient lands. (Other settlements should be the next to go.)

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas promised to end official incitement of hatred against Jews and Israel, end the "militarization of the armed intifada," and consolidate control over all Palestinian forces. Those steps, too, may require the use of force.

Four Arab leaders who met with Bush, meanwhile, promised to ensure that terrorists in the region receive no material support and to give full backing to Mr. Abbas's efforts.

Israel wants freedom from suicide-bombers, Palestinians want freedom from Israeli control, and the US wants freedom from Arab hatred tied to that conflict. It should be relatively easy to build on that mutual desire.

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