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Global flash points: How to spot signs of peace

Monitor correspondents and experts suggest what to watch for in eight international conflicts.

January 3, 2008

Hope ahead? In December, a Palestinian walks past a section of the wall in Jerusalem erected to protect Israelis from suicide bombers.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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At the outset of 2008, many of the world's conflicts seem locked in a stalemate. But history shows that peace often comes as a surprise.

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Indeed, if one looks at the resolution of major conflicts in the past 20 years, "almost none of them could have been anticipated just beforehand," says John Darby at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in Notre Dame, Ind. More than 40 peace deals have been signed in the past two decades, he says, in places as diverse as Angola, Guatemala, Aceh (Indonesia), and Tajikistan.

Next week, President George Bush heads to the Middle East to spur on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Marc Gopin at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., notes that US administrations have often done their best conflict-resolution work in the last two years of an eight-year term.

Staff writer Christa Case Bryant looks at key global flash points and asks experts how to identify signs of progress – or a turn for the worse.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

THE CRUX: Palestinians want their own state, established on some or all of the territory Israelis claim. Israel seeks Palestinian recognition of its right to exist, and an end to violence against its citizens.

THE STATUS: The two sides formally renewed negotiations at the Annapolis conference in December, and aim to reach a permanent peace agreement by the end of 2008 – the final months of President Bush's term.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

• Reconciliation between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. While some experts say such an agreement is crucial to eventual peace, it could also make continued negotiations more politically difficult for Israel, which won't deal with Hamas as long as it calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

• A prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, which has held an Israeli corporal in Gaza for 18 months. Such a move could enable Israel to include Hamas in negotiations.

• A deal that isolates Hamas, leaving it feeling it has no choice but to undermine the peace process.

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