Pause for Peace

Breaking the latest cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has become more critical than ever for President Bush.

Just last week he launched a well-crafted peace plan - one linked to his campaign against terrorism. He can't allow this week's tit-for-tat bomb attacks between the two sides to set back his commitment to create a Palestinian state within two years. Otherwise, his plan to reshape the Middle East will be in jeopardy.

One saving tactic Mr. Bush is now using is to somehow persuade Israel to hold off on military retaliations against known organizers of the bombings against Israelis. He hopes such a pause in eye-for-an-eye violence would give the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, time to control anti-Israel groups like Hamas.

Israel, so far, isn't persuaded. For almost three years, its military has penetrated deep into Palestinian society, striking where necessary, on the hope that broken homes and offices, assassinations of militants, and economic strangulation would force the bombings to cease.

Since that hasn't worked, Bush is right to pressure Israel to hold its fire and move ahead with the road map despite the bombings, starting with dismantling Jewish outposts on the West Bank.

But he must do more. He needs to ask friendly Arab leaders to speak out more forcefully against violent Palestinian groups. And he can lean on European nations and others to work harder to dry up the flow of money to those groups.

Mr. Abbas remains a weak leader, unlike Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Yet he was persuaded by the US to renounce "terror against the Israelis" at the peace-plan launch. His sincerity and authority now are being tested in how well he can rally the Palestinians behind his stated views.

Israel's long-term interests demand that Abbas be given some peace to see if he can stop the violence.

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