Before Mideast Peace: Trust

Israelis and Palestinians look to be taking the first steps toward a new and peaceful relationship. But for any such relationship to last, it must be built on trust.

That's what the events of recent days are about. Newly elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas took the first step by holding truce talks with Palestinian militants, and deploying Palestinian police to northern Gaza. The move was intended to prevent the militants from lobbing mortars into Israeli settlements.

Responding to these moves, Israeli officials have reopened communication with the Palestinians. In their own gesture Wednesday, they indicated they would suspend "targeted killings" of individual Palestinian militants, and meet "quiet" from the Palestinian side with "quiet" on theirs.

In an unusual step, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared he's "very satisfied" with Palestinian efforts. If all goes well, he's expected to meet with Mr. Abbas in about two weeks.

These developments appear to have encouraged further security measures from the Palestinian leadership, which announced Thursday it will prohibit civilians from carrying weapons, and leaked that it intends to appoint a tough new interior chief.

Such confidence building is good practice, and necessary, if both parties hope to resurrect President Bush's "road map" to peace and a Palestinian state. Just the first phase of that plan demands much from the two parties, including "commencing" weapons confiscation from militants and a greatly eased flow of people and funds between the two sides.

Given the record of past cease-fires and peace plans, this week's hopeful tone feels more like a dare than a conviction. But this time both leaders have the majority of their publics backing peace, and that will perhaps do more to encourage these steps toward trust than anything else.

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