The U.S. can play a role in brokering a more lasting peaceMost Americans sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, squeezed into the leftovers of a land that barely seems adequate for one people, let alone two. Even so, it is difficult to feel very sorry about the departure from the world stage of Yasir Arafat, whom history seems likely to judge harshly.

Arafat had physical courage and a certain jaunty style that somehow made up for a decided absence of charisma in the traditional sense. He served his people as a symbol and a focal point for efforts to assert Palestinian rights and aspirations.

But the optimism that Arafat helped engender with the Camp David Accords, a peace effort that garnered him a share in the Nobel Peace Prize, was frittered away in a long series of missteps that pandered to the most intransigent factions of the Palestinian movement.

A golden opportunity to obtain what former President Bill Clinton estimated to be 95 percent of Palestinian demands was wrecked late in 2000 when Arafat buckled to the extremists. From the wreckage sprang the second Intifada, a period of suicide bombing and Israeli retaliations that effectively destroyed the last vestiges of good will.

Now, Israel has erected a veritable iron curtain between Jewish and Palestinian areas, and much that was possible seemingly is lost.

Arafat had a difficult situation in trying to wrestle the disparate Palestinian factions into one position, but demonstrated little willingness to expend his own political capital in the quest for consensus. Ultimately, he became a literal and figurative prisoner to his own failings, unable to move physically from his besieged headquarters and unable to move intellectually from the diplomatic corner into which he stubbornly painted himself.

Palestinians and Israelis have a moment now to begin rebridging the gulf that separates them. It is up to the Palestinians to choose a mature and competent leader, and it is up to the Israelis to be open to the possibility of peace.

Our government, in the person of President George W. Bush, can and should play a key role in aiding the parties at the crucial time.


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