WASHINGTON -- It is now conventional wisdom that the new opening to a Middle East peace is a result of Yasser Arafat's death. This is only half true, and it misses the larger point.
Arafat's death was a necessary condition for hope, but not a sufficient one. It was necessary because Arafat had the power to suppress and literally kill any chances of peace. But his passing would have meant nothing if it had not occurred at a time when the Palestinians finally realized that Arafat's last great gamble, the second intifada, was a disaster.
The reason history does not always repeat itself is that the interval in between often leaves its mark. The Palestinians know that Arafat's war left them a legacy of death, corruption, misery, international isolation and social ruin as the myriad militias he created roam the streets, terrorizing their own people. That is why they elected Mahmoud Abbas, who campaigned against the intifada.
Is Abbas a real peacemaker? We do not know yet. He was disappointing during the election campaign, when he paraded around with terrorists and promised to protect them. He was disappointing again last week (Feb. 5) when the PA arrested three terrorists in Gaza and then released them a few hours later, an alarming repetition of Arafat's revolving door arrest policy: Arrest them at the front door for the cameras, then release them out the back door.
On the other hand, Abbas has deployed PA troops in Gaza, ordered all attacks to stop and resumed security cooperation with Israel. His prime minister ordered the collection of all unlicensed weapons in Palestinian-controlled territories, although, given the chaos Arafat left behind, the order will have about as much effect as a similar order issued in Baltimore.
What we can say about Abbas is that while we (well, some) knew that Arafat was dedicated to perpetual war, Abbas is not. That is a start.
Also encouraging is the behavior of major players Egypt and Jordan. They tired of the intifada. It was a losing proposition for both. Egypt does not want a terrorist Gaza, and Jordan does not want a terrorist West Bank.
In the heavily coded language of Middle East diplomacy, Egypt has made some significant moves. It insisted on hosting the peace summit. It invited Ariel Sharon to Egypt for the first time in 23 years. Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors will return to Tel Aviv. And if you look closely at the pictures, you see Israeli flags flying publicly alongside the Arab flags at the Sharm el-Sheik summit.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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