As usual, the word from the Middle East recently has been a mixture of good news, bad news. One piece of good news is that the Iraqi Governing Council has signed an interim constitution establishing a framework for democratic self-rule. President Bush lauded the signing in a statement, calling it "an historic milestone in the Iraqi people's long journey from tyranny and violence to liberty and peace."
Unfortunately, not all of the news coming out of the Middle East was so positive. For the third time in just seven weeks an attack was staged at Erez Crossing, the main northern crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel. In this particular assault Palestinian gunmen drove in jeeps disguised as Israeli army vehicles. The operation left four Palestinian terrorists dead, along with two other policemen. The tragic result of the latest attack of the intifada was the closing of an industrial area, preventing some 20,000 Palestinians with work permits from transiting through Erez for work.
There is, however, another bit of good news to report from the Middle East. I recently participated, along with Gen. Tommy Franks, in a dramatic groundbreaking and bridge-making ceremony of the Bridging the Rift project. The Bridging the Rift Center will straddle the border on a 150-acre plot to which both countries made equal contributions in the Araba/Arava region, about 30 miles south of the Dead Sea. New computer languages and databases will be created to integrate the massive amounts of data flowing into the library. At the heart of the foundation's initiative is the establishment of an educational facility that will be a center of education, research and development for the countries of Jordan and Israel.
The Bridging the Rift project was set up in 2000 by Israeli, Jordanian and American business leaders with support and tremendous leadership from both Cornell and Stanford universities. The plan is to create a free education zone to promote the exchange of ideas and knowledge between Israeli and Jordanian scientists. The hope is that the people from these two countries can start by speaking the common language of science, research, education, open trade and tourism across borders, enabling them to build a language of cooperation and partnership.