Paul Greenberg

There may be something new under the sun after all. For the first time ever, the Arab League will be sending a delegation to the sovereign state it has tried to crush time and again. It must have finally dawned on the various Arab states, 22 in all, that the rising tide of terrorism in the region represents at least as great a danger to their always fragile governments as it does to Israel. And there's nothing like a common enemy to bring once-hostile nations together. Ideologies come and go; national interests remain.

The growing power and prominence of terrorist outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the general arc of Shiite extremism out of Iran, will have served the cause of peace after all if Arab regimes are moved to respond by making common cause with the "Zionist entity" they once pretended didn't exist.

The way to reconcile these competing claims to a much promised land has long been clear: Divide it. This approach is now referred to as the two-state solution. In 1947, when the United Nations voted to divide the old British mandate over what was then Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the solution was called Partition. But the goal has remained the same: two states living side by side in peace and prosperity, each contributing to the development of the other. That's been the glittering prospect, the impossible dream, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a tunnel. That is, there hasn't been a diplomatic channel through which both sides could negotiate - negotiate effectively, anyway, for there have been many failed attempts. All kinds of outside interlocutors, mediators, secret messengers and peacemakers turned mischief-makers - the name Jimmy Carter springs to mind - have tried to hammer out a peace process but, time and again, it proved more process than peace. That small sliver of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean has always produced a lot more conflict than it could safely consume.

This time the Arab League comes bearing a peace plan instead of bellicose denunciations. This being the Middle East, birthplace of the bazaar, the Arab nations have started the bidding by demanding some preposterous concessions. But those can be haggled over later. It's not the Arab League's demands that are newsworthy - they've been made and rejected before - but that it's offering Israel what Arabdom has long withheld: peace and recognition.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.