Paul Greenberg

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, have met for the first time at Jericho, which would be on Palestinian soil if a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict ever emerges.

Unfortunately, Palestine has become a failed state before becoming a state, with half of it (Gaza) under the control of terrorist Hamas and the rest (the West Bank) vulnerable to all the life-threatening ills that any small state is prey to in that rapacious part of the world.

When shall these two meet again, and can their joint gamble against the odds pay off? For the odds are always against peace in the Mideast.

A year from now, or five years from now, will politicians and commentators look back at this juncture and conclude that the Palestinians' civil war was the turning point that made peace possible? Because it isolated Hamas in Gaza and let a single, peaceful, legitimate Palestinian state develop on the West Bank until it was strong enough to make peace.

Or will Israelis and Palestinians be blaming each other again, as they did after the Camp David summit fell apart, for having missed still another opportunity to end their hostilities?

There was never a real chance for peace between these two peoples until there was a war - a civil war - to determine who really represents the Palestinians. Lest we forget, the Israelis also fought each other at the birth of their state in 1948 to see whether they would have one government or two, one army or two. Now the Palestinians, too, may finally have a moderate leader to rally around - if they only will.

Much depends on how much support both sides can garner - from each other and from the rest of the world. For now all are making the right gestures:

Ehud Olmert's government is releasing some of the prisoners and the funds it's been holding, and Mahmoud Abbas has begun to reform his corruption-ridden regime and gain a new degree of control over his wayward militia(s).

The Arab league has sent its first delegation to the Jewish state to open negotiations. Europe and Washington are making the right sounds and the right choices, refusing to deal directly with Hamas while pledging support for what remains of Mahmoud Abbas' semi-authority.

The current sticking point, or rather one of them, is how fast Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should proceed. Should the two sides begin discussing terms of a final settlement now or, much like the road map that's led to nowhere, get there step-by-step?

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.