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One of the most positive moves of the Bush presidency occurred Wednesday in the Middle East. The president brought together leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together on a road map for peace. Getting the two sides to agree to sit down together was a significant achievement unto itself, but getting them to agree that the other has a right to exist was momentous.

Bush is the first American president who has endorsed the concept that the Palestinians deserve their own state. For months while violence raged in the West Bank and America had other priorities to attend to, Bush was silent about what was needed to reach a settlement in the Middle East. But a few weeks ago the president released his road map for peace and proposed the summit that occurred in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba. The road map calls for an immediate cease-fire and reciprocal steps by both sides — steps that only a few weeks ago seemed impossible to achieve considering current tensions in the region. The road map is a three-year plan that is intended to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell were able to get Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to accept in principle the concept of a Palestinian state and to convince Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that Israel has a right to exist side by side with a Palestinian state. At the summit both proclaimed their goal of working toward peaceful rather than violent solutions to the issues that divide them.

Prior to the summit President Bush was able to get several Arab leaders to renounce terror and help end violence against Israel. Most importantly, that the Palestinians work to bring an end to the series of attacks and suicide bombings that have killed 3,000 people over the course of the past 32 months.

Israel, on the other hand, must dismantle outposts it has created and stop all settlement construction. As a show of good faith prior to the summit, Israel released 100 Palestinian prisoners, eased some travel restrictions on Palestinians and expanded fishing rights in the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps Sharon and Abbas have seen that the violence that has persisted is getting both sides nowhere and creating greater tensions worldwide. Ending violence between two sides who have never gotten along seems impossible, but an attempt at peace must begin somewhere.

Bush's plan can serve as the foundation for peace provided both sides are committed to following the road map even if there are some rocky places along the way. And there will be, as all previous attempts at finding a middle ground have shown.

Credit Bush with providing the starting point. His road map deserves a chance.


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