The Israeli pullout from the West Bank is a major provision of the "road map" for the Middle East peace process. Now it seems that things are moving:
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel said it was ready to hand over control of several West Bank towns to the Palestinians within days, further fuelling optimism of a genuine breakthrough in the Middle East peace process.
The announcement came ahead of a breakthrough summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas which Israel's public radio said had been lined up for February 8.
This can be seen as a direct result of Arafat's death and the subsequent elections in the Palestinian Authority. Israel may now see Abbas as someone with whom they can strike a deal.
We are far from any talk of a lasting peace, of course, and this could reverse in the explosion of another suicide bomber. But with the successful election in Iraq and now this, Mideast politics have taken a hopeful turn.
I am loathe to make this at all about domestic politics. However, it would be difficult not to see the news today as being a step toward ratification of the US/British push for reform in the Middle East.
I have witnessed a kind of subtle hope among the critics of the US and the UK that the Iraqi elections would fail and thus make the policies of Bush and Blair fail also. There was a palpable sense that the desire to say "See? I told you so. There can't and won't be democracy on the Middle East. At least not as long as Bush is in the White House." Because, you know, he's an idiot. Or an evil megalomaniac. Or Cheney's puppet. Or an oil man. Or a crass manipulator. Or, or ,or. And this desire has in some places has become the overriding impulse, attempting to squelch the fact that 25 million people are now living under a duly elected government, free from Saddam's police state.
The original estimates of a 72% turnout seem to have been too optimistic. The actual figure s said to be around 60% - far greater than the turnout in the US in 2004 where nobody, regardless of what a few nutballs say about Ohio, was intimidated or threatened or killed for voting.
Iraqis turned out by the millions to face down Zarqawi and his ilk and give voice to consensual government. Afghanis have had their own free elections. A testament to their success is the illustration that the media has for the most part relegated Afghanistan to the back pages, if the country is covered at all. Israelis and Palestinians are slowly moving toward some tentative agreement.
Not bad. Not bad at all.