A half-full glass in the Middle East

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There are two ways to look at last week's major events in the Middle East — the cup is half empty or half full. We prefer to take the latter approach.

There are obvious problems with the Palestinian Liberation Organization's repeal of anti-Israel parts of the Palestinian National Council's charter, as well as the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Lebanon. But both events are significant — and very promising.

Critics of the PNC's repeal of clauses in its charter that call for Israel's destruction say U.S. law had required those changes in order for the Palestinian Authority to qualify for $500 million in U.S. aid. What's more, they say, because the PNC has not changed all the anti-Israel clauses in the charter, nothing was really revised.

That all may be true. But the importance of the PNC's move cannot be underestimated. To date, the central question in the Arab-Israeli conflict has been whether the Arab side would abandon the anti-Israel articles in the PNC covenant.

Before the revision, peace appeared unlikely in view of the PNC's call for Israel's destruction, and its assertion that armed struggle was the sole path to securing Palestinian Arabs' rule over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

The fact that the PNC has voted to rescind such statements sends a profound message, one some observers predict will increase the momentum of the peace process, as well as public support for it.

As for the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, critics point out it does not prohibit Hezbollah from firing on Israeli soldiers in Israel's southern Lebanon security zone.

That is a drawback. At the same time, the cease-fire stipulates that neither Israel nor Hezbollah can fire on civilians. And it has allowed citizens of northern Israel and southern Lebanon to return to their homes and begin resuming their lives.

Conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors are rooted in deep animosities and political complexities, and progress can be expected to be slow and piecemeal.

Still, each time progress is made, as it undeniably was last week on two fronts, we have to see that as a positive — a cup half full.