A renewed hope: Is peace finally in the offing

It appears the great wheel of hope and despair is rotating back toward the side of hope.

This week, a flurry of diplomatic moves quickened the pace of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. And for once there may be justification for optimism.

Under the auspices of the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas plan to resume talks and undertake confidence-building measures. Israel is releasing more than 250 Palestinian prisoners. Abbas has confiscated the guns of nearly 200 al Aksa militants and elicited from them pledges of future nonviolence. Though Olmert says he isn’t ready for final-status talks, Abbas and the Bush administration are pressing for progress on those issues. A summit looms.

Why now? Hamas’ seizure of Gaza completely changed the dynamics on the ground. The schism in Palestinian society pushed key players — Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States, regional allies and the international community — closer together, and increased a sense of urgency.

On the downside, Israel, though hungry for peace, has only so much to give in terms of concessions. History has shown that the Palestinians rarely make good on their promises. Even if Abbas and other moderates genuinely desire a two-state solution, they have not reined in the terrorists who would scuttle it. And Hamas is still out there.

But with the international community and regional powers such as Jordan and Egypt fully on board, now truly might be the right time to make a deal.

Everyone knows the basic bullet points: two states, Israel and a demilitarized Palestine, living side-by-side with internationally recognized borders; a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, with mutually agreed upon territorial compromises; some form of compensation for Palestinians claiming a “right of return”; a new shared status of Jerusalem (painful as that will be); and, most important, an end to the conflict.

The last item is so desirable, it has has caused caused some to act precipitously in the past.

But if Hamas can be marginalized to the point of toothless irrelevancy, if Abbas can end Palestinian internecine violence while crushing terrorism, if the Israeli people can reach consensus on settlement and security issues, and if the international guarantors of peace come through, then maybe, just maybe, we will have real reason for hope.

There, we said it, the “h” word: hope. After so many disappointments on the road to peace, it has almost become a dirty word. Perhaps now is the time to safely wash it clean.