Israeli-Palestinian Peace Either Imminent or Far Away. Maybe.


Covering a speech to the Knesset by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Reuters has some bad news about the prospects for a peace agreement with the Palestinians: "Olmert Says Palestinian Accord 'Far Away.'" Based on the same speech, the International Herald Tribune is more hopeful: "Olmert Says Palestinians Serious About Peace." Take your pick.

CBS News reports that Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon has indicated the Israeli government would be willing to cede Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to a Palestinian state, while agreeing to "special administration" of the "holy basin" that includes the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa mosque compound. (These are harder to divide, since they occupy the same physical space.) It has long been clear that something along these lines, together with withdrawals from Gaza and the West Bank, would be necessary for a final settlement. While Ramon's comments may be an important indicator of Israeli seriousness, they do not address the real question: whether the widely disliked Olmert, whose approval ratings make George W. Bush look like Ronald Reagan, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who does not even control the part of the future Palestinian state he is supposedly in charge of, are strong enough to make a deal that will stick. Both men seem to hope that reaching an agreement will make them popular enough to implement it. I hope they're right, but the history of Middle East peacemaking makes me think Reuters' take is more accurate.