The summit, however, leaves no reason for euphoria. It has come as a mere step on the tortuous and hadrly predictable road of the Mideastern peace cause. What matters most is that Israelis and Palestinians are willing to get back to the negotiation table after a four-year break. The Egyptian conference came as a first occasion on which Israeli and Palestinian leaders met since the Intifada broke out, September 2000.
Significantly, the summiteers made no joint final statement to sum up their conference. That means many differences persisting. The summit merely offered them a chance to declare their intentions. In fact, it was convened to launch a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and restore the status quo ante, that is, before the Intifada.
It will be hard to start from scratch-both Israel and Palestine cling to their previous point on which they condition compliance with their pledges by what the other side will be doing.
Mahmoud Abbas promised to put an end to Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Ariel Sharon reciprocated with saying Israel was willing to stop military action in Palestinian territories.
The Israeli Premier's situation is much better than the Palestinian leader's. Mr. Sharon can be responsible for what his country's army is doing. Unlike him, Mahmoud Abbas is in no state to make whatever guarantees. Palestinian groups had come to an agreement to stop violent attacks on Israelis, he announced the day before the summit. Now, HAMAS spokesmen are denying his news. Just as other extremist groups, the HAMAS men intend to see what the summiteers arrive at, and what Israel will do next, before they make whatever decisions. Disappointment was the first they felt after the summit. It makes Palestinian-Israeli understandings to stop violence very shaky. Much here depends on Mahmoud Abbas' power of conviction, and on Israeli patience.
Be that as it may, there was a really important achievement-the Parties agreed to coordinate their settlement efforts between themselves. The Israeli top was flatly refusing to have anything to do with Yasser Arafat all through the last years of his life. Now, a high-level dialogue has resumed between the conflicting sides. Ariel Sharon has a plan to separate Israel from Palestinians by leaving the Gaza strip and disbanding four Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Now, it is no longer a unilateral plan. If things turn to the better, the blueprints may be implemented in coordination with the Palestinian Authority top. More than that, as the Israeli Premier pointed out, his plan may open the way to implementing the Road Map, as worked out by the four international mediators-Russia, the USA, the European Union and the United Nations. As Mr. Sharon made it understood, he will not limit his efforts to implementing his plan. He will work on for final conflict settlement. To live in peace, one has to make concessions, he pointed out. That was what Palestinians and the mediating quartet had been anxious to hear since long ago.
However, either Party has its own concept of concessions. That is why the budding hope for regional peace is so weak. Things may turn to the worse again any instant.