Israeli troops have withdrawn from some Palestinian areas in Gaza and from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. And Israel says it will withdraw from additional areas as soon as it is confident that the Palestinian Authority can maintain security there. The decision to withdraw came after three Palestinian groups -- Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and Yasser Arafat’s Al Fatah -- promised to halt terrorist attacks on Israelis.
As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, these groups apparently realized that terrorism was getting them nowhere. They also realized, he said, that the new Palestinian leaders, Prime Minister Mahoud Abbas and his cabinet, “wanted to move forward.” But as Mr. Powell made clear, “the cease-fire alone won’t be enough”:
“We ultimately have to reach a point where the capability for terrorism that exists in these organizations is removed. You can’t have people with guns, armed militias, inside of a state. So if we are going to have a Palestinian state, all the weapons, all the force within that state, has to be under the government, and these terrorist organizations have to be dismantled.”
Just over a year ago, on June 24th, 2002, President George W. Bush outlined his vision for Israel and the Palestinians -- “two states, living side by side in peace and security.” But for this to come about, he said, “the Palestinian people [must] elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.”
With the Palestinians now led by Prime Minister Abbas, there is cause for hope. But as presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said, the terrorists remain “the greatest threat.” The terrorists, he said, “are not just a threat to the Israeli people, they are a threat to the millions of Palestinian people who want an era of peace to take root and who want and deserve a state that’s led by a legitimate government.”