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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sharon Raises Hopes For Peace in Mideast

Although caution is always required when considering the chances for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the Israeli Cabinet made history by accepting the eventuality of a Palestinian state. The Cabinet's Sunday vote -- combined with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement a day later that the Israeli economy needs an end to hostilities -- adds up to cause for more optimism than has been warranted for months.

The U.S. administration's increased involvement in the peace process and its pressure on both sides is paying off. The Palestinians have created the post of prime minister to take away some of Yasser Arafat's power, as Washington demanded. Israel has endorsed the "road map" for peace, which also sets out measures to be taken to create a Palestinian state by 2005.

Palestinians remain dubious that Israel's actions will match Sharon's words. His past rhetoric and his history as defense minister during Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon dim their hopes. He also disappointed them with his indication that Israeli settlements would last for generations on territory that Palestinians consider their own. Sharon further muddied matters Tuesday in his attempts to clarify what he had meant by the word "occupation."

He did reflect reality, though, when he warned right-wing Cabinet ministers opposed to talks with Palestinians that continued violence would further weaken Israel's already battered economy.

The Palestinians' renewal of attacks more than two years ago led to Israeli reoccupation of territories and establishment of roadblocks. This has damaged Israeli businesses relying on Palestinian labor. Israeli army crackdowns that barred Palestinians from getting to work have contributed to increased poverty in the West Bank and Gaza as well. Sharon said Monday that international charities were feeding nearly 2 million Palestinians.

Relaxing the roadblocks would be a gesture of Israeli seriousness about following the road map and would improve the economies of both Israel and the territories. It also would improve the atmosphere for the next meeting between Sharon and the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the expected meeting next week of U.S. President George W. Bush with both of the leaders in Jordan.

Israel's endorsement of the peace plan meets a Palestinian requirement. Now it is Abbas' job to press hard to stop terrorist attacks on Israelis.

Washington must keep pushing both sides for a permanent peace. Bush is on the right track and should remind Israel's Arab neighbors that their stake in a stable Middle East requires them to sway the Palestinians toward peace.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.