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Pit Stop On The Road To Peace

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief who now covers the State Department in Washington. In his commentary, Wolfson takes a step back from the so-called road map to peace in the Mideast and considers what's been accomplished so far.

Asked about progress in efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, President George W. Bush answered "...We're really happy with what we've seen so far."

What Washington has seen "so far" are actions taken by both sides suggesting an initial willingness to follow the latest peace plan - this one's called the "road map" - in which the Bush administration has now invested so much effort.

Israelis have pulled back from Gaza and Bethlehem and Palestinian terrorist groups have cut a deal with Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, essentially saying for the time being they will not attack Israelis. More important, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a meeting this week in Jerusalem and both leaders were more than happy to publicly put their most hopeful rhetoric on the line for all to witness.

Sharon, the Israeli official trusted least by Palestinians, said he envisioned a joint "future of hope…which seems to be - perhaps now more than ever - within reach." Abbas, not to be outdone, spoke of the current opportunity as a time to "put the past behind us."

"Enough suffering, enough death, enough pain," said Abbas, eerily echoing the sentiments of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, at the White House in 1993: " We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough."

One hopes Abbas and Sharon will achieve the goal Rabin not only failed to realize but also lost his life striving to obtain.

In the short run, more good news seems to be in the offing. The Israelis seem willing to release more Palestinian prisoners and may allow Yasser Arafat to leave his compound in Ramallah and go to Gaza. The Palestinians have pledged to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and now that they have security control over Gaza and Bethlehem the Israelis - and American monitors on the scene - will be looking for results.

Meanwhile, Israelis brace for more expected terrorist bomb attacks.

One American official who's followed the ups and downs of Middle East peacemaking for years said "it's nice to have hope and it's nice to have a plan in place but there's no way in hell it's going to work."

Yes, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that the fighting of the past 33 months has stopped and, yes, everyone is hoping for the best. But even the optimistic and suddenly focused White House understands that peace is not exactly around the corner. Officials know all that's happened is that they've managed to call a time out in this round of violence. Surely no mean feat and clearly an effort deserving of praise.

"…We're realists in this administration," Mr. Bush said. "We understand that there's been years of hatred and distrust, and we'll continue to keep the process moving forward."

By Charles Wolfson

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