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Resumption of Mideast Peace Process Discussed - 2002-05-12

Following Israel's decision to postpone a planned Gaza Strip offensive, there are indications the parties to the Middle East conflict may be willing to move toward a revival of the peace process. The issue was discussed in depth on Sunday talk shows in the United States.

With tanks and troops amassed along the border of the Gaza strip, Israel was expected to launch a renewed offensive against Palestinians in retaliation for last week's suicide bombing of a pool hall, which killed 15 people. Instead, the Israeli army began sending military reservists home Sunday.

Asked about the move, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer appearing on CNN's "Late Edition" implied there were some recent, positive developments that contributed to Israel's decision. "We are willing to give any chance to the peace process.

Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold acknowledged there were military and operational reasons why an offensive in Gaza has been postponed. But Mr. Gold told NBC's "Meet the Press" program that there appeared to be a change in the Palestinians' stance.

"We're seeing more evidence of introspection on the part of Palestinian leaders. We're also seeing more evidence of talk of reform in the Palestinian authority," he said. "If we begin to see tangible signs of greater transparency, greater accountability, among the Palestinian leadership, then maybe we can start to move out of this crisis."

The Bush administration says reform within the Palestinian Authority is essential.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi agreed that reform is necessary, but speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," Ms. Ashrawi said it cannot be dictated to the Palestinian people from outside.

"The Palestinian people as a whole have been trying to get genuine reform from within, and it has to be home grown, it has to be authentic. It has to be reform on the basis of a Palestinian agenda, not an imposed, patronized sort of agenda that creates a new, neo-colonial situation," she said.

Ms. Ashrawi says the Palestinian people are anxious to hold state and local elections, which are six years overdue.