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Peace must be possible in Israel

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The report out of Gaza City on Thursday was that Israeli rockets had killed a Hamas member, along with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Hamas leaders have threatened a fight to the finish.

Emergency crews pulled a baby bottle and baby shoes from the burning car. Add this to the visual images in recent days of a burned-out bus and other strikes that have left at least 37 killed and 130 wounded in just three days. One could easily conclude that the most dangerous thing to do in Israel is to get opposing sides to agree to peace.

By now, after years and years of this sort of thing, it ought to be clear to both sides that violence and retaliation lead absolutely nowhere.

And yet the violence and retaliation continue. As one Israeli commentator wrote recently, "Who remembers who started?"

President Bush had to have known this would happen when he applied this nation's newfound clout in the region to press his peace plan, the first phase of which calls on the leaders to end violence. Bush leaned heavily on Sharon to agree to the plan, and to make bold statements that changed the official Israeli view of the situation, referring to the relationship with the Palestinians as an occupation.

Now, the president needs to lean even harder.

New Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas represents the best hope for peace yet, but he must be allowed to establish himself and to gain clout. He already faces opposition in varying degrees from Yasser Arafat and Hamas. Israel's knee-jerk military strikes in retaliation for every Hamas attack serve only to weaken him further. The president needs to strongly impress this upon Sharon.

Utahns have a unique interest in what happens over there. Brigham Young University's center in Jerusalem has sat mostly vacant since the bloodshed began in earnest several months ago. People from here who visited the region before the latest outbreak can attest to the relationship between members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many people in the region, both Israeli and Palestinian. The ties are both economic and spiritual, but they can continue to blossom and grow only under peaceful conditions.

Bush's plan for peace rests on the premise that solutions in this age-old struggle are possible, despite repeated failures through the ages. But they are possible only if the leaders involved stop falling back into familiar and destructive ruts, only if they begin responding to violence with more offers of peace. That will take more than real leadership. It will take courage.