IN OTHER WORDS: Bad timing

The timing couldn’t have been worse. An undercover Israeli security operation in the West Bank city of Ramallah went awry on Thursday, just before PM Ehud Olmert was to attend a summit meeting in Egypt with that country’s president, Hosni Mubarak. Four Palestinians were killed in the shoot-out, and 20 wounded. Mubarak was obliged to warn Olmert during their joint press conference that Israel must avoid actions that could thwart the efforts of Egypt and other mediators to secure a negotiated peace. And Olmert had to apologise for the unintended killing of civilians in Ramallah.

The juxtaposition of the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh and the bloodshed in Ramallah reveals the opposing vectors for and against a Mideast peace. It shows how close the region has come to a point of no return. But it also suggests there is still time for diplomacy to save both peoples from impending disaster. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, fearful of the ascendance of Iran, are eager to midwife a peace accord.

It is precisely because conditions for negotiating a peace agreement will only deteriorate further if the parties are not brought to the table soon that the Americans, the Europeans, and the Arab states have no other tolerable choice but to help Israelis and Palestinians avert a looming disaster.