IN OTHER WORDS: Olmert’s offer

The ceasefire that began on Sunday in Gaza will be subject to many perils and may not hold. The overdue offer of dialogue with the Palestinians that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert extended on Monday may prove little more than a political maneuver.

Nonetheless, it is better to suspend violence than to let it continue and far better to begin talking about peace than to go on speaking in the hopeless language of threats. Both the sides, and particularly the Palestinian population in Gaza, have been worn down by the pointless, circular pattern of violence. Added to the weariness of the two peoples is the changing balance of forces in the surrounding region. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are anxious about the spread of Iranian influence into Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Olmert’s Ben-Gurion day speech envisions a path leading from the current ceasefire to “a real, open, genuine and serious dialogue.” Olmert left crucial issues undefined: how the land is to be divided; what happens to East Jerusalem; and what is to become of the Palestinian refugees. But if it signals an understanding that neither side can resolve the conflict by unilateral actions, Olmert’s offer of dialogue may become a first step toward the negotiated peace accord that Israelis, Palestinians, and their neighbours desperately need.