Abu Mazen needs everyone's help to keep peace alive

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The end of the Palestinian ceasefire in a bloody orgy of a bombed bus and retaliatory assassination can have surprised no one in the Middle East. Neither side has ever shown the kind of trust in the other that might have made it work and neither side showed any sign of believing that an acceptance of the road-map required them to rise above the need to match an eye for an eye, a life for a life.

The explosion by Hamas of a powerful bomb in a bus full of Jewish faithful returning from prayer at the Wailing Wall was an act of terrible violence and one bound to reap its own revenges. And just as surely Israel responded with an assassination aimed at a political rather than military leader of Hamas in an act certain to cause Palestine's extremists to call off the two-month-old battered ceasefire.

Yet the road-map remains the only path to peace. However rough the going, it is still right for Washington to try to pressure the parties to keep to it. The decision of Hamas to declare the ceasefire over is a blow, but need not end all dialogue or all efforts to revive at least a de facto reduction in violence.

On the one side, it is essential that the Israeli government, having exacted its "revenge", stands back and allows Abu Mazen enough room to try to restore calm and rein in the extremist violence. At this stage, lectures from the Israeli government telling the Palestinian leadership what it must do to "prove" its good faith can only be counter-productive.

That does not remove the obligation on the Palestinian leadership to do precisely this. At this moment the chances for peace rest largely on the shoulders of the Palestinian administration to show that it can exercise control of security. This will not be easy. Hamas has considerable support among a population that has no belief in the road-map and a total distrust of Israel. Abu Mazen cannot move directly to disarm the radical fringes, he has to act with circumspection and with popular support clearly behind him.

Little wonder that Colin Powell is reported to be making overtures to Yasser Arafat to give support to his Prime Minister. However reviled he may be in Washington, or Jerusalem, the Middle East peace process needs him.

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