The decision by Israel’s cabinet to approve of a peace plan that could, in the future, lead to the creation of a Palestinian state will invite widespread international approval. It is too early to say, however, if the decision will create the conditions for long-term peace and stability in west Asia. The peace plan, drafted by the United States of America — in consultation with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005 in return for an end of hostilities against Israel. Not only would violence against Israel have to stop, but its security would also have to be guaranteed by all the Arab states. This is, of course, the first time that Israel has formally accepted the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The plan has been the basis of quiet negotiations between Israel and the US for several months now. Although, the approval by the Israeli cabinet is a remarkable development, there are continued apprehensions about the success of the latest peace effort. For one, the Israeli cabinet was itself deeply divided on the issue. There was only a conditional endorsement of the peace plan and that too with a 12-7 majority.
Even now, there is continued opposition to the peace plan from within the cabinet. Indeed, even the Israeli defence minister, Mr Shaul Mofaz, who reluctantly voted for the peace plan, has said that the cabinet has not ratified a binding legal document, but only a declaration of diplomatic intent. There is still the possibility that ultra-nationalist forces might dislodge the government led by the prime minister, Mr Ariel Sharon. Several members, for instance, of the right-wing National Union Party have urged its leadership to withdraw support. Moreover, Israel is unwilling to allow the return of Palestinian refugees as envisaged in the UN resolution of 1948. This will make it difficult for the plan to find total acceptance by the Palestinians. It is also not clear whether violence against Israel will stop as a consequence of the recent decision. Although the extremist organization, Hamas, has declared that it will be ready to cease fire against Israel if its troops stop targeting it, it is not clear what the attitude of other militant organizations will be. Finally, of course, there are still tricky issues which have not been resolved, including the area to be covered by the Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, there is a final glimmer of hope in west Asia, and that will be a source of much optimism.