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“Hope” is the word of the week. It dominated headlines across the world after Tuesday’s hopeful meeting in Egypt between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. What better word to describe the feelings of humanity as the two leaders of warring neighbors shook hands across the negotiating table?

Is peace actually possible? Could it be that a four-year cycle of bloodshed that has claimed nearly 4,300 lives can actually be broken? “I hope the leaders are serious this time,” said a Palestinian student. “The most inspiring and hopeful moment in . . . years,” proclaimed a respected newspaper editorial. Some have “cautious hope” while others, with justification, prefer to speak of “a mixture of hope and skepticism.” Indeed, based on the utter failure of many other formal cease-fire agreements over the years, it would be easy to be skeptical about the prospects for success this time.

However, the dynamics have changed, especially now that Yasser Arafat is out of the picture. Both sides, it seems, have reached a point of mutual exhaustion and appear genuinely determined to get back on a road map to peace. One of the biggest challenges, of course, will be reining in those militants who prefer carnage to conciliation. Even in that, though, there must be hope.

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