Recent events signal that it is possible to detect a light at the end of the dark tunnel of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The light appeared with the public delivery of the Road Map peace plan to the Palestinians and Israelis in May. Since then, the Israeli and the Palestinian prime ministers have met twice in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian and Israeli governments have voted to accept the plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister has finally had the courage to state that, "The occupation must end. The occupation cannot continue indefinitely. It is impossible to continue to rule over more than three million Palestinians. The idea that we can continue this occupation is terrible for ourselves, the economy and the Palestinians." This was the prelude for a summit meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and US President George W. Bush.
The Road Map is not the optimal plan. It has a number of major shortcomings - it does not discuss the contours of a permanent settlement, it does not specify means of implementation, nor does it explain how the process will be supervised. It has, however, a great advantage in that it is not just another US peace initiative, but the result of a consensus of views elaborated by the "Quartet", (the US, the EU, Russia, and the UN). This enhances both its international legitimacy and its political impact. Thus, it is clear that, in spite of its shortcomings, the plan presents a new opportunity for the two peoples.
But the greatest challenge is to convince both sides that it is possible to negotiate and implement an agreement that will bring peace. Although the Israelis and the Palestinians realize that the two-state solution is to the benefit of both nations, they have lost trust in each other and, as a result, are relying on harsh and violent measures to punish the other side. In addition, there are powerful groups in both nations that object vehemently to any kind of just and reasonable solution to the conflict. Thus, Israeli and Palestinian leaders not only have to find acceptable solutions to the major problems, but they also have to convince their constituencies that reaching an agreement is possible, overcoming opposition to the peace process.
What is needed today is a fundamental change in the Israeli and Palestinian approach to the conflict. Israelis should stop viewing the easing of Palestinian life under occupation and the return to the negotiation table, even under fire, as "rewarding terrorism". Rather, they should consider it a necessary step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. At the heart of this approach is the understanding that there is no military solution to terror and that peace with the Palestinians can only be attained through honest and patient negotiations.
Palestinians should realize that halting terror and violence is not merely a concession to please Israel and the US, but will serve the best interests of the Palestinian people, by removing a major obstacle to a renewed peace process. Without such a fundamental change in sight, the Road Map will soon become as irrelevant as the Mitchell and Tennet plans, the Zinni mediation and other peace initiatives, all now relegated to the "dustbin of history".
It is our hope that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will seize the opportunity provided by the Road Map and, with the determined help from the US and Europe, will embark on the enlightened road of peace to save their nations from the vicious cycle of bloodshed and suffering.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad, Victor Cygielman and Daniel Bar-Tal