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Jerrold Kessel: Rounding the corner toward peace?

CNN's Jerrold Kessel
CNN's Jerrold Kessel

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(CNN) -- Israel will begin the process of transferring security in Gaza back to the Palestinians as early as Monday, and Palestinian militants are expected to announce a three-month cessation of attacks against Israel, sources tell CNN.

The moves comes as U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's visits the region to try to jump-start the "road map" to peace plan.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel discussed the developments Saturday with CNN's Heidi Collins.

KESSEL: It was just over three weeks ago that President Bush launched, with a good deal of fanfare, this so-called road map, the peace initiative that was meant to get Palestinians and Israelis moving away from their bitter conflict of the last three-and-a-half-years and on to a peace road.

But over the last couple of weeks, it seemed that it would all collapse in a welter of blood as the two sides continued to battle each other out. And it seemed to be coming apart. But now, this weekend it seems to be all coming together with those two key agreements, internal agreement between the Palestinians of the militant groups agreeing that they'll engage in at least a three-month truce in their battles and their attacks against Israelis.

But alongside that -- and I don't think the one could have happened without the other, even though the Israelis say there is no direct link -- is the agreement that's in the making and is likely to come together finally tomorrow between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, whereby the Israelis will withdraw from parts of Gaza and the West Bank, in the first instance, Bethlehem on the West Bank; the northern part of Gaza; then central Gaza; in return for which the Palestinian security forces will begin to move in there.

You could say, it may be an exaggeration, but after 33 months of bitter fighting, this could be the weekend when the corner has turned and the two sides begin to move onto a peace road.

Still a lot of skepticism, but it may be they're making those first steps down that peace road -- Heidi.

CNN: And, Jerrold, when you look back at the push and pull that has been going on for such a long time, in your estimation, what would it be exactly, the most significant moment, perhaps, that would have gotten the situation to the point that it's at now?

KESSEL: Perhaps not a moment, but a new process. And the process, you could say, is the active determination by the United States. ...President Bush spelled out the plan at the Aqaba summit [in Jordan] and sent his top State Department man, John Wolf, who's been negotiating between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The U.S. has been pressuring the militant groups through Syria, where the militant Palestinian groups have some of their headquarters, and on the Palestinian Authority to make sure that they get this truce in place.

That U.S. pressure is telling and I think it will be consolidated by U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who comes in the next few hours, begins meeting with the Palestinians later today, then with the Israeli leadership tomorrow. That will consolidate the fact that the U.S. means to get this peace road, peace initiative going despite the violence. It seems like they are succeeding.


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