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Greenfield: Mideast hope drowning in blood

By Jeff Greenfield
CNN Senior Analyst

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Israeli security officers inspect the damage from a Katyusha-style rocket Thursday in Safed.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sometimes I think we ought to keep some headlines in a "most active" file, because we know they will be appropriate time, after time, after time.

Consider, for example: "Violence, tensions rise in the Middle East."

In the wake of the latest explosions -- literal and geopolitical -- it may be time for an airing of unblinkered, full-throttle pessimism.

Wait, the optimist in me says -- remember when Egypt's Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem in 1977, and he and Israel's Menachem Begin met with President Jimmy Carter and renounced war? There's been no full-scale conflict in the region since.

True -- and in 1981 Sadat paid for that exercise in courage with his life, killed by extremists in his own country.

And didn't Israel's Yitzhak Rabin reach out to Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton and exchange mutual recognition with the PLO?

Yes -- and in 1995 he paid for that courage with his life, killed by an extremist in his own country.

In the dozen years since, pictures of meetings and conferences and peace plans and working papers and road maps have been numerous enough to fill warehouses. And then, inevitably, come the other pictures -- rockets and suicide bombers and reprisals in which many, many civilians die.

A little more than two weeks ago, I was in Petra, Jordan, at a conference of Nobel laureates convened by Jordan's King Abdullah II and Eli Wiesel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came, breakfasted together, shook hands, pledged more meetings. Even at that meeting, though, there was evidence of what lay beyond the handshakes and the breakfasts and the cordial exchanges among Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. (No, there were no Syrians or Iranians.)

During a question-and-answer session between Olmert and the Nobel laureates, an Israeli economist and passionate supporter of the West Bank settlers excoriated Olmert for the idea of giving back Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Look, Olmert said, I know all this land is ours, given to us by God, but it's a step we must make in order to try for peace.

A day earlier, Palestinian leader Abbas excoriated Olmert for taking such steps without negotiations -- even as he tried to argue that he, and not the Hamas government in control of the West Bank, was the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people.

And then came the rockets and the kidnappings and the airstrikes -- and the real threat of a region-wide conflict.

Look, we know old conflicts can end when leaders have the will and the authority to preside over historic change.

We saw it when South Africa's F.W. de Klerk said "enough" to apartheid and racial supremacy and sat down with Nelson Mandela to negotiate a peaceful revolution.

We saw it when Mikhail Gorbachev saw the Berlin Wall fall and did not send troops in to preserve a crippled empire.

We thought we had seen it so many times in the Middle East -- and so many times those wishes turned out to be little more than wishful thinking.

There may be a logical, rational way to resolve a conflict when both sides believe God gave them the same piece of land.

But right now it's a little hard to glimpse through the smoke and fire and blood.

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