This is an important time for those who wish for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and perhaps a time for optimism, too. As the current conflict reaches its 31st month, a number of portentous forces have converged that could rouse the peace process from its long slumber.

The fall of Saddam Hussein is momentous because Iraq was one of the worst offenders in fanning the flames of conflict. Saddam gave $25 million in the first 20 months to terrorists in the form of $25,000 bonuses to suicide bombers, as well as weapons and training. Those he armed were not committed to anything but the destruction of Israel. Saddam’s demise weakens the terrorists’ hand.

Now that the Iraq war is over, President Bush has ratcheted up pressure on both sides and released the new “road map” for peace – a creation of the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations – that calls for a Palestinian state by 2005. Both Israelis and Palestinians agree that only the U.S. has the economic and political leverage to force compromise, so our commitment is essential.

Important statements have come from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, making clear his belief in the creation of a Palestinian state and the need to dismantle settlements. A week or so ago, the Israeli government announced that as soon as Prime Minister Abbas’ new government begins functioning, they will immediately begin meetings to figure out how to implement the road map.

Most importantly, we have witnessed the recent appointment of the very first Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is a Palestinian moderate, which means he rejects violence in favor of negotiations and condemns terrorism and suicide bombings. Abbas stands in opposition to the terrorists and old discredited hard-liners like Yasser Arafat.

Right now, all eyes are on Abbas because Israelis and moderate Palestinians alike know that the one key condition for progress is the end of Palestinian terrorism. Abbas will now be put to the all-important security test: Can he stop the terrorists from continuing the campaign of violence? Abbas has already said that his primary goal is to dismantle all terrorist organizations, and he speaks out against the disastrous Intifada campaign and horrific homicide bombings that he says tarnish the Palestinian cause.

Jerusalem, for its part, has already begun to ease Palestinian travel restrictions, issue more work permits, release withheld Palestinian Authority funds and begin pullbacks in order to show its seriousness in working with him. But while Abbas begins his work, Israel cannot withdraw troops whose function is to protect Israeli civilians from a relentless assault in the form of nearly 40 attacks and five suicide bombing attempts every day. Nothing requires that Israel withdraw in the absence of a negotiated settlement and a cessation of hostilities.

Israel wants peace and security. The Palestinians want a state. Israel has made it clear that it is willing take the necessary steps for real peace. At Camp David in 2000, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the most extensive concessions ever made: withdrawal from 97 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, removal of all settlements save three blocks contiguous to Israel, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, limited refugee return and compensation for the rest, and a Palestinian state. But Arafat walked away because he thought he could get more through violence.

For those out there who desire peace between the people of Israel and the future Palestine, have faith. The effort to compromise – and especially Abbas’ attempt to end Palestinian terrorism against Israel – should be encouraged in the hope that it will usher in a new, more joyous chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian saga.

Joey Tartakovsky is a Daily Nexus columnist.