What's on George Mitchell's mind this time around?

A small aperture may have opened up in the stone wall of the peace process, though the nature of that little aperture is not clear yet.

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Soon after the deferral of George Mitchell's visit to the Middle East was announced, the diplomat suddenly landed in the region last week, a move that points to a small aperture opening up in the stone wall of the peace process, wrote Hussam Kanfani in the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds. "The nature of that little aperture is not clear yet, but it seems very likely that Mr Mitchell's advisers, David Hale and Dan Shapiro, had briefed him on new developments and proposals, making him expedite plans to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials."

There are two probable reasons for his shuttle diplomacy this time around. First, the US envoy may be carrying a message from Washington, urging Israel to respond to a list of US demands aimed at establishing Israel's commitment to the peace process. But the second scenario is far more plausible. It has to do with some new "tortuous settlement" deal, which Mr Mitchell's advisers may have brokered between the two parties to the conflict.

The broad lines of this new deal have been circulated in the Israeli press a few days back. It mainly consists of a pitch by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreeing to the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state as long as talks about the status of Jerusalem are postponed. "This is a proposal that would simply adjourn the crisis for several months."

Iraqi government officials have been trying to spread the idea that last Friday's bomb attacks in Sadr City and Al Anbar province, which left some 200 casualties killed and wounded, are some of the last desperate suicide operations to be undertaken by al Qa'eda, wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. "But this idea doesn't hit home with the Iraqis anymore. They've heard similar claims before whenever the US-Iraqi forces manage to kill an al Qa'eda member."

This last round of bomb attacks, which proved that al Qa'eda is still able to hit hard, however undermined its resources may be, comes at a time when Iraqi politicians are still stuck in the impasse of forming a government, six weeks after the parliamentary elections were held. Now, amid concerns about the amount of time it will take parties and political blocs to form a new parliament and government, all sorts of extremists, most importantly al Qa'eda, are taking advantage of this political vacuum to ignite a sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites. This was further fuelled by the recent revelation of a prison in Mosul, now closed, where Arab Sunnis had been secretly detained. Washington keeps saying that the recent unrest is not disrupting its plan to reduce its troops by 50,000 come August, not minding the fact that al Qa'eda's networks are still alive and kicking.

Egypt is celebrating the 28th anniversary of the liberation of the Sinai peninsula from Israeli occupation. The Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gave a speech on the occasion last Saturday and the local newspapers have been teeming with columns and stories commemorating this remarkable achievement, wrote the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial.

The liberation of Sinai came at the cost of many Egyptian lives during combat, both in 1967 and 1973. But the peace treaties that ensued between Egypt and Israel are said to have undermined Egypt's leadership role in the region. "The Egyptian people did not benefit that much from the recovery of Sinai and the Sinai communities perhaps even less." Of course, Cairo has regained full control over its oil wells and gas fields in Sinai, but, by virtue of these peace treaties, such resources are sold to Israel at prices far below the international market rates.

Now, if the provisions of the said agreements prevent the Egyptian authorities from deploying additional troops in the area to make sure it remains an arms-free zone, one wonders why doesn't the Egyptian government play around these provisions by transferring millions of Egyptians to the western side of the Suez Canal to alleviate the increasing population density along the Nile banks?

Two weeks after the Somali Islamic Youth Movement placed a ban on music in radio stations across the country, Al Sayed Ould Abbah, a columnist with the Emirati daily Al Ittihad, wrote an article surveying similar "extremist practices" that have been intruding on many Islamic nations. In Saudi Arabia, there are calls to demolish the Holy Mosque in Mecca and rebuild it in a way that ensures the separation of men and women. In Iran, as soon as the revolutionary government was formed in the late 1970s, it proceeded to ban musical recordings. In the Najaf region in Iraq, fundamentalist ideologues are preaching a strict way of life reminiscent of ancient times.

"Islam, in all these instances, is presented as an anti-life religion, which can only be maintained through isolation and austerity." The writer criticised such proscriptions on the creative arts, arguing that the arts have always been intrinsic to Islamic culture and can be found in Islamic literature, poetry and mystical writings. As for gender mixing in public spaces, it is essential for the sustainability of any society.

"Mainstream sermons are actually contributing to diffusion of a culture of sorrow, fear and hatred." These must be replaced by a culture of joyfulness and hope. * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae