After more than four years of violence and little negotiation, the Middle East is abuzz with new hopes for peace. In the first leadership change in decades, moderate politician Mahmoud Abbas has been chosen as Palestinian president following the death of Yasser Arafat, long considered the primary obstacle to peace by Israel and the United States. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is planning to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, and President George W. Bush has committed the United States to helping to resolve the conflict. These developments may revive peace talks focusing on the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state. But skeptics argue the physical and psychological foundations needed for peace are being eroded by Palestinian suicide bombings and harsh Israeli reprisals, confiscations of Palestinian farmland, expansion of Israeli settlements and the erection of an immense barrier between Palestinian and Israeli lands.