Middle East Breakthrough

August 31, 1993

If the agreement between Israel and the PLO that has been leaked is implemented, Israel would become responsible for Yasser Arafat's safety in Jericho while PLO police would insure that Jericho and Gaza are not used for terrorism against Israel. No greater breakthrough could there be.

The hopes of the world ride on this agreement, even before it is announced and before the official peace talks resume in Washington today. Mr. Arafat called it a "historical turning point," and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called it "a great step forward to advance Israel toward peace with all the neighboring states and especially Palestinians." May they so agree often in the months to come.

The basis of agreement was negotiated last week in Oslo by Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and PLO official Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Peres briefed Secretary of State Warren Christopher on it in California over the weekend. Mr. Peres can be forgiven a certain amount of jet fatigue.

The principle that was agreed is imminent autonomy for Palestinians in Gaza and the Jericho area of the West Bank, with further agreements and territorial enlargement to grow from there. The idea of autonomy while status is negotiated, from the Camp David agreement of 1978, is reinforced. A great deal of expectation has been created that Israel will soon recognize the PLO while the PLO will recognize Israel.

Abandoned is Israel's resolve never to talk to the terrorists of the PLO and the PLO's pledge to turn all Israel into Palestine. That is a lot of baggage to throw overboard quickly. But there was never doubt that peace would require it. Many Palestinians and other Arabs and terrorists who are not Arabs will accuse Mr. Arafat of sell-out and vow to wreck this agreement. Many Jewish settlers in Arab territories and other Israelis will accuse Mr. Rabin of sell-out and vow to retain forever every square inch of territory now held.

In short, this agreement, if it is indeed reached, will do more than link Israel's government and the PLO in a common front. It will equally join the Arab terrorists and Israeli intransigents in the common cause of its rejection. If the extremists are even less comfortable in their new alliance than Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat will be in theirs, so be it.

Tremendous sticking points are ahead, from water rights to the future of Israeli settlements, long before such momentous issues as Palestinian sovereignty or the status of Jerusalem can be addressed. It will not be an uninterrupted path of progress. But what has been achieved is momentum, the pressure of events for agreement rather than for deadlock. And that will prove a powerful influence.

No, this is not peace. But if the agreement that has been leaked is formally reached, that would be the biggest step forward since the Israel-Egypt treaty of recognition.

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