Peace comes into view

September 03, 1993

The most inspiring feature of the agreement on principle between Israel and the PLO is its detailed emphasis on economic development and cooperation. These two antagonists have realized that they are too close and intertwined to go their separate ways in hostility and distrust. They have charted a future together full of mutual interests, concerns and opportunities. Given their geography, that is the only way and they know it.

These two old enemies also share a common language. It is English, the language of the former authority over Palestine (Britain) and of the dominant world power (the United States). The agreement was negotiated in English, and had to be translated into Arabic and Hebrew.

The back channel between Israel and the PLO that worked efficiently in Norway all this year -- starting before such contact was legal in Israel, continuing during Israel's security crisis in Lebanon, and without U.S. supervision -- was extraordinary even in the annals of secret diplomacy.

A great deal remains to be done, including the fleshing out of this agreement in the formal Washington talks. This is not peace -- not yet -- and it can be derailed. The rise of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank shows a strong enmity of Palestinians toward Israel, especially since nothing else got Israeli soldiers to go away. Now the PLO, acting more moderately than it ever has, is delivering. Loyalty will again flow its way. But the agreement calls for a "strong Palestinian police force." It retains a security role for Israel's army. It faces the terrorist threat.

Assuming it works, this agreement paves the way for real peace between Israel and its neighbors because it removes the obstacle to such a peace. What the U.S. must promote is a separate agreement between Israel and Syria, exchanging peace for Golan. That should cure Israel's security problem in Lebanon.

Jordan must be brought into this, and indeed is given a role along with Egypt by the Israel-PLO agreement. When the PLO has rescinded the offending portions of its charter and recognized Israel, and when Israel has recognized the PLO, no legitimate rationale will be left for the Arab boycott of Israel. The boycott office should be dismantled and the Arab states in due course should recognize Israel. U.S. influence will be needed to help bring all this about.

It seems impossible. Just like the end of the Cold War between Russia and America.

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