Moving toward peace

September 16, 1993

When Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn this week, the politics of the Middle East changed forever. President Clinton's outstretched arms embracing them both completed a tableau that will stand as one of history's great moments.

It is not peace, not yet. But it is the giving up of 100 years of rejection of Zionism by the organization that the Arab League considers the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. And it is a reversion to partition and coexistence that the government of Israel and its Zionist predecessors have favored for most of their history.

The economic confederation to which they agreed in principle, and in which they want Jordan included, is remarkably close to the United Nations' 1947 plan for partition and confederation, which the Arab states and Palestinians rejected.

For peace, Israel now needs to complete the circle. The agreement on an agenda for negotiations with Jordan is a counterpart to the agreement on principles with the PLO. But King Hussein of Jordan always proceeds from weakness and wariness. His biggest fear is not Israel or even Iraq but the very Palestinians with whom Israel has finally come to terms.

Israel cannot really have peace until Syria makes peace. The Syrian dictator, Hafez el Assad, is a ruthless and cautious man. He had always hoped to see the PLO thwarted and defeated, not recognized by Israel. But he has no more backers in the former Soviet bloc or in the oil bloc. He wants to retrieve the Golan Heights, which no one will make Israel return.

Mr. Assad needs to give Israel credible peace in exchange for Golan. But he will want the U.S. to throw in guarantees of his security, for which he must stamp out, once and for all, the terrorism he allows to flourish in Syria and Lebanon.

Prime Minister Rabin's visit to King Hassan of Morocco, not earth-shaking in itself, symbolizes Israel's reaching out to the Arab world and growing acceptance by it.

There are still mushrooming elements of extremism, rejection of Israel and repudiation of modernism in Arab countries. It was fear of them, particularly the fundamentalist group called Hamas, that propelled Israel and the PLO toward closure.

Now that Israel and the PLO have declared for peace, they have to bend every effort to make it work. Otherwise, it could yet fail.

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