Rabin in Washington

March 16, 1994

Hopes of rescuing the Middle East peace talks ride on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's visit to Washington, which concludes in a meeting with President Clinton today. On Monday, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat hosted U.S. emissary Dennis Ross and high-level Israeli diplomats in Tunis but refused to resume the talks, which he suspended after the mass murder of Palestinians in Hebron by an Israeli-American settler on Feb. 25.

In all likelihood, Mr. Arafat wants to resume the peace process if he is given enough to face down Arab critics of his policy. That should not be all he asks for. He should want immediate negotiation of the status of settlements that under the December Washington agreement is to be taken up in three years. Much needed is a stronger Israeli crackdown on violent Israeli extremists, who are destroying the prospect of peace. The token bannings and arrests made so far are not enough.

Objecting even to this much, a member of the banned Kach who has lived in Israel only 18 months told the Associated Press, "They treated us like Arabs. You can't have the same kind of laws for Jews as Arabs. We're at war." What Mr. Rabin's government must do is precisely to treat terrorist settlers like terrorist Palestinians, have the same kind of laws for Jews as Arabs, and not be at war. Progress along that line is what Mr. Arafat needs to resume the peace process.

In Washington, besides hearing advice on this, Mr. Rabin needs to plan with the United States ways to bring Syria, Lebanon and Jordan back into peace talks, which they with the PLO suspended after the Feb. 25 Hebron massacre. When Israel achieves peace with Syria, the others will follow and Israel will have ended its regional isolation and its half-century war with the Arab world.

That would be a momentous achievement, and bring more security to Israelis than any rough handling of Palestinians in the West Bank can do. It is also the only possible crowning career achievement for Mr. Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, who are both in their 70s.

All this is achievable. But to restart the process, Mr. Rabin has to do more than reassure the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), as he did yesterday, that Israel remains the protector of Jewish residents of Samaria and Judea (the West Bank). So it should be. But it should also be the protector of the Palestinian majority -- and convince them of it. Then the peace process almost certainly will resume.

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