Vote for a peaceful Palestine Landmark election: Arafat finally is given legitimacy and a mandate.

January 23, 1996

THE LANDSLIDE election of Yasser Arafat as president and of 88 council members gives legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority, which was established by agreement of Israel and the PLO. Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction will dominate the council. But that group will have real independents and oppositionists, some endorsed by the extremist group, Hamas, which declined to run its own slate. It will also include women.

This was not a picture-perfect election. Since arriving in vTC Palestine, Mr. Arafat has shown authoritarian instincts, used secret police against critics and intimidated the press. But Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have been watching the rough-and-tumble of Israeli politics. They expect to vent their views freely and participate in their fate. Coming from the less-challenged politics of exile, Mr. Arafat had to make concessions to their traditions as much as they to him. The embryonic Palestine cannot be a docile monolith.

The elected council has a difficult role. It must make the schools, roads and sewers work. It will also chart negotiations on final status, seeking nationhood, beginning in May. The prosaic and the visionary go hand in hand.

Israel will grant nothing until the Palestine National Council (PNC), a pseudo parliament of the PLO, eliminates all clauses calling for the destruction of Israel from its charter. Mr. Arafat promised this in 1993, but has not delivered. The PNC consists of all factions that were fighting Israel. None was elected by anyone except the foreign governments giving them money.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel boldly said all of about 450 members of the PNC may return for sessions to rewrite the charter. This includes the most notorious terrorists hunted by Israeli security services. It deprives Mr. Arafat of an excuse for not confronting the issue. Mr. Arafat has added the newly elected members of the council to the PNC, where most of them will be an influence for realism.

From this day forward the Palestinian Authority is a far more viable embryo of statehood than it was before the election. And Yasser Arafat is a more credible leader.

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