Israeli-PLO steps toward peace New rhetoric: PLO drops vow to destroy Israel as way opens for Palestinian state.

April 26, 1996

BY ABROGATING clauses in its charter vowing to destroy the state of Israel through armed struggle, the Palestine Liberation Organization is trying to achieve its own statehood. In return, Israel's ruling Labor Party has dropped its opposition to such a momentous development.

The peace process is far from over, however. A new PLO charter to be written in six months will predictably contain clauses unacceptable to Israel, especially regarding Jerusalem. Israel, for its part, has a long way to go before its domestic political situation can accommodate Palestinian demands for statehood.

Yet for all these caveats, there is no denying PLO leader Yasser Arafat's triumph over unyielding Arab militants. The timing was hardly propitious, coinciding as it did with the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. But not only did Mr. Arafat have his way in the Palestine National Council, he followed up yesterday with the arrest of the No. 2 leader in the terrorist Hamas organization.

The PLO move, which Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres described as its most important ideological change in 100 years, came just over a month before Israeli voters will give their own judgment on reconciliation. The opposition Likud Party views Palestinian statehood as a mortal threat to Israel's security.

There should be no doubt where the United States stands in seeking an end to Israeli-Arab conflict. President Clinton was present three years ago when Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres' predecessor, the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the White House lawn. And Secretary of State Warren Christopher is currently engaged in exhausting shuttle diplomacy aimed at shutting down fighting in Lebanon that could wreck the Middle East peace process.

The bombastic oratory of the PLO charter adopted 32 years ago has grown steadily more anachronistic as the Israeli position has firmed with time. By acknowledging this reality, Mr. Arafat has been able to solidify his leadership, especially among younger Palestinians who see little point in revolutionary fervor.

The Arafat goal is to form an independent Palestinian state comprising Gaza and the West Bank. Rather than vowing to "destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence," he and his followers seem prepared to accept a partition that would meet Israel's security needs. Because so much in this struggle requires a leap of faith on both sides -- a leap neither the Palestinian resistance movement nor Likud is prepared to make -- rapprochement between the PLO and the Labor Party is essential.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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