Netanyahu-Arafat meeting needed Peace process: Momentum must be maintained to avoid breakdown.

August 30, 1996

IT IS TIME for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to meet Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to begin a relationship that can in time complete the peace process spelled out in the Oslo accord. Israel-Palestinian relations are worsening, punctuated by the Palestinian general strike yesterday called by Mr. Arafat to protest expansion of Israeli settlements and stalled negotiations. Mr. Netanyahu's campaign promise of peace with security implies engaging the elected leader of 2 million Palestinian neighbors, not humiliating him.

The best indications are that even many Israeli hawks who helped put Mr. Netanyahu in office want him to talk to Mr. Arafat. Now he is being shamed into it by President Ezer Weizman, the old war hero who has invited Mr. Arafat to his home for a chat, implying that Mr. Netanyahu should join in.

Since coming to power, Mr. Netanyahu has shown initiative in visiting Egypt and Jordan and forging cooperation with the Jordanians. He has sent messages to Syria's recalcitrant President Hafez el Assad, urging a resumption of peace negotiations, which Syria says it is ready to do. A negotiation with Egypt and the U.S. about economic ties with Egypt has been taking place in France. Israel made agreements on military training and defense industry cooperation with Turkey, which has a NATO army and an Islamist prime minister.

But while Mr. Netanyahu deserves praise and encouragement for these contacts, he cannot use them to isolate the Palestinians. Israel's relationship with its closest neighbors will always be the cornerstone of its relation with the rest of the Arab and Islamic worlds. Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators did meet yesterday after the Palestinian general strike, reportedly to discuss an Israeli troop redeployment in Hebron, but that is not enough.

Mr. Arafat carries enough extremist baggage that neither Mr. Netanyahu nor any other Israeli is required to like him. But the previous Israeli government and Mr. Arafat's organization launched an accommodation that promised peace and has brought enormous benefit to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat should keep the momentum going, lest its breakdown roll back the gains made. Peace with security, yes. Without security, no peace. And without peace, no real security.

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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