Unsettled Mideast peace process Settler subsidy: Netanyahu and Arafat must make it succeed or take blame for failure.

December 17, 1996

IF ISRAEL insists that the Palestinian Authority create no facts in Jerusalem prejudicing future negotiations on the city's final status, then Israel should show equal restraint on the West Bank. The Israeli cabinet's reinstitution of tax breaks to enlarge settlements there was harmful to peace. It was provocative to Palestinian negotiating partners and grandstanding for Israeli militants.

President Clinton was right to chastise Israel, however mildly, saying, "I don't think anything should be done that would be seen as pre-empting the outcome." This administration, like its predecessors, should apply such pressure, which is welcomed by many Israelis.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, three former U.S. secretaries of State and three former national security advisers used stronger language. They said that "unilateral actions, such as the expansion of settlements, would be strongly counter-productive to the goal of a negotiated solution."

Mr. Netanyahu is playing a tricky game that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should understand. The Israeli prime minister, who won election criticizing the peace process only to become its steward, takes actions to please Likud Party hard-liners. He also sends signals of adopting the peace policy of his Labor Party predecessors. Sending emissaries to soothe Mr. Arafat, and then phoning him to revive talks on Hebron redeployment, was such a signal.

The U.S. should remain strongly supportive of Israel's right to live in peace. That does not mean a blank check for its enlargement. The U.S. must also insist that Mr. Arafat to do all he can to prevent terrorism and temper his own rhetoric.

Never was Israel so prosperous and secure as just before the election of Mr. Netanyahu. Its isolation in the Islamic world was over. Capital was pouring in to create plants in Israel to sell products and services in the Middle East. Cooperation between Israel and its neighbors was growing. Now the confidence is gone and the prosperity is in jeopardy. Israelis can see that.

Mr. Netanyahu has a difficult course. But the U.S., with a clear view of the goal of peace, should help him to get there, even when that means criticism or divergence of views.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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