PARIS -- Terrorism has delivered what probably is the mortal blow to what already had ceased to be a Middle Eastern peace process. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright goes to the Middle East this week at a moment when the United States has all but lost its ability to influence events there.
The peace process has become a war process. The peace process was established by Israel's agreement at Oslo to trade land to the Palestine Liberation Organization in exchange for a halt to the PLO's terrorist campaign against Israel. But now it is Hamas that conducts the terrorist campaign, and Hamas is not a party to the peace process. Its purpose is to destroy it, and to destroy Israel.
After the Jerusalem bombings six weeks ago, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made further negotiations with the PLO contingent upon the delivery to him of what, even before Thursday's new bombings, had become a list of 1,500 Palestinians suspected of terrorist associations.
Mr. Arafat, however, is incapable of suppressing Hamas on Israel's behalf, as Mr. Netanyahu knows. For Mr. Netanyahu -- and President Clinton -- to demand that Mr. Arafat do so is simply to provide a further rationalization to Mr. Netanyahu for terminating the peace process.
Neither Hamas nor Mr. Netanyahu wishes to see a settlement between Israel and the PLO on the terms set forth in the 1993 White House agreement. The former wants no settlement at all. The latter wants a non-sovereign Palestinian political entity totally under Israeli domination. In these circumstances Mr. Arafat has become an irrelevance. Israel and Hamas are allied against him.
Mrs. Albright will confront accomplished facts that preclude useful negotiation. She plans to visit Syria, but Mr. Netanyahu has already pre-emptively blocked territorial concessions to Damascus, removing the possibility of change on that front.
Mr. Netanyahu is doing exactly what he promised in his electoral campaign, in all but one respect. He campaigned to maintain or expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank, maintain an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and keep the Golan Heights.
He is doing this single-mindedly, even brutally, and in defiance of the advice and policy interests of the U.S.; but he is executing the mandate voters gave him. Whether those voters will be pleased by an eventual return to the relations that existed between them and the Palestinians before the Oslo agreements will be known only in the future.
Because of Hamas, what Mr. Netanyahu is not delivering is security for Israel. Thursday's bombings were further demonstration that Israelis are less secure under his government than they were under the governments of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. But that was foreseeable, indeed foreseen, when Israel's voters made their choice.
President Clinton has demonstrated that he is unwilling to exert political or economic pressure to change Mr. Netanyahu's program, and nothing he can do will change Hamas. Mrs. Albright can thus only pronounce the usual platitudes and issue the usual expressions of indignation, goodwill, and trust in a better future -- which assuredly will not arrive.
She is incapable of doing more because the U.S. has no serious policy in this matter -- as in too many others. Control of American policy has in the last quarter-century been yielded to special interests, each capable of blocking initiatives it finds unacceptable.
These interests obviously include organized Israeli and Cuban lobbies in the United States, not because of the electoral force they represent, but because of the campaign money they control.
They include the international trade interests whose financial support has been indispensable to the Clinton presidential campaigns, the organized leadership of the black and Hispanic electorates, and to a mounting extent other ethnic lobbies. And of course the ineffable and ignorant Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to block any American policy decision he finds personally uncongenial.
Democracy at work, one might say. Alas, money at work. This is plutocratic power, not popular power, and very far from that power of informed reflection which Ms. Albright, former university professor and foreign-policy professional, might wish to exercise.
Never before has American foreign policy been so subordinated to the forces of factional or private interest and political demagogy. This arrives, ironically, at a moment when some commentators rejoice in what they see as the United States' accession to international ''imperium.''
As the neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol concedes, ''it is an imperium with a minimum of moral substance.'' It is also without sustaining political substance, and in the circumstances that now prevail, it will find none.
William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 9/08/97