Emergency run to the Middle East Peace unravels: Albright seeks crackdown on terror, compliance with pullout.

September 09, 1997

IT WAS NO SECRET that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright refused to become a commuter in the Middle East and wanted not to visit until she could produce a success. As a result, her first trip as the world's most important diplomat -- arriving in Israel tomorrow -- comes when things have fallen apart. Rather than seek triumph, her mission is to prevent disaster.

Ms. Albright's highest priority is to win a convincing crackdown on terrorists by the Palestinian authority's president, Yasser Arafat, and a repudiation of terrorism by the moderate leaders of Arab states. This need arises from the terror bombing in Jerusalem last Thursday, for which the military wing of Hamas claimed credit after Mr. Arafat had made public gestures of accommodation with Hamas.

The priority also reflects the Cairo meeting on Sunday in which President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and Mr. Arafat said what Israel must do for peace, but ignored the right of Israelis to live free of terror in their streets and homes.

Of course, the Palestinian authority rounded up 35 suspects from Hamas and Islamic Jihad yesterday. But Mr. Arafat typically does that at moments of crisis and frees them soon thereafter. PLO intelligence officers are also cooperating with their Israeli counterparts in the presence of the CIA's Tel Aviv station chief. For his part, Jordan's king has arrested the leading Hamas spokesman in his kingdom.

Without attaining a credible crackdown from Mr. Arafat, Ms. Albright has little hope of persuading Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cede more land to Palestinian control under the timetable agreed by the previous Israeli government. This includes a troop pullback scheduled for yesterday and transportation access between Gaza and the West Bank.

Not that Mr. Netanyahu enjoys the confidence of all Israelis in his tough stance. They elected him prime minister after doubting then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres' commitment to security. Mr. Netanyahu cast himself as an expert on counter-terrorism. But now Israelis see terrorism continue with the prospect of peace receding. The prime minister is paying in public opinion for last week's botched raid in Lebanon, which cost a dozen Israeli lives.

Broader Mideast peace negotiations cannot happen until Israeli-Palestinian relations are positive. The State Department is billing Ms. Albright's mission as confidence-building. That is sorely needed. She is taking a big risk by undertaking a mission that could easily fail, but without it failure would be assured.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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