Will they comply this time? Mideast pact: The real test comes when Israelis and Palestinians have to honor agreements they signed.

October 25, 1998

WHEN THE DAWN broke Friday over the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Israeli and Palestinian marathon negotiators, with considerable prodding from President Clinton, appeared to have found a way to restart the Oslo peace process.

Moments later, everything was on hold.

A last-minute dispute had developed over an Israeli demand that the settlement be linked to U.S. release of Jonathan Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst jailed for spying for the Israelis.

This extraneous snag illustrated the delicate nature of Middle East accords. The history of accommodation attempts between the Israelis and Palestinians shows how agreements tend to lose their value when complications develop over implementation.

Indeed, if the two sides had honored the peace process agreed to in the 1993 Oslo peace accords, there would have been no need to hold last week's tortuous summit.

Implementation of the Wye Mills agreements will not be easy. Emotions are running high. Each side has committed to a timetable of measures that extremists in their respective jurisdictions see as nothing short of traitorous.

Item: The Palestine Liberation Organization has agreed to purge its charter of 26 clauses calling for the destruction of Israel.

Item: Israel is to cede 13 percent more of the territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River and free 750 alleged political prisoners.

These are basically reaffirmations of the Oslo accords. What is ironic, though, is that the Israeli official now initialing them is Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu.

Five years ago, he was such a shrill critic of Yitzhak Rabin's peace-making activities that his rhetoric was blamed when the then-prime minister was assassinated. Mr. Nethanyahu's shaky political coalition now faces a backlash from hardliners and settlers, who say his concessions endanger Israel's peace and security.

Similarly, radical Palestinian elements are upset with Mr. Arafat's pledges, including his promise to imprison 30 "murderers" wanted by Israel. If the Wye Mills agreements stick, they are just a milepost on a far longer road to permanent territorial settlement. That is to culminate early next year with talks on the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians.

President Clinton and Jordan's King Hussein played crucial roles in bringing the two sides to a compromise at Wye Mills. They feel, as do we, that if these discussions fail to produce substantive progress another opportunity for ending these age-old hostilities might not come any time soon.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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