The coming Mideast talks

Back again: This time, they had better make real progress toward a settlement.

March 11, 2000

SERIOUS negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority beginning this month has a reasonable chance of making the Sept. 13 self-imposed deadline for a treaty.

Active mediation by the United States and Egypt reassured the Palestinians who fully expect to be offered half a loaf and don't want to be left in the room with Israel alone.

The intense meetings that Prime Minister Ehud Barak had with authority president Yasser Arafat with the presence of U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross were capped by the pep talk lunch hosted by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

While the Washington meetings will be at the negotiator level, the political leaders jointly raised expectations. Bickering and blame-casting are suspended. A Tel Aviv newspaper's unconfirmed story of the statehood and land that Mr. Barak will offer is less than Palestinian aspirations require. But, if true, this is an opening position that might lead to an agreement after hard bargaining.

The prospect of real negotiations between these two parties reawakens Syrian interest in a Syrian-Lebanese settlement with Israel. Syria has organized a meeting of Arab foreign ministers today and tomorrow in Beirut to garner support.

While there is no letup of attacks on Israel from Lebanon in response to Israel's determination to pull out of southern Lebanon, President Hafez el Assad of Syria knows that he will get nothing without a guaranteed end of terrorism on Israel's northern border.

There have been so many false starts in this process that many people are cynical.

Israeli public distrust of the Arabs and Palestinian distrust of Israel are genuine pressures on their own leaders not to make concessions which those leaders know they must make.

But peace is in the interest of both populations. It offers personal safety and economic pay-offs that the absence of peace prohibits. The leaders know that, too.

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