U.S. role in the Middle East

Facilitator: Bush should help ease Israeli-Palestinian open hostilities that have stalled the peace process.

March 21, 2001

ISRAELIS AND Palestinians mutually need an end to violence before they can breathe easily and negotiate more constructive matters.

So when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked President Bush yesterday to urge Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to help end the violence, he deserved a positive response.

The president said he has not decided whether to invite Mr. Arafat to Washington for that purpose. He should, to put on maximum pressure. Ostracism would only reduce what influence Mr. Bush might bring to bear.

With an Arafat visit, the president would be involved as a facilitator in Middle East peace brokering. There is no need for him to get into the details as his predecessor did. But he should show moral authority.

The Bush administration reportedly urged the Sharon government to lighten up on the Palestinian Authority, to forward tax revenue it collected and end the siege of communities so that normal life can resume. So it should.

Mr. Arafat has had a reprieve of sorts, economic aid from the wealthy Persian Gulf states that previously withheld it. While his authority over Palestinians is diminished by violence he fueled, which strengthens militant rivals, he still is accountable.

Israel and the United States remain bound by friendship and common concerns, including arms proliferation among rogue states. There are also differences, including some of Israel's arms sales.

Prime Minister Sharon is a difficult partner, but Washington does not choose Israel's leader and deals with far more difficult leaders elsewhere, Mr. Arafat not least of them. Israeli-Palestinian peace must remain a long-term goal of any U.S. administration.

That does not mean they should attempt to negotiate a final agreement now.

What they can and must do is negotiate practical matters of getting along in the meantime. This they are attempting, with almost daily contacts.

The Bush administration should encourage this process. It can agree with Mr. Sharon that an end to violence is requisite to that.

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