Israel after the inquiry

One thing can be immediately said as Israel's government and politicians react to the dramatic findings of that country's official inquiry into the Beirut massacre. It is that another stage has been reached in the demonstration of a nation's conscience.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis went into the streets last fall to demand an investigation of their leaders, and now they have the results. The apportionment of blame is less important for its own sake than as evidence of the self-correcting workings of democracy under due process of law. So long as these workings are intact, political storms will be weathered.

The inquiry was sensitive to errors of omission as well as commission. It called on Defense Minister Sharon to resign for ignoring the dangers of revenge and bloodshed when he ordered Lebanese Christian militia into Palestinian refugee camps. It did not call on Prime Minister Begin to resign but referred to his indifference and said his lack of involvement ''cast on him a certain degree of responsibility.''

Thus, after an exhaustive three-month investigation, a top-level body has given Israelis the kind of authoritative accounting that so many of them demanded. It is up to citizens and their representatives to grapple with the legal and political decisions to be taken next.

The situation has ramifications outside the country, too. Domestic turmoil in Israel threatens to interrupt US and other diplomatic efforts for Mideast peace. But meanwhile the fact of the inquiry can only do credit to Israel in the eyes of the world, even as the findings criticize its leaders. Israel's stature will be further affected by the response to these findings that has now begun.

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