Shultz's challenge: Where the Mideast players stand

Israel. A breakthrough for Shultz still hinges on convincing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to drop his opposition to an international peace conference and to the idea of exchanging at least part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to secure peace with Israel's Arab neighbors. On both points, Israeli analysts agree, Mr. Shamir remains unmovable. At the root of Shultz's problem are the deep political divisions dividing Shamir's Likud bloc from the Labor Party of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, which make a unified stand on the peace process impossible until after the fall elections.

``In this situation, Shultz's approach has to be, `I have a concept that appeals to the majority in Israel, no matter who is in charge,''' says a key US official.

Palestinians. The West Bank uprising has changed the way Palestinians look at themselves, say US officials, but they have no strategy for translating these political gains into anything enduring. Disturbances may well continue for some time, but the Israelis seem to be managing them better and are definitely not as alarmed as they were two months ago, they say. As one specialist puts it, ``The comfort of the status quo has been destroyed, but not the status quo.''

Jordan. ``Without Jordan you can't have peace, but King Hussein is the weakest element now,'' says a top Middle Eastern diplomat. US officials agree that the Palestinian uprising has undercut Mr. Hussein's ability to speak for West Bank residents, and the PLO-Syrian reconciliation has further weakened his moderate position. ``Right now he prefers that the Palestinians be out front and Jordan be the helpmate,'' says one.

Syria. The US and Syria still have fundamentally different approaches to Arab-Israeli peace, say US officials. ``So all we can do is explain again how Syria's interests are addressed in the US proposal,'' says an official. ``We recognize Syria needs to be brought on board....'' he adds. ``That's why we're talking to the Soviets.''

USSR. ``So far this has been an enormous freebie for Moscow,'' says one US source. Gorbachev, he adds, is playing a game of consolidating influence with his allies by encouraging the PLO-Syrian reconciliation, while making gestures toward Israel. The Soviets seem intrigued by the chance of cooperating on the Mideast, says another specialist. But they remain suspicious of US intentions and unsure that the potential gains are worth the risks in a US-dominated process.

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