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US must bridge the gap between words and action in the Mideast

By Richard C. Hottelet / June 30, 1988

SECRETARY of State George Shultz has been in the Middle East for the fourth time this year stirring the same old pot. His avowed purpose, in the face of universal skepticism, was to demonstrate how steadfastly the United States is engaged in the search for peace. This is reasonable after six months of the Palestinian uprising that spurred Mr. Shultz to renewed activity in the first place. Baffling about it, however, is the contradiction between what the administration says and what it has been doing. To be sure, in dealing with one of the two chief actors in this drama, the Palestinians, the US is immobile, having locked itself into nonrecognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO has the key, in acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and its principle of exchanging land for peace. But the PLO has been too confused or disunited to open the door.

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The mystery is Washington's dealings with Israel. While condemning Israeli measures in the West Bank and Gaza, the administration has, in effect, excused and rewarded them.

Washington's objections to Israeli policies go back a long way. It has opposed Israeli sovereignty or control over the West Bank and Gaza (as well as formation of a Palestinian state) and demands Israeli withdrawal. Jewish settlements are to be frozen and may not remain territorial outposts. Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights is null and void and the final status of Jerusalem is still to be negotiated. Emphasizing the Palestinians' right to genuine self-rule, as opposed to the pale imitation offered by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and current Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Shultz on his latest trip declared, ``There can be no settlement without addressing legitimate Palestinian political rights.'' No US official had ever added ``political'' to the ``legitimate rights'' acknowledged by all at Camp David.

Unlike Israel, the US considers the West Bank and Gaza to be territories occupied in war and their inhabitants covered by the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civil population. Since the Palestinian uprising began last December, Washington has protested to Israel privately and publicly against violations of the convention. These include excessive use of force against demonstrators and innocent bystanders, collective punishment, administrative detention, and deportation.

Over the years, hundreds of houses belonging to families of dissidents have been demolished. Something like 5,000 so-called security risks are now in ``detention camps'' without legal charge, let alone trial. Their six-month terms may be extended indefinitely by army order. At least 20 Palestinians have been summarily deported, and right-wing extremists in Israel speak of wholesale population transfer to get rid of the people and the problem together.

Shultz warmly advocates improving the quality of life and family reunification. But if Washington's insistence has had any effect it is not visible to the naked eye. Israeli authorities continue acting out the often-fatal variations of their ``force, might, and beatings'' policy in the name of security. They are expelling a Palestinian American, Mubarak Awad, who has advocated nonviolent civil disobedience.