The outcome of the election in Israel has clarified and, in one unfortunate respect, simplified the problem of finding peace in the Middle East. Neither Labor nor Likud won the kind of solid majority in the Knesset which could have made possible a firm peace policy.
With a big majority mandate, a Labor government headed by Shimon Peres would have set forth down the road to a negotiation with the Palestinians which just might have moved the peace process off of dead center.
And an equally solid majority for Yitzhak Shamir could, no matter how improbable it may sound, have also led to a new Israeli initiative. Mr. Shamir is himself pledged to keep all of ``Samaria and Judea'' for Israel - which translates as meaning no surrender of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. And yet private sources of information say that he knows that someday there will have to be some form of self-government for the Palestinians.
But neither happened. This means that now more than ever events in the Middle East will be determined elsewhere.
The government in Israel which emerges from the election is bound to go on avoiding a peace settlement so long as the United States keeps on underwriting a ``no-peace'' policy.
This has been the essential situation in the Middle East since the 1967 war. The regular annual US subsidy to Israel dates from that war. US money and guns have made it possible for Israel to hold the occupied territories.
In official theory the US favors the ultimate surrender of the bulk of those territories to the Arabs in return for Arab acceptance of the Jewish state of Israel. But in actual practice, the US provides the means whereby Israel has retained control over them.
In theory, the US thus has the leverage over Israel which is to be used at the appropriate time to push Israel toward a comprehensive and lasting settlement in the Middle East.
That was the theory behind Henry Kissinger's approach to the Middle East during his long management of US foreign policy. He kept the Arabs pacified and quiet (and on the US side in the cold war) by telling them that only the US could ever induce Israel to give up the occupied territories. He delicately implied to the Arabs that at the appropriate time he would deliver Israel at a peace table and cause Israel to accept peace within the framework of United Nations Resolution 242.
There is an unanswered question whether Mr. Kissinger ever would have used that leverage to force Israel to the trade of land for peace. Others took over in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was elected. The 1979 Camp David agreement which Mr. Carter extracted from a reluctant Menachem Begin was based on the implied US ability to withhold the annual US subsidy.
But since Camp David, the situation has changed. Mr. Carter might have been able to reduce the subsidy. His successors have never even hinted that they might do such a thing. And there is extreme doubt that they could do it even if they wished to do so.
Since Carter days the pro-Israel lobby has become so successful in defeating senators and congressmen who vote contrary its wishes that Congress now automatically votes more funds for Israel than the administration proposes.
Since the coming of Ronald Reagan to the White House, the possibility of a serious and possibly productive peace movement for the Middle East has rested with Israel itself. Without Israeli consent, it could no longer come from Washington.
The Israeli election rules out the prospect of a new initiative coming from Israel. The unavoidable conclusion is that matters will now drift in the direction of another Middle East war.
This is the new situation which the next President will find on the top of his desk in January. Its details can be summarized as follows:
Israel is unwilling to give up the occupied Arab territories. The Arabs will never accept anything less than Arab self-government over the bulk of those territories.
The US government is politically incapable of breaking the stalemate. Therefore, the Arabs now have to look to their own resources for any movement toward settlement. The only means they have are stone-throwing inside the occupied territories and guerrilla warfare from the outside. Meanwhile, Syria is steadily building its own military strength, with solid Soviet help. And Iraq's battle-hardened army is free from the war in the Gulf to go to the aid of the Palestine Arabs if it wishes.
The sixth Arab-Israel war is on the horizon.
The only thing which in theory could head it off now would be a joint US-Soviet peace plan.