TO Yasser Arafat, whose forces had to retreat from Palestine and Lebanon all the way to Tunisia, retreat from New York's Philharmonic Hall may disappear into the footnotes of a tumultuous career. But New York Mayor Giuliani's snub, asking Arafat to leave a UN 50th anniversary concert, was bad policy, bad logic, and bad manners. It didn't help Israel, the US, or Mideast peace.
The New York incident was matched by Congress's ill-timed vote to mandate moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 1999. Neither the Israeli government nor US Jewish groups supporting peace moves between Israel and the Palestinians approved of this abrupt congressional intervention. Fortunately it contains an escape clause, which President Clinton will use to postpone activation.
Both incidents collide with basic realities of Western Mideast policy:
1. The US, Europe, and Japan have strong national interests in a peaceful Mideast because the area remains the world's greatest oil reservoir, keeping fuel supplies and prices stable.
2. Completion of the four-decade-old Arab-Israeli peace process demands continuing progress on Palestinian-Israeli peace if Syria and Lebanon are to be drawn into finishing the process.
The US Congress now faces an opportunity for damage- mending. It can show its confidence in the careful but courageous work of Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by voting to extend the Middle East Act. That's the act passed so enthusiastically after the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn two years ago. It's the mechanism through which the US extended assistance to the Palestinians when they joined those sticking their necks out to create a peaceful future. It deserves extension. To do otherwise would be to eject not only Arafat but also Rabin from the concert.
Congress can mend some of the damage from bad policy, bad logic, and bad manners.