Help the Odd Couple

Jordan's King Hussein is a leader of broad vision. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a leader of single-minded vision. Their blunt exchange of letters this week lends a High Noon quality to the growing confrontation over Mr. Netanyahu's decision to, in essence, colonize the Arab quarter in East Jerusalem.

Over three decades, Hussein has managed both friendship and shrewd tactical relationships (often clandestine) with Israel's leaders. He has done so in pragmatic pursuit of survival for his hemmed-in nation and in visionary pursuit of peace among the peoples living between the Mediterranean and the Persian and Aqaba gulfs.

Netanyahu's relationship with Hussein has had the strength of many odd-couple relationships: a determination to bridge differences to keep alive a growing commerce and warmth between their peoples. But Netanyahu's vision sees an expanded, super-safeguarded Israel. He has not accepted his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin's eloquent assertion that peace negotiations have dealt a "mighty blow to the delusion of a Greater Israel."

Now Hussein has thrown down the gauntlet: Retreat from your chess move in East Jerusalem or lose all the gains for peace and prosperity under way with your neighbors. American negotiators are adding to the pressure by accepting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's invitation to meet in Gaza to discuss next steps.

But how can Netanyahu back off without undermining his already shaky government coalition? His US partners surely can help find a way to put his East Jerusalem construction project on indefinite hold without publicly killing it. Fuzzing that building project would let the far more important peace-building project revive.

Building peace is more crucial for Israel than building a housing colony in East Jerusalem.

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