Mideast: Back on Course

How did Mideast peace get so far off track? What can be done to get back to the constructive period of two years ago?

First, examine the problem. Compare this week's empty economic summit in Qatar to the bustling deal-proposing of previous summits.

At the earlier sessions, Arab and Israeli business leaders talked hopefully about trade, joint enterprises, region-wide development, tourism, new highways and airports.

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In contrast, this week US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is just about the only high-ranking official in sight at Doha on the Persian Gulf. With the exception of Jordan, important Arab players are boycotting, and Israel has sent a low-level delegation.

Ironically, it isn't the marauder to the north, Saddam Hussein, who is invading the Gulf peace this time. It's the near collapse of the striking progress that the Rabin and Peres governments of Israel were making with their Arab neighbors in 1995 and early 1996. That breakdown has left Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu feuding not only with Arab governments but also, more discreetly, with Ms. Albright and President Clinton. Mr. Clinton pointedly didn't invite the Israeli leader to the White House during his current US visit.

We have consistently argued that neither the US nor the other members of the UN Security Council can appease Saddam Hussein as he seeks to shut off eyes and cameras legally assigned to curb his attempts to get back into the ABC (atomic, biological, chemical) weapons business. But Mr. Clinton faces a dilemma. To hit Iraq's weapon-making capacity hard is to risk further alienating his Arab partners in the old Gulf War alliance.

For that reason, Ms. Albright is right. Getting Israeli-Palestinian dealings back to something like the tough but creative trust of 1995 is as essential as boxing in Saddam's ambitions. The Clinton administration can't fully achieve one without the other.

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