Have Power, Will Mediate

Blessed are the peacemakers - they hope. The latest episodes in the long-running Northern Ireland and Middle East peace negotiations find embattled sectarian leaders once again traveling to mentor capitals for a push.

Pushing is needed. The unstated subtext is: Keep me moving before I break off again.

First, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams sees Prime Minister Blair at 10 Downing Street to respond with a mixture of criticism and support to a British/Irish peace blueprint.

Next Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu airs his foot-on-brakes bargaining tactics to President Clinton at the White House. Then Palestinian leader Arafat counters: If Mr. Netanyahu continues to reverse the Oslo peace deal, we'll have to start fighting again.

A comparison of the two situations provides some useful insights.

There's more progress on Northern Ireland at the moment because: (a) There is a deadline (May) for reaching agreement. (b) There are two mediators: Britain and Ireland. Each "seconds" one of the disputants. But each, in the person of Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahearn, is on supportive terms with the other. Jointly, they have put their full weight behind a flexible package of ideas for the Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland to wrestle with.

By comparison, the US is the single (sometimes distracted) mediator in the Israeli-Arab dispute. It currently follows a blueprint designed in Oslo. Mr. Clinton, like his predecessors, frequently has to do a straddle. He must convince Arab leaders he is impartial, while reassuring his Jewish constituents he is not pressuring Israel's leader. That was relatively easy when Mr. Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were moving methodically forward on the Oslo peace blueprint. It has been difficult since Netanyahu hit the brakes.

Now the Clinton team faces a situation where the Israeli leader refuses any further return of Arab land without total proof Arafat can suppress violence - and Arafat's only leverage is to threaten a return to violence.

Mr. Clinton's reply has to be that both sides must stick to what they agreed to after Oslo. And, without dictating the details, he'll have to push them back to talking.

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