Murphy's mission

THE United States must remain implacably in favor of a West Bank peace accord. By sending Middle East specialist Richard W. Murphy to Jordan, Egypt, and Israel, the Reagan administration is commendably keeping its hand in to that end. Immediate circumstances are not encouraging. The current initiative -- the effort of King Hussein of Jordan to engage the United States, and then Israel, in joint talks with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation -- is getting the long stare and cold shoulder all around. Israel's reservations about building up the Palestine Liberation Organization even indirectly through such meetings are honored in Washington, so the administration has been slow to press for them. Ironically, even the prospect that moderat e Arabs may succeed in initiating a peace process arouses a nervousness on whether anything might come of it. In the background is the possibility that a Camp David formula, with moderate Arabs and Israel brought together under US mediation, rather than an international conference format, would present Israel with an opportunity it could not refuse. Hence the pressure on the Reagan administration in Tel Aviv, and in Washington by Israel's supporters, to contain the Murphy mission. Israel's foreign minister,

Yitzhak Shamir, called the mission ``dangerous.'' To counter this resistance, the State Department felt compelled to state: ``We will not participate in indirect negotiations or pre-negotiations.''

In Casablanca, Hussein's Arab world allies declined to endorse his initiative, launched Feb. 11 in Amman with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. They did not, however, reject it outright. Syria and Libya would not even attend the Moroccan summit; Syria, of course, remains set against any peace plan to which it is not a party -- if, indeed, it does not prefer to keep Jordan and Israel discomfited into the foreseeable future.

In both Israel and the West Bank-Gaza territories, 18 years of continuous Israeli occupation are having their effect, as Israelis get accustomed to jurisdiction over the expanse from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and as the old ``green line'' separating Israel proper from the occupied land gets obscured by settlements. Violence between Palestinians and the occupiers emboldens those Israelis most hostile to Palestinian claims. In Israel's fragile government power-sharing experiment, time is runn ing down on the 25-month term of Shimon Peres, whose party is the more amenable to a West Bank pact.

The United States comes in for criticism or suspicion from every quarter. Arab moderates feel Washington has not done enough to help Hussein, and radicals want to see the US fail. Israel does not want to be crowded by a process in which ``expectations'' can generate their own demands. The Reagan State Department, which has had nothing but trouble in the region from the beginning, does not want to endure another needless humiliation. If anyone thought that economic or military aid leverage might be appli ed for diplomatic leverage in the region, that was scotched by Washington's approval of its foreign-aid package in recent days.

Syria, while riding high, does not want a war with Israel at the moment. And with Egypt on the sidelines, prospects of a new Middle East conflagration seem low.

But with peace reluctant to bud in the region -- and even some of the parties apprehensive that it will -- it takes some measure of courage for Mr. Murphy to set out again to see what he can do to promote the Amman accord. Resignation cannot become an official Washington policy. The Murphy mission deserves support, as does continued American commitment to a settlement.

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