Baker and the PLO

THE United States position on the Palestine Liberation Organization and the World Health Organization is essentially correct. The PLO is not a state and therefore should not be admitted to full membership in the United Nations organization; nor should the 166-member group become a cockpit for fighting over political questions like whether or how a Palestinian state should be formed.

This is the same position taken by Hiroshi Nakajima, the Japanese physician who heads this important organization designed to improve health and nutrition in third-world areas. The logic of the US position is also illustrated in the way Yasser Arafat will be received when he makes his first official visit to protocol-conscious Paris next week: as neither a head of state nor a prime minister.

Secretary of State James Baker's threat to cut off US support for WHO - which amounts to a quarter of the organization's annual budget - is extreme, however. The health of impoverished villagers, slum dwellers, refugees, and especially children should not be the price of a diplomatic stand - no matter how right that stand may be.

After 13 years during which official contact was banned, the US is now talking with the PLO. Mr. Arafat has renounced terrorism and brought himself to say that Israel has the right to exist - sort of. But there are still questions about the extent to which Arafat speaks for factionalized Palestinians and whether he really means what he says.

PLO waffling over the safety and permanence of Israel is matched by Israeli intransigence on the subject of Palestinian statehood. Washington is in the middle, delicately balancing accommodation for the former with pressure on the latter.

Palestinians should be represented in UN organizations. But only as a state when such a state has been truly established and not simply declared.

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