UNITED States Secretary of State Warren Christopher's invitation yesterday to resume the Middle East peace talks in April comes after a trip through the region preceeded by low expectations. The invitation should be accepted.
The secretary's seven-nation tour of the region made it clear that all parties want to resume negotiations. He quickly established himself with the players in the Middle East peace process as a negotiator. And his attempts to narrow differences between Israel and the Palestinians over the issue of the 396 deportees in southern Lebanon signaled renewed US efforts in the peace process.
Impatience over the way the deportee issue is blocking the talks, however, is growing. Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan all indicate a greater interest in resuming talks than in deportees; hence the delicacy of the situation in the Arab world.
Palestinians are correct to decry the deportations; nevertheless they run the danger of isolating themselves from other Arab partners if they continue to block resumption of talks while others desire to resume them. The talks could fragment.
During his visit, Christopher offered some ideas that intrigued the Palestinian negotiators: assurances from Israel that it would refrain from using deportations; improvements in human rights in the occupied territories; and expediting the return of the deportees. No doubt, some Palestinians are privately dubious - and who could blame them? Yet the offer moves in the right direction. Whatever the Palestinians' response, Christopher has worked to keep the channels open on the deportee issue.
That effort must continue; timely resumption of the peace talks is essential. Absent significant progress, those whom a treaty would ultimately protect lose confidence in the process. In that kind of climate, much less significant events than Israel's deportations could become just as obstructive. With so much at stake in the region, that can't be allowed to happen.