THE Middle East peace talks have been interrupted as a consequence of Baruch Goldstein's automatic-weapon assault on worshipers inside a Hebron mosque last week. That the Palestinian negotiators should call a break, even if their eventual interest is to carry forward with the talks, should come as no surprise. An emotional adjustment, a grieving, at the least is called for, as is an assessment of the relative gains and losses for both sides. The Israeli government has called for ``tough measures'' against militant Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including detainment and weapons seizures. But Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, quickly dismissed the official Israeli steps as ``hollow.''
Let's say at the outset that the talks should proceed as soon as possible. The logic of peace - based on justice, economics, and regional cooperation - demands it. But an ``illogic of peace'' competes for dominance in the Middle East as well. Frequently out of some quasi-religious, tribal, or nationalistic fervor, individuals or groups commit atrocities at holy sites - as if in the flowing of blood some transformation will occur that will deliver their people. Amos Elon writes about the psychology of such acts in his remarkable book, ``Jerusalem: City of Mirrors.'' Such acts cannot be ascribed simply to terrorism, which implies a politically motivated doctrine of systematic violence; otherwise regular citizens at times have perpetrated acts of vigilante terror on holy sites, talking openly about what they have done and even expecting legal acquittal and public thanks.
The region, focus of three major religions and ethnic homeland to two competing peoples, has suffered from a historical schizophrenia. Many peoples beyond those occupying its land project onto it their own sense of origin and destiny. Add to this the recent history alone - holocaust for the Jews in Europe, resistance to the British mandate, various wars including Israel's ignominious attack on Lebanon: It is a lot for the sanity of so small a territory to bear.
Israel's military rule in the West Bank and Gaza lands was established nearly three decades ago after a war against its Arab neighbors, a war it says it did not want. Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, in his new book ``The New Middle East,'' acknowledges the self-defeating dualism inherent in this rule. ``Israel is now administering two parallel governmental systems with contradictory sets of values,'' Peres says. ``By its very nature, the military government is oppressive - to the people it rules and to the citizens of the state. It is the very antithesis of the basic, democratic values set down in Israel's Declaration of Independence, in our basic laws, our political culture, and in our social-world view.... Although our intention was to quash terrorist activities, the very existence of a military government is enough to generate negative feelings.''
``A nation that forces itself on another nation, even for reasons of self-defense, loses the will to abstain from oppression because of the dynamics of conquest,'' Peres says.
What are the gains from the peace talks so far? Among them, Arafat, who has survived being tossed about on the Palestinian leadership waves through American presidencies since Lyndon Johnson, has gained a useful recognition; the PLO has deleted from its charter its threats of annihilation of the Israeli state; a locus of Palestinian rule has been set for Jericho, and so forth.
More significant gains lie ahead. The greening of the region by irrigation, the spread of electrical grids, free movement of workers, a base for tourism, require progress in the peace talks.
The illogic of peace is the past: the grievances, wars, atrocities that would keep vengeance and repression going forever.
The logic of peace is the future: a Middle East of the cultural, economic, political, and social integrity of a European Union.
The peace-talk leaders have to negotiate not only with the other side, but among their own sides as well - and these can be the more difficult negotiations. Episodes like the Hebron mosque massacre frustrate the negotiators' work but also prove that work to be essential.