Gas Prices, Peace Price

At the gas pumps today Americans are being reminded of the reasons they need to pay attention to events in the Middle East.

The current surge in fuel prices is not, of course, a product of either a new Gulf war or a Mideast boycott. It's largely a seasonal demand surge. But the price rise has stirred consumer memories of the oil crises of the '70s. In so doing, it should remind drivers that the United States is gradually joining its import-dependent friends, Japan and Europe, in reliance on sometimes-shaky oil sources. (For instance: Nigeria, Venezuela, former Soviet lands - and, most crucial, the states surrounding the Persian Gulf.)

Ironically, the nations involved in the latest Mideast blowup are not oil producers. But in the interest of longer-term world fuel supplies, as well as peace, it's urgent that the Syrian-Hizbullah-Lebanese-Israeli truce of last weekend be firm enough to let the slow-grinding Middle East peace progression get back on track.

Since Camp David brought Egypt and Israel to the start of normal relations, there have been many dangerous diversions of the domino-like "peace process." The worst was Israel's foolhardy 1982 invasion of Lebanon, of which this month's aerial-artillery war was a tragic reprise.

But it should be remembered that meanwhile Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have come to formal peace terms with Israel. The PLO has deleted the Israel-must-be-destroyed clauses from its charter. Ideas for an Israeli return of the Golan to Syria in return for peace remain alive, though suspended. And, if Israel's Shimon Peres can survive the coming election, he will return to completing his deal with Yasser Arafat (and then Syria).

But something more will be needed. Both Israel and the US should find ways to make amends to innocent Lebanese caught in the recent mini-war. That should include rebuilding aid. It will also benefit the US (and its future gas-buyers) to pay close attention to any softening in the wake of Iran's current elections.

Peace along the Mediterranean edge of the Middle East will not be a success unless it eventually extends to the core of the oil states as well.

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