Keeping Peace Alive

The Middle East peace process appears headed toward a period of suspended animation. There's the pending election in Israel, following the collapse, Dec. 21, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government. But there are also other factors making the next few months problematic for peacemaking.

It was clear after Mr. Netanyahu signed the Wye Plantation agreement in October that his government might crumble. His hard-line supporters were appalled he had agreed to turn more West Bank territory over to the Palestinians.

That deal was one of Netanyahu's rare alignments with the land-for-peace process begun five years ago. It came way too late, however, to do him much good politically. His last-minute plea for a government of national unity with the Labor Party was scoffed at in the Knesset.

With elections scheduled for May 17, and with the Wye agreement put on hold by Netanyahu until then, the world will now be treated to a particularly wide-open bout of Israeli politics. Hopefuls for the top job are springing from all parts of the political spectrum. There's a strong prospect a more moderate government may come to power, but the politically resourceful Netanyahu can't be counted out.

On the sidelines - but clearly involved - are the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat faces a months-long deferral of the Wye pact. He also faces the dilemma of just how his actions - such as the threatened unilateral declaration of statehood - might affect Israeli politics.

More ominously, Hamas's militants have pledged renewed attacks. They are doubtless aware of the impact violence can have on Israeli elections.

It's a time, therefore, for vigilance by peacemakers on all sides. The tacit conspiracy between anti-peace extremists on both sides all too easily fills a void. Israeli politicians who want peace to work must maintain a dialogue with like-minded Palestinians, keeping the process alive.

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