On the Mount at Camp David

On Tuesday in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, the world will witness one of the strangest Middle East summits ever.

This time, it's not just a matter of peace or no peace.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders will be sequestering themselves at Camp David, but they meet with as much concern about the fallout of actually striking a compromise as not striking one.

Both Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ehud Barak lack strong backing at home. If they come down from the mount with a peace deal that, for instance, splits the difference on control of East Jerusalem, the deal may just fail with their people.

Palestinian street violence against a deal remains as much a threat as "low intensity" violence against Israel for even existing.

Yet deal they must.

Patience has run thin. It's been seven years since the Oslo accords laid out a path to peace. The easy steps have been taken, such as returning some land to the Palestinians.

But Palestinians are poorer and want a state to call their own. Stagnation has only stoked resentment.

Israel is more secure. In fact, Mr. Barak ordered a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and didn't flinch when Syria ended peace talks.

Both sides know the basic outlines of a compromise. All that's left is mustering the courage to fill in the details.

The Palestinians need courage to compromise on such issues as Jerusalem, return of refugees, water, and land. Israel's courage lies in compromising enough to make it easy for Arafat to create a Palestinian state that's a neighbor, not a threat.

A third option is to strike a limited deal that just pushes the problem forward. Fortunately, both Barak and Arafat appear eager to avoid that.

Israel wants to keep its relative ethnic purity by expelling Palestinians to their own state and retaining some biblical sites. The Palestinians want a large portion of their land returned.

Unfortunately, the Old Testament way of Abraham simply dividing up the land with rival Lot is not a complete formula in this case. Peace isn't an absence of conflict, but an embrace of each other's needs.

While a US offer of billions in cash may make a compromise easier, peacemaking begins in the heart by reaching out to the other side.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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