In Mideast, Keep Talking

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak didn't fall this week to a no-confidence vote and other maneuvers in Israel's Knesset. That's one positive development since the Camp David talks ended a week ago.

Decidedly negative was the unexpected defeat in the Knesset of Shimon Peres, a statesman and politician long associated with the peace process, in his bid to become Israel's president, a largely symbolic post. That vote underscored wavering support for the peace initiative, and hence for Mr. Barak, in the legislature.

But the Knesset has become more antipeace, more extreme, than the Israeli public generally. The question now is whether the prime minister can push negotiations to a final agreement during the lawmakers' long summer break. Barak could then put the peace plan before the voters (most Israelis are with him on the need to craft a deal with the Palestinians) and salvage his government.

On the other side of the Mideast divide, the cheers that initially greeted Yasser Arafat for not bending on Jerusalem have given way to concerns about what comes next. Mr. Arafat says he'll declare a Palestinian state on Sept. 13, no matter who objects.

The main one objecting is President Clinton, who warns that this could lead to a cut-off of aid from the United States. Mr. Clinton added to that slap on the wrist a pat on the back for Barak. The president suggested that he just may move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem "in light of what has happened." That phrase, presumably, is shorthand for Palestinian unwillingness to compromise at Camp David.

Clinton is waving a fairly big stick here. Symbolically, keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, in line with most other countries, acknowledges that Jerusalem's status is still a matter of negotiation. No matter how unhappy he may be with Arafat's current stance on Jerusalem, the president surely realizes this is no time to jeopardize America's standing as mediator.

For all the uncertainty, one thing is certain. The only practical answer to what comes next is continued negotiation. Antipeace extremists can't be given a void to fill.

It may require a little more time for everyone around the table to take a longer view and recognize that compromises made now could open the way for a fuller realization of cherished dreams later.

Behind this moment's heated words there has to be a reserve of patience, along with the urgency.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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