Trying Again for Peace

The Middle East is the other story that seems to have no logical ending. But, of course, it started long before the current American presidential race and will continue after that race is finally settled - giving the next US chief executive an immediate foreign-policy challenge.

While Washington has been fixed on the drama in Florida, a Mideast peace process that has absorbed vast amounts of US time and talent further withered. Russia tried to take up the slack, with Vladimir Putin arranging the first words in weeks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

That short conversation was a glimmer of hope. Mr. Barak reversed an earlier decision to break off security links between his forces and those of Mr. Arafat. Arafat promised to do more to quell the violence.

But the hail of rocks and bullets in Gaza and the West Bank continues, joined by the renewed pounding of bombs in southern Lebanon.

These clashes appear reflexive, the result of destructive habits of thought in the region. Those habits will have to be broken by fresh appeals to reason and the long-term interests of both sides.

That task is complicated by political pressures on both Barak and Arafat. The Israeli leader this week faces another no-confidence vote.

Any new thrust toward peace should benefit from hard-learned lessons - more realism about final-status issues, more involvement of other regional players. US involvement will remain crucial, too. The Middle East is likely to be a major test of whether the new man in Washington is up to the job.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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