This Moment in the Mideast

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Monday, August 4, 1997

Page A18

The Washington Post

A GALLUP Israel poll conducted only hours before the cruel bombings in Jerusalem illuminates the choices before would-be peacemakers at this grave moment in the Middle East. The Israeli government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, has toughened its already tough line on terrorism to the point where, among other measures, it threatens to pursue terrorists into areas controlled by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Regardless of whether one thinks such a step is required or justified by the suicide bombs, there is no denying that it could have explosive consequences. Whether the current peace talks would survive in any form is problematic. The new poll, reflecting a consistent view in Israeli public opinion, represents another option. According to an Israeli analyst, 60 percent of Israeli Jews polled support establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, and more than half would grant Palestinians sole or joint sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem. A similar majority supports withdrawal from most of the Golan Heights, in exchange for a peace agreement with Syria and security guarantees from the United States. The latest bombs, like earlier bombs, surely will darken Israeli public opinion for a while. But the evident fact remains that most Israeli Jews favor peace with the Palestinians on terms that the Israeli Likud government, resisting territorial concessions and a Palestinian state, rejects but that most Palestinians would probably accept. By the time of the bombings, Mr. Netanyahu's pursuit of a "secure peace" had brought neither security nor peace, and the Israeli public was opening to alternatives to his strategy. These are the realities that the United States must consider as it charts its own course. Given a Palestinian demonstration of seriousness in the struggle against terrorism, the Israeli public can be expected to return to its pre-bomb readiness for a peace that would meet both Israel's quest for security and the Palestinians' for a state. For the United States to go this way would put it into tension with the Netanyahu government but would put it into step with most of the Israeli people. Up to now President Clinton has avoided confronting the implications of Mr. Netanyahu's reluctance to bargain territory for a Palestinian settlement. Now he must decide whether to minimize short-run frictions with the Israeli government or reach for a long-term peace.