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Shultz: One More Try

February 18, 1988

Reconnaissance conducted by State Department experts in recent weeks has apparently persuaded Secretary of State George P. Shultz that the time has come to reinvolve himself personally in the search for a Middle East peace. And so later this month Shultz, who has avoided any direct Middle East role ever since the American debacle in Lebanon in 1983, will visit the region's major capitals. In his briefcase will be a dusted-off U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation. The outline of that plan, drawn from the never-implemented autonomy provisions of the 1979 Camp David agreement and from President Reagan's 1982 peace initiative, has already been leaked. Whether it can now be made a formal proposal for conciliation remains to be seen.

Much depends on what Shultz hears privately from his hosts, and here the omens seem less than encouraging. After months, indeed years, of urging active American reinvolvement in the peace process the principal regional players are now saying either that the U.S. approach falls short of what's wanted or that it goes too far. The former view is that of Egypt and Jordan--and of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has rejected the U.S. proposal out of hand. The latter view comes from Israel's right-wingers, among them Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who say that they will never give up any Israeli-occupied land on the West Bank as part of a peace settlement.

Given this negativism, what is Shultz up to? Perhaps nothing more than trying to forestall criticism that the United States hasn't done enough in behalf of a settlement. Or it may be, much less credibly, that Shultz has reason to think that there is more room for accommodation than the public statements of the parties suggest. The Arabs and particularly the PLO, which claims a veto over any political talks, clearly think that the moral balance--and hence the political momentum--has swung to their side after months of violence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That same violence, though, seems to have strengthened the right wing in Israel and its refusal to trade any land for peace.

Hard-liners, of course, can only ensure continued conflict; they can't make peace. What has been clear for decades is even more certain now: The only real chance for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians lies in negotiating and carrying out a feasible compromise that will require each side to accept less than what its extremists insist it must have. At a minimum there must be Israeli withdrawal from the greater part of the occupied territories and genuine self-rule for the Palestinians living there. At a minimum there must be territorial changes and political safeguards to make Israel more secure from attack. If Shultz does nothing more on his coming trip than reassert these essential goals as the essence of U.S. policy, he will do some good.

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