Aware of Washington's growing disillusionment with Netanyahu, just as previous U.S. governments grew weary of other Likud leaders, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization seems to think that time is on his side. But just as Netanyahu errs in believing that he can convince Clinton to convene a summit, so is Arafat wrong to believe that Washington will side with the Palestinians and attempt to impose a settlement on Israel or weaken its commitment to Israel's security.
Quite the contrary. Clinton and his advisors understand that the United States cannot want peace more than Arabs or Israelis. America can help the parties reach a peace. America cannot make peace for them. This is why U.S. diplomatic options are few.
First, Israelis and Palestinians must be convinced that there are limits to U.S. intervention. There will be no grand summit, as Netanyahu desires, nor heavy-handed U.S. pressure on Israel, as Arafat wants. Recognition of the limits of U.S. interest should help build pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume cooperating.
Second, Washingtion must encourage both sides to reaffirm the legitimacy of the Oslo agreements by taking steps to limit confrontation, restore mutual trust and eliminate mutual suspicions about each side's intentions. This could involve an Israeli freeze on new settlements and construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank, without abdicating any future rights. For the Palestinians, it is vital that an Arafat crackdown on Hamas endure while every effort be made to engage in genuine security cooperation with Israel.
Israelis want security. Palestinians want to control their own destiny. Most of the Arab world is ready to begin normal political and economic relations with Israel. But unless Palestinian and Israeli leaders change course now, neither side will fulfill its destiny and the Arab-Israeli conflict will, once again, assume a regional dimension that could lead to war.