Peace Process Hang-Up Arabs Need to Reciprocate to Middle East Concessions by Israel Prime Minster Yitshak Rabin Lest His Political Support at Home Evaporate

Article excerpt

WITH the first anniversary of the start of the Arab-Israeli peace talks in Madrid nearing, it is time to take stock of developments up to this point in order to determine where the talks might go from here. The most important change over the last year was the election in Israel of a government genuinely committed to the peace process.

Since forming his coalition government in mid-July, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has made a series of gestures to both the Palestinians and Syria to spur the peace process.

These have included: 1) stopping new house construction in the occupied territories; 2) ending government subsidies for the purchase of Arab homes by Jewish groups in East Jerusalem; 3) ending work on almost all intifadah bypass roads that were designed to allow West Bank settlers to avoid Arab population centers; 4) announcement of the early release of 800 imprisoned Palestinians; 5) cancellation of the Israeli government's expulsion order for 11 Palestinian activists; 6) agreement that Diaspora Palestinians could participate in the multilateral talks on refugees and regional economic cooperation (so long as they were not members of the PLO); and 7) Israel's public willingness to consider a withdrawal from part, if not all, of the Golan Heights.

These concessions, however, have not elicited similar concessions from the Arab side. While Syria has vaguely promised "total peace for a total withdrawal," it has not explained what "total peace" means.

The Palestinians have not even gone that far. They continue to cling to their initial bargaining position, which calls for an elected legislature with complete control over all aspects of West Bank and Gaza life except foreign policy.

This disparity in concessions has begun to cause serious domestic problems for Mr. Rabin.

Opponents on the right of the Israeli political spectrum assert that Rabin is giving away too much, while even members of the Labor party who live on the Golan Heights have demonstrated angrily against him, as have the West Bank and Gaza settlers unhappy with shrinking government support for their settlements.

This, in turn, has begun to reinvigorate the Likud Party, still in disarray after its poor showing in the June election. Compounding Rabin's problems have been a resurgence of attacks on Israel from Lebanon and a renewal of Palestinian rioting - linked to a hunger strike by prisoners - which has led to an increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians.

The right complains that it was Rabin's concessions to the Palestinians that encouraged it to escalate the violence.

IF neither the Palestinians nor Syrians are willing to further the peace process, what can be done to strengthen Rabin's political position? …