THE carrot dangled in front of the PLO is that if Yasser Arafat could get his people to agree on a peace settlement with Israel, President Clinton has promised to take him to Martha's Vineyard next summer.
The offer was personally made by the president to the PLO leader over the telephone. Reports indicate that Bill told Yasser, "You've been bargaining in good faith and therefore you deserve a vacation on the Vineyard."
Yasser, who watches CNN day and night, responded, "Can I stay in Bob McNamara's house?"
"Of course you can. Bill Styron is painting it right now, so it'll be ready for you."
"How can I be sure that the people of Martha's Vineyard will accept me?" Yasser asked.
President Clinton reassured him, "I know everybody there. I'll introduce you to all the rich and famous, and I will arrange for you to play golf with Vernon Jordan."
really go for that. Vernon is a big man in Jordan ever since King Hussein named the country after him."
"Yasser, this is the dream of a lifetime. The island has beaches galore, a state fair in Tisbury and fireworks in Oak Bluffs. I'll introduce you to Carly Simon and James Taylor."
Yasser was dumbstruck. "How do you know Carly Simon?"
"Everybody knows everybody on the Vineyard. Besides, I am the president of the United States, so singers are naturally attracted to me. Yasser, sign on the dotted line and I'll have you swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in six months. Do you have a bathing suit?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I've never seen a picture of you in a bathing suit," said President Clin ton.
"That's because I prefer to go into the Dead Sea fully clothed. But your proposition sounds pretty interesting. What happens with the Israelis if it leaks out that you're taking me to Martha's Vineyard?"
"We'll offer to put them up in a bed and breakfast in Vineyard Haven."
"What about Mrs. Arafat? She'll be along. What will she do when she's there?"
"She'll go to luncheons with Hillary and walk on the beach with some of Martha's Vineyard's most famous writers. Does she play golf?"
"Not since they closed the Burning Tree course in the Gaza Strip."
"In that case we'll arrange for her to go sailing with Walter Cronkite and play tennis with Mike Wallace."
"Mr. President, it's very tempting to accept your offer, but if I make a deal for Palestine, will the United states throw in the Gay Head cliffs as well?"
"I can't promise you that because the cliffs belong to the Native Americans on the island."
"Not on my map," Arafat said. "Anyhow, I'll speak to Mrs. Arafat."
That's where the deal stands right now. It was a courageous move on President Clinton's part, particularly since he hadn't bothered to clear the idea with Hillary. He also failed to tell Chelsea that because of their house guests she would have to give up her room next summer. But peace in the Middle East does not come cheap.
What do the residents on the Vineyard think of the idea? Tess Bramhill said, "Celebrities don't impress us. The nice thing about Martha's Vineyard is that Arafat could walk down the street in Bermuda shorts and a Ralph Lauren T-shirt and no one would turn around."
Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist who also summers at the Vineyard.