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Israel-PLO breakthrough, again Hebron pull-out: With U.S. push, Israel's hawk signs on dove line.

PAINFUL NEGOTIATIONS between Israelis and Palestinians have finally produced a breakthrough agreement that largely restates an earlier accord. The PLO had reached an accommodation in 1993 with the Labor government of a divided Israel. Now it has extended that to a divided Likud government of a more united Israel.

Americans can take satisfaction that the Clinton administration brokered this deal and guarantees it in continuity with Bush administration policy. U.S. mediator Dennis Ross spent the past month preventing it from breaking down. He is a holdover from the Bush administration whom President Clinton has wisely asked to continue through his second term.

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For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this was hard to swallow. He can be accused by former supporters of selling out a lifelong commitment to a Land of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. But he can claim to have fulfilled his commitment to keep the Oslo accord while strengthening Israel's security. Similarly, Yasser Arafat, with fewer cards to play, had to hold out and threaten breakdown to preserve what was previously won, in order to concede bits of it away.

The saving intervention came from King Hussein of Jordan, who needs this accord for the growth and security of his own country. The U.S., which had watched from afar when Israel and the PLO reached their first understanding in 1993, was indispensable this time. Its "Note" and letters are taken by the Palestinians as an American guarantee of future Israeli behavior in three phased pull-outs from rural areas -- a relationship with which Americans and Israelis may not always be comfortable.

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The difficulties are not over. If the timing of future Israeli withdrawals is assured, the scope is for Israel to decide. But a breakthrough this is, because Mr. Netanyahu has made the difficult journey that a Labor government traversed in 1993 to achieve a relationship of mutual dependence with the Palestinians .

Besides Israel's security, Mr. Netanyahu's other great cause is free market economic reform, scrapping the socialist superstructure that came with Israel. This requires a level of prosperity and participation in the world economy that Israel reached only in the period between the Oslo accord and Mr. Netanyahu's election. Now that should return. For the majority of Palestinians, the promise of living in their own land and taking charge of their own destiny is restored. Both sides have internal wreckers to overcome, and a mutual interest in the other's success.

Pub Date: 1/16/97


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