PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu will not make peace with Palestinians unless pushed into it by the one foreign power he respects or by Israeli public opinion. Without this pressure, as his decision to push ahead with Har Homa construction shows, he will give in to rightist intransigents. As long as he goes on creating facts that revise the map, the PLO under Yasser Arafat will not move forward in negotiating a final settlement of territory and status.
President Clinton did not give Mr. Netanyahu what the Israeli leader wanted in their meeting -- a proposal for U.S.-brokered final status talks without retrenchment of Israel's expansion. But Mr. Clinton also refrained from publicly lecturing his guest. Until Ambassador Dennis Ross has completed the symmetry by talking to the Palestinian delegation, mystery shrouds administration intentions.
Mr. Netanyahu is caught in the contradiction between his Likud Party rhetoric and the Oslo peace process he inherited. More than 70 percent of Israelis favor the peace in opinion polls. But if he obliged them, Mr. Netanyahu would be deluged by cries of sell-out from his most adamant supporters.
It took the small Arab country of Oman to show Israelis what the Netanyahu policy costs. Oman and Qatar established trade links with Israel after the 1993 peace accord. This week, Oman refused visas to two Israeli diplomats and prevented Israeli participation in a telecommunications fair. Israel's gains as a consequence of peace are now being rolled back.
For Mr. Netanyahu to limit expansion in Jerusalem would require greater U.S. pressure, and greater Israeli public demand. It might require the collapse of his center-right coalition to be replaced by a Likud-Labor coalition committed to the peace process, omitting some of his allies on the right. Without greater pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to save it, the Oslo peace could well collapse.
Pub Date: 4/09/97