ANNEXING land in the Judean desert to the city of Jerusalem to accommodate Israeli settlements is, on the face of it, harmful to the peace process.
Israel's Cabinet has made a decision unilaterally that, under the Oslo accords, should be reached by agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It has met predictable unhappiness and denunciation by the Palestinians, the U.S. government and foreign countries.
In the past, an Israeli government has sometimes taken a controversial, hawkish position to make a planned accommodation acceptable to a troublesome segment of the population. We must hope that is the case here.
There are two signs of such accommodation. One is yesterday's swap of bodies between Israel and Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. This could be the prelude to greater accommodation between Israel and the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorists.
The other is the carefully released notion that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a referendum the plan for Israeli withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank, which the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. government are demanding.
An appeal to the people might overcome the dissent of militant small parties in his coalition, which threatens to bring down his government. Israel's constitution has no place for such a referendum, and this one would be nonbinding. A decisive hawkish gesture, such as enlarging the map of Jerusalem, could be the compensation designed to make this withdrawal palatable to the militants.
If so, the Netanyahu government should make that clear, soon. Unilaterally enlarging the boundaries of Jerusalem would only increase sympathy for the PLO and condemnation of Israel. This sentiment has already strengthened the ill-conceived move in the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian delegation from an observer to something closer to membership. It is time for the Netanyahu government's peace gesture to the Palestinians to be made. Without it, such hostile unilateral moves as redrawing the map of Jerusalem look worse and worse.
Pub Date: 6/26/98