It's time for another major effort to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before it's too late. The Middle East has rarely been as dangerous as it is now. Palestinian-Israeli violence continues to escalate. Anger over American support for Israel threatens pro-American Arab regimes and is interfering with American efforts to defang Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Israel can't afford rising casualties and the permanent hostility of its mostly Muslim neighbors.
None other than Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah is trying to sell a peace plan that would offer the Israelis normal relations with their Arab neighbors in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied Arab lands. The U.S. and the Israelis ought to get behind Abdullah's offer. Because of Saudi Arabia's Islamic credentials, a deal that the kingdom blesses will be difficult for others to pick apart. Moreover, the surfacing of the plan is a sign that the risk-averse Saudis and other Arab governments realize that relations with Israel are too important to leave to the weak and weaselly Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. They ought to be encouraged to take increasing control of the dialogue with the Israelis.
The outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian deal have been apparent for decades. The Israelis will have to vacate most of the West Bank and Gaza as well as, eventually, the Golan Heights. All but a few Israeli settlements needed for security will have to go. A power-sharing agreement on Jerusalem must be negotiated.
For their part, Palestinians will have to renounce their dreams of returning to live in Israel and accept the nation as a legitimate part of the Mideast. That means ending the ferocious anti-Semitism propagated in schools and the media. It may take U.S. guarantees--and troops--to finalize any deal.
Letting the violence continue is the most dangerous of all available options. The fighting is already poisoning America's relations with its Arab allies. Significant progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front would make it easier to tackle other perils posed by the region. Religious fanaticism would be deprived of one its main sources of energy. And Saddam and other rogues would no longer be able to get much mileage out of posing as champions of the Palestinian cause.
The Middle East needs a thorough housecleaning--and putting out the fire between Israel and the Palestinians is the best way to start.