Mideast Peace Needs A Helping Hand

The election of Ehud Barak as Israel's Prime Minister does indeed promise a "new dawn" for millions of people across the Middle East. Those were the words used by the normally understated Barak during a joyous victory rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square following his astounding May 17 electoral victory over Benjamin Netanyahu.

Never has a moment for forging a lasting Arab-Israeli peace been so propitious. Back in 1992, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres revealed to a stunned world the secret Oslo talks with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, only a handful of Israelis would have accepted the notion of an independent Palestinian state. Now a large majority do. On the Arab side, a new realism is prevailing, exemplified by Yasser Arafat's recent move to postpone a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence. Throughout the Arab world, in fact, fresh winds of democracy and economic freedom are now providing the opportunity to transform some of the world's last bastions of centrally planned autocracy.

Peacemaking--especially in the Middle East--can be treacherous, however. The structural and political reforms just now taking place will be an essential underpinning of any final Arab-Israeli peace. That is why such reforms will need the kind of financial support given to the former East Bloc countries of Europe after the collapse of communism there. Both the U.S. and Europe should be prepared to give generously to help transform Mideast economies and societies.