Arafat and Sharon: Both Must Yield

The report of the international committee chaired by former Senator George J. Mitchell provides an opportunity for both Palestinians and Israelis to come to their senses, stop shooting, and return to talks. Eight months of violence have produced hundreds of deaths with no apparent gain on either side. The report calls for an immediate ceasefire. Palestinians are to crack down hard on terrorists, while Israel is to freeze settlements that are gobbling up more Palestinian land.

That could provide a pause during which both sides can reappraise their strategies. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ought to at least try to cool things down and see if the international community and the U.S. can help lift the burden of Israeli occupation. If the Mitchell process gains momentum, Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would be well-advised to try to reach a modus vivendi with Arafat.

Of course, shifting from fighting to talks will be no easy feat. Arafat thinks he needs something to show his people in return for calm. And the Israeli public is understandably disillusioned with Arafat. They think he was offered an attractive peace package at Camp David last summer but chose war instead. Certainly, the talks begun at Camp David haven't been given a fair chance. Arafat was foolish to walk away rather than try to improve what he thought was an inadequate offer from the then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

That encouraged Israelis to elect Sharon, a much tougher adversary, in February. Since then, both sides have boxed themselves into difficult corners. Only statesmanlike concessions can end the deadlock. There is no rational alternative.

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