Leading article: Now Israel must help Mr Arafat to deliver peace

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The Independent Culture
THE DECISION to revoke clauses in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's charter, those denying Israel's right to exist, is some cause for celebration. But the semantics involved in getting to this stage, and the debate over the formal vote that was eventually taken, are another depressing reminder of the ground still to be made up in the Middle East peace process.

The clauses the Israelis objected to were indeed offensive. They called for the destruction of a whole nation, the only full democracy in the region, which has as much right to exist as every other state. They were an anachronistic throw-back to the bad old days of confrontation, a thorn in the side of a peace process which should make all sides feel more secure, not less.

Israel has every right to defend itself by bargaining with the release of prisoners, and yielding up of land, which it agreed to in the Wye accord just weeks ago. But there seems little doubt that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian National Council, at least, are sincere in renouncing the war of which their charter speaks. The Palestinians' legislative body, the Central Council, had already voted to do just that. The whole process, including the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake in Washington, has always involved an implicit acceptance of the reality of Israel.

This does not mean that explicit repeal means nothing. It is a welcome symbol to an anxious Israeli public, and demonstrates Mr Arafat's ability to shape Palestinian opinion as a whole. The benefits, however, will stop there.

Israelis' real fear - further terrorism on their own soil - will not be lifted. The PLO cannot deliver the end of terrorist violence; it is aimed as much at them and their compromises with the old enemy as it is at the Israelis. Ever since the Palestinian intifada began in 1988 Mr Arafat has exercised a diminishing authority over Palestinians. Now Israel seems to be doing all it can to speed that process.

Mr Netanyahu's ratcheting up of his demands on all and sundry is misguided. He is a man who can sense weakness, and exploit it; now, he perceives Mr Arafat to be ailing, both physically and politically, and is concerned only to make domestic political capital from this advantage. Mr Netanyahu lacks the feel for the historic compromise which would secure Israel's future, unlike an older generation of the Israeli right represented by Begin or Shamir.

His tactical adroitness is not matched by his sense of strategy. He has every right to insist that the Palestinian Authority do everything in its power to stamp out terrorism; but beyond a certain point, turning the screw further will weaken Mr Arafat, and his ability to deliver. That point has now been reached. The Palestinian recognition of Israel is welcome, even if hedged around with doubts; it is up to Mr Netanyahu to see that Israel responds.