Leading Article: Israel's peace is in Clinton's interests

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The Independent Online
THE NEXT few days are a defining moment for Bill Clinton's presidency. Forget Monica Lewinsky, and his term of office has been associated with remarkable economic prosperity, although that is due as much to what he has not done - not mucked up a working formula - as what he has.

His big chance comes with Israel. Mr Clinton has no more elections to fight. He has no further need of Democratic Party money-bags. Now is the time for him to consider his place in the history books and - for once - secure the breakthrough needed by treating Israel like any other foreign policy question. The deciding factor has to be the interests of the United States . And they require some kind of regional settlement in the Middle East, which depends on progress in negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian proto-state headed by Yasser Arafat. The only way forward now is Israeli concession, most immediately on the volume of West Bank land to be relinquished. The Netanyahu government won't move unless Washington pushes, and hard.

It is not a question of a president having to face down the pro-Israel lobby that has been so powerful in Congress and White House. It is a matter of the President of the United States equating his country's long-run interests with those of Israel at peace and arguing - to domestic audiences - that these interests are not represented by the stand now being taken by this prime minister, whose electoral mandate is after all so slim.

Israel's dependence on American goodwill remains axiomatic. The Netanyahu administration has budgets to make, a central banker to live with, exporters to keep sweet. Israeli politics are not a field of sweet reason, to be sure. But the more extreme the response of Israeli fundamentalists, the more President Clinton will be able to prove to Americans - including the Jewish community - just how alien Israeli zealotry has become.

He must make clear that threatening to cut off supplies serves no cause but Israel's own: there is no policy - Netanyahu certainly has not even begun to characterise one - that does not involve at some stage accommodation with and hence minimal trust in a Palestinian political entity with its own security responsibilities. If Israel has to be forced into it, Mr Clinton earns his stature.