Letter: Discouraging omens in the Middle East

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Israeli government's decision to freeze all building on the West Bank (report, 17 July), and Yitzhak Rabin's visit to Cairo, are valiant attempts to give a new impetus to the peace process.

However, peace does not depend just on Mr Rabin's goodwill - it also requires a new spirit of compromise in the Arab world. Unfortunately, the omens are discouraging. Notwithstanding the efforts of the Egyptian and Algerian governments, fundamentalism is spreading throughout Islam. It affects both the Shia and Sunni masses.

The recent assassination of an eminent Egyptian writer and the murder of Algeria's president, are merely the most publicised outrages of an incessant campaign of terror and intimidation. The number of Palestinians killed by the PLO and others during the intifada, vastly exceeds the casualties suffered by Israel during the same period. To make matters worse, recent statements by Yasser Arafat and Hizbollah leaders are full of frenzied extremism.

Mr Rabin's decision to be his own defence minister was based on his awareness that the peace process and the problems of Israel's security are interlinked.

He cannot disregard the fact that Syria received recently from North Korea and China long- range missiles. Nor can he overlook Saddam Hussein's frantic efforts to resupply his forces with the help of King Hussein, who allows the port of Aqaba to be used by the Iraqis to break the UN embargo. At the same time, Iran and Libya are sparing no efforts to develop nuclear armaments.

All these developments add urgency to the quest for peace, but this merely begs the question - peace on what terms? Unless the Palestinians and their Arab supporters understand the meaning of real compromise, a settlement will remain elusive.

Yours faithfully,

LIONEL BLOCH

London, W1

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