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A Full-Flowering Peace Is Starting to Bud : Middle East: The Clinton Administration has a good eye for the steps that can bring Israel and the Arab states together.

<i> George McGovern, former senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, is president of the Middle East Policy Council, a nonprofit public-interest interest group in Washington. </i>

The Clinton Administration has taken some knocks for its handling of foreign policy in Haiti, Bosnia and North Korea. But it is on the road to success in the Middle East.

In its support of the Israeli-PLO agreement for Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho and in bringing Jordan’s King Hussein and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin together for their public pledge to make peace, the Administration has taken important steps in bolstering moderates and undercutting extremists.

To further blunt the resentment that kindles extremism and violence, our policy must be to promote peace, economic development and political participation in the region.

It is important to understand that when people are poor and powerless, they may turn to extremism and violence to change their circumstances. This is true whether we are talking about the Gaza Strip, southern Lebanon or the South Bronx. Extremism is not an inherent feature of Islam. It grows out of suffering. So in confronting the threat of extremist Islamic movements or extremist secular movements, we should alleviate the root causes of their extremism: poverty, corruption and repression.

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The Clinton Administration has recognized this and should be especially commended for pledging $500 million over five years to build a Palestinian self-governing body and rehabilitate the devastated Palestinian economy. Careful spending of these funds will be key to the success of Palestinian self-rule, as will democratic elections.

The Administration has also worked wisely to assure neighboring Arab governments that we are committed to a comprehensive peace that includes them. In particular, it is engaged in detailed discussions meant to build on Israel’s willingness to withdraw gradually from the Golan Heights, Syria’s willingness to normalize relations gradually, and the interest of both parties in international, including American, security guarantees.

Success in mediating land-for-peace agreements between Israel and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon as well as a final agreement that extends Palestinian self-rule throughout most of the West Bank will further undercut extremists. Already, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is splitting between those who are willing to accept the interim agreement with Israel and those who still reject it.

Even the terrorist attacks against Jewish offices in Buenos Aires and London appear to be an extension of the still unresolved conflict between Israel and the Iranian-backed Party of God (Hezbollah) in Lebanon. The attacks are evidently the promised retaliation for a recent Israeli attack on a Hezbollah base and the kidnaping of a Hezbollah leader.

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Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon and from Syria’s Golan Heights in return for secure peace agreements will diminish Hezbollah’s grievances and end Syria’s rationale for tolerating guerrilla operations from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah and other extremist movements. This will reduce, but not eliminate, the opportunities for factions in Iran to support attacks against Israel. We will make it harder for Iranian extremists to fish in troubled waters by doing something to calm the waters. This is an integral part of an effort to contain Iran’s extremist elements.

Arab-Israeli peace will bring about the economic growth and prosperity that has been blocked by decades of war and civil strife. It will finally permit the removal of needless barriers to trade and investment, the sharing of water resources and the reduction of military spending. Israel and most of its Arab neighbors will benefit from these developments.

These developments will in turn lead to more open political systems in the Arab world. The political inclusion practiced in Jordan, where King Hussein has opened the Parliament to moderate Islamist candidates, will survive and be an attractive model. Elections in Lebanon and in Israel are likely to be won by moderates. Authoritarian military leaders will no longer be able to justify their rule by pointing to an Israeli threat. In time, economic intercourse and liberalization will create movement toward political liberalization even in Syria.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, dialogue and cooperation with Islamist moderates--and foreign economic aid--may be the only chance Algeria’s secular government has to undercut surging Islamic extremists. But it may be too late there. Meanwhile, Egypt’s secular government should take care not to turn its drive against Islamist militants into a drive against Islamist moderates. Algeria shows that repression does not work; it makes people more resentful and dedicated to revenge.

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Hardship and repression have bred extremism in the Middle East. During the Cold War, a fear that the Soviets were behind unrest in the Third World made it hard for many to see or sympathize with this. Now, a pervasive misunderstanding of Islam makes it hard to see. But Clinton Administration officials see it and know that they have to help relieve these conditions to pave the way for moderation.


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