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One Baby Step Forward

2 minute read

THE SYRIANS PHYSICALLY ACCEPTED A DOCUMENT from the Israelis for the first time, and the Palestinians declined to say no, exactly, to an Israeli election proposal in the occupied territories. It didn’t seem like much of an achievement for the sixth round of Middle East peace talks, held last week in Washington, but by the standards of those labored negotiations, one had to call it progress.

Israel’s plan would allow Palestinians to choose new councils for their municipalities, which are now run either by Israeli-appointed locals or by officials who were last elected in 1976. But the Palestine Liberation Organization said municipal balloting should come only after elections for a Palestinian legislative body — perhaps because recent balloting has voted P.L.O. supporters out and Islamic fundamentalists in. Still, the Palestinians didn’t actually reject the proposition. There is considerable support at home for the local elections, and the delegates want to appear flexible.

+ Likewise, the Syrians were probably thinking of their image when they finally took possession of an Israeli paper, which detailed areas of concord and discord between the two parties. Until now, the Syrians have said they would deal seriously with Israel only after it agrees to withdraw from the disputed Golan Heights. Certainly, Damascus was responding to U.S. pressure when it announced that it was abolishing discriminatory travel restrictions on Syria’s 4,500 Jews.

The Israeli election offer was also politically motivated; but any points the ruling Likud Party, which faces June elections, scored with voters at home for its accommodating stand were offset by a scathing report from well- respected State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat. It charged Prime Minister Shamir’s administration with widespread mismanagement, singling out Housing Minister Ariel Sharon’s bailiwick as particularly plagued with malfeasance. Now the attorney general is considering whether to recommend an investigation of the ministry for possible criminal wrongdoings.

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