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Don't forget the Palestinians

A week from today Ambassador Sol Linowitz is scheduled to leave on a visit to several Mideast leaders as President Carter's special envoy to the region. The Israel-Egypt negotiations over Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza have reached an "appropriate point" for the Ambassador's presence, according to his office. But his mission is a timely reminder of the importance of progress in the talks to stabilizing the whole regional situation in which they have been overshadowed by Iran and Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Vance's remarks this week are worth quoting at some length:

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"It is clear that the solution of the Arab-Israeli dispute is a key issue that is necessary for the achievement of peace and stability in the region. Therefore, one of the most important matters that we and others have to devote our attention to is an effort to try and bring about a satisfactory resolution of the Palestinian problem. We must continue to pursue the autonomy talks and try to make progress in them by the target date, which the parties set for themselves, at the end of May."

This is a valuable new official US recognition of what should be borne in on Washington by attitudes in the Middle East: despite a diversion of Arab feelings against Moscow for invading Afghanistan, a burden remains on the United States for what appears to Arabs as a failure to do enough to restore Palestinian rights. Now that the US is seeking a framework for regional cooperation in the Middle East and South Asia, it will need to demonstrate continued zeal in the matter if it hopes to gain Arab support.

Mr. Linowitz no doubt will hear much of this when, in addition to meeting with the Egyptians and Israelis, he talks with Saudi Arabian, Moroccan, and Jordanian leaders, as he reportedly will do. A preview comes from the new Prime Minister of Jordan, Abdul Hamid Sharaf, who is no wild-eyed radical. He recently said that for his countrymen and other Arabs the Palestinian issue is "all pervasive"; unless Washington comprehends this fact and acts accordingly, it cannot expect to have its own security needs met in the region. He is reported to favor the sort of United Nations resolution supporting both Palestinian rights and Israel's right to exist that once was thought to have interested the US. This is one kind of step worth considering.

At the same time the US should spare no pains to encourage movement in the autonomy talks. Its friends the Saudis are under other Arabs' pressure to pressure the US to pressure Israel. They are no doubt understanding of President Carter's difficulties and preoccupations during an election year, not to mention the events abroad that have erupted recently. Yet continued Saudi patience will depend on a sense that America is not flagging in the effort toward a just settlement.

The criterion of success will not necessarily be everything signed and sealed by the spring deadline. Deadlines have been passed before in the peace process, with the eventual steps taken proving to have lasting results. Who would have thought a few years ago that Egypt would have its Sinai back and the leaders of Egypt and Israel would be meeting almost as a matter of routine?

Many of the lesser points to do with West Bank and Gaza transition are said to have been agreed on in the autonomy talks. It is to be hoped Mr. Linowitz can lend impetus toward resolution of larger matters.


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