THE reaction to Secretary of State James Baker's Mideast speech this week - it was criticized by both Israeli and Arab leaders - proves how solid and evenhanded it was. He told both sides in the dispute over Palestinians in the occupied territories that they're going to have to do much more if a permanent solution is ever to be found, and he spoke in plain English. The specifics - exchanging land for peace as envisioned by United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, security for Israel, and Palestinian political rights - did not involve a shift in US policy.
But Washington's message to Israel in the past few months has been especially clear: Forget about annexation or any form of permanent control over the West Bank and Gaza, especially the ``unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel,'' as Mr. Baker so bluntly and so aptly put it. In the end, Israel will have to withdraw from the occupied territories, and that likely means knocking down Jewish settlements as well as pulling out troops.
The United States is now talking with the PLO; the implication is that Israel too will have to deal with representatives of the organization it so far refuses to recognize as legitimately representing Palestinians. That is the ``new political reality'' Baker refers to.
The old political reality for Israel's Arab neighbors (and regional troublemakers like Muammar Qaddafi) is that Israel is here to stay. Arab states have learned the hard way that they can't muscle Israel out of existence. And while the US may have become a more demanding ally, there's no way it will back away from its commitment to Israel's security - nor should it. It doesn't take a Zionist to want that continued US support, only a memory of the pogrom and the ghetto and the Holocaust.
Above all, as Baker said, both sides must ``reach out'' to the other, recognizing the rights to peace and political fulfillment that each holds equally.