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Two-State Solution Crumbles Under West Bank Construction

In the clear air of a Sabbath in Jerusalem, the hopes of two years ago that peace might be brought to this troubled land seem near destruction.

Remember September 1993, when President Clinton persuaded a reluctant Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Yasser Arafat? Back then, people in the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps hoped that the United States might throw its weight behind an outcome in which the two peoples rooted west of the River Jordan could live together with mutual respect, cooperation, and prosperity.

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But now it's summer 1995, and on all days other than the Sabbath, Israeli construction crews are working overtime to dash any such hopes. Vast networks of ethnically dictated roads and entire new Jews-only housing projects are being slapped onto the West Bank's ancient hills.

This construction will break the West Bank's Palestinian community into a string of tiny, easily dominated cantons. So, too, will the Israeli government's intractability in negotiations over troop withdrawals for an ''interim'' period that threatens to stretch into eternity.

The old government in South Africa had a name for such cantons: ''bantustans.''

The trouncing of justice the African bantustans embodied led all major governments, including our own, to criticize and oppose the government that created them. And over time, the arguments of Western governments that such human dumping-grounds could never be stable, and could never assure the security of white (let alone black) South Africans, came to be accepted by nearly all that country's people.

Now, by contrast, the US government voices zero criticism of - indeed, gives unprecedented support to - an Israel busy creating Palestinian bantustans that, like their African precursors, look set to be denied the basics for development.

Take water. Ever since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel has imposed a tight cap on the indigenous population's access to this vital resource. Meanwhile - and in total violation of the Geneva Conventions - it started pumping water out of the West Bank for its own people's use. Now, the 1.4 million West Bank Palestinians are left with less than 20 percent of the water that is taken annually from their aquifers, and the Rabin government is proposing only a tiny increase to that.

Or communications. The new network of roads will allow speedy transit between the Israeli settlements planted in the West Bank since 1967. It will also increase the Israeli Army's ability to cut Palestinian towns off from one another. The Army's long experience in imposing ''town closures'' - including the one that already cuts West Bankers off from their natural urban center, Jerusalem - has shown that it can, at whim, cut businesses off from suppliers, professionals from clients, children from schools. Normal development becomes impossible.

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But even if the Palestinians get to exercise no meaningful authority in the West Bank, might not Mr. Arafat's fledgling entity in Gaza still satisfy their long-held yearning for a national home? It is true that some things have improved in the Gaza Strip since Arafat arrived. He lifted the nightly lock-down that the Israelis maintained for six long years and secured a partial pullback of Israeli troops. But tiny Gaza, burdened with the needs of the 75 percent of its population who are pauperized refugees, cannot hope to succeed on its own. It needs the added pull of a healthy Palestinian economy in the West Bank, as well as considerably fewer Israeli restrictions, if it is to have a chance at even modest success.

From Jerusalem, the outlook for the Holy Land is filled with increasing despair - for the West Bank, for Gaza, for the deeply divided city of Jerusalem itself, and for that peace process once celebrated on the White House lawn. Too many deadlines have been scorned. Too much bitterness sown. Too many people on both sides killed. Too little vision shown or justice respected.

IT is sad to witness the crumbling of the ideal of a two-state solution west of the Jordan. Among Palestinians, there is reluctant talk of a new intifadah (uprising), and among Israelis confusion and disillusionment with Rabin. But one fact seems clear: Neither of these two tough-rooted peoples is about to leave the land that it loves. One day, they will have to find a stable way to live there together. How many more decades of suffering will it take until they produce leaders of true vision like Nelson Mandela or Frederik de Klerk?

And when, if ever, will the US start to play a helpful role, based on the understanding that peace requires a respect for human dignity and a strong element of justice?

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