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The Dashing of Territorial Ambitions

The half century since the end of World War II has not dealt as kindly with nationalist territorial aspirations as the self-determination era after World War I.

The Communist ambition to rule a reunited Korea died in the Korean War. Saddam Hussein's drive for a greater Iraq was crushed in the Gulf war. Cyprus remains divided and contested. The Russians have had to content themselves with a shrinking domain. And the aim of a greater Serbia has been defeated.

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Now it is the Arabs' and Israelis' turn to face the reality that neither will rule alone in the stretch of territory along the Mediterranean. In the agreement on Hebron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in effect, gave up hope for a greater Israel. And the Arabs, after a series of wars starting in 1948, are coming to terms with the end of their hope for a greater Palestine - although the Palestinian Authority has yet to acknowledge this formally in its charter.

The significance of the Hebron agreement is not only that this is the last of seven West Bank cities to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, but also that Mr. Netanyahu has agreed to start turning over rural land that will link these cities together - part of something called a country. Free access between the West Bank and Gaza remains to be negotiated.

It took seven months since his election, but the Oslo peace process that Netanyahu campaigned against as a fraud is now his peace process. Because of the US's central role in bringing it about, it is also America's peace process. But, in Israel, the effects are likely to be profound.

The religious nationalists are fully aware that their dream of a Biblical Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is at stake. But they have not succeeded in defeating the Hebron agreement either in the Cabinet or in the Knesset (parliament).

Hopes for accommodation have been dashed before, only to be revived, but it appears majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians prize peace more than fulfillment of territorial ambitions. Netanyahu has cast his lot with the moderate majority, turning from the hard-line minority that helped bring him to power. Like others before him, he has concluded that there is no other way.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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