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Mideast Hope, Caution

Mideast leaders broke a logjam last week and got the peace process moving again. But their work has only begun.

The major unanswered questions:

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* Has the agreement forged at the Wye Plantation outside Washington restored enough trust to neutralize the extremists' veto?

* Will the momentum provided by this long-delayed interim agreement take the parties into and through even more difficult final-status talks about Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood, water, and other issues?

Provisions agreed to at Wye should make it harder for extremist violence to again derail the process. Bolstered security arrangements address Israel's concern about terrorist attacks by Hamas fanatics. This should provide Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some needed political cover as right-wing elements in his coalition, representing settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, take aim at the agreement.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gets full or partial control over added West Bank land, plus the release of 750 prisoners held by Israel. That may help him rally a highly skeptical Palestinian public around the peace accords. The promised crackdown on Hamas, however, could severely test the depth of his political support.

On hand to guarantee follow-through on the security provisions will be Washington's CIA. This leap by the US intelligence agency into the public spotlight carries risks: political entanglement and physical danger to agents. It also attests the depth of US involvement.

That involvement must continue. President Clinton's extraordinary efforts at Wye will require encores in coming months. The same is probably true for Jordan's King Hussein, whose presence at Wye, despite illness, demonstrated again his unique ability to strike a note of pragmatic vision amid regional tensions.

Of primary importance, however, is the prospect - still very tentative - of a new working relationship between Arafat and Netanyahu. In particular, we urge the Israeli leader to adhere to and develop the moderate, pro-peace line he emerged with from Wye.

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The Oslo peace process is supposed to end next May. Wye is a significant beginning on the much larger tasks ahead.

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