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A Close Shave for Arafat

Out of the smoldering fire of the recent Israeli-Palestinian war has come this roasted chestnut: The idea that peace requires more freedom and democracy for the Palestinian people.

What a refreshing diversion from provocations and retaliations that were leading nowhere fast!

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The idea, however, would only partially meet an Israeli demand to end Yasser Arafat's six-year rule over the Palestinian Authority. It would force him instead to face election, create an independent judiciary, and purge his bureaucracy of corrupt practices. (See story, page 7.)

These reforms would strengthen Palestinians' negotiating hand with Israel, give hope to those with shattered lives, possibly quell militant forces, and make a model for Arab nations that now enjoy few freedoms.

The United States and Europe, along with many Palestinian leaders, are pressuring Mr. Arafat to support reform and bring a fresh start to the stale process of creating a Palestinian state. With three-quarters of Palestinians now subsisting on $2 a day, he can hardly refuse. His usual delay tactics would only embolden those friendly to the Palestinian cause.

The US and Europe stand ready to buy peace by funding a clean, well-elected Palestinian Authority. That's their alternative to Israel's tactic of bludgeoning Palestinian cities and putting Arafat in a virtual dungeon during their April occupation.

The US bought peace between Israel and Egypt with nearly $6 billion a year in aid to both countries. Now if Arafat can only let Palestinians act like a democratic state, they'll be treated like one – and deserve investment and independence.