Playing For Time in the Middle East

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WASHINGTON: When he visits the White House Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu can expect to get an earful on his government's proposed limited and conditional withdrawal from the West Bank. "Prospects for the meeting are pretty grim," says TIME State Department correspondent Dean Fischer. "All the U.S. can hope for is to stop the process going completely off the rails by keeping the two sides talking about certain practical areas, and wait for Netanyahu's government to collapse."

But will the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbors have the patience to wait out Netanyahu's demise? "Well, it's a very risky strategy," says Fischer. "Already the indications from Arafat are that the Intifada uprising could be revived if there's no progress in the peace process, and that would create a volatile situation throughout the region." The Palestinians have implored President Clinton to use some of Washington's power over Israel to force Netanyahu to go along with the peace process, but Clinton's record suggests he regards sweating Israel as an unacceptable domestic political risk. Which probably means the next round of the Mideast peace process will take place in the streets of the West Bank.