From the safety of the Post editorial offices in Washington comes the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem that has eluded the rest of us for more than 20 years: the Israelis must reach agreement with representative Palestinians, who in turn must live in peace with Israel {"Bad to Bad," Dec. 31}.

All that remains to be filled in is the identity of the representative Palestinians who will agree to live in peace with Israel. In the past there have been notables from Arab communities in Israel, and we know what the radical Palestinians did to them. Then there was Anwar Sadat, and we saw what happened to him. Frequently The Post has hitched its confidence to King Hussein, but he knows what happens to well-meaning Arabs who deviate from the fold, and he has a long record of wiggling off the hook. Presumably The Post has now given up on him, as Margaret Thatcher did last year. Of course there is Yasser Arafat, but his PLO is still embarrassingly encumbered with pirates.

The editorial fails to take into account that it is not Israel alone that frustrates the ambitions of the Palestinians. It ignores that the Palestinians are pawns in a high-stakes game involving far broader aspirations of the radical Arabs. Only recently those nice moderate Saudis illustrated how the game is played, calling on the Iranians to join in war on Israel.

The Post should tell its readers who the Palestinians are who are willing and able to hold up their end of the peace process. It would be a great blessing to find some way to meet the understandable aspirations of the Palestinians. But don't ask us to pin our hopes on a formula that is unrelated to the facts of Middle East life.



Richard Cohen, in his column "No, Israel Has Not Lost Its Soul" {op-ed, Dec. 24}, tries to stave off comparisons between Israel and South Africa growing out of Israel's oppressive West Bank rule and the cycle of violence resulting from it. Mr. Cohen's argument seems to be that more people were killed in America's 1967 race riots than in the past weeks on the West Bank, and that this somehow excuses Israel's behavior.

Mr. Cohen's argument is wrong. While the chronic conditions of discrimination and poverty giving rise to the 1967 riots were bad enough, West Bank and Gaza Palestinians live under much worse conditions. Israel denies them the right to vote and to travel freely; under Israeli "security regulations" they can be arrested without charge and imprisoned without trial; they are ruled by a brutal secret police, the Shin Bet, whose methods of torture (or "physical pressure," as the Israelis call it) have recently been discovered by the press; their newspapers are heavily censored, and their lands are often seized without compensation. No American in this century has undergone such treatment. The Palestinians have been subjected to it for 20 years. This is not a case of a little American-style (and therefore excusable) "insensitivity," as Mr. Cohen implies; rather, it is the kind of systematic dehumanization of a subject people practiced by countries like South Africa.

But, Mr. Cohen says, all this unpleasantness is the fault of the Palestinians for not jumping at the chance of turning their homes and lands over to a group of Europeans in the 1948 Partition. However, the youths recently killed by the Israeli Army for the crime of throwing stones were not even alive at the time of the Partition. None of them was ever given a chance to accept or reject any proposed solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; none has ever known anything but a crushing military occupation made apparently permanent by Israel's refusal to negotiate an end to it even under the auspices of an international peace conference.

Mr. Cohen's column is one more attempt by American supporters of Israel to convince themselves that there is a principled distinction between South Africa's treatment of blacks and Israel's treatment of Palestinians. These attempts are exercises in intellectual dishonesty unworthy of anyone of Mr. Cohen's stature. Mr. Cohen must either reassess his attitude or admit that he believes human rights and human dignity are not for everyone.


Silver Spring