Robert Zelnick's prescription for "An Alternative Policy for the Israelis" in the West Bank and Gaza {op-ed, Feb. 17} is one-sided and therefore unfair as well as counterproductive.

As much as Zelnick would like to wish it away, the heart of the problem remains Arab intransigence in refusing to accept, negotiate with and make peace with Israel. To project, as Zelnick does, that specific actions by Israel with regard to settlements, autonomy or economics would make the difference for peace is mind-boggling considering the seamless thread that runs through the history of Arab and Palestinian attitudes toward Israel: "Make gains at Israel's expense without ever doing the one thing Israel desires: negotiate for peace" is the constant Arab refrain.

During each period of history, there has been a different Arab excuse for not negotiating, but this has been constant.

Ironically, King Hussein of Jordan is closer today than ever to considering peace because of those Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza that Zelnick criticizes. Hussein's nightmare, repeatedly expressed, is that as time goes by and there is no peace, more Israelis will move into the area and Palestinians will move across the Jordan River. The result: the Hashemite kingdom, which already has a 65 percent Palestinian population, could become 80 percent Palestinian, and King Hussein, a non-Palestinian, would inevitably lose his throne. So he sees time running against him and for the first time is seriously looking at the peace option. Unfortunately, his fears of the Syrians and the PLO prevent him from going all the way, but movement is afoot.

This misunderstanding of the impact of settlements is but one example of Zelnick's failure to comprehend the total picture. On economic matters, the situation of the West Bank and Gaza residents has improved dramatically during the years of Israel's administration. Every category -- employment, agricultural production, standard of living -- reflects this marked improvement.

With regard to the legal situation, Israel has been in a bind. It could not apply Israeli law to the territories, since it would have been accused of unilateral annexation. It therefore maintained old Jordanian and British regulations, which do not provide the same privileges that the Jewish and Arab populations of Israel enjoy. In effect, Israel would be criticized either way -- if it granted the residents of the territories equality or if it kept the old law.

Most important, Zelnick makes no effort to enter the mind of the average Israeli. All he can see is "greed," "extremism," "opportunism." In fact, Israelis have been very restrained all these years. Think of how other nations would have acted in similar circumstances, being forced to fight war after war by foes who proclaim their desire to destroy you and then having won territory (the West Bank) to which you have special historical and ideological attachment. One can be sure that other nations would make their claim to the area in no uncertain terms. Israel, however, has always said it is ready to negotiate the future of the territories -- but only when there is an Arab peacemaker.

Israelis face difficult choices. In many ways all the options are bad ones. One thing is clear: they will only choose one when they have before them a man of peace like Anwar Sadat. Zelnick and others would do well to help to bring the day closer by encouraging Arab peacemakers instead of giving Arab leaders one more excuse to continue the 40-year war against Israel.

Alvin J. Steinberg is a member of the national executive committee of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Kenneth Jacobson is the league's director of Middle Eastern affairs.