Jackson Diehl's story {Sept. 2} describes anger and dismay among Israelis at demonstrations by West Bank Palestinians in sympathy with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But one must ask: What alternative to Saddam Hussein have the Palestinians been given? Two years ago the Palestinians mapped out an eminently moderate political position: recognition of Israel's borders and a call for peace talks; at the same time, PLO official Abu Jihad warned the rank and file against the use of weapons in the intifada, and Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad began a campaign of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. The Israeli response was to assassinate Abu Jihad and deport Mr. Awad; Prime Minister Shamir vowed that Israel would not under any circumstances trade the West Bank for peace, and he has brought together a cabinet of individuals whose avowed goal is the expulsion of all the Palestinians.

The U.S. response to Palestinian initiatives was not much different. Congress has actually increased its level of funding to Israel despite shocking, blatant and continuing human rights violations, and overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel forever. (The United States had never before recognized Israel's claim to East Jerusalem.) The administration even vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have sent a U.N. observer team to the West Bank to monitor violence against Palestinians in the wake of a particularly brutal massacre.

In the meantime, the beatings and killings, gassings, house demolitions, expropriations and expulsions go on, day after day. The Palestinians are desperate. Is it surprising that any voice raised in support of their cause sounds good to them right now -- even a voice as cynical and self-serving as Saddam Hussein's? Having seen their moderate platform met with jeers and brute force, perhaps they now feel that moderation was mistaken.

Recent events suggest that moderation in the Middle East is a valuable commodity that should be nurtured rather than spurned. The United States should not play into the hands of radicals -- either Arab or Israeli -- by continuing to deny Palestinian moderates any political gains. As Secretary of State Baker has said, resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the key to peace in the Middle East. It has obviously now become more urgent than ever that we use that key. JAMIL NASIR Silver Spring