It would be a great tragedy if Israel were to be expelled from the United Nations. It would be tragic for the United Nations, for the United States, for Israel and for the Arab world. It would be a tragedy for world peace in the sense that it would be a further weakening of the United Nations and of the principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes.

Probably a case can be made that Israel has not lived up to the letter of all the U.N. resolutions or all the provisions of the U.N. Charter and the associated treaties, conventions and declarations. But if all the nations that from time to time have violated or ignored, in letter and spirit, the attempts of the United Nations to lead the world away from chaos were expelled from that body, it would be a lonely place. Nobody would remain in the General Assembly hall except the translators.

The United Nations was not designed to be, nor is it adequate to serve as, either a lawmaking body for the world or a court to judge the nations of the world. It is a forum for diplomacy, and true diplomacy is the art of dialogue in pursuit of common goals and the avoidance of war. Stonewalling your opponents is non-diplomacy, and an invitation to violence rather than a way to peace. Forcing Israel out of the United Nations would just be closing another channel of communications exactly at the time when all possible channels of communication should remain open.

Likewise, the stonewalling of the representatives of the Palestinian people by the United States and Israel is non-diplomacy, as is the refusal of Palestinians to recognize Israel's right to exist. When there are conflicts, it is better to talk -- to negotiate -- than to hurl accusations, and finally launch missiles.

The very related questions of the security of Israel and the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people remain at the top of the list of the world's problems, and as one of the major threats to the peace of the whole world. There is and will be no easy solution, but rather there will be -- there must be -- a step-by-step search by all parties involved for partial solutions, such as we begun at Camp David. The next step is not the defense of Camp David, or the use of its texts as proof for one side or the other of its own good faith or its opponent's bad faith. The next step is to broaden and widen the discussion in the search for those little concrete steps that are in the interest of all concerned.

For instance, the city of Jerusalem, which has been the site of so much of the world's greatest religious inspiration, has also been so often the source of so much heartache. In a symbolic sense, it is the site of the Wailing Wall of all humanity. From Jerusalem we hear the cry of a human race divided against itself, weeping for the innocent victims of those who refuse to talk and make peace. It is from Jerusalem that we learn so much about what it means to be human -- and the Jewish, Moslem and Christian traditions, at least. And it is in Jerusalem that we weep that the prophets and statesmen of these differing backgrounds cannot bring peace and justice among themselves.

It has been said that the problem of the Middle East shows both the humanity and the sense of humor of Jehovah. One story goes: "Jehovah actually promised the same piece of land to two peoples, and when they each complained about the promise to the other, Jehovah shrugged in an exasperated way and said, 'Work it out! Work it out!'"

That is the problem of our time, in and out of the United Nations. Through formal and informal diplomacy and dialogue, we should work it out, so that Moslem children and Jewish children can play hand-in-hand on the hills of Galilee and in the streets of Jerusalem.

Last week, despite calls for rejecting Israel's credentials for participation in the U.N. General Assembly, the Islamic Conference at the United Nations wisely chose not to press the issue, and thus avoided a tragic confrontation.

Israel's membership in the United Nations remains in the interest of the United Nations, the United States, Israel and the Arab nations. And the preservation and strengthening of mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of international conflict is vital to the whole world.