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Yes, Prime Minister

When the showdown ended this week between Yasser Arafat and his prime minister-designate, Abu Mazen, it was Arafat who blinked. With the full weight of the international community coming down on him, he was forced to back down and accept Abu Mazen’s nominee for security chief, Mohammed Dahlan. Arafat appears to have given up his precious control of the Palestinian security apparatus. The way is now clear for a new Palestinian leadership that has, it may be hoped, the capability and the will to fight terrorism and turn toward peace.

It appears the ball is now back in Israel’s court, and the challenge is not inconsiderable. With Arafat finally shorn of authority, Israel is about to face a partner with whom it can talk business. That means the time has arrived for the “hard decisions” of which Prime Minister Sharon has spoken. In the first stage, Israel will face demands to stop construction in settlements, withdraw its troops from Palestinian cities and ease up on closures and restrictions. Further down the road will come discussions about dismantling settlements, territorial concessions and statehood — meaningful and viable — for the Palestinians.

Every step will face intense opposition from the Israeli right and its allies here. Most of the objections will be framed in pragmatic and moral-sounding terms, from the culpability of Palestinian gunmen to the Holocaust denial in Abu Mazen’s doctoral dissertation. But the objections will have one real objective: to stop the peace process and leave Israel in control of the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

Most Israelis will see through the double-talk. They want a deal with the Palestinians, not because the Palestinians deserve it but because the Israelis do. They want to get out of the territories and get back to building a Jewish state. Israel’s supporters in this country should keep that in mind and keep our eyes on the prize — genuine Israeli security — as we prepare to negotiate the rapids of the road map.

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