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Critics Should Consider Real Issues Of Middle East Conflict

To make any progress toward peace in the Middle East, both sides must remain focused on fundamentals and avoid accusations which are either false or reveal only partial truths.

To encourage dialogue and understanding among outside observers who care passionately about the region, the same principle must hold. The letter by Rima Askalan G ["Israel Must Accept Equality in Peace Accord," Oct. 1] was a depressing reminder that many members of the MIT community may not agree with me.

With all the attention accorded to the tunnel which sparked the most recent round of violence, it should be obvious that the tunnel has already been open for several years, runs not under the Temple Mount but alongside it, and poses no threat to the structural integrity of the sites in the Al-Aqsa compound. The accusation that Israel "has no respect for non-Jewish holy and ancient places" is simply not true.

The real problem with the tunnel is that its new entrance opens up into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem - an area whose final status is still to be determined. Thus, any move that appears in any way to alter the status quo is interpreted as damaging to the other side.

By providing access to a Jewish tourist site from the Muslim Quarter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 was affirming his long-standing commitment to retaining Israeli sovereignty over the Old City. The Palestinian Authority heard the message loud and clear and responded as it saw fit, allowing the Palestinians to vent their rage at what they perceive has been a less than full Israeli commitment to the peace process.

In an eagerness to gain sympathy for one side, Askalan's letter failed to raise the real issues which impede progress towards peace. How will sovereignty in Jerusalem be divided between Palestinians and Israelis, if at all? When will Israel redeploy its troops in Hebron, and how? How can Palestinians resume working in Israel at the same time that Israelis are assured personal security?

These are the most pressing of the real questions. At the same time, they are the ones most difficult to answer. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I do believe that the answers can be found. And while I think that the Palestinians could eventually acquire statehood, it is going to take some time, both to ease the apprehensions of Israelis, and to ensure that a Palestinian state will succeed on its own.

In the meantime, I would just ask members of the MIT community - Jews, Arabs, and everyone else - to keep reminding themselves that there is another side to the issue. Then, perhaps, we could step away from insults and half-truths and move closer toward fruitful debate.