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A debate Thursday night demonstrated in microcosm why the snarly problems of the Middle East defy easy resolution.

Widely differing opinions were offered by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah; Ira Sharansky, professor of political science at Hebrew University, Jersalem; and Samih K. Farsoun, chairman of the department of sociology at American University and a native Palestinian.Owens, detained in Washington because of an impending vote on foreign aid that includes billions of dollars to Israel, participated via a live television connection. The debate was sponsored by the Wasatch Front International Education Consortium as part of a three-day seminar focusing on the challenges of conflict resolution in many world trouble spots.

Owens, who has met with Mideast leaders a half dozen times in the past 18 months, said the ideal solution, for which "a small window of opportunity" now exists, would be for Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization leaders to sit down and negotiate.

But since that appears unlikely, the second best option is for Palestinian elections, with oversight by the United States and the United Nations, and an agreement by Israel to keep at a reasonable distance - allowing the elections to proceed, Owens said.

The United States is likely to continue

supporting Israel as "our most reliable democratic ally in the Middle East. If they were not there, we would have to maintain a U.S. military presence in Israel."

In personal conversations with PLO leader Yassar Arafat, Owens said he felt the Arabs are ready for negotiations. Although Arafat's motives are likely not pure, he has realized he cannot "push the Israelis into the sea," an avowed Palestinian objective historically. Negotation and promises to end terrorism are grudging alternatives that appear the Arabs' only hope for a Palestinian state. Whether Arafat can control all the Arab factions is chancy, but he appears to have the support of approximately 85 percent.

Sharansky said he sees no chance for peace. Accommodation has been the consistent approach of modern Israel, and accommodation is likely to be the best that can be achieved in the present difficulty.

Israel will continue to rely on its renowned military prowess to protect its interests, Sharansky said. "When the wolf and the lion lie down together, we want to be the wolf." He said, however, that the standoff between the two peoples probably will not result in all-out war. Only 2 percent of Israel's population favors armed confrontation.

The many factures within both the Israeli and Palestinian ranks complicate any attempt to seek peace. Israel would be foolish to trust Arafat when other Arab factions could resist peace terms. Within its own ranks, Israel has never been able to develop clear leadership in any one party.

Annexation of the contested territories is not likely, he said. "We don't want our electorate diluted by a Palestinian majority." Allowing Arabs in the territories some rights of citizenship was one of "several inelegant decisions" the Israelis were forced to make.

Farsoun said the United States should not ask of the Palestinians what they are not asking of the Israelis. Many more Arabs have been killed in the present turmoil than Israelis. They have lost lands, homes and resources. Terrorism must cease on both sides, not just one.

"I share (Owens') optimism. There is a sense of urgency for a resolution. Conditions are deteriorating." The Palestinians have no more trust for the Israeli government than the Israelis have for Arafat. "The present leaders of the country are more immoderate than the PLO."

The United States should quit paying lip service to the notion of fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If they are sincere, they should invite Arafat and Israeli leaders to the United States for dialogue. The United States should take a more active role in getting the two sides to the negotiation table.