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HERE COMES THE NEW AND PEACEFUL ARAFAT

If Yasser Arafat had shown his face in Washington not all that long ago, he most probably would have been shot on sight as a potential assassin.

Now, the Palestinian leader many Americans once loved to hate is having coffee with the president in the Oval Office and doing power lunches with our top diplomats over at the State Department.It's almost a cliche by now, I know, but it's still remarkable to those of us who have followed Arafat's fortunes closely for more than 20 years and have known him more often as a ruthless terrorist leader than as a well-polished statesman.

The Arafat who met with President Clinton at the White House on Wednesday has, of course, been both these things and many more over the years. He has had to to survive, much less get to where he is today.

What's important now, though, is that Arafat has signed on unequivocally as a champion of making peace with his blood enemy, the state of Israel. He did it by outlasting or outsmarting his more hard-line rivals and getting the Palestine Liberation Organization to give up its once-sacred mission of pushing the Jews of Israel into the sea.