One of Israel's most venerated elder statesmen said Monday that if the United States could work out a blueprint for a compromise between Middle East factions, there could be peace in the region.

At a news conference at Salt Lake International Airport, Abba Eban, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, said that American sacrifice in the course of the gulf conflict transformed Israel and the Middle East.The full significance of the transformation has not been absorbed, he said.

Because of the unprecedented alliance between the United States and Arab nations in the Persian Gulf war, "rationally, this should be a good time for peacemaking," he said.

Though he wryly observed that rationality has played almost no part in the history of the Middle East, Eban said he could talk about a restrained optimism "because the alternatives are so depressing."

Key to any peace is the Palestinian question, he said. If the return of Israeli-occupied lands is not one of the elements of a Middle East peace plan, "there will not be any peace."

Israelis remain split on the issue, however, Eban said, and added that the current Israeli government opposes the principle of "territory for peace."

But if someone from outside the region were to present a practical blueprint for settling the Palestinian question while also ensuring Israeli security, Israelis would support the plan, he said.

That someone can only be the United States, he said, given the credibility the nation has gained since its stunning victory in the 100-day gulf war.

Besides serving two posts as Israeli ambassador, Eban, 76, was Israel's first prime minister. He also served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister. In 1988, he lost his post in the Knesset, Israel's 120-seat parliament, when his Labor Party changed its rules for choosing leaders.

Eban was in Salt Lake City for a visit with Ezra Taft Benson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as other officials and private citizens.

Eban, who worked with the church president when President Benson was U.S. secretary of agriculture during the Eisenhower administration, said Israel and Utah share kinship because both states were founded on biblical legacy.

The former ambassador is also promoting a public television documentary on Israel's history, which he was chosen to narrate because of his expertise on the region.