The gulf war has created a unique moment for Middle East peacemaking. What is not clear is how to go about it.

The Bush administration has finally accepted the central premise of the Shamir peace plan of May 1989: the two-track approach. Peace means peace not just between Israel and the Palestinians but also between Israel and the Arab states.The administration insists that both issues must be addressed simultaneously. But simultaneity in diplomacy is impossible. One track must go first. But which?

Well, what did the war change? The war did not change the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute became, if anything, more embittered as Israelis watched Palestinians standing on rooftops, cheering the Scuds and calling for Sad-dam to use chemical weapons.

What the war did change - what makes all this new peacemaking possible - is the balance of forces in the Arab world.

Simply put, Arab radicalism suffered a rout. Its military base, the million-man machine built by Saddam, is in ruins. Its irregular forces, the vaunted Palestinian terrorists, proved an empty threat. Its political leadership, from Saddam to Arafat, is discredited not only in the West but in the Arab world. Even its financial base is destroyed. The oil-rich gulf Arabs have cut off subsidies.

What is left of Arab radicalism? The Republic of Yemen, the wreckage that is Jordan, a few rent-a-mobs in Morocco. Not since the defeat of Nasser in 1967 has pan-Arabism been at a lower ebb.

In the past, the blackmail power - threats of destabilization, assassination - of pan-Arab and Palestinian radicals blocked any Arab states from moving toward peace. (Sadat defied the rule and paid with his life; the lesson was not lost on other Arab leaders.)

That blackmail power is, for now, gone. That is the one, stunning new reality of the postwar Middle East. It is that new reality that must be exploited.

How? The Arab states newly freed from radical blackmail must be prepared to tell Baker that they will respond to Israeli gestures to the Palestinians with real, concrete moves of their own toward Israel.

In practice this means that Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the smaller gulf states all saved by Desert Storm must be prepared to make peace on a set timetable. Each step would be triggered by an Israeli move toward the Palestinians.

Unless the Arab states take measures to increase Israeli security, Israel will have no incentive to jeopardize its security by making compromises on the West Bank.

What kind of compromises? Here we come to the other track, Israeli-Palestinian. The key element is recognition of the fact that only an interim solution is possible now. Anyone trying to force a land-for-peace settlement or some other kind of final solution will fail.

Peace will require trust and trust will require time. Time means an interim solution: a transitional period of Palestinian autonomy during which the Palestinians rule themselves and each side can test the other's intentions.

Afterward, negotiations begin for a final settlement of the status of the territories. That is the Camp David formula. The Israeli consensus will sustain a grant of Palestinian autonomy. Anything else is a bridge too far.

Which leaves Syria. Syria will require a track of its own. The issue in question is the Golan Heights. Most Israelis today simply do not believe that they could ever give up even a demilitarized Golan and get the kind of full peace from Syria that would justify such a huge security risk.

But if they could get such a peace, most Israelis would be prepared to give up the Golan.

In 1977, Moshe Dayan declared, "Better Israel should not have peace with Egypt and keep Sharm el-Sheikh (the crucial strategic base in southern Sinai) than give up Sharm el-Sheikh and have peace with Egypt."

A year later, Dayan gave up Sharm el-Sheikh-and all of Sinai - in return for peace with Egypt. Why? Because Sadat came to Jerusalem, demonstrating a willingness to revolutionize relations between Israel and Egypt.

He offered the kind of peace that Israel could accept: Not just grudging non-belligerency but a wholehearted commitment of the highest level of Egyptian government to ending for good the war with Israel.

If Assad offers less than Sadat, he will not recover any of the Golan. If he offers real peace, he will. The United States, as broker of the first real Arab-Israeli peace, should insist on no less this time around.

There is indeed a new landscape for peace in the Middle East. There are three tracks open. The idea that all that is needed to advance along the tracks is some bold concession by Israel delivered under pressure from Washington is mistaken.

It is based on a misreading of the new reality in the area. The new reality is a reordered Arab world. A genuine move on its part will elicit a genuine response from Israel. That is the only hope for a genuine peace.