Those who are watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East should pay close attention to Japanese Foreign Minister Sousuke Uno's visit to Israel.

Uno is the first cabinet-level official to visit the country since Japan and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1952.Those on both sides of the political battlelines in the Middle East are viewing it as a move to expand Japan's power in the war-torn region - and possibly to become a regional peacemaker.

Although anyone who could weave peace through the war-torn region should be encouraged, watchers must remain a little skeptical that Japan can successfully fill the role of impartial peacemaker.

Japan maintained a neutral position in the Middle East until the 1973 Israeli-Arab war, but since that time it has announced support of the Arab world, which supplies Japan with most of the oil it uses.

Japan has called for the removal of the Israelis from the area seized in 1967, as well as self-determination for the Palestinians and inclusion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in any peace talks.

Breaking with past attitudes, though, the Japanese government has accepted Israel as an independent nation with a right to exist.

The Palestinians have asked Japan to pressure the United States to engage in peace talks with the PLO, which Japan has recognized as the official voice of the Palestinians. They have also asked Japan to use its economic clout to shape the direction of negotiations.

Whether Japan can be of help in the Middle East remains to be seen. But its pro-Arab position may weaken any influence it might have.