31 March 2003
Israel Should Not Pay the Price for Iraq
Tony Blair's approach to Iraq is perhaps most admired because of the tremendous sense of conviction and justice motivating his position. For that reason, the British prime minister's repeated need to refer in the same breath as Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and especially the diplomatic "road map" for resolving this conflict, is perplexing.
For the present Iraqi conflict has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. It is true Iraq joined the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973. But the decision of the US-led coalition to use force comes from Iraq's repeated defiance of 16 of the most severe resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, adopted under chapter VII of the UN Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and security as well as acts of international aggression. Saddam Hussein's intransigence is derived from one motivation alone: his determination to retain weapons of mass destruction at all costs.
Jack Straw, Mr Blair's foreign secretary, has tried nonetheless to link Israel to the Iraq war, declaring recently that the west was acting hypocritically by not demanding the same measure of compliance with UN resolutions from Israel as it was from Iraq.
Mr Straw ought to have known that the main Security Council resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict were adopted under chapter VI of the UN Charter, which deals with "pacific resolution of disputes". In short, to implement Resolution 242, a British-drafted resolution from 1967 that has been the basis of the Arab-Israeli peace process, a negotiation between Israel and its neighbours is required.
And because in 1967 the UN specifically did not view Israel as an aggressor, but as a state that fought in self-defence, it was seen as being entitled to new "secure boundaries" rather than having to withdraw completely to the 1967 armistice lines, from which it was attacked. Yet Mr Straw appears to believe that comparing one of the world's worst aggressors to Israel is appropriate. Such expressions may help the British Foreign Office define an identity closer to that of Europe and different from Washington but they hardly strike anyone acquainted with recent Middle East history as conveying any sense of justice.
For during the 1990s, Israel attempted to implement Resolution 242 by means of the Oslo agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Israel took unprecedented risks for peace, terminating its military government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and establishing instead an armed Palestinian Authority under Yassir Arafat. As this experiment failed with Mr Arafat's refusal to reach peace with Ehud Barak, Israel's former prime minister, hundreds of innocent Israeli citizens lost their lives in suicide bomb attacks. In 2002, Israel retrieved documents in Arabic showing that Mr Arafat himself had authorised payment for the attacks. Nonetheless, Mr Straw feels compelled to speak of Israeli defiance of the UN in the same breath as Iraq.
Clearly this approach is not driven by the substance of the case but by its politics. Even Mr Blair has spoken of the need to be "even-handed" with the Arab world. It is as though the war on Iraq requires that the west now balance its military activities in an Arab state by taking a harder line on Israel. Israel is apparently expected to pay the diplomatic price of the Anglo-American campaign against Iraq.
Israel has no problem with a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once a new Palestinian leadership jettisons Mr Arafat's strategy of using terrorism. Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, accepted President George W. Bush's June 2002 vision of a two-state solution, provided Israel's rights to secure borders are guaranteed. Now a diplomatic "quartet" consisting of the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN has drafted a "road map" for implementing that vision.
The danger is that if the EU, Russia and the UN are chiefly driven by the postwar scramble for influence in the Middle East, the quartet will not respond to the true needs of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy but rather to their desire to outmanoeuvre the US. If these same three international actors failed adequately to confront Iraq's non-compliance with UN resolutions, why should Israel expect that they will provide any fair judgment of its security situation? If the quartet were to give the Palestinian leadership a passing grade in the war on terrorism, when it still has done nothing at all to root it out, the lives of Israeli citizens would again be put at risk.
Mr Blair's determination to link the Iraq war with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at virtually every US-UK summit meeting only increases Israeli concerns about the quartet. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, is already being praised even before there is any evidence that he will in fact stop terrorism against Israel. The best way to help the postwar peace process is to stop the diplomacy of linkage. It may answer some short-term political needs but it undermines the credibility of its advocates and their ability to play any role in an eventual Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
The writer served as Israel's ambassador to the UN in 1997-99 and is a former adviser to Ariel Sharon. He is the author of Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery, 2003)