WASHINGTON — SADDAM HUSSEIN was only half-serious when he linked Iraq's conquest of Kuwait to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Former President Jimmy Carter was wholly serious -- and wholly mistaken -- when he tried to make the case that the two matters ''have the same legal status.''
In an interview with CNN's Bernard Shaw on September 16, Mr. Carter made the weirdly mistaken assertion that, ''There have been six or eight unanimous [resolutions] by the United Nations Security Council calling for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, to restore the rights of the Palestinians, to come to an international conference -- these have the same legal status as the resolutions demanding that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait.''
But, Mr. Carter added, ''The world has not marshaled its efforts to make sure that these United Nations resolutions have been fulfilled.''
Mr. Carter's comments are important because the unanimous Security Council resolutions to which they refer do not exist. This fiction is dangerous to Israel and dangerous to an understanding of realities in the Middle East.
As of September 19, seven Security Council resolutions had been passed concerning Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The first condemned Iraq's invasion and called for an unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The remaining six resolutions built on this.
There is no parallel resolution concerning Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza. There is a resolution that calls for Israel's withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war, and also calls for Arab governments to end ''all states of belligerency'' against Israel and accept that ''every state in the area,'' including Israel, has ''a right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats and acts of force.''
This, of course, is Security Council Resolution 242, passed at the end of the 1967 war in which Israel successfully fended off an attack by all her Arab neighbors. Resolution 242 is the basis of the famous ''land for peace'' formula, which was reaffirmed in Resolution 338 passed after the next Arab war against Israel in 1973 and supplemented by a call for direct negotiations between the parties.
These resolutions were the basis of the 1978 Camp David Accords negotiated by Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar el Sadat with the help of then-President Carter. Those accords were a remarkable achievement because they were the only instance in which an Arab state (Egypt) was willing to negotiate with Israel or to make peace with the Jewish state. For the crime of making peace with Israel, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League and Anwar Sadat was murdered.
All other Arab states have ever since refused negotiation, peace or normal relations with Israel. Most have continued to call for the destruction of Israel, support terrorist attacks against Israel and have ever since refused to reaffirm Resolutions 242 and 338. (The exception was Lebanon in the brief period of Bashir Gemayel's presidency -- also terminated by assassination.)
How could Mr. Carter have imagined that there were ''six or eight unanimous Security Council resolutions?'' Or -- a more basic question -- how could he have seen the cases of Kuwait and the West Bank as parallel when Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait, a sovereign state, and Israel was itself invaded three times?
The answer, I think, is that a false version of the Arab-Israeli
conflict has been so often repeated that many people -- including some very high officials -- have come to feel that Israel is somehow guilty of aggression. It was, in fact, the victim of repeated wars of aggression.
They have also come to feel that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is as clearly ''illegal'' as Iraq's conquest of Kuwait, when Israel acted in self-defense against neighbors (including Jordan) who not only attacked but have been unwilling to make peace.
These mistakes have serious implications. They lead Mr. Carter and others who have come to believe them to feel that Israel is a lawbreaker and that the U.S. failure to ''pressure'' Israel is evidence of an American double standard.
This mythical version of the Arab-Israeli conflict ignores the reality of the hostility that has surrounded the state of Israel from its founding until today, and makes the Israeli government's concern with survival look like paranoia. It is not.
So far, the only relevance of the Gulf crisis to Arab-Israeli problems is to exacerbate them. Israel's qualitative edge in weapons is being eroded by the United States' proposed massive sales ($23 billion) to Saudi Arabia. Jordan has associated itself with the most radical, terrorist-minded Palestinians. PLO leaders -- together at last in Baghdad -- have made clearer than ever their commitment to violent politics. Saddam Hussein has threatened that, if attacked, he will retaliate against Israel.
If there is a double standard in this situation, it exists only in the JTC minds of those who, like Jimmy Carter, think there is a parallel between Iraqi aggression and Israeli defense.