Why Play Saddam's Game?

October 17, 1990

Israel is doing itself no good by refusing to cooperate with United Nations investigators into the police slaying of 21 Palestinian Moslems on the Temple Mount. Israel's obstinacy, based on its claim of sovereignty over all Jerusalem, is a bonanza for Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein.

It creates a public relations diversion from his butchery of Kuwait. It plays the Israel card to strain the alliance of the United States and Arab forces guarding Saudi Arabia. It transforms Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization in world eyes from self-isolated apologists for Iraq's oppression to, once more, champions of an underdog population.

Jerusalem's Mayor Teddy Kollek will cooperate. Too bad the national government will not. There may be members of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's cabinet who believe that the Temple Mount provocation was arranged at Iraq's behest (so far this is an assertion without evidence). But if so, it is strange they would so willingly play the role that such a scenario assigns to them.

The United Nations has little credibility in Israel. Israelis think it is institutionally biased against them. There is little possibility that Israelis would believe the finding of the three-member panel created by U.N. Security Council resolution.

Similarly, an Israeli fact-finding commission lacking subpoena power will have little credibility outside Israel or in it. An unofficial Israeli human rights group, B'tselem, has already released a report suggesting the deaths arose from a police panic, with individual officers firing automatic weapons at random for a sustained period. This, while accusatory, is far from the Arab hard-liners' conspiracy theory of a plot to suppress Palestinians while the world is preoccupied with Kuwait.

The U.N. panel, for its part, should look into the provocation as well as the police response. Just because Israelis consider it biased and one-sided is no reason for it to live up to that billing.

The Arab states that have mobilized against Iraq's aggression in Kuwait would be foolish to let this incident undermine their resolve. Israel's police, with the worst possible interpretation of their actions, did not do nearly the butchery that Iraqi troops are doing in Kuwait. Nor was Israel's land gain in response to the 1967 invasion by three Arab powers contrary to international law or comparable to Iraq's absorption of Kuwait.

Israel, provoked, is misbehaving. The proper linkage to its withdrawal from occupation is not Kuwait, but negotiation leading to recognition and peace by its neighbors. The reason Arab regimes should not play Saddam Hussein's game is that, if victorious, he will get them next. The reason dispossessed Arabs should not play his game is that he would as soon gas them as liberate them.

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