U.N. as Obstacle to Peace

September 24, 1991

In calling upon the United Nations General Assembly, yesterday, to repeal its "Zionism is racism" resolution of 1975, President Bush made peace in the Middle East everyone's responsibility. U.N. members are not to sit back and tut-tut about the behavior of the few key players. They have their own part to play. Should they refuse to do it, any larger failure would be in part their fault.

It was the height of Third World confrontationism when the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 branding Zionism -- the founding idea of Israel -- a "form of racism" and a threat to peace. The resolution was bombast with no practical effect. But it was untrue: Israel's nationalism is neither more nor less racist than all other nationalisms. The resolution was also devilish: Not only because the Jews who founded Israel had been victim and not perpetrator of racism aimed at their extermination, but because if the resolution was true, Israel had no legitimate basis to exist and peace with Israel would be wrong.

As President Bush expounded yesterday, while facing 166 national delegations under the gaze of a Saudi Arabian president of the General Assembly in flowing robes: "To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations. This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel's right to exist. By repealing this resolution unconditionally, the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace."

Signs are that a meaningful attempt at a peace conference between Israel and neighbors that never accepted its existence is about to start. The obstacles to that venture's success are awesome. But Mr. Bush's challenge forces the General Assembly to decide whether to remain one of those obstacles or become a pressure for peace by pressing Israel and Arab states to make substantive concessions necessary for peace.

It would be wrong to dismiss the Bush challenge as mere symbolism. It would be wrong to dismiss it as cynical politics designed to mollify Israel and segments of American Jewish opinion alienated by the Bush administration's proposed 120-day moratorium on $10 billion loan guarantees for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel. Those who took offense at the proposed moratorium will continue to do so until it ends. Mr. Bush's demand for repeal of the resolution is not even a new U.S. policy, but a pre-existing sentiment made meaningful by the chance of a peace conference.

Mr. Bush is proceeding as if a lasting Middle East peace were not pie in the sky but a real possibility. In doing so, he challenges others to act in concert or admit obstructionism. That includes the world, as represented by the United Nations General Assembly.

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