Israel's Deportees

January 29, 1993

The Supreme Court of Israel dealt the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a cruel blow in affirming its right to deport 415 Palestinians, 396 of whom languish in no man's land on the Lebanese border. The deportation has brought Israel international opprobrium. It has displayed Israel as outsmarted by Syria's dictator, Hafez el Assad, who insured that the men could not enter Lebanon. It has probably strengthened rather than weakened Hamas, the fundamentalist extremist group that Israel wants to weaken.

There is a good deal of hypocrisy in the outrage against Israel on this matter. Arab states repress Hamas, too. The PLO, which denounces Israel's Supreme Court, is the intended beneficiary of Israel's crackdown on its chief rival. The Arab states pretend to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, which means they should not recognize Hamas.

Nonetheless, dumping people without food, medicine or shelter at a barren borderland is inhumane. Not as inhumane as executing, torturing or imprisoning them, which some Arab governments are wont to do with dissidents, but well beneath standards of decency.

The expulsions followed the terrorist murders of five Israelis in two weeks, attributed to Hamas. The deportees were not tried. Any evidence against them was not made public. Israel says it has broken a dangerous illicit organization that includes a terrorist arm, but the outside world has only Israel's word.

Their families say these men are hard-working providers, of whose support they are now deprived. A high proportion are intellectuals, professionals or otherwise well educated.

Israel ought to comply with the United Nations Security Council resolution of Dec. 18 demanding the repatriation of these man, and knows it. The Rabin government appeared to want to be ordered by its high court to take them back, so that it would not be seen as caving in to the U.N.

Now the Clinton administration, which does not have its whole foreign policy team in place, has work cut out. On the one hand, it must influence Israel to comply with Security Council resolutions. On the other, it must try to avoid without veto any U.N. sanctions against Israel for failure to comply.

What Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the PLO and others with a stake in a Middle East settlement must accept is that they are the losers if this incident becomes the reason that peace negotiations break down. The only winners would be the 396 extremists, including any terrorists among them, who are gleefully shivering in their tent camp in southern Lebanon. Why would Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the PLO, the U.S. or the European powers at the U.N. want to make them the winners?

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