President Bush and Secretary of State Baker have again unequivocally rejected any attempt to link or equate Iraq's aggression against Kuwait with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Politically and morally, they are on solid ground in doing so.
Only the most uninformed or the most cynical would suggest an equivalency between Iraq's attempted obliteration of Kuwait as a sovereign nation and the control Israel has exercised over the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 as a result of a defensive war. There is a lot to criticize in the Israeli government's policies and conduct on the West Bank, and issues of Palestinian rights and ultimate sovereignty remain problems to be addressed. But those have nothing to do with the compelling need to end Iraq's aggression.
President Saddam Hussein first suggested linkage on Aug. 12, a full 10 days after his tanks rolled into Kuwait and about a week after it became clear that most of the world was vehemently objecting to his aggression. Seeking to divide the opposition against him and rally Arab opinion to his side, he proclaimed that the road to "liberate" Jerusalem ran through Kuwait, suggesting--the logic here is less than compelling--that the conquest of another impeccably pro-Palestinian Arab state was a necessary first step to free the West Bank from Israeli control. Ever since, linkage, including the idea of a grand international conference to address all of the Middle East's contentious issues, has been a key and often-used component of Iraqi propaganda.
Tarik Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, was prepared to talk of little else at his press conference Wednesday night in Geneva. Among other things, he asked why the United States and its allies insist on the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions directed against Iraq, while failing to insist that Israel honor Resolution 242, which was enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Here is a short answer to his disingenuous question.
Israel went to war against Egypt in 1967 after President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered U.N. peacekeeping troops out of the Sinai Peninsula between the two countries and announced that he had closed the Gulf of Aqaba, an international waterway, to Israeli shipping. At the same time Israel sent word to Jordan, through the United Nations, that it hoped for a quiet border with its eastern neighbor. Jordanian--and Syrian--forces nonetheless attacked Israel. When the shooting ended, Israel was left in possession of the West Bank, which had been occupied by Jordan since 1948, and Syria's Golan Heights.
Resolution 242, enacted after the war, did not condemn Israel as an aggressor, as Resolution 660 and others have more recently condemned Iraq. Resolution 242 did call for application of two principles: "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and "termination of all . . . states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries . . . ."
Since then only one Arab state, Egypt, has acted upon Resolution 242. It negotiated peace with Israel and regained the territory it had lost. No other Arab country that considers itself at war with Israel, not Jordan or Syria or Iraq, has ever formally committed to accept Israel's sovereignty and independence or offered to negotiate peace. Indeed, in Geneva, Tarik Aziz again threatened Israel with attack if war with the international coalition erupts.
The Israel-Palestinian dispute plainly remains a matter of intense world concern and an area where renewed efforts to break the political logjam are urgently needed. But it is in no way linked to Iraq's attempt to destroy Kuwait, and no one should be fooled into thinking otherwise.