The Palestinian Time Machine

By GERALD M. STEINBERG

(April 23) - In addition to all of their other achievements, the Palestinian leadership has now developed a time machine. As the rest of the world moves towards Y2K (the year 2000), the Palestinians are hurtling straight backwards at full speed towards 1947.

The purpose of this interesting invention is no less than rewriting history - particularly of United Nations Resolution 181, which was approved on November 27, 1947. This document called for the partition of the remainder of British Mandated Palestine (after the removal of Trans-Jordan) into separate Jewish and Arab states, and the "internationalization" (i.e., Europeanization) of Jerusalem.

In response, the Jews accepted partition and the Arab leaders did not, choosing to go to war in order to prevent the creation of a Jewish state.

Fifty-two years and many wars later, the Palestinians have decided, after all, that they like this resolution. In retrospect, the decision to reject its terms and conditions was a foolish mistake. The borders specified would have given them far more land than they can hope to get in any current agreement. Israel would be reduced to a thin strip, without the Negev or Galilee.

In the fantasy-world of the UN, where even time warps are possible, they can probably get some backing for this contortion of international law, at least in terms of placing Israel on the defensive.

And the European Union recently used the 1947 resolution to justify its policy on treating Jerusalem as a "corpus separatum," even though many of the officials who endorsed this policy know very little about the resolution itself.

However, like the early computers, there are a few bugs in the Palestinian time machine. It has not yet succeeded in erasing the evidence of the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948, the later wars, and the long history of terrorism.

In the 1948 war alone, 6,000 Israelis were killed (one percent of the population), and thousands more have been killed over the following five decades. In contrast to old UN resolutions, these people cannot be resurrected - their lives as well as the many more Arab lives lost in warfare cannot be restored.

While trying to turn the clock back to 1947, the Palestinians confront a dilemma that even Steven Spielberg cannot resolve. They only want a partial trip "back to the future," rolling back Israeli successes, while leaving the Arab policies and crimes buried in the vaults of history.

When the events of 1947-8 are revisited, some people might remember that the Arab rejection of the UN partition vote, the subsequent invasion, and the destruction of Jewish Jerusalem were the first blatant breaches of the UN Charter. By violating the UN's ban on the use of force except in self-defense, the Arabs have a major share of the responsibility for the steady decline in the role of the UN and of international law. This is a heavy burden to carry, even with a time machine.

Beyond the specifics, the Arab campaign raises the important question of how to punish nations that wage wars of aggression and are responsible for violations of basic rules of international behavior. In 1991, the UN imposed stiff sanctions and penalties on Iraq for invading Kuwait and violating Iraq's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

UN Security Council Resolution 687 is still in force, eight years later, and Saddam Hussein is still trying to evade the price of his actions.

If the Palestinian time machine proves successful, it could become popular throughout the world. Saddam could erase records of his invasion of Kuwait, and then blame the US and the rest of the coalition for attacking Iraq without cause. (If he gets a discount for two applications, he might also erase the record of the invasion of Iran, which also turned into a disaster for Iraq.)

Similarly, Slobodan Milosovic can use the machine to revise the history of the Rambouillet negotiations, in which the Kosovar leaders agreed to a compromise, but Serbia decided to try its luck with NATO, and lost (or so it would appear).

Following the Palestinian example, Milosovic could erase the records of the Serbian attacks on Kosovo, blame NATO for the bombing of Belgrade and other cities, and demand a return to the status quo ante, with control of Kosovo.

Of course, in each of these cases, the victims of aggression will not be reborn and the nightmares will remain. This time machine only works in the shallow waters of propaganda. With all the propaganda assets at their disposal, the Palestinians cannot reverse the fact that the Arab invasion of 1948 made Resolution 181 null and void. Iraq has not escaped the moral responsibility for its errors, and long after the current war in Serbia and Kosovo ends, Slobodan Milosovic will face the costs of violating basic legal and humanitarian codes of conduct.

For the Palestinians, this is yet another in a series of cynical public relations exercises that are used to avoid their responsibilities. Instead of tinkering with time machines and rewriting history, Yasser Arafat and his associates would be better off making sure that this time, they do not miss the realities of Israel.

©The Jerusalem Post 1999


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