UN's miss on Mideast

The latest resolution passed by the UN General Assembly on the Middle East is important more for what it says about today's political climate that for any real impact it will have on the peace process. It calls for Israel to begin unconditional withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories by November 15 and, like a previous resolution, for the formation of a Palestian state. No one expects this to happen and the General Assembly has no means to enforce compliance.

But adoption of the resolution does point up the growing split between the US and its West European allies over Middle East policy. Washington had hoped that its partners would join it in voting against the Arab-backed resolution. Despite US appeals for a common position, however, the nine members of the European Community abstained. This represents a decided shift from previous assembly sessions at which most of the West Europeans voted against even milder calls for Palestinian rights. Once again, therefore, the Carter leadership has faltered.

Indeed what Middle East observers see as most significant about the UN action is the relative ease with which resolutions of this kind now receive widespread backing in the international community. This seems to reflect two things. One, the growing susceptibility of the West Europeans and others to the power which the Arab states wield because of oil and money. And, two, the mounting frustration over the intransigence of the Begin government and disenchantment with the Camp David peace process. By voting for the resolution -- or abstaining -- nations thus signalled their opposition to Israel's policies.

The United States, of course, has also been outspokenly critical of Prime Minister Begin's actions. But the UN resolution was so one-sided and so deficient that the US had no choice but to oppose it. It does not, for instance , make specific mention of UN Resolution 242, which is accepted by Israel and which has served as the basic framework for negotiations. This key Security Council resolution provides that every state in the area (including Israel) shall exist behind "secure and recognized" boundaries. The General Assembly measure provides no guarantee of Israel's right to exist. Moreover, it calls for withdrawal from every square inch of Arab land seized since June, 1967, whereas 242 is carefully worded to permit some modification of borders in the interests of Israel's security.

There is the question, too, of whether calling for establishment of an independent Palestinian state is the best means of dealing with the Palestinian issue. Some feel it could slow down the diplomatic movement in the direction of a more feasible alternative, such as some form of confederation of the West Bank with Jordan. The Camp David accord itself is premised on the agreed-upon view that there should be a transition period of Palestinian self-government at the end of which the final status of the disputed territories would be determined. In any case, no final solution will be possible unless the parties sit down to negotiate and the General Asssembly resolution is meaningless in that respect. It does not even call for negotiations.

Howeve, Israel would make a mistake in not taking note of the increasing world approbation of Palestian goals. It is the Begin government's provocative actions ever since the Camp David agreements were signed -- the planting of settlements in the occupied lands and, now, the effort to confirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- which have reduced Israel's credibility and led to the vote taken at the UN this week. The more stubborn Israel's policies become, the more certain it can be of its own growing isolation -- and of moutning world support for the palestinians.

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