ISRAEL's decision to deport nine Palestinians involved in past disturbances in the occupied territories would be easier to accept if it had a basis in international law or would really improve Israel's security. It succeeds in neither context. The planned deportations are a bow to Israel's far-right voters. Some would like to expel all non-Israelis from the territories. No such wholesale expulsion is likely. But the deportation rationale Israel offers might be extended to justify the more extreme course.
Invoking a 1945 British emergency regulation, Israel reasons that the occupied territories imply the existence of a sovereign nation elsewhere to which any undesirables, under the law of war, can be exported. No Arab nation accepts that view.
If the Palestinians in question are criminals or traitors, as Israel wants to label them, is exile or expulsion the proper remedy? In its concern for security, Israel appears bent on clearing the occupied territories of organizers and dissidents. International law makes no allowance for such action. Hence the strong reminders from much of the rest of the world, underscored by the UN Security Council vote this week, that the 1949 Geneva Convention specifically bars the deportation of civilians from occupied zones. Israel insists that each deportee can appeal the order, but no appeals of past expulsion orders have been successful.
The issue is not Israel's interest in maintaining law and order in the territories. The United States and others have sharply criticized the unnecessarily harsh measures used to keep the peace. The move to deport troublesome Palestinians is not only illegal, it is unlikely to help much in quelling unrest - any more so than sending Martin Luther King Jr. north would have quelled the civil rights protests of the 1960s. It might have changed the tone but not the basis or thrust of the unrest.
If Israel's security is really at issue, no substitute exists for dealing directly with the future of the Palestinians and the territories. Israel would do well to search out responsible Palestinian leaders - and there are many - to negotiate the basis for a Palestinian state and lift the territories' occupied status. This could be done with due regard for Israeli security needs: States can exist without armies. A nation may agree with its neighbor to an open border.
The world censure of Israel may heighten Israel's sense of nationalism, some say. In deciding to go ahead with the deportation of Palestinian ringleaders, despite world criticism and questionable legality, Israel shows its independence. But the accompanying message of outside world concern for Israel's own future must not be ignored. Israel's interests require better answers - answers better grounded in international law.