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Israel’s Not Striking Back Could Impress Arab Neighbors

January 31, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Although tenative about it, some Jewish and Muslim scholars say Israel’s refraining from hitting back at Iraq’s missile attacks might possibly help lessen long-time hostility of Arab neighbors in the future.

But some Arab diplomats say they doubt it and seem reluctant to consider it at this stage.

″Don’t push your question about appreciating it,″ said Saudi Arabia’s United Nations Ambassador Samir Shihabi when asked if Israel’s restraint to avoid upsetting the Arab-included coalition against Iraq was appreciated.

He said, ″It would have a negative effect if Israel got involved.″ But he declined to affirm the counterpart - that Israel’s staying out would have a positive effect on Arab attitudes toward the Jewish state.

However, considering the long, hardened antagonism of most Arab states toward Israel, some Muslim thinkers leave the possibilities open for long- range change, and some Jewish leaders are hopeful of it.

Concerning the usually scrappy Israel’s not striking back when struck repeatedly, Jewish biblical scholar Eugene Borowitz observed wryly:

″Israel is being very Christian. It’s turning the other cheek.″

Borowitz of New York’s Hebrew Union College, said he doubted ″Israel will get any credit for it from the Arabs. Mostly people in politics aren’t impressed by what you do, whether it’s good or bad, but only by what’s in their own interest.″

However, several others saw potentially mediating effects. Rabbi Joel Zaiman of Baltimore said he hoped Arab nations appreciate Israel’s restraint for the sake of the coalition. ″It’s an interesting possibility.″

Zaiman, president of the Synagogue Council of America, embracing all three Jewish branches, said that when the war’s over, ″there will be opportunities for settling any number of disputes, not just between Israel and Palestinians″ but with Arab governments.

Most Arab countries have been in a state of declared war against Israel since its establishment in 1948, except for Egypt, which signed a peace treaty in 1979 under which Israel gave up the Sinai peninsula.

Reform Rabbi Joseph Glaser of New York, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said Israel ″has tried over the years to get its Arab neighbors to end their war posture.″

He said part of the background motivation for Israel’s current restraint was good relations with other countries, and it might help in the long run. ″God only knows, Israel wants good relations with Arab nations.

″It’s the only way they can exist ultimately. There could be a great deal of territorial compromising, an enormous amount. All it takes is for Arab countries to say Israel can live in peace. All kinds of things could be done.″

He said Israel’s holding back from any retalitation to preserve the coalition, despite recurring Iraq missile attacks, is ″a gesture that is most meaningful. It’s a good test of what ultimate intentions are in the Arab world.″

Hisham Sharabi, professor of Arabic history and culture at Georgetown University in Washington, said there are ″distinct possibilities″ that Israel’s restraint might help ease attitudes of surrounding states.

″It could help enormously. The less violence Israel uses against any Arab country, the better the chances of moving the process to make peace. By the same token, if Israel hits back in a big way, it’s just going to get matters back to where they were or make them worse.″

He and other Muslims emphasized that Israel’s control over Palestinians in occupied areas was at the crux of the problem, and an international conference was needed to settle it, while Israel seeks direct talks with Arab countries.

Masoud Al-Fehaid, information officer for the Kuwait mission to the United Nations, said that for Israel to retaliate against Iraq would cause ″more chaos″ and difficulties.

As to whether Israel’s restraint would help in relations with Arab nations in the future, Al-Fehaid said ″it’s a hypothetical question and I’m not predicting. I’m not saying it would not help at all. It might and might not.″

He said many things connected with ″the outcome of the conflict in the gulf can’t be accounted at this stage. They might be looked on in the future, analyzed and reassessed.″

Rabbi Irwin Groner of Detroit, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, representing Conservative rabbis, said ″Israel’s primary motivation″ in not retalitating was for ″the sake of the coalition″ led by the United States.

That includes the Arab members of it, he added, and Israel’s not getting involved possibly might make for better future relations. ″Israel has always sought to establish peace with its Arab neighbors.

″We would hope that after the war in the gulf is concluded that Arab countries and Israel could establish relationships of shared concern and stability for the whole Middle East.

″It is only as that relationship is established that in mutual trust the issue of Palestinians can be dealt with. That is the key to a future peace settlement between Israel and Arab countries.″

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