West Bank Link Is to Poland : Israel: It’s not Kuwait but the fate of former German territories that provides a meaningful parallel.

<i> Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, central body of Reform Judaism in the United States and Canada</i>

The circumstances surrounding Iraq’s unprovoked aggression against Kuwait and Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war are so different that any “linkage” between the two can hardly be argued.

A parallel does exist elsewhere on the globe to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but it is one that is not likely to offer much consolation to the Arab world. The territory in question, acquired (as the West Bank and Gaza were) in a war, consists of most of the pre-World War II Prussian provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia, including all of the territory east of the Oder and Niesse rivers. They are now firmly--and, one hopes permanently--in Polish hands.

Poland’s right to that territory--one-third of the nation’s land, including the cities of Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) and Poznan (formerly Posen)--was formalized in the treaty signed by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Polish government on the eve of German reunification.

Just as Israel came into possession of the West Bank in repelling aggression by Jordan in 1967 (after begging King Hussein not to invade), so did Poland acquire former German territories that it has held since Hitler lost them to advancing Soviet forces in 1945.


Israel’s right to hold on to the West Bank appears, in fact, to be legally stronger than Poland’s claim to the former German territories it now holds. Both Upper and Lower Silesia were Prussian provinces, an integral part of the Third Reich. But no one had established a lawful claim to the West Bank and Gaza. The 1949 truce that ended Israel’s war of independence established borders that reflected only military reality--the lines were drawn where the fighting stopped.

Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were in Jordanian hands and from 1949 to 1967, Jordan was the occupying power; only two countries (Britain and Pakistan) recognized Jordan’s claim to sovereignty. There was no Palestinian nationalist movement (and no intifada) to claim the territory for “Palestine.”

This is not to suggest that Israel keep all of the territories it won in 1967. For its own sake, and to rid itself of the burden of ruling over a hostile population, Israel should work out some way of relinquishing territory consistent with its security.

Unfortunately, given the apparent loyalty of most Palestinian Arabs to the PLO, the PLO’s propensity for violence and the legitimate doubts that have been raised about the PLO’s willingness to live in peace with Israel, I am not at all sure that a deal is possible. Nevertheless, Israel must make the effort--for the sake of peace and for the sake of a tomorrow free of the rancor, bitterness and hatred on both sides.