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Middle East strife

How ironic that a comment by Joseph C. Harsch, one of Israel's harshest critics, should be characterized as a pro-Israel ``canard'' -- particularly when this time Harsch is right on target [``Spying for Israel,'' Dec. 3]. Indeed, ``most Arab countries are technically at war with Israel'' -- all except Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with the Israelis in 1979. The war against Israel began one day after Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, when five Arab armies invaded it under an Arab League mandate rejecting a Jewish state in Palestine and demanding a ``unitary Palestinian state.''

At Arab insistence, the 1949 armistice agreements did not establish peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The agreements stated that the Armistice Demarcation Lines were ``not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary'' and did not ``prejudice the rights, claims, and positions'' of either party regarding the ``ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.''

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The Arab League consecrated this hard-line Arab position in Resolution 292 of April 1, 1950, which stipulated, ``No state of the Arab League may negotiate or actually conclude a separate peace'' with Israel; violators ``shall be considered to have withdrawn from the Arab League forthwith.''

It is a testimony to the Arab League's persistence in adhering to the state of war against Israel that Egypt was expelled from the league following its conclusion of the 1979 peace treaty and is still refused readmission. Raphael Danziger New York American Jewish Congress

In writing about United States commitments to Israel, Harsch notes that they were not in the form of a treaty, but ``presidential and lower level statements, agreements, and commitments that bind the individuals who make them'' but not their successors. He then states that ``only a formal treaty ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate is binding on subsequent governments.''

As an international lawyer, I differ with him about the significance of these agreements. Under international law, presidential agreements or executive agreements are as equally binding and enforceable as are those agreements labeled treaties and ratified by a two-thirds vote of the US Senate. This point of law is recognized by US courts.

The executive agreements between the US and the State of Israel have the same binding effect as would a formal treaty ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. Walter L. Jacobsen Keflavik, Iceland

[Mr. Harsch responds: Mr. Jacobsen overlooks one fact. What one president can do by executive order, another president can undo by another executive order. All US commitments to Israel are valid, unless or until nullified by executive action.]

Charles Waterman claims, ``In the past'' Israeli attacks against guerrillas in refugee camps ``would have been called `police actions' or `preemption' -- but not terrorism'' [``International finger-pointing blurs sources of terrorism'' Jan. 8].

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This ``past'' is not in my memory. When one targets densely populated refugee camps for indiscriminate violence, one kills men, women, and children of all ages. The use of a word like ``preemption'' is misleading at best.

The aspirations of the Palestinians for national dignity are not being fought through ``police actions.'' In fact, Israel's Army has been engaged on numerous occasions with Palestinians and other Arabs, conflicts engendered by a failure to deal equitably. Kiera Powers Merced, Calif.

Thank you for Alexander Wohl's cogent article on the ugly reality of anti-Semitic hate mail (``Monitoring the bigotry in mail,'' Jan. 14) and Philip Perlmutter's poignant essay on the depths of human cruelty (``No more Holocausts,'' Jan. 14). Justice and morality mean nothing to those who attempt to silence history by denying the Holocaust ever took place. The writers call proper attention to the fact that racists are insensible to the reproaches of conscience. Mr. Perlmutter, who acknowledges the Armenian genocide in his essay, recognizes that the problem is not just one of denying Jewish persecution -- but of refusing to remember the history of man's inhumanity to man. Mark Mamjian New York

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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