May 26, 1970 — Israeli Knesset, Jerusalem, Israel
At this opening of our parliamentary session, I wish to survey the security and political conjuncture. In recent months, and in the past weeks especially, the security situation has worsened seriously on the southern front in particular, and the harmful effect of that is felt on the other fronts also.
The main feature of this escalation and tension is an advanced and dangerous stage of Soviet involvement in Egypt, at the beck and call of Egyptian aggression and infractions of the cease-fire. There is no precedent for this involvement in the history of Soviet penetration into the Middle East, and it is encouraging Egypt in its plan to renew the war of attrition and so move further along the path of its vaulting ambition to vanquish Israel.
To understand the background, we must recall Nasser’s declared decision, in the spring of 1969, to abrogate the cease-fire and ignore the cease-fire lines. It is typical of Egyptian policy all along its war-mongering way. It reflects a basic doctrine–that Israel is an exception in the family of nations: the rules that civilized countries accept do not apply to Israel; an international obligation towards Israel is to be undertaken only if there is no other option, no possible alternative, and it may be renounced at the first chance. Routed on the battlefield, you acquiesce in international proposals and arrangements that enable you to rescue your regime. But should it appear that your military strength has been restored enough to let you attack, you may treat your undertaking or your signature as though it had never been. That was the end of Egypt’s cease-fire undertaking of 9 June 1967, entered into at the instance of the Security Council. That was the end of Egypt’s earlier regional and international undertaking on matters concerning Egypt and Israel. It is behaviour that illuminates the intentions and credibility of Cairo in all that governs its attitude to peace with Israel.
Egypt did not do otherwise in respect of its signature of the Armistice Agreement of 1949. In the eyes of its rulers, that was no more than a temporary device to save Egypt from total collapse after its abortive aggression and afford it a breathing-space to prepare for a new campaign. Within a few years, Egypt — characteristically disavowing its international pledges — had flouted the Security Council and jettisoned the principle of freedom of navigation. With Nasser’s accession to power, the Egyptians emptied the Armistice Agreement of its content altogether by despatching bands of murderers from the Gaza strip into Israel.
Nasser next started to subvert the regimes in those Arab States of which he did not approve and which would not bow to his authority. He opened up the region to Soviet penetration, he launched a plan to form a unified military command of the Arab States bordering Israel, and pressed forward with feverish preparations for a renewed assault upon us.
In 1956, his second armed threat to our existence was flung back. Once more, he evinced an interest in mediation and international settlement, for he needed them to engineer a withdrawal of Israel’s forces from Sinai and, after that, from Sharm e-Sheikh and the Gaza Strip. With his knowledge and concurrence, the United Nations’ Emergency Force was deployed to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and as a guarantee that the Strip would serve no longer as a base for death-dealing incursions into Israel.
For ten years, no plaint was heard from Cairo about the Emergency Force and its functions. But Nasser was engaged all that time — with Soviet help — in building up his army anew and in subversive and adventurous activity throughout the region, culminating in the bloody war that he fought, unsuccessfully, against the Yemenite people for five years on end.
In 1967, convinced, it seems, that he had the strength to overcome Israel in battle, he disavowed his international commitments wholesale, expelled the Emergency Force, concentrated most of his troops in eastern Sinai, re-instated his blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and prepared for a war of annihilation against Israel — a war which, in his own words, would turn back the clock to before 1948.
Up to 5 June 1967, he was entirely deaf to universal appeal to refrain from plunging the Middle East into a third maelstrom of blood and suffering. Four days later, his army undone, he was not slow to answer the Security Council’s call for a cease-fire, and so, again, avert calamity for Egypt. The Council’s cease-fire Resolution was not limited in time or condition. Neither did Nasser attach any limitation of time or other term to his assent.
Proof of his real designs is abundant in his subsequent declarations and deeds. The Khartoum doctrine is unchanged: no peace, no recognition, no negotiation. Israel must withdraw to the borders of 4 June 1967 and thereafter surrender its sovereignty to the “Palestinian people”. Only with that twofold stipulation would the cease-fire be observed by Egypt. The logic is sound: if the stipulations are kept, Nasser’s aim is won, and there will be no further cause for him to pursue aggression.
Nasser will not admit the concept of peace in its literal, humane and Jewish sense. By our definition, and in international consciousness and morality, peace means good neighbourliness and co-operation between nations. According to his thinking, to invite Egypt to make peace with Israel is to invite Egypt to accept capitulation and indignity.
That is the fount of the vortex of blood, destruction and anguish in which the peoples of the Middle East have been drowning, decade after decade.
On 17 March 1969, when Egyptian artillery began to bombard our soldiers in the Canal zone, I announced, in this House, that —
The Arab States must realize that there can be quiet on the cease-fire line only if there is quiet on both sides of it, and not just on one. We want quiet, we want the cease-fire upheld. But this depends on the Arab States. The maintenance of quiet must be reciprocal.
Egypt did not hearken to my words. Its aggressiveness was redoubled. At the beginning of May, Nasser told his people that his forces had destroyed sixty per cent of the line of fortifications which Israel had built along the Canal, and would keep on until they had demolished what was left. In the ensuing years, not only have our entrenchments been reinforced, but we have hit hard at the Egyptian emplacements and foiled more than one attempt to raid across the Canal.
What Nasser describes as “a war of attrition” began in March 1969. On 30 March, he could say:
The time has passed when we required any soldier at the front who opened fire on the enemy to account for his action, because we wanted to avoid complications. Now the picture is different: if a soldier at the front sees the enemy and does not open fire, he must answer for it.
In December 1969, he confirmed his preparedness for war or, in his own phrase, “the advance of the Egyptian army through rivers of blood and fire”.
The Israel Defence Forces have punished this vainglorious aggression. I shall not retell the tale of their courage and resource: the digging in, the daring operations of the Air Force, the power of the armor. Aggression has been repelled, the enemy’s timetable upset and the pressure on our front-line eased by our striking at vital enemy military targets along the Canal and far behind it and confounding his plans for all-out war. True, to our great sorrow, we have suffered losses in killed and wounded, but our vigorous self-defence has thwarted Egypt’s scheming and stultified its endeavors to wear us down and shake our southern front.
Thus bankrupt, the Cairo regime had only the choice between accepting Israel’s constant call to return to reciprocal observance of the cease-fire, as a stepping-stone to peace, or leaning more heavily still on the Soviet Union to the point of asking it to become operationally involved, so that Egypt might carry on the war of attrition, notwithstanding the unpleasant repercussions of that involvement.
In many of his speeches, Nasser claims the credit for ending British power and Egypt’s subjugation to it. But the same leader who promised his people full independence of any foreign Power has preferred to renew its dependence and subservience rather than make peace with Israel, rather than honour the cease-fire. In his plight, he elects to conceal from his people the truth that, in place of the British, the Soviets are invading the area. This is the pass to which blindness and hatred have brought the Egyptian revolution.
Soviet penetration did not start yesterday or the day before. Its beginning could be seen in the mid-fifties, in a strengthening of influence by the provision of economic aid and weaponry on the easiest terms.
In May 1967, the Soviet Union provocatively spawned baseless rumours of Israeli concentrations on the Syrian border. This was a major link in the chain of developments that led to the Six-Day War. When the fighting was over, Moscow displayed no readiness to counsel the Arabs to close the chapter of violence and open one of regional cooperation — although, to extricate Nasser, it had voted for the unconditional cease-fire Resolution.
In his speech of 1 May 1970, Nasser confessed that, only three days after Egypt had submitted to that Resolution, the Soviets agreed to re-arm his forces. His words:
On 12 June — and now I can reveal it — I received a note from Brezhnev, Kosygin and Podgorny, in which they promised to support the Arab nation and restore Egypt’s armed forces, without any payment, to their pre-war level. Thus we were able to withstand and overcome our plight and rehabilitate our armed forces anew.
Within the past three years, the Soviet Union has supplied Egypt, Syria and Iraq with two thousand tanks and eight hundred fighter aircraft, besides other military equipment, to an overall value of some 3.5 billion dollars, two-thirds to Egypt alone. This armament was purveyed with practically no monetary requital. Thousands of Soviet specialists are engaged in training the Egyptian forces. Soviet advisers are guiding and instructing the Egyptian forces within units and bases even during combat.
It is hard to believe that Nasser would have dared to resume aggression in March 1969 on a large scale without Russian authorization. It is harder to believe that, in May-June 1969, he would have abrogated the cease-fire without it. Not only did the Soviet Union not use its capacity to move him to comply again with the cease-fire; it even encouraged him to step up his belligerency. A conspicuous example of this disinclination to make its contribution to the restoration of quiet is Moscow’s rejection of the American proposal, in mid-February 1970, for a joint appeal by the Four Powers to the parties in the region to respect the cease-fire.
It is widely assumed that the Soviet Union is not anxious for an all-out war, in which its protege, Egypt, would be worsted in battle again, but that, at the same time, it eschews a cease-fire as being a stage in progress towards peace. So it would prefer the contribution of something in-between: frontier clashes, indecisive engagements, ongoing tensions, which would allow it to exploit Egyptian dependence to the hilt, and so further its regional penetration and aims. And, by exerting military and political pressure on Israel, it seeks to satisfy Egypt’s needs in a manner that will not entail the danger of another Egyptian reverse or of a “needless” peace.
Not content with bolstering Nasser’s policy of aggression and war, the Soviet Union has embarked upon a campaign of antisemitic propaganda within its own borders and of venomous vilification of Israel through all its communication media and in international forums. The Soviets have gone so far in slander as to label us Nazis: without shame or compunction, they charge the Jews with taking part in pogroms organized by the Czarist regime, of collaborating with the Nazis. They represent Trotsky as a Zionist. They conduct “scientific” research which has “discovered” that there is no such thing as a Jewish people.
The purpose is twofold: to intimidate Soviet Jewry and to prepare the psychological ground for any and every mischief against Israel.
The failure of the war of attrition, the insistence of Nasser’s pleas, have persuaded the Soviets to extend their involvement. At the moment when, in New York and Washington, their representatives were meeting representatives of the Western Powers to discuss a renewal of the Jarring mission and a peace settlement, Soviet ships were sailing to Egypt, laden with SA-3 ground-to-air missiles, and thousands of Soviet experts were arriving to install, man and operate the batteries. In December 1969, signs of the entrenched bases of ground-to-air missiles could be discerned in the Canal and other zones. We estimate that there are already about twenty such bases in the heart of Egypt.
In mid-April, Soviet involvement went one step further — and the gravest so far. Soviet pilots, from bases at their disposal on Egyptian soil, began to carry out operational missions over wide areas. With that defensive coverage of their rear, the Egyptians could mount their artillery bombardment in the Canal zone on a scale unparalleled since it was started in March 1969.
Speaking on 1 May on the intensification of the war against Israel, Nasser told his audience:
In the last fifteen days a change has taken place. As we can see, our forces are taking the initiative in operations.
And in the same speech:
All this is due to the aid which the Soviet Union has furnished, and it is clear that you have heard many rumours and are destined to hear many more.
On 20 May, Nasser admitted for the first time, in an interview for the German newspaper Die Welt, that Soviet pilots were flying jet planes of the Egyptian air force and might clash with ours.
Thus the Middle East is plumbing a new depth of unease. The Soviet Union has forged an explosive link in a chain of acts that is dragging the region into an escalation of deadly warfare and foredooms any hope of peace-making.
We have informed Governments of the ominous significance of this new phase in Soviet involvement. We have explained that a situation has developed which ought to perturb not only Israel, but every state in the free world. The lesson of Czechoslovakia must not be forgotten. If the free world — and particularly the United States, its leader — can pass on to the next item on its agenda without any effort to deter the Soviet Union from selfishly involving itself so largely in a quarrel with which it has no concern, then it is not Israel alone that is imperilled, but no small nation, no minor nation, can any longer dwell in safety within its frontiers.
The Government of Israel has made it plain, as part of its basic policy to defend the State’s being and sovereignty whatever betide, that the Israel Defence Forces will continue to hold the cease-fire line on the southern as on other fronts, and not permit it to be sapped or breached.
For that purpose, it is essential to stop the deployment of the ground-to-air missile pads which the Egyptians are trying to set up adjacent to the cease-fire line; the protection of our forces entrenched there to prevent the breaching of the front depends on that. No serious person will suspect Israel of wanting to provoke, or being interested in provoking, Soviet pilots integrated into the Egyptian apparatus of war, but neither will anyone in his senses expect us to allow the Egyptian army to carry through its aggressive plans without the Israel Defence Forces using all their strength and skill to defeat them, even if outside factors are helping to carry them through.
All this means that our search for the arms indispensable for our defence has become more urgent, more vital. When we asked to be allowed to buy more aircraft from the United States, we based ourselves on the reality that the balance of power had been shaken by the enormous arsenals flowing from the Soviet Union to Egypt free of charge. Since the President of the United States announced deferment of his decision on that critical point, it has, as I have said, become known that SA-3 batteries, with Soviet crews, have been set up in Egypt and Soviet pilots activated in operational flights. This adds a new and portentous dimension of imbalance, and the need to redress the equilibrium becomes more pressing and crucial.
We have emphasized to peace-loving Governments the necessity to bring their influence to bear and make their protests heard against a Soviet involvement which so dangerously aggravates tension in the Middle East. I have heard what the President of the United States said in his press conference on 8 May about the alarming situation, in the light of reports that Soviet pilots had been integrated into Egypt’s air force. He went on to say that the United States was watching the situation, and, if it became clear that the reports were true and the escalation continued, this would drastically shift the balance of power and make it necessary for the United States to re-appraise its decision as to the supply of jets to Israel. He also said that the United States had already made it perfectly plain that it was in the interests of peace in the Middle East that no change be permitted in the balance of forces, and that the United States would abide by that obligation.
On 24 March of this year, the Secretary of State, in the President’s name, declared that the United States would not allow the security of Israel to be jeopardised, and that, if steps were taken that might shake the present balance of power or if, in his view, international developments justified it, the President would not hesitate to reconsider the matter.
I do not have to tell you that I attach great importance to these statements. But, I must say, with the utmost gravity, that delay in granting our wish hardly rectifies the change for the worse in the balance of power that the new phase in Soviet involvement, with all its attendant perils, has entailed.
There is close and continuous contact between ourselves and the US authorities in the matter. Last week, the Foreign Minister had talks with the President and the Secretary of State: he was told that the urgent and detailed survey mentioned by the President four weeks ago is not yet complete, but was assured that the official United States declarations of 24 March and 8 May on the balance of power held entirely good.
In all our contacts, we have stressed how important the time factor is, for any lag in meeting our requirements can harm our interests and is likely to be interpreted by our enemies as encouraging their aggression and by the Soviet Union as condoning its intensified involvement. I find it inconceivable that the United States will not carry out its declared undertaking.
Of late, there has been a rise in aggressive activity on the other fronts as well. Nasser is trying to step up the effectiveness of the eastern front, and Egypt’s military policy has undoubtedly affected the situation on the other fronts. This destructive consequence is visible not only in terrorist operations against Israel from Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, but also in the strategy of neighbouring Governments and in domestic upheavals in Jordan and Lebanon.
The terrorist organization in Syria is a section of the Syrian army, acting under Government directives. In Jordan and Lebanon, terrorist domination has so expanded as to become a threat to the existence and authority of the Governments. In both countries, the Governments have vainly sought to reconcile opposites: their own authority and the presence and activity of the terrorist organizations. Such attempts could meet with no more than a semblance of success. More than once, the Governments seemed about to confront the organizations but each time recoiled from the encounter.
In Jordan as in Lebanon, the terrorists have taken heart from Nasser. Through his support, direct and indirect, they have strengthened their position. The authorities have compromised with them at Israel’s expense, allowing them no little latitude — against Israel. They have been accorded a recognized status, which guarantees them freedom of action. The entire world knows of “the Cairo Agreement” between the terrorists and the Lebanese Government, achieved through the mediation and under the auspices of Egypt: It allows them to pursue their activities openly, in areas allotted to them, in coordination with the Lebanese authorities and army, as well as elsewhere along the border.
Between the beginning of January and 20 May, there were eleven hundred enemy operations along the Jordanian front. The Fatah and other organizations dug themselves in along the length of the Israel-Lebanon frontier, and it has become a focus of murder and sabotage: terrorists were responsible for a hundred and forty inroads along that frontier.
After a series of such acts, among them Katyusha fire on inoffensive civilians in Kiryat Shmona and other places, terrorism reached a climax on 22 May in the calculated murder, from ambush, of schoolchildren, teachers and other passengers in a school-bus.
There is no viler example of the vicious mentality and lethal policy of the terrorist organizations and their instructors in the Arab capitals than the development along the Lebanese front. Until the Six-Day War, it had been the most tranquil of all the frontiers. Even afterwards, the tension which marked the cease-fire lines and borders with Egypt and Jordan was absent there, until the Fatah and their backers entrenched themselves and decided that the Lebanese border, too, must be set aflame. And there is another aim — common to Cairo and Damascus for a number of years — which has not been wanting in terrorist policy: to prejudice Lebanon’s independence and disturb the delicate equipoise between its two communities. By accepting the Cairo Agreement in November 1969, and allowing the establishment of terrorist bases in its territory, Lebanon has been progressively endangering its independence, as Jordan did before.
Endlessly provoked by terrorists from Lebanon, we retaliated a number of times against Fatah bases. The ever closer cooperation between Beirut and the terrorist organizations makes more and more evident the responsibility of the Lebanese Government. It cannot be shrugged off. We shall keep on demanding that Beirut use its power to halt aggression from its territory and do its bounden duty in restoring tranquillity.
Israel is interested in the stability of democracy in Lebanon, in its progress, integrity and peace. On 22 May, radio Beirut announced that “Lebanon has often stated that it is not prepared on any account to act as a policeman guarding Israel”. So long as Lebanon evades its answerability and allows the terrorists to indulge in aggression and murder, the Government of Israel will do its bounden duty and, by all necessary measures, defend the welfare of Israel’s citizens, its highways, towns and villages.
We must view recent happenings against the whole background of our struggle, since the Six-Day War, to realize Israel’s highest aspiration, the aspiration to peace.
To our intense disappointment, we learnt on the morrow of the Six-Day War that the rulers of the Arab States and the Soviet Union were not prepared to put an end to the conflict. Witness authoritative fulminations by the Arab Governments, the resolutions of Khartoum, the Soviet Union’s identification with that policy, its assiduous efforts to rehabilitate the Arab armies with lavish and unstinted aid. We learnt that our struggle for peace would be prolonged, full of pain and sacrifice. We decided — and the nation was with us, to a man — resolutely to defend the cease-fire lines against all aggression and simultaneously press on with our strivings to attain peace.
It is our way not to glorify ourselves but to render a sober and restrained account of our policy, not hiding the hard truth from the people, even if it be grievous. The people and the world know that there is no word of truth in Egypt’s fabrication of resounding victories. The main efforts of the Egyptian army have been repelled by the Israel Defence Forces. All claims of success in breaking our line are false. Most attempted sorties by Egyptian planes into our air-space have been undone, and the Egyptians are paying a heavy price for every venture to clash with our Air Force. We control the area all along the Canal cease-fire line more firmly and strongly than ever.
Soviet involvement has not deterred, and will not deter, Israel from exercising its recognized right to defend the cease-fire lines until secure boundaries are agreed upon within the compass of the peace we so much desire.
Had its aggression gained the political objectives set, Egypt could by now have celebrated victory. But Nasser and the Soviets have not realized those aims.
Three years after the Six-Day War, we can affirm that two fundamental principles have become a permanent part of the international consciousness: Israel’s right to stand fast on the cease-fire lines, not budging until the conclusion of peace that will fix secure and recognized boundaries; and its right to self-defence and to acquire the equipment essential to defence and deterrence.
I have, on several occasions, explained the differences in appraisal and approach between ourselves and friendly States and Powers. I have no intention of claiming that they have entirely disappeared. Nevertheless, we cannot allow them to overshadow the recognition of those twin principles, any more than we may overlook the systematic plotting of our enemies to weaken that international consciousness and isolate Israel.
Another front that will test our power to hold out is the economic. How we hold out militarily and politically is contingent on the degree of our success in surmounting economic troubles.
Our victories in three wars, our robust military stance in the interim periods of what, by comparison, has been tranquillity, as well as through these present difficult days, could never have been won without a solidly-based economy, a high educational standard of soldier and civilian, a high technological level of worker in every branch. We owe it to an unprecedentedly rapid economic development and expansion that the national income of tiny Israel almost equals that of Egypt, with a population tenfold ours and more. We must, by all necessary measures, maintain that advantage.
The central problem of the moment arises from an unfavourable balance of payments and the resultant shortage of foreign currency. The deficit in our balance of payments may be attributed, primarily, to the vastly greater defence imports: if those has stayed at their pre-Six-Day-War level, we would by now be nearing economic independence.
Until 1968, capital imports, which pay for any excess of imports over exports, had sufficed not only to cover the deficit but also to amass considerable reserves of foreign currency. Since then, they are no longer enough. There is a risk of a drop in foreign currency reserves which might prevent our sustaining the level of imports imperative for the smooth working of the economy under conditions of full employment and meeting at the same time our defence requirements.
We must, therefore, in the national interest, make every endeavour and be prepared for every sacrifice demanded for the solving of this problem. Which means that we must also restrict the growth of imports, especially of imports destined for private and public consumption and not for security. The standard of living has risen in the last three years by more than twenty-five per cent: in this period of emergency, our efforts to economize must be mirrored in pegging a standard of living that may have climbed too steeply.
One of the “unavoidables” is to cut down the State Budget and saddle the public with taxes, charges and compulsory loans on no small scale. This action was taken only in the last few weeks, and we hope that it will have the desired and sufficient effect. If it does not, if we find that imports have not been curbed enough or exports have not risen enough, that consumption keeps expanding and the deficit swelling, we will not shrink from further action.
Let me add that this implies no change in our determination, even in an emergency that tightens all belts, not to neglect the advancement of the lower-income strata; this year, too, we have adopted a number of significant measures to better their lot, and we shall continue to do so.
The policy is no easy one for those who have to discharge it, nor is it a light burden that it places on the public’s shoulders. The understanding and maturity with which the man-in-the-street has accepted these stern dispositions are most commendable: only a negligible minority has tried to circumvent them.
Our economic targets are far from simple of attainment. The ongoing development of the economy, the absorption of newcomers and enormous defence expenditure present a challenge greater than we could face alone. We are deeply grateful, therefore, for the staunch cooperation of world Jewry and the assistance of friendly nations. I believe that we can continue to rely on that help, but, for moral and practical reasons alike, we cannot make demands on others if we do not first do our own share. So we must adjust our way of life, in everything that concerns wages, incomes, consumption, savings, productivity, personal effort and outlay, each of us playing his full part, to what the overriding national purpose dictates.
The aspiration to peace is not only the central plank in our platform, it is the cornerstone of our pioneering life and labour. Ever since renewal of independence, we have based all our undertakings of settlement and creativity on the fundamental credo that we did not come to dispossess the Arabs of the Land but to work together with them in peace and prosperity, for the good of all.
It is worth remembering, in Israel and beyond, that at the solemn proclamation of statehood, under savage onslaught still, we called upon the Arabs dwelling in Israel —
To keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent.
We extended “the hand of peace and goodneighbourliness to all the States around us and to their peoples”, and we appealed to them “to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land and in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East”.
On 23 July 1952, when King Farouk was deposed and the young officers, led by General Naguib, seized power in Egypt, hope sprang up in Israel that a new leaf had been turned in the neighbourly relations between Egypt and ourselves, that we were entering an age of peace and cooperation. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, addressing the Knesset on 18 August 1952, said:
The State of Israel would like to see a free, independent and progressive Egypt, and we bear Egypt no grudge for what it did to our forefathers in Pharoah’s days, or even for what it did to us four years ago. Our goodwill towards Egypt — despite the Farouk Government’s foolish behaviour towards us — has been demonstrated throughout the months of Egypt’s involvement in a difficult conflict with a world Power. And it never occurred to us to exploit those difficulties and to attack Egypt or take revenge, as Egypt did to us upon the establishment of the State. And insofar as Egypt’s present rulers are trying to uproot internal corruption and move their country forward to cultural and social progress, we extend to them our sincerest wishes for the success of their venture.
The answer came soon. Asked about Ben-Gurion’s call for peace, Egypt’s Prime Minister evaded the question, claiming that he knew no more than what he had read in the newspapers. Azzam, Secretary-General of the Arab League, said: “Ben-Gurion gave free flight to his imagination, which saw the invisible” [Al-Misri, 20 August 1952]. On 23 August 1952, Al-Ahram explained that Israel had been forced to seek peace by a tottering economy, and proceeded:
In the past, on a number of occasions, Israel tried, at sessions of the Conciliation Commission, to sit with the Arabs around the table, so as to settle existing problems. The Arabs refused, because they did not recognize the existence of the Jews, which is based on extortion.
We have never wearied of offering our neighbours an end to the bloody conflict and the opening of a chapter of peace and cooperation. All our calls have gone unheeded. Our proposals have been rejected in mockery and hatred. The policy of warring against us has persisted, with brief pauses, and thrice in a single generation forced hostilities upon us.
On 1 March 1957, in the name of the Government of Israel, I announced in the United Nations the withdrawal of our forces from the territories occupied in the Sinai Campaign. I concluded with these words:
Can we, from now on — all of us — turn over a new leaf, and, instead of fighting with each other, can we all, united, fight poverty and disease and illiteracy? Is it possible for us to put all our efforts and all our energy into one single purpose, the betterment and progress and development of all our lands and all our peoples? I can here pledge the Government and the people of Israel to do their part in this united effort. There is no limit to what we are prepared to contribute so that all of us, together, can live to see a day of happiness for our peoples and see again a great contribution from our region to peace and happiness for all humanity.
Ten years went by, of fedayun activity, and once again we were confronted with the hazard of a surprise attack by Egypt, which had assembled powerful columns in eastern Sinai. The Six-Day War was fought, but, when its battles ended, we did not behave as men drunk with victory, we did not call for vengeance, we did not demand the humiliation of the conquered. We knew that our real celebration would be on the day that peace comes. Instantly, we turned to our neighbours, saying:
Our region is now at a crossroads: let us sit down together, not as victors and conquered, but as equals; let us negotiate, let us determine secure and agreed boundaries, let us write a new page of peace, goodneighbourliness and cooperation for the profit of all the nations of the Middle East.
The call was sounded over and again in Government statements, in declarations by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Defence and other Ministers — in the Knesset and in the United Nations, through all communication media. It was borne by emissaries, statesmen, authors, journalists, educators and by every means–public or covert — which seemed likely to bring it to our neighbours’ ears.
The Knesset will not expect me to review the manifold efforts and attempts to establish any kind of contact with statesmen and competent authorities in the Arab countries. The people with whom we have tried, and shall again try, to open a dialogue do not want publicity. In this sensitive field, a hint of publication can be enough to extinguish a spark of hope. Imagination and a broad outlook are required, but imagination must not be allowed to become blindness. Patience and close attention are needed if seeds that have yet to germinate are to yield fruit in the course of time and not be sterilized by the glare of publicity.
At all events, the Government of Israel will neglect no opportunity to develop and foster soundings and contacts that may be of value in blazing a trail, always with scrupulous regard for the secrecy of the contacts, if our interlocutors so prefer.
But what have been the reactions of Arab leaders, so far, to our public proposals for peace? Here are some outstanding examples:
* On 26 July 1967, Hussein declared: “The battle which began on 5 June is only one battle in what will become a long war.”
* On 1 November 1967, the Prime Minister of Israel, the late Levi Eshkol, enumerated five principles of peace, and Nasser’s reply on 23 November was: “The Arabs hold steadfastly to the Khartoum decision — no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel.”
* From November 1967 until July 1968, Israel sent forth its calls for peace again and again, and on 16 July the Egyptian Foreign Minister replied:
With regard to Arab policy, I have always reiterated what was agreed upon at Khartoum, that we are not prepared to recognize Israel, to negotiate with it or to sign a peace with it.
* On 8 November 1968, Foreign Minister Abba Eban presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations a detailed peace programme in nine clauses:
— The establishment of a just and lasting peace;
— The determination of secure and recognized borders;
— Security agreements, including non-aggression pacts;
— Borders open to travel and trade;
— Freedom of navigation in international waterways;
— A solution to the refugee problem through a conference of representatives of the countries of the Middle East, the countries contributing to refugee upkeep, and the United Nations Specialized Agencies to draw up a five-year plan; the conference could be convened even before general peace negotiations began;
— The Holy Places of Christianity and Islam in Jerusalem to be placed under the responsibility of the respective faiths, with the aim of formulating agreements which will give force to their universal character;
— Mutual recognition of sovereignty;
— Regional cooperation in development projects for the good of the whole region.
The Arab leaders disregarded the programme and did not even favour it with reply or comment.
* On 17 March 1969 — the day on which I assumed my present office — I re-emphasized the principles of peace, saying:
We are prepared to discuss peace with our neighbours any day and on all matters. Nasser’s reply, three days later, was:
There is no voice transcending the sounds of war, and there must not be such a voice — nor is there any call holier than the call to war.
* In the Knesset — on 5 May 1969, on 8 May and on 30 June — I re-enunciated our readiness —
To enter immediately into negotiations, without prior conditions, with every one of our neighbours, to reach a peace settlement.
The retort of the Arab States was swift. The commentators of Damascus, Amman and Cairo stigmatized peace as “surrender”and heaped scorn on Israel’s proposals. Take, for example, this from Al-Destour, a leading Jordanian newspaper, of 15 June 1969:
Mrs. Meir is prepared to go to Cairo to hold discussions with President Abdul Nasser but, to her sorrow, has not been invited. She believes that one fine day a world without guns will emerge in the Middle East. Golda Meir is behaving like a grandmother telling bedtime stories to her grandchildren.
And that was the moment for Nasser to announce abrogation of the cease-fire agreements and non-recognition of the cease-fire lines.
* On 19 September 1969, the Foreign Minister of Israel appealed in the United Nations to the Arab States —
To declare their intention to establish a lasting peace, to eliminate the twenty-one-year-old conflict, to hold negotiations for detailed agreement on all the problems with which we are faced.
He referred to Israel’s affirmation to Ambassador Jarring on 2 April:
Israel accepts the Security Council Resolution (242) calling for the promotion of agreement for the establishment of a just and lasting peace, reached through negotiation and agreement between the Governments concerned. Implementation of the agreement will commence when accord has been reached on all its provisions.
* On 24 September 1969, during my visit to the United States, I was happy to hear that a statement had been made on behalf of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, then in New York, that Egypt was prepared to enter into Rhodes-style peace talks with Israel. I responded forthwith that Israel was willing and, as previously recorded, was prepared to discuss the establishment of a true peace with Egypt at any time and without prior conditions.
Within a few hours, an authoritative dementi came from Cairo. Any Egyptian readiness to enter into Rhodes-style talks was officially denied. The spokesman of the Egyptian Government termed the statement to that effect an “imperialist lie.”
* On 18 December 1969, the Knesset approved the present Government’s basic principles. I quote the following passages:
The Government will steadfastly strive to achieve a durable peace with Israel’s neighbours, founded on peace treaties achieved by direct negotiations between the parties. Agreed, secure and recognized borders will be laid down in the treaties. The treaties will assure cooperation and mutual aid, the solution of any problem that may be a stumbling-block on the path to peace, and the avoidance of all aggression, direct and indirect. Israel will continue to be willing to negotiate — without prior conditions from either side — with any of the neighbouring States for the conclusion of such a treaty . . .
The Government will be alert for any expression of willingness amongst the Arab nations for peace with Israel and will welcome and respond to any readiness for peace from the Arab States. Israel will persevere in manifesting its peaceful intentions and in explaining the clear advantages to all the peoples of the area of peaceful co-existence, without aggression or subversion, without territorial expansion or intervention in the freedom and internal regimes of the States in the area.
* In my address to the Knesset on 26 December 1969, in the Foreign Minister’s address to the Knesset on 7 April 1970, and in a series of local press interviews on the eve of Passover and on the eve of Independence Day, that resolve was reaffirmed:
Day or night, if any sign whatever were to be seen, we would have responded to it.
* Ambassador Jarring came and asked what Israel’s response would be if he were to invite the Foreign Ministers to Cyprus or Geneva — and there was no hesitation on our part. He asked about Rhodes, and we said — let it be Rhodes.
* In an interview published in Ma’ariv on 20 April I said:
We have no direct contacts with Egypt, but there are friends who travel around the world, to this place or that, statesmen who hate neither Israel nor Egypt. They tried to find a bridge, but could not.
On the contrary, there have been echoes of Nasser’s speech of 1 May 1970, making even the resumption of the cease-fire conditional on our total withdrawal and the return of the Palestinians to Israel.
These are but a few of our recurring solicitations for peace. We have not retracted one of them: we have not wearied of reiterating, day in, day out, our preparedness for peace: we have not abandoned hopes of finding a way into the hearts of our neighbours, though they yet dismiss our appeals with open animosity.
Today again, as the guns thunder, I address myself to our neighbours: Stop the killing, end the fire and bloodshed which bring tribulation and torment to all the peoples of the region! End rejection of the cease-fire, end bombardment and raids, end terror and sabotage!
Even Russian pilots will not contrive to destroy the cease-fire lines, and certainly they will not bring peace. The only way to permanent peace and the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries is through negotiations between the Arab States and ourselves, as all sovereign States treat one another, as is the manner of States which recognize each other’s right to existence and equality, as is the manner of free peoples, not protectorates enslaved to foreign Powers or in thrall to the dark instincts of war, destruction and ruin.
To attain peace, I am ready to go at any hour to any place, to meet any authorized leader of any Arab State — to conduct negotiations with mutual respect, in parity and without pre-conditions, and with a clear recognition that the problems under controversy can be solved. For there is room to fulfill the national aspirations of all the Arab States and of Israel as well in the Middle East, and progress, development and cooperation can be hastened among all its nations, in place of barren bloodshed and war without end.
If peace does not yet reign, it is from no lack of willingness on our part: it is the inevitable outcome of the refusal of the Arab leadership to make peace with us. That refusal is still a projection of reluctance to be reconciled to the living presence of Israel within secure and recognized boundaries, still a product of the hope, which flickers on in their hearts, that they will accomplish its destruction. And this has been the state of things since 1948, long before the issue of the territories arose in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.
Moreover, if peace does not yet reign, it is equally not because of any lack of “flexibility” on our part, or because of the so-called “rigidity” of our position.
That position is: cease-fire, agreement and peace. The Arab Governments preach and practise no cease-fire, no negotiation, no agreement and no peace. Which of the two attitudes is stubborn and unyielding? The Arab Governments’ or ours?
There are some, the Arabs included, who claim that we have not accepted the United Nations Resolution of 22 November 1967, and that the Arabs have. In truth, the Arabs only accepted it in a distorted and mutilated interpretation of their own, as meaning an instant and absolute withdrawal of our forces, with no commitment to peace. They were ready to agree to an absolute Israeli withdrawal, but the Resolution stipulates nothing of the kind. According to its text and the exegesis of its compilers, the Resolution is not self-implementing. The operative clause calls for the appointment of an envoy, acting on behalf of the Secretary-General, whose task would be to “establish and maintain contact with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this Resolution.” On 1 May 1968, Israel’s Ambassador at the United Nations announced as follows:
In declarations and statements made publicly and to Ambassador Jarring, the Government of Israel has indicated its acceptance of the Security Council’s Resolution for the promotion of an agreement to establish a just and durable peace. I am authorised to reaffirm that we are willing to seek an agreement with each Arab State, on all the matters included in that Resolution. More recently, we accepted Ambassador Jarring’s proposal to arrange meetings between Israel and each of its neighbours, under his auspices, and in fulfillment of his mandate under the guide-lines of the Resolution to advance a peace agreement. No Arab State has yet accepted that proposal.
This announcement of our Ambassador was reported to the House by the Foreign Minister on 29 May 1968 and to the General Assembly in September 1969. It opened the way for Ambassador Jarring to invite the parties to discuss any topic which any of them saw fit to raise, including issues mentioned in the Resolution. The Arabs and those others who assert that we are preventing progress towards peace in terms of the Resolution have no factual basis for so asserting. They seek merely to throw dust in the world’s eyes, to cover up their guilt and deceive the world into thinking that we are the ones who are retarding peace.
It is also argued that, by creating facts on the ground, we are laying down irrevocable conditions which render negotiations superfluous or make it more difficult to enter into them. This contention, too, is wholly mistaken and unfounded. The refusal of the Arab States to enter into negotiations with us is simply an extension of their long-drawn-out intransigence. It goes back to before the Six-Day War, before there were any settlements in the administered territories.
After that fighting, we said — and we left no room for doubt — that we were willing to enter into negotiations with our neighbours with no pre-conditions on either side. This willingness does not signify that we have no opinions, thoughts or demands, or that we shall not exercise our right to articulate them in the discussions, as our neighbours are entitled to no less.
Nasser and Hussein, for example, in their official replies to Dr. Jarring, said that they saw the partition borders of 1947 as constituting definitive frontiers. I do not have to explain our attitude to that answer, but we do not insist that, in negotiating with us, the Arab States forfeit their equal right to make any proposal that they think fit, just as they cannot annul from the outset our right to express, in the discussions, any ideas or proposals which we may form. And there assuredly is no moral or political ground for demanding that we refrain from any constructive act in the territories, even though the Arab Governments reject the call for peace and make ready for war.
There is yet another argument touching on our insistence on direct negotiations: it is as devoid as are the others of any least foundation in the annals of international relations or of those between our neighbours and ourselves. For we did sit down face-to-face with the representatives of the Arab States at the time of the negotiations in Rhodes, and no one dare profess that Arab honour was thereby affronted.
There is no precedent of a conflict between nations being brought to finality without direct negotiations. In the conflict between the Arabs and Israel, the issue of direct negotiations goes to the very crux of the matter. For the objective is to achieve peace and co-existence, and how will our neighbours ever be able to live with us in peace if they refuse to speak with us at all?
From the start of the conversations with Ambassador Jarring, we agreed that the face-to-face discussions should take place under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s envoy. During 1968, Dr. Jarring sought to bring the parties together under his chairmanship in a neutral place. In March 1968, he proposed that we meet Egypt and Jordan in Nicosia. We agreed, but the Arabs did not. In the same year, and again in September 1969, we expressed our consent to his proposal that the meetings be held in the manner of the Rhodes talks, which comprised both face-to-face and indirect talks; a number of times it seemed that the Arabs and the Soviets would also fall in with that proposal, but, in the end, they went back on it.
Only those who deny the right of another State to exist, or who want to avoid recognizing the fact of its sovereignty, can develop the refusal to talk to it into an inculcated philosophy of life which the pupil swears to adhere to as to a political, national principle. The refusal to talk to us directly is damning evidence that the unwillingness of the Arab leaders to be reconciled with the very being of Israel is the basic reason why peace is still to seek.
I am convinced that it is unreal and utopian to think that using the word “withdrawal” will pave the way to peace. True, those among us who do believe that the magic of that word is likely to bring us nearer to peace only mean withdrawal after peace is achieved and then only to secure and agreed boundaries demarcated in a peace treaty. On the other hand, when Arab and Soviet leaders talk of “withdrawal”, they mean complete and outright retreat from all the administered territories, and from Jerusalem, without the making of a genuine peace and without any agreement on new permanent borders, but with an addendum calling for Israel’s consent to the return of all the refugees.
Israel’s policy is clear, and we shall continue to clarify it at every suitable opportunity, as we have done in the United Nations and elsewhere. No person dedicated to truth could misinterpret our policy: when we speak of secure and recognized boundaries, we do not mean that, after peace is made, the Israel Defence Forces should be deployed beyond the boundaries agreed upon in negotiations with our neighbours. No one could be misled–Israel desires secure and recognized boundaries with its neighbours.
Israel’s Defence Forces have never crossed its borders in search of conquest, but only when the safeguarding of the existence and bounds of our State demanded it. Nasser’s claim that Israel wishes to maintain the cease-fire only so as to freeze the cease-fire lines is preposterous. The cease-fire is necessary not to perpetuate the lines, but to prevent death and destruction, to make progress easier towards a peace resting upon secure and recognized boundaries. It is necessary as a step upwards on the ladder to peace. Incessant gunfire is a step downward on the ladder to war.
The question is crystal-clear, and there is no point in clouding it with semantics — or in trying to escape from reality. There is not a single article in Israel’s policy which prevents the making of peace. Nothing is lacking for the making of peace but the Arab persistence in denying Israel’s very right to exist. Arab refusal to acquiesce in our existence in the Middle East, alongside the Arab States, abides. The only way to peace is through a change in that recalcitrance.
When it changes, there will no longer be any obstacle to peace negotiations. Otherwise, no formulae, sophistry or definitions will avail. Those in the world who seek peace would do well to heed this basic fact and help to bring about a change in the obdurate Arab approach, which is the real impediment to peace. Any display of “understanding” and forgiveness, however unwitting, is bound to harden the Arabs in their obstinacy and hearten them in their gainsaying of Israel’s right to exist, and will, besides, be exploited by Arab leaders to justify ideologically the continuance of the war against Israel.
Nothing unites our people more than the desire for peace. There is no stronger urge in Israel, and on joyful occasions and in hours of mourning alike it is expressed. Nothing can wrench out of our hearts or out of our policy this wish for peace, this hope of peace–not even our indignation over the killing of our loved ones, not even the enmity of the rulers of the Arab world.
The victories that we have won have never intoxicated us, or filled us with such complacency as to relinquish the wish and call for peace — a peace that means goodneighbourly relations, cooperation and an end to slaughter. Peace and co-existence with the Arab peoples have been, and are, among the fundamentals of Jewish renaissance. Generations of the Zionist movement were brought up on them. The desire for peace has charted the policy of all Israel’s Governments, of whatever membership. No Government of Israel in power, however constituted, has ever blocked the way to peace.
With all my heart, I am convinced that in Israel, in the future as in the past, there could be no Government which would not bespeak the people’s cardinal and steadfast aspiration to bring about a true and enduring peace.
Source: Golda Meir Speaks Out, ed. Marie Syrkin, (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1973) pp. 184-209.