Sunday, May 1, 2016

17 - Excerpts from the Minutes of the Cabinet FADC meeting, July 19, 1954

M. Sharett: In the American document [the “11 points”] there is no mention whatsoever of the Armistice Agreement. We must begin [our reply] by insisting that the Agreement is utterly fundamental. Any attempt to better the situation must begin with a reaffirmation of the Armistice Agreement as an untouchable basis. We ourselves are prepared for a reaffirmation, but we would like to know whether the Kingdom of Jordan is prepared to so as well. We are posing this question because Jordan has breached and is breaching some of its obligations, and here we can point to paragraphs 8 and 12. Even during the last week Jordan refused to commit itself to solving of the conflict with Israel by peaceful means, which she is obliged to by the UN Charter as well as by the Armistice Agreement. [- - -] Otherwise everything would slide back to anarchy.
      [- - -] Some of the proposals suggest modifications to the Armistice Agreement. However, without going into the question of whether they are good or not, it must be clear that the only way to accept them would be again by agreement of the two sides. [- - -] Another question is whether there is any point in making revisions and arriving at additional obligations if past obligations are being breached.
     Another general contention which we should table is that generally speaking we are willing to examine any proposal in the best goodwill; however, experience has taught us that the root problem is the enmity and hostile acts perpetrated by the Arab states. The incessant incitement conducted against Israel has led, from time to time, to violent acts. We think that it is necessary to concentrate on the eradication of the root of the evil and  change this mood of the Arab states. The majority of the [11] proposals are not geared to the prevention of hostile acts but to the bettering of the machinery for the documentation of such acts after they have been executed.
     Now, as to the various paragraphs. We can say that our attitude towards full cooperation with the [UN] observers is basically positive. We are certainly accepting the proposal of delineating the border lines, and have always demanded this. We understand that this means the liquidation of no-man’s-lands. The observers could clearly be involved in this too, but the very delineating must be based on an agreement between the two sides. I am not saying without the observers; they can be of much help. But the very delineating must be a fruit of an agreement by the two sides, so that the line is established permanently. [- - -]
     As to the reduction of [population] density inside the Gaza Strip [by allowing transit through Israel into Jordan], I suggest we say that there can be no question of a sovereign state agreeing to the free entry into its territory of an unlimited number of people, the identity of whom is not known beforehand, by permits distributed by any other body. We could consider the organized passage of groups of Arabs from the Gaza Strip into the territory of Jordan by Israeli permits on condition that they would cross through and not return. This could be considered for a given trial period.
     We would add a clear proposal for preventive measures that the Powers would influence Jordan to distance refugee camps from the vicinity of the border into internal areas of the country, say that undoubtedly we would pose additional positive proposals in the course of time, and conclude our response by saying that the main thing is to influence Jordan to undertake the renewal of the overall obligations of the Armistice Agreement and the execution of all its articles. [- - -]
     It is clear we are here on a collision course with the Powers. The clash with France is not so terrible, if there is some solace here. France is not so eager about this matter. The clash with Britain is a bit more serious. The clash with the US is very serious. What is our strength in view of this clash? We must examine what weapons are at our disposal. One instrument to be attempted is the arousing of public opinion. We shall not derive much advantage from this, even if we must respond [to the eleven points] with a “no.” [- - -]
        Jordan must prove it’s a bona fide party to the agreement. If they are violating their obligations, what is the sense in discussing new agreements? I want to know, first of all, does Jordan accept the Armistice Agreement as a basis? We are not adopting a negative formulation vis-à-vis the Powers, i.e., “we shall not be talking with you.” Why should I care about talking with them? But I shall talk with them in order to explain that this [the eleven points proposal] is out of question. We must explain why are we rejecting this and that point. I fail to understand the political sense of saying, “We shall not talk with you” [as proposed earlier by the Minister of Defense in the course of the committee’s discussion].
     [- - -] It is necessary to strongly emphasize the Armistice Agreement in order to emphasize the obligatory nature of its articles, and to revolt against the casual attitude of ignoring the Armistice Agreement, which is not mentioned in their whole document. We should say [to the Powers]: “The Armistice Agreement means negotiations between the parties. We proposed this to Jordan, to the Arabs. Can you state that Jordan is prepared for this? The Armistice Agreement means that the UN’s authority is that which the two parties have decided to allot it. There is not here any other UN authority.”

Decision: It was decided that the Minister of Foreign Affairs would formulate the response to the proposals of the US Government and bring it to the knowledge of the Ministerial Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense.

M. Sharett: There are negotiations going on between England and Egypt, and the US is considering achieving something in the future. I would not like to take steps hurriedly.
     From what we know of the present situation it can be inferred that a possible agreement is being reached. England, as we are already aware, would move out the maximum and retain the minimum [in terms of British bases in the Canal Zone]. Exact dimensions [of the British evacuation] are not known. Whatever she leaves behind there would remain her property and presumably the Egyptians would not be able to touch it. At least this would be the juridical situation. The bases could be re-activated, presumably, whenever an Arab country or Turkey is attacked. England and the US are interested in reaching an agreement regarding Persia too. If an agreement is reached, and evacuations start, the question is how long would it take. England wants it to last two years; Egypt is willing to accept 15 months; it seems they’ll compromise on 18 months. After the agreement is signed, the British would have to leave personnel there  to take care of the remaining property, and the British are hoping for a compromise on this issue. There is also the question of the duration of the agreement. Usually such an agreement is signed for about 7-10 years. The British are afraid of internal tribulations in Egypt, caused by neutralist circles, which could disrupt the negotiation process, because while it is not a precondition that Egypt enter the regional defense pact, they are assuming that it would eventually join in. It’s evident that Britain is leaving behind certain installations and it smells of remnants of imperialism. Even if one British airplane remains there, more could come later, so tribulations [against the agreement] are possible.
     Meanwhile the US is aiming at two objects: it is willing to arm Egypt after the agreement is concluded. Russell agreed in a conversation with one of our people that it would change the arms balance against us, while in a meeting with Dayan Byroade said they would be giving very little. Truth is we don’t know.
     America is also intending to give economic assistance to Egypt. As of now the talk is about $20 million, and this is only a beginning. Be that as it may, it would be an enormous strengthening 0f Egypt, both militarily and politically, and presumably also economically. The evacuation process means a boom in the Egyptian labor market, and the money pouring in could be invested in large irrigation projects. A new era of economic development would begin, and this means enhancing the alliance between Western countries and Egypt. The Americans say this openly; it intends to buttress its hegemony over the Arab countries through Egypt.
     All kinds of assumptions are posed. One is that, after the problem with Egypt is settled, the time will come for peace with Israel; but it is assumed this will take time and be gradual. What, then, is the American intention when they speak of advancing towards peace? The US may put forth proposals. It is possible that Egypt herself would raise the question of a settlement, set out conditions and put pressure [on Israel]. The prognosis is bleak. First of all, it all means the weakening of Israel’s position in the balance of forces. It means enhancing Israel’s isolation in view of the strengthening of ties between the Arab world and the West. It means the danger of stronger pressure by the West and the Arabs in order to compel us to accept certain peace conditions. And it means an enormous strengthening of Nasser’s political position.
     Until now we have assembled a whole literature of messages [to Western Powers]. We have demanded guarantees that the [Anglo-Egyptian treaty] project would not be utilized against us, that it would  be executed only in case of a [third] World War. We have demanded that they avoid supplying arms to Egypt, that there be complete freedom of passage in the Suez Canal. On each of these we received, in fact, a negative answer. What does “negative answer” mean? They didn’t tell us “You shall never receive arms, there shall not be passage through the Suez, because [they said] it was impossible, within the framework of negotiations, to demand free passage based on your suggested conditions. But you can rely on us. There is the Tripartite Declaration [of May 1950; WebDoc #1]. We would intervene if you were threatened with danger.”
     Recently clearer information was transmitted to us in London, It appears that it was agreed to drastically reduce the remaining British installations [in the Canal Zone]. All armaments would be evacuated, and what remained would not be handed over to the Egyptians. Moreover, it was stated that in no circumstances would they abandon us; they would intervene forcefully in our support. We were told of this special concern for us in a one-sided announcement, apparently on the basis of a [British] Cabinet decision. [- - -]
     As for free passage, presumably Egypt is prepared to include a paragraph on this matter in the agreement [with Britain]. However, they would be able to claim that this doesn’t apply to a country which is in a state of war with Egypt. The British say that free passage for us cannot be their demand, that this is up to the Egyptians. We demanded that there be a clear obligation that we have free passage, and not just for regular ships, but for oil tankers. This is the test case. [- - -]
     [- - -] We should demand that England and the US guarantee this. We can demand the annulment of state of war by Egypt. I have no idea of the results of this demand, but we must make it. We must speak out against supplying arms to Egypt as long as there is no peace between us.
     Here one must differentiate between England and America. England claims that she will continue acting in the future on the basis of a balance of arms supplies, but [the British] also say that one plane in our hands is worth more than one in Egyptian hands. The Americans say plainly and openly: “we shall supply arms to Egypt.” [- - -]
     There is here a very interesting fact. Presumably, America should not be impressed when we tell her not to supply the Arabs with arms; but, in fact, we are constantly pressed hard by the Americans to stop our protests over this, and that we not burden them on this issue. This means that our pressure does burden them, and therefore we must relentlessly put pressure on them.
     A question of tactics arises here: we, for a long time, have not said: “if you supply arms to the Arabs, you must supply us too.” What we did say was: “Don’t supply the Arabs with arms.” Our assumption was that if they supplied both sides we would come out losing, and by saying this we would be seen as approving their supply to the Arabs. The question is: are we to continue in this negative vein, or shall we add: “But if you are supplying arms – you must supply us as well.” This is not only a semantic difference. The question is: what are we to say publicly. What are we to say to the American public – to Congressmen, to radio commentators, etc., to the Labor opposition in England, to the opposition within the Conservative Party in England etc., etc.? Are we to strengthen the demand for economic aid because, if we receive more of it, resources could be released for arms purchases?
     There is another thing, which is the question of regional defense. The trend is not only of supplying arms, but to supply it on the assumption that in the course of time these countries would be included in a regional defense system without us participating in it. For us this means isolation, and on this subject I say: no cajoling them whatsoever. We shall not ask for our share, but we shall say: Let it be known that we are prepared to function within the framework of the regional defense. Are you willing [to include us]? If so, then good. If not, then it doesn’t matter. This is a clear and respectful position. We are not offering ourselves. They cannot reject us. We are only stating that we are prepared to do our part in the defense of the region.
     All these issues can, in fact, serve as slogans for our public activity: No arms to the Arabs. If they are being supplied, then Israel should be supplied too. Israel must be strengthened.
     Now there is a more complicated question, which is the question of non-arms guarantees, the Powers’ promises. I think that we should not make a demand for a renewal and revision of the Tripartite Declaration to make it more concrete and obligatory. Why? Because the Tripartite Declaration, or any other declaration, is a two-edged sword. It may be activated against us. Why should it be written down that we have asked for a reaffirmation of the Tripartite Declaration? In the best of circumstances there are here various illusions; in the end this will depend on them. Whether they wish it or not, [the Declaration] will not be binding juridically, automatically. It acts as a cover in the absence of other guarantees. [- - -]
     Our position vis-à-vis the Tripartite Declaration should be as follows: in written messages or in conversations we should prove that this is not a solution, that this is not a guarantee for us. This criticism of the Tripartite Declaration does not oblige us to anything. [- - -]
     If a settlement is reached with Egypt [- - -] then it would be accompanied by a declaration about the West’s policy. [- - -] Clearly, it will at least include a repetition of the general, empty formulae of the Tripartite Declaration; perhaps it will include additional items. I do not want to say that we do not care what would be said there, but our tactic should be that it would not be said that we asked for it. Our aim should be the inclusion of something more concrete there, without it being binding on us. In the public activity which we could undertake both in England and the US, clearer things may be said: A guarantee to Israel. And what is the guarantee for Israel being defended? Arms and binding promises are needed. A pact is concluded with Egypt; she is being supplied with arms. Where is their responsibility for Israel? Such voices should, in my opinion, be heard within the American and British public arena.
     There is also the problem of whether, in case the [Anglo-Egyptian] negotiations going on and on, and as we become aware that they are preparing a draft declaration, we shall have to appeal and ask to see the draft. But we have not reached this point yet. It may be that we shall have what to say regarding the draft before it becomes an official document.

P. Lavon:  I would like to say, in view of the Suez and the British evacuation from Egypt, that the first resulting fact is a change in the uncomfortable equilibrium which has existed in the Middle East. First there was the American decision to supply arms to Iraq. Now we are confronted with two consecutive facts – the very evacuation of the region and the freedom Egypt to enjoy in fortifying itself inside the Sinai Peninsula, to get organized there, to prepare itself. Contrary to the situation with distant Iraq [with which we have no common border], they are sitting inside Palestine [i.e., on Israel’s borders]. Egypt is [geographically] sitting close to Tel Aviv, let us not forget this. We are witnessing the destruction of the balance [of forces] and the foundation on which the Armistice Agreement is based.
     Worse, we evacuated Abu Ageila [inside western Sinai, captured by the IDF during the last phase of the War of Independence] in response to demands from England and America. We did that on the assumption of a certain status quo; this reality is now being destroyed. Added to this is America’s supplying of arms to Egypt. This is a fundamental change, decisive in the balance of forces. It is more important than the limited supply of arms to Syria or the supply of arms to Iraq in view of the enormous Egyptian potential. We are faced here with a heavy, I would not say decisive, but very serious [new] reality. I think that there is [good] reason to assume that, in view of this developing situation, a decisive change is occurring in our position in the region. I’ll permit myself to say, even though I have no hope that my opinion will be accepted, that without us going berserk [in Hebrew: b’li yetsi’a min hakelim, lit. without going outside the rules], we will not succeed in exerting any influence. I think that, in view of the situation as it is, we are allowed to tell them: we cannot afford to leave the Gaza enclave in the hands of the Egyptians. No annexation. Let the UN take it. If it doesn’t take over, we shall take over [the strip]. We cannot leave an enemy [who declares itself] at war [with us] in a situation in which he is [positioned] near the central city of Israel. If there is a different solution [to tackle the problem], it is less effective. A solution which may be effective is completely justified.
        We must say: if this is going to be, then we see ourselves as not bound by the Armistice Agreement. The evacuation of the Canal and the [British] bases and their handing over to the Egyptians, plus the arming [of Egypt], plus the continuation of the blockade and the boycott and the impossibility of free passage through the Suez – in such circumstances the Armistice Agreement is an impossibility. (PM Sharett: What is the meaning of this?) [The meaning is] that we are annulling the Armistice Agreement unilaterally. This doesn’t mean that war should erupt tomorrow. But certainly we must put pressure on Britain. They should know we mean business. This is not a matter [to be left] in the hands of diplomats. It is true that this is a gamble. But I don’t see what is the risk here. In the coming two years Egypt is not going to make war against us if we do not make war against her. This is a matter for decision. I assume in advance that the Cabinet decision would be negative, but as to the Western Powers, for whom it is very important that the matter [of the evacuation] should not be accompanied by tremors or threats of tremors, that is by the shaking of the existing reality, such a declaration [by Israel] could be of the most serious significance. It  may compel them to start thinking: “Perhaps something should be done for the sake of Israel. If they [the Israelis] are earnest and reasonable people [and are taking] such an extreme position, it seems that we [the British] should do something.”
     I would accept a different alternative if the Cabinet would decide to put the sum of $40,000 at our disposal for arms purchases, to be spent within a year or a year and a quarter. From the point of view of the market such purchases are possible, and we could conduct this so that, all in all, we would have some guarantee [for our security] in proportion to the accumulating Arab strength for the next few years. I would not say for the coming ten years, but, at least, for the next 2-3 years. However, I am aware that this is impossible. In view of our serious [economic] situation this is impossible. I am suggesting therefore that we shall inform them in an appropriate diplomatic way that Israel could go berserk [in Hebrew, nishtage’a: let us go mad, go berserk.]

G. Myerson: I would certainly be prepared to start going berserk if I knew that the other side [the British and/or the Americans] too would go berserk, but if he stays sane, then I have no doubt that what he has done so far, what he may do next, will not be a result of such [insane] considerations, but of cold blood and clear thinking. I think that it is enough that we do only one [insane] thing and this would make it easy for America to act against us. Psychologically the new Administration would be prepared to take any step against us. (M. Sharett: Most brutally.) I have no doubt [about that]. [- - -]

Z. Aran: Golda talked about our situation. [- - -] I know the climate around this table does not accept the suggestion [by P. Lavon “us going berserk”  ]. I am against it. [- - -]

M. Sharett: We had an important discussion. The meeting is adjourned.