Monday, May 30, 2016

28 - Sharett interview, U.S. News & World Report, September 17, 1954

Excerpts (pages 64, 66, 68).

Q   Mr Prime Minister, what is the cause of the increasing tension on Israel’s frontiers with its Arab neighbors?

A   ... If you ask me for the root reason of it, it all goes back to the persistent refusal of the Arab states to make peace with Israel and to establish or restore normal relations of peace and stability within the Middle East.

Q   Do you see any danger of this deterioration leading to a renewal of hostilities?

A   Not immediately, because Israel does not want war and the Arab states are not ready for it. The unstable state of things, with occasional eruptions of minor or major violence, can continue for a long time, enervating the people concerned and causing much headache to the governments. It is, of course, a terrible pity, because it is a handicap to peaceful development and progress.
But if this state of “no peace” continues while the Arab states are armed or arming themselves and enhancing their military might, a time may come when they will feel possessed of sufficient superiority of armed strength to try again their luck with a war of invasion and aggression against Israel. I said for the time being they are not ready for it, and the memories of their defeat are still too much alive.

Q   But what about demands you hear in Israel for stronger action to force an immediate showdown with the Arabs – a military showdown?

A   Naturally, people get impatient, but it is not the policy of Israel, certainly not of its Government, to force the issue in the military sense. Of course, we stand ready to react to any provocation, but we are not bent upon war, nor upon any expansion. Our desire is for stability and development. We hear all sorts of fantastic rumors about preparations on our part to launch a major attack. Dates are mentioned and deadlines fixed. These evil and foolish forecasts never materialize, yet they recur from time to time. They are the results of malice or sheer ignorance, or a product of morbid imagination.

Q   Is this no-peace-no-war policy of the Arabs interfering with your development here in Israel?

A   Of course, it is a handicap. We have to devote a considerable portion of our resources to the upkeep and constant improvement of our defense forces.... The Arab economic warfare that takes the form of boycott and blockade is causing us certain losses.... Take another thing: the tourist traffic. That is very much handicapped, not only for us, but also for Egypt and Syria, because of people’s inability to make through bookings and co-ordinate traveling plans. If conditions were normal, there would have been a great deal of commercial intercourse between us and the Arab countries to their benefit as much as to ours.
Take Jordan as a case in point. It is a landlocked state. They have got just one narrow outlet to the sea, and that is the Red Sea, but they have no port there. We would have been ready to grant them free port facilities in Haifa, and that would have been much more convenient for them.

Q   Would you still be willing to grant Jordan free port facilities at Haifa as part of a general peace settlement?

A   Definitely. As soon as they would stop the boycott and open their country to trade with Israel.

Q   Even short of a formal peace settlement?

A   That’s right. As soon as they stop their economic warfare and establish relations of economic reciprocity – not by way of an unrequited present from us, of course. Now they use the port of Beirut, which is far off and forces them to resort to a roundabout route....

Q   What, in your opinion, are the prospects of an early peace settlement – an over-all settlement?

A   I do not see the possibility of a complete settlement at an early stage. I do see some possible progress toward it, but that depends a great deal – maybe to a decisive extent – on the major world powers, and particularly on the United States.

Q   How does the United States come into it?

A   First, the most profitable direction in which progress could be made is the resettlement of the Arab refugees. In that, the United States could use its capacity for economic aid to encourage and foster projects for their permanent absorption and integration.

Q   But America has tried to do that for several years. We’ve offered to contribute a considerable amount of money to a United Nations fund to settle refugees, but the Arab states have so far refused to permit resettlement – 

A   I think there has been some unfreezing of that attitude.

Q   Do you consider the Eric Johnston plan for developing the waters of the Jordan Valley as a step in that direction?

A   Definitely.... The idea of negotiating by American mediation an all-round water settlement is eminently sound, both for its own sake ... and as a means of getting the parties concerned to realize that they can only achieve something worth while if they pull together and not apart....

Q   What other steps could be taken to reduce tension?

A   Another step, and a most important one, would be fixing responsibility for whatever sin is committed – not letting people get away with their violations of the armistice agreements and with their refusal to make peace. The point is that what the Arabs are trying to achieve is to oppose peace and, at the same time, to escape all blame for it. That is where the responsibility of the great powers again comes into the play.
The Arabs’ “antipeace” attitude should be unmasked and condemned, not condoned and pandered to. They should know that if they take up their stand on the policy of no peace, they will incur the odium of world opinion for it and not get away with that obstructionist and negative policy.
The crux of the problem is that while Israel views the armistice agreements as a bridge to peace, the Arab states try to use them as a cover behind which they can carry on their warfare against Israel by all possible means short of a full-scale war.

Q   What about the UN Truce Supervisory machinery, Mr Prime Minister? Do you feel that it is adequate to deal with the trouble?

A   I say it with a feeling of very deep regret and disappointment, but I must record the fact that it has proved inadequate ... [in that] we had hoped that at least it would be able to determine responsibility [for truce violations]. ... It is precisely in that test that the UN Truce Supervisory machinery has of late failed so lamentably....

Q   As I understand it, much of the border tension is caused by Arab infiltrators crossing the border into Israel. Do you believe that this infiltration is organized by the Arab governments or encouraged by them?

A   It is certainly condoned by them. In cases where ... there is infiltration by anonymous people, the responsibility [of the government] is still there because under the terms of the armistice agreement each government is responsible for acts of violence and for illegal crossings of the line on the part of its nationals. So, even in those cases, the responsibility of the Jordan Government, or of any other Arab government concerned, is unmistakable....