Friday, July 22, 2016

81 - Excerpts of FM Sharett Opening Address to the Knesset, January 2, 1956

Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the house, two and a half months have passed since I reviewed the foreign affairs situation here, focusing on [- - -] the dangerous shift which has taken place in Israel's security position following the Czech-Egyptian arms deal. During this time [- - -] our concern for the future has grown, and we have sought ceaselessly to increase our defensive ability. [- - -]
            The Government has made a concerted effort to attract world attention and arouse international public opinion to the threat to Israel's security. We have tried in particular to make the Great Powers aware of the responsibility they bear in view of this undermining of the balance of power in the Middle East. [- - -]
            I note with satisfaction that our call aroused a response from free public opinion all over the world. If public opinion could solve the serious problem we face, I think we could rely on it to support us. [- - -] Needless to say, however, the solution still rests with several governments, whose practical policies are what determine the fate of the balance of power between Israel and its neighbors at the moment.
            Our appeal to the powers included the principal representatives of all the four governments which met at the Geneva Conference at the end of October, three of which had met previously in Paris. [- - -] I regarded my meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister as being of special importance. We consider the USSR to be the main factor in causing the current crisis. We also had severe criticism of the British government, which sold Egypt arms it had refused to sell us, thereby disturbing the military balance between us and Egypt even before the Czech transaction. But that other deal, which we had every reason to believe was made in accordance with policy determined in Moscow, gave Egypt, which threatens aggression, tremendous military superiority over Israel, which is on the defensive, confronting our country with a danger unlike any we have known since the War of Independence.
            I tried to make Mr. Molotov see the USSR's responsibility arising from that association. I stressed the discrepancy between massive military support for a country in a state of war with its neighbor, thereby infringing on the principles of the UN Charter [- - -] and the policy of peace and the reduction of international tension which the USSR advocates in the world arena. [- - -] The answers I received were not satisfactory.
            Although we think that the serious discussions between us and the USSR, undertaken in Jerusalem and Moscow and continued in Geneva, has not yet ended, something has cast a dark shadow over our relations with the Soviet government. We recently heard a definition of Israel's policy from the lofty podium of the Supreme Soviet the like of which we have never heard from the official representative of any country which maintains diplomatic relations with us.
            The official version reads: "The activities of the State of Israel which since its establishment has threatened its neighbors and conducted a policy of hostility towards them, should be condemned." There seem to be people and parties for whom historical facts are merely clay in the potter's hand, taking on different shapes as the needs of the hour dictate. That declaration about Israel's supposedly hostile attitude towards its neighbors aroused not only deep regret, grievous injury and bitter scorn among the people of Israel, but also astonishment and indignation in the hearts of those throughout the world who seek the truth. The world well remembers what happened in the first days of Israel's existence and what has happened between then and today. It also remembers what the distinguished representatives of the USSR said in public then. [- - -]
            [- - -] On May 18, 1948 the USSR delegate to the Security Council, Mr. Gromyko, said: "Everyone knows that military actions are currently taking place in Palestine because of the battles between the Arabs and the Jews following the entry into Palestine of the regular armies of several Arab countries...."
            A few days later Mr. Gromyko said: "The USSR delegation does not understand the attitude taken by the Arab countries regarding Palestine, particularly in view of the fact that those countries sent their armies into Palestine and are taking military action there which is intended to repress the national liberation movement in Palestine."
            [- - -] There are many more examples I could give, but I do not wish to bore the house. [- - -] There is just one passage I would like to quote, since it is particularly relevant for our situation today. On July 14, 1948 Mr. Gromyko addressed the Security Council and said: "The Arab countries have no reason to regard the establishment of an independent Jewish state in Israel as something which threatens them. Seven hundred thousand or one million Jews cannot represent a danger for 26 million Arabs. A Jewish state cannot threaten the Arab East." [- - -]
            In the meeting held on December 2, 1948 Mr. Jacob Malik said in the Security Council, in connection with Israel's attempts to be accepted as a member of the UN: "That country has already proved that it fulfills the conditions laid down in Article IV of the Charter. Ever since it came into existence it has stated its desire to live in peace and maintain peaceful relations with all its neighbors and all the nations of the world. It is not its fault if this call goes unanswered by its neighbors." [- - -]
            Those statements were made during the early days of Israel's existence. [- - - ] They give a more accurate picture of who threatened whom in the Middle East than the declaration we heard from the Supreme Soviet recently. [- - -]
            The same endeavor to distort the facts to fit the needs of the hour characterizes [- - -] the attempt to define Israel as a state which is exploited by "imperialistic powers" to serve as "a weapon against the Arab peoples." [- - -] Israel's essential independence needs no imprimatur from anyone. Israel arose and exists as the product of the free will of the Jewish people, as being necessary for its life, existence and future and as the bearer of its mission and its destiny. Anyone who is unable to see the miracle of the spiritual freedom and political independence embodied in Israel's existence every day proves himself to be unable to grasp one of the most wonderful events in human history: the Jewish people's return to its land.
            [- - -] This distortion of the facts about Israel and this slandering of its reputation [- - -] heighten our apprehensions regarding the new Soviet policy which is reflected in the arms deal with Egypt. We will do our utmost to persuade the USSR of the truth [- - -] but it is better for us to view the situation dispassionately and clearly. No distortion can alter the fact of the Arab aggression in the past and the present or obscure the danger of its revival in the near future.
            Our demand for the arms needed for self-defense and, first and foremost, to deter those who would attack us, becomes more urgent from day to day. This demand was the focal point of our talks with the representatives of the Western powers. The British government, which gave preferential treatment to Egypt over us as far as [- - -] arms were concerned even before the Czech deal, did not consider it necessary to adjust the balance afterwards either. Certain Western European countries showed some signs of being willing to help us, but they are subject to the discipline of NATO [- - -] or feel they must coordinate their policy with the USA. Our principal demand is directed at the American government [- - -] which has not yet made its final decision. [- - -]
            We categorically reject the contention voiced in various capitals that supplying arms to Israel means a new arms race. [- - -] We were the first to speak out against an arms race in the Middle East and for investing the maximum resources in economic development and social rehabilitation. But preventing an arms race requires mutuality. [- - -] Depriving Israel of arms in the present situation does not mean preventing an arms race, it means abandoning a small, besieged country to the aggressive urges of its neighbors, who are many times stronger than it.
            The American public supports Israel and its claims. [- - -] Special mention should be made of the deep understanding of Israel's problems and the display of support for it [- - -] by members of all the parties in the debate held three weeks ago in the British parliament. This lively public support [- - -] is valuable both morally and politically. [- - -]
            Israel will be ready to repel any attack [- - -] but will not act aggressively against anyone. Israel will conduct its struggle against hostile associations by political, not military, means. If we struck Syria recently that was in order to repel and paralyze its continuous erosion of our security, the integrity of our territory and our freedom of action within it, and not for any other purpose.
            While increasing our military strength, we will continue to strive for peace, but we will not buy peace at the price of concessions which restrict the state’s ability to live and arouse the desire of others to trespass and destroy.
            There is a serious debate between us and the U.S. government regarding the possibility of a settlement between us and the Arab countries. [- - -] The various Western powers hold different opinions on that subject, and in our view Great Britain cannot be an intermediary since its government has taken a stand regarding the settlement, stating publicly that it should be based on a compromise between the UN resolution of 1947 and the existing situation. [- - -]
            The UN resolution of November 29 1947 was a crucial historical decision for us. But as far as international law and practical policy are concerned, that resolution, like any other passed by the Assembly, is a weighty recommendation from the UN to the parties involved as to how to resolve a problem which has arisen. That recommendation was made against a certain factual background and was intended to be implemented at that time, maintaining the unity of all its parts and with the cooperation of all three parties concerned—the Jews, the Arabs and the British authorities. [- - -] The recommendation was overthrown, in effect, by the lack of cooperation on the part of England and by the bloody war declared on Israel by the Arabs of Palestine and the neighboring countries. History has passed over the resolution of 1947 and continued on its way. The practical and political background to the problem has changed and the situation cannot be restored to what it was. The State of Israel was refined and crystallized in the crucible of the War of Independence. Its situation and size today are the basis for its national authority and international standing.
            [- - -] To the best of our knowledge, the US government does not regard the resolution of 1947 as the point of departure for a settlement. [- - -] Like the British Prime Minister, however, Mr. Dulles appears to favor a compromise between the opposing claims. [- - -] We have explained to both those governments that this formula could mislead many and serve as a cover for injustice. The Arabs are being asked to give up some of their arbitrary demands, [- - -] while we are being asked to give up some of our property. [- - -] We have made it clear [- - -] that under no circumstances will Israel forego part of its territory unilaterally or allow refugees back into its midst.
            We made it evident that we are not prepared to give up any part of the southern Negev, whether settled or not, fertile or desert, and that Israel will not abandon its control of Eilat and its approaches. [- - -]
            [- - -] The tension between us and Egypt following the Czech arms deal and the danger of explosion it creates has impelled the powers to endeavor more vigorously to arrange a settlement [- - -] possibly because of their mistaken assumption that our present dangerous situation will make us more ready to relinquish our claims. [- - -]
            Efforts have been made to brand us as constituting a barrier to peace [- - -] and this has impelled us to produce our own proposal for a peace settlement, which we submitted to the U.S. government. [- - -] This plan contains the basic ideas we have put forward from time to time in the spheres of economics, transport and development projects on a mutual basis and within the framework of peaceful relations between us and the Arabs. Most of those proposals are based on the natural rules which are accepted throughout the civilized world between neighboring countries which have peaceful and friendly relations. One of them, which concerns the payment of compensation for ahandoned Arab property, derives from the special circumstances of Israel's relations with its neighbors and does not constitute a reaffirmation of any previous commitment. The proposal also included our readiness, which we have stated many times in the past, to discuss mutual border adjustments to the benefit of both sides, within the framework of an overall agreement. We have made a clear distinction between border adjustments and territorial concessions.
            By submitting that plan we hoped to shift the focal point away from the negative and unrealistic demands of the Arab countnies to the positive and practical background of relations between countries, guaranteeing their common interests and mutual benefit. [- - -] The plan is not advanced by us as a precondition for negotiations for a settlement. It gives some conception of the proposals we intend to bring to the conference table, if such a thing should ever come to pass.  We are prepared to enter into direct negotiations with the other side without any precondition.
            It is, of course, doubtful whether all this talk of negotiations and a settlement have any basis in the existing reality of Egypt's attitude or Israel's relations with any other Arab country. We must be on our guard for any tactic or deception by the other side in which a Great Power could be an unwitting partner. We must beware especially of any talk or attempt to present the chance of any progress towards peace [- - -] as justifying the withholding of arms from us.
            With all our doubt and caution regarding treachery and deception, it is our bound duty not to miss any chance which could open the way to a settlement. Let one hand grasp the spear and the other be extended in peace. [- - -] Only a firm peace between the nations of the Middle East will assure their genuine independence and will put their relations with the Great Powers on the right footing. Only a true and stable peace will enable those nations to devote themselves to the huge, mutual effort of construction and development. ]- - -]
            But until peace comes, and for the sake of peace, it is incumbent upon us to be ready for a defensive war. This does not mean that we can stop the work of development, investment and the absorption of immigrants. Quite the contrary. [- - -] The impetus of building is the breath of life for this country. Immigration and tourism are like blood transfusions for us. [- - -] Let the Jews of the diaspora, who have ever been unfailing in their support for us, come and see that life in Israel is continuing normally, that the populace is quiet, but ready. [- - -]
            At this time we must tighten our links with those countries which have friendly relations with us, and do all we can to establish such relations with other countries. [- - -] We must increase our readiness to repel any attack while being prepared to consider any possibility of a fair settlement, build up our might while taking constant heed of our international position. War is not necessary, it is possible. This possibility must guide all our independent efforts and our demands for help, so that we may be prepared for it and, above all, prevent it.

SOURCES: Sitting 50 of the Third Knesset. The above text is based mainly on excerpts translated in Major Knesset Debates, 1948-1981, ed. Netanel Lorch, (Lanham / New York / London: University Press of America / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1993), III: 882-87, and on some translated extracts in David Ben-Gurion, Israel: A Personal History, 465-68. The Hebrew is in Divrei Haknesset, XIX, pp.671-81.