Sharett expounded 'the other approach'
The lecture reproduced-here, setting out an "alternative approach" to the Arab problem, was delivered by the late Moshe Sharett at Beit Berl, the Labor movement's' study centre, about a year after the Sinai Campaign, in November 1957.
The contents of the lecture have only now been made public, in the first issue of "Ot", the new quarterly published by the Alignment. Mr. Sharett here declares that we should have understood better the profound shock and confusion in the Arab world following the establishment of Israel, and that we should have pursued peace by creating a climate of "mutual advantage", rather than seek to demonstrate our strength in reprisal actions.
Mr. Sharett had resigned from office several months before the Sinai Campaign in
The first section of the lecture has been condensed owing to its length, and the second is given in full.
Mr. Sharett opens his lecture by saying that he would speak about the problem of the relationship between Israel and the Arab world, which he calls "the problem" The problem was as old as the return to Zion itself, and it could not be claimed that the Zionist Movement itself had not given it due thought. The people themselves, the new settlers, had long failed to understand its gravity, and he was not sure they had understood it even now. He did not wish to blame anyone, but just as this situation had causes, so it had consequences.
The movement had attempted to grapple with the question, and often courageously, but it had failed, he thought, to enter sufficiently into the psychological aspects of the matter. "We were so filled with the sense of the historical justice of our claim that we did not consider how this justice looked from the other side."... Nor did we realize the depth of national consciousness in the Arab world."
We said the Arab world was great and wide; it had many tens of millions of inhabitants; many hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory - it would make no difference to the Arab world as a whole if this small section of ours, one corner, were to lose its Arab character and acquire a totally Jewish character." But he answers that the question was not altogether applicable. Would one have asked
Economics and nationalism
And further. While Zionism was based entirely on national consciousness, and the construction of a new social system and economic balance were only its by-products, we offered the Arabs economic advantages and social progress, but with total disregard of the national question. After aII, we had never expected that two-thirds of the Arab population of this country would suddenly uproot itself and leave. We had expected to live together, and promised them a higher standard of living, a better future for their children. "We offered them a mess of economic and social pottage... and expected them to sell their national birthright. When I say this I am looking at it with Arab eyes... the suggestion that the Arabs lived on a very low standard and would therefore be responsive to material advantages was repeated in many publications." This had been a misleading attitude, the Arabs had been insulted, and anyone who studied the problem from a broader point of view realized that it had been harmful, had roused hostility resulting from injured pride, and resentment of our view that they were lower orders without national feeling and interested only in bread and medical services.
Mr. Sharett goes on to analyze that while for the Jews economic progress ran parallel with national progress, an Arab knew that he would benefit by selling a part of his land to Jews, but that by doing so, he betrayed his nation. The advantages were always linked with injury to self-respect, and the result was a national and individual confusion that grew into a complex. The Arab was bound to ask himself what the future of this country would be, what its character would be, its government, and whether he would feel at home here. They saw that parts of this country were already no longer in their hands, and when they entered these parts they felt strangers.
Next he reviews the territorial divisions proposed before the State. The U.N.S.C.O.P. proposal would have given us 62 percent of
Mr. Sharett goes on to say that there was still no understanding of the Arab point of view then, and that at the time of his lecture, in 1957, there was renewed illusion. He had not been here at the time of the Sinai Campaign itself, but judging by the press and radio people had again the illusion that peace was within reach. "... as though our decisive victory in Sinai had prepared the ground for peace." It had not been so much the government itself as the people who believed that the heavy blow
Before the establishment of the State, he continues, the Arabs underestimated the serious nature of our movement, despised it as the peculiar dream of a small group of fanatics, of people lacking all sense of realism. The measure of their earlier ill judgment became the measure of their shock when the State became a reality which imposed itself upon them. They could not forgive themselves for their earlier lack of perception, but this anger was turned not against themselves, but against us and had become the force behind their refusal to come to terms "even if defeat after defeat demonstrated that no military solution was possible."
Mr. Sharett comes to the conclusion that it may take, not years but decades to achieve peace, explaining that he said this not simply because he was unwilling to accept our present defeat in this respect as permanent and impossible to change but because there seemed to him no prospect of the intellectual and spiritual readjustment necessary for peace on the part of the Arab world as long as their leaders belonged to the generation which had experienced the establishment of the State as a personal shock This did not mean that we should sit back with folded hands and await a new generation, or that it made no difference what we did: it depended on us whether we brought peace nearer or whether we caused it to be still further delayed.
The following is a verbatim translation of the rest of the lecture:
A course of conduct
The course of conduct which
The first basic element is security. The territorial integrity of the .State of
The second basic element is the Arab refugee problem. Here, perhaps, one cannot speak in quite the same overall and absolute terms as with security. None the less, I feel one can safely say that the point of view in this country generally opposes the return of the refugees; and this view is justified, in the short as well as the long term. I do not want to treat the problem in detail, since that deserves an entire lecture in itself. But I want to say that in our analysis of the issue, we at no time declared that not a single Arab refugee must return, under any circumstances. We did state that the return of the Arab refugees to this country cannot constitute a solution to their problem. By that we implied, that if there existed a programme to reunite families; its scope could be broadened. Instead of bringing back children up to the age of 15, we could also admit them up to 18; or we could allow in sisters, aunts, etc. This would be a response to the sufferings of the individual and the family. Arab families resident in
There is a third basic element on which all are agreed, including "Herut":
The fact that the nation shares a common view on these three basic elements, does not suffice to solve the problems of day-to-day policy. There is still room for two approaches, and I believe that these two approaches indeed exist. The one approach says that the only language the Arabs understand is force. The State of Israel is so tiny and so isolated; it may perhaps be so weak (in terms of relative area, population and potential); that if it does not increase its actual strength by a very high coefficient of demonstrated action, it will run into trouble. From time to time, the State of Israel might give unmistakable proof of its strength, and show that it is able and ready to use force in a crushing and highly effective manner. If it does not give such proof, it will be engulfed and may even disappear from the face of the earth.
As far as peace is concerned - says this school of thought -- it is doubtful in any event; whatever happens, it is very remote. If peace comes, that will only be when the Arabs are convinced that this country cannot be brought to its knees. There are better prospects of peace coming because they are convinced of our strength, than through speeches about
If we add to these arguments the natural human inclination to react; If we add the special sensitivity characteristic of the Jew that people may perhaps suspect him of weakness; if we add the proximity in time to the Golden Age of our triumph in war; the laurels won by the Israel Defense Forces - we shall understand the factors behind the atmosphere fostering this approach, over and above the political and military considerations, which are very weighty in themselves.
The second school
According to the second school of thought, the question of peace must not be lost sight of for one single moment. This is not solely a political consideration; in the long view, it is decisive from a military point of view. Without diminishing the importance of considerations of day-to-day security, we must always bring the question of peace into our overall calculations. We have to curb our reactions. And the question always remains: has it really been proven that reprisals establish the security for which they were planned?
Let us assume that the first school of thought holds sway. Clearly, for every Arab assault, there must be a reaction. This reaction can only take a military form. Do people consider that when military reactions outstrip in their severity the events that caused them, grave processes are set in motion which widen the gulf and thrust our neighbors into the extremist camp? How can this deterioration be halted? Is the problem given due thought, or has military routine merely seized control of the situation?
Those who support the first approach say that the development of events was inevitable. Arab hatred of
It is difficult indeed, to query these achievements. None the less, it is possible to argue that if we had adopted a different approach, if we had sought to minimize incidents rather than play them up, if we had not taken the course of Kibya,
I present the two approaches, without the assurance that I am doing both of them justice in my summary. I am merely sketching, in very general terms, two schools of thought whose existence derives from the logic of our situation. I am not able to arrive at conclusions or decisions, nor do I know whether the historian of the future will be able to decide.
Who was right? It may be found that the two approaches should have been synthesized. It may be determined that such vacillation would have a harmful effect, and that we should have decided and acted consistently according to one approach. I do not know. As an academic lecturer who is expected to present well-formulated modes of conduct, I must disappoint you;
as a statesman, or a former statesman, I cannot overlook the organic complexity of the problem.
Was Sinai inevitable?
I have been asked whether the Sinai Campaign was worth while. It is obvious that with circumstances as they came to be, there is ample justification for the view that the Sinai Campaign saved us from disaster. Yet that is not an accurate summing-up of the historical and political issues at stake. First must come a more searching question: did the circumstances that rendered the Sinai Campaign inevitable have to come into being? There is need for a soul-searching analysis in this respect. I shall not pronounce negative judgment; but on no account will I accept a historical ruling that says these circumstances were inevitable. There is room for thorough study.
What led to the Sinai Campaign? The build-up of Egyptian strength in the
There is, of course, great value in
I utterly reject the approach that it is permissible to ask
This is a question of the political climate surrounding the problem. In a certain political climate, peace is attainable even without concessions. In the climate of the
The big powers, understandably, play a major role in this field. During Mandatory times, when we made attempts to get together with the Arabs for talks, they had grounds for assuming that by putting pressure on
In my last conversation with Nuri Said, in
But Nuri Said answered: "No. We are powerless to stop them. We had better wait and see what they resolve; then we shall see if we can adapt ourselves to the framework they have set up." He expressed himself diplomatically. He thought they would get more from
I certainly agree with the Prime Minister's statement that only the powers are in a position to alleviate the tension now. But I do not believe we can clear Israeli policy from all responsibility. We had better not rule ourselves out entirely. What we do is worth something. Even what we say is worth something.
The matter is complex, I understand. My intention is not to make accusations wholesale. Heaven forbid. But we shall not escape from a complicated situation by ignoring the fact that it is complicated.