Israel and the Middle East
The Essentials for Peace and Progress
Address by Mr. Moshe Sharett, Israel Minister for Foreign Affairs
National Press Club, Washington D.C.
April 10, 1953
I deeply appreciate the opportunity of addressing this distinguished forum. The American-Israel relationship is much older than the state of Israel. Even today it is a relationship between peoples, not merely between governments. The public opinion of both countries warmly supports this unusual partnership between two democracies, disparate In size, age and power, different in historic background, but presenting such striking similarities of evolution, and holding so many moral and political ends in common. The great American press has been a true mirror of this outstanding phenomenon of democratic solidarity. It did much to dramatize Israel's emergence and. to project the full significance of this revolutionary event into public consciousness. Its unflagging interest in Israel's fortunes continues to command our gratitude.
1 came here to exchange views with leaders of the United States Government on matters of special concern to Israel In which America is also keenly interested. I was privileged to meet President Eisenhower, Secretary Dulles, Secretary Wilson, and some congressional leaders of both parties, and felt much gratified by the friendly atmosphere which surrounded these conversations. They strengthened my conviction that the friendship between the United States and Israel is built upon solid and enduring foundations, and that Israel can confidently look forward to an attitude of sympathetic understanding of her problems on the part of the present United States administration.
It was a particular source of satisfaction to me to find that as before, the United States is as one with us in desiring the earliest possible attainment of peace in the Middle East. To our mind, the conclusion of a negotiated peace settlement between our neighbors and ourselves is not merely a matter of self-interest but a world necessity. No system of international peace can be secure if it leaves an important region prey to internal discord, enmity, and fear. Within the region each one of the states concerned may well be able to hold out without peace - if need be, indefinitely. This certainly applies to Israel, as experience has manifestly proved. The losses resulting from the absence of peace are far greater on the Arab side than they are on ours, yet these patent facts are not a complete consolation. No region can attain security of progress as long as it is divided against itself. There can be no prosperity all around, without the pooling of efforts, and there can be no cooperation without peace. Nor can the general security of a region be effectively organized while the embers of warfare are still smoldering within it.
We are often asked what are our peace conditions. There is but one condition - than whlch nothing can be more simple and elementary. It is that we should be accepted, and accepted as we are, with our territory, population, and unrestricted sovereignty. We seek no encroachment on the integrity or sovereignty of our neighbors, and are at a loss to understand how they can legitimately make such encroachment on us the condition of a settlement. If there is to be peace, it can only be with Israel as it exists - not as something which might be wished out of existence or something which might be imagined to be quite different from what it is. No realistic observer can possibly take these fantastic claims seriously. They are advanced as a feint, not as part of a practical program. The real difficulty on the Arab side is essentially psychological – not one that is rooted in any conflict of vital interests. Once that psychological stumbling block is removed, no practiced difference can remain which cannot be resolved by peaceful negotiations and mutual adjustment. Even the formidable refugee problem, which now overshadows the scene of Israel-Arab relations, fully admits of a constructive solution. It is a crying shame that these masses of victims of the war of aggression should for so long be left to linger on the brink of despair and that vast international funds should be dissipated on their maintenance, when areas of fertile land, rich water resources, and other economic opportunities are waiting to be utilized for their integration and when Israel herself Is offering to share In the financial burden of their resettlement. Apart from putting an end to misery and providing chance of new life to the sufferers, the solution of the Arab refugee problem will make a signal contribution to the development of the Arab lands concerned, which the advent of peace will promote in many other ways. If Israel with its small area and limited resources could within a few years absorb 700,000 destitute newcomers (260,000 of them from Arab lands), it is evident that in the far wider and better endowed Arab subcontinent homes could be found for the same number of its kinsmen, if only the will existed.
The Middle East, as its history has shown, is not inherently a poor and backward area. Its resources, if fully developed, are sufficient to sustain a civilization on a high level of prosperity. The present paralysis of interstate communications and morbid concentration on competitive defense prevent the free flow of ideas and the full development of constructive Initiative. It is true that in terms of political and economic development the Middle East stands today at the parting of the ways. A great deal will depend on whether and at what pace the ambitious program of social reform proclaimed by the present Egyptian Government will materialize, and in particular, whether the downtrodden peasant will be helped toward a more dignified and secure existence. Foreign aid and the increase of physical productivity alone cannot have an all-round beneficial effect unless the social pattern is such as can make a rational use of these blessings. In Israel, the fundamental principle is to ensure a civilized minimum of existence to all rather than let excessive wealth accumulate in the hands of a few. In agriculture, the method followed is to create a self-reliant peasantry, secure in the possession of the soil it cultivates. In industry and commerce, while full freedom and considerable State support is accorded to the development of private enterprise, efforts are also bent upon the promotion of cooperative forms of production. In some of the Arab territories, on the other hand, the influx of new wealth, largely in payment for the oil produced, often serves to create new classes of absentee landlords on the one hand and landless laborers on the other, thus widening the social gap and charging the air with potential explosiveness. Divergent trends are in operation, and the die of the future has not yet been cast, Be that as it may the pulling down of artificial barriers and full interstate cooperation can only help constructive forces to prevail and create widespread stability and contentment. Peace could usher in a new era of dynamic progress.
Support of such a policy by the United States does not entail a partisan attitude. It is a policy dictated by paramount international considerations. The choice before the United States does not necessarily lie between a pro-Israel and a pro-Arab orientation. Friendship toward one side is fully compatible with friendship toward another. The western world, including the United States, has deserved well of the Arab peoples. Their emancipation in an area of 1.5 million square miles embracing 40 million people in 8 sovereign states, the swiftness and ease with which this transformation has been achieved, is an exceptional stroke of historic good fortune offering vast and challenging opportunities to a constructive Arab statesmanship. The achievement of Independence on such a gigantic scale has owed much to American sympathy and support. The sponsorship accorded by the United States to Israel's liberation may therefore well be regarded as an organic part of a comprehensive effort to promote national freedom, of which in the Middle East the Arabs have been the prime beneficiaries.
History has not decreed separate destinies for Israel and the Arab States. If the Middle East Is a region then Israel is the center of lt. There is no other land bridge to link Egypt in the south with Syria and Lebanon in the north; the Mediterranean in the west with Jordan and Iraq in the east. As a geopolitical and economic unit the region falls to pieces if Israel is taken out of it. The elements of peace are patently there, for anyone unblinded with rancor and prejudice to see. But as long as there is no peace, certain cardinal facts of Israel's situation cannot be overlooked. To arm the Arab States in the absence of peace - an absence of peace due solely to their refusal to make it - is to arm them convergingly against Israel. To attempt a system of regional defense without Israel is to construct a wheel without a hub. Any fundamental change in the strategic and geopolitical situation in Israel's vicinity – such as the status claimed by Egypt in the Suez Canal area - affects Israel's position and cannot, in international equity and farsighted statesmanship, be sanctioned without due regard to her interests. The blockade perpetrated by Egypt against Israel through the misuse of the canal raises a grave doubt as to whether Egypt can safely be entrusted with the sole mastery of this vital international waterway. While peace is our major objective, we must perforce learn to live without it. In fact we do. Israel rests upon her own foundations and considers the maintenance and consolidation of her hard-won position as a constructive purpose in its own right. We draw strength from international assistance, primarily that of .the United States. The fact that Israel regained her independence at a time when the United States had risen to the position of paramount international responsibility is to us of decisive significance. On a different plane, but not unconnected with the first, we rely on the solidarity and support of the Jewish communities of the free world. We seek the friendship of all nations, near and far, ready to establish relations of normal intercourse with us. We have faith in the efficacy and ultimate triumph of our own self-reliant efforts.
Our difficulties are well advertised. What is perhaps not always realized is that behind an uninviting facade of hardship and strain and to the accompaniment of loud criticism, often uncharitable and not always edifying, a sound and imposing economic structure is steadily rising. Our much predicted economic collapse is stubbornly refusing to materialize. It is apparently forgotten in some quarters that Israel is a country not only of true prophets but also of false ones. In recent times the country has been the graveyard of the reputation of many an expert. We have turned a difficult corner in the financial year just ended. By dint of retrenchment and self-imposed privation we have managed to arrest the increase of our Indebtedness and have even begun slowly and laboriously to reduce it. We have succeeded in meeting all our obligations as they fell due. Our work of development has registered further signal conquests. They include new irrigation projects, marked progress in reclamation works, the bringing under the plough of new areas of land, the planting of new citrus groves, the opening up of hitherto inaccessible areas by road building, a commencement of the exploitation of mineral resources in potash and phosphate, copper and kaolin, the establishment of a number of new key industries, and a general steep increase of agricultural and Industrial production. It is fascinating to behold the different tribes of modern Israel, which had grown so dissimilar through ages of dispersion, being welded into one nation - a process of which the school and the army are such powerful agents. It is inspiring to see the long-neglected land yield her hidden wealth to the loving efforts of her returning sons and exchange her somber aspects for smiling countenance; also to witness the pent-up energies of a people, for ages starved of a creative opportunity, respond so impressively to the supreme test of its history, The ties of brotherly solidarity between Israel and the Jews .throughout the world have grown in intensity and promise. Nowhere has the interest in the struggles and achievements of Israel been more expressive and generous than within American Jewry. Israel is the focus of Jewish pride. Jewish support is the moral mainstay of Israel. It is an inestimable boon of democracy to Jewish life that it provides full scope for free contact among the Jewish communities of different countries and between them all and Israel.
The frank repudiation by the present Soviet rulers of the gruesome and fantastic charge officially preferred against a group of eminent Soviet physicians - a group which according to the originally published version consisted almost entirely of Jews - is as gratifying a phenomenon as it is spectacular. It vindicates the sharpness of Israel's reaction to the revolting libel. It removes that initial link from the chain of circumstances which ostensibly led to the severance by the Soviet Government of its relations with Israel. It exposes to well-deserved ridicule and contempt those fanatical adherents of the Soviet oracle who blindly accepted its former dictum and undertook to rationalize its absurdity. It implicitly exonerates - - if any such exoneration were necessary - both the American Joint Distribution Committee and the Zionist organization of the accusations of espionage and murder leveled against them. It carries with it the condemnation of the sinister anti-Semitic twist and purpose of the original Indictment. This Is a most welcome departure which, if indicative of a general trend, Is calculated considerably to allay the fears which previous manifestations of Soviet policy had aroused concerning the fate of Soviet Jewry. Yet even then the poignant questions overhanging the fate of that community in its tragic isolation remain unanswered.
An outstanding recent development in the sphere of Israel's international relations has been the final ratification and entry into force of the agreement signed between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany on the payment of compensation for Jewish property plundered or destroyed by the Nazi regime to the extent of the cost of rehabilitation in Israel of the victims of Nazi persecution. The agreement stands out as a historic acceptance of responsibility for the material ravages perpetrated by one people in the life of another. It is unprecedented in character and it may well be regarded as a contribution to international morality. Chancellor Adenauer deserves full recognition for the tenacity of purpose he has demonstrated in steering the ratification through all its stages despite the internal and external difficulties encountered till it has been formally consummated and has now entered upon the phase of its implementation.
Israel's ties with the rest of the world have been growing in number and in strength. My recent visit to Rangoon gave me an opportunity of ascertaining prospects of lasting and fruitful friendship with Asian nations, including those which regained their independence at about the same time as Israel. My forthcoming mission of goodwill to some of the Latin American states will, I hope, contribute to the further cementing of bondasof friendship and mutual understanding which have stood Israel in such good stead in the past. The countries I am going to visit as guests of their governments are Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil. Each of them, mindful of its own struggle for liberation and sovereign equality, has made a contribution to the international consolidation of Israel's position. It will be a privilege for me to express to the heads of these republics the gratitude of the people of Israel for their sympathy and support.
The rise of Israel has been a victory of a people's collective will over seemingly insuperable obstacles of time and space - its uprooting from its native soil, its age-long exile and its worldwide dispersion. What was lost in antiquity - and seemed to be lost forever - was regained by a dogged effort of three generations, culminating in a brief epic struggle. Broad conceptions of time and space continue to shape Israel's vision and to set their imprint on her fortunes. Our ancient heritage is to us the everlasting source of inspiration in the struggle for our future. Our return to our native land after millennia of wandering and separation enables us to graft what is the best in western civilization upon the stock of our national culture. Our location at the western gateway of Asia indicates to us the mission of serving as a bridge between the Occident and the Orient, helping to interpret one world to another. Our dedication to a democratic way of life makes of Israel a focus of democracy capable of radiating its influence all around. This destiny entails a heavy responsibility, and we pray for strength, wisdom, and imagination to meet the challenge.