Peace Can Be Won
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Peace Can Be Won

Moshe Sharett

The Nation, April 23, 1949


Israel's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Moshe Sharett, delivered the following speech at the dinner forum of the Nation Associates held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on April 7. The forum's subject for discussion was "Peace: How Can It Be Achieved?"


I suppose it is a commonplace to say that an anxious and restless world can derive little comfort from the reflection that war is not imminent and that with luck it may be averted for a long time to come. What mankind wants is not merely the absence of war but real peace. The mere possibility of another world war is a baulking nightmare. You cannot stand indefinitely on the brink of a precipice and pray that the sense of balance will never forsake you or that you may never be pushed unawares into the chasm. It is an ordeal which may of itself produce the fatal loss of equilibrium.


Each one of us is prone to view the world scene from his particular angle and to draw from his own national experience conclusions which may or may not be of value for international statesmanship. I plead guilty to this egocentric approach. The experience and international position of Israel appear at first glance to be relevant to the point at issue on four main counts.


First, the part played in Israel's establishment by the international authority of the United Nations. The record of the General Assembly in this regard has been a striking demonstration of the capacity of the United Nations for creative statesmanship - its ability to formulate and morally to impose a bold and constructive solution for a complex and explosive international problem. It is true that, as far as the United Nations is concerned, high purpose in the conception of Policy has not been equaled by determination and effectiveness in execution. It was the Defense Army of Israel and not the Security Council which in the hour of decision in Palestine saved Israel and the moral authority of the United Nations from utter collapse. Nevertheless, the role of the United Nations in shaping the country's destiny has proved decisive. The historic resolution of November 29, 1947, has in its broad outline set the pattern of a settlement which has already been woven into the fabric of the world. The Assembly itself never swerved from the course it had once adopted. It resisted twice the attempts made in its own midst to distort and stultify the great decision. The Security Council, after its initial indecision when faced with a brutal defiance of United Nations authority, rallied to arrest the growth of the conflict. In the final stages the achievement of Dr. Ralph Bunche and his associates in bringing to a successful conclusion three successive chapters of armistice negotiations stands as an example of international mediation at once resourceful, effective, and fair.


Second, Israel's paramount and compelling interest in peace. Its birth was attended by a war forced on it by a brazen aggression. Once alive and firmly established, its very breath depends on international peace. Any major outbreak of hostilities on the world scene will immediately affect the Middle East and may engulf Israel in a tidal wave of destructive violence. Israel's imperative need to grow and develop by immigration, influx of capital, and importation of technical skill and scientific talent can only be satisfied in a stable world. A world war would be fatal to that process. Moreover, Israel's vital connection with the Jewish people throughout the world makes peace a supreme injunction of its foreign policy. In the wake of the First World War, that people suffered pogroms and economic ruin in Eastern Europe. In the Second World War three-quarters of European Jewry were destroyed, and the virus of anti-Semitism became more malignant in many parts of the world. There is no people today which in obedience to sheer instinct of self-preservation dreads another world war more than the Jews. Israel expects that its claim to be considered a peace-loving nation will be accepted as genuine not because of any supposed ethical superiority but because of its own evident interest in peace.


Third, Israel's potential role in the development of the Middle East. It is a commonplace of the "anatomy of peace" that its maintenance depends not merely on a stable political relationship between nations but on social contentment within each. Gross inequalities of wealth, mass poverty and ignorance, are a perpetual source of internal strife. Undeveloped potentialities lead to external dislocation. Both are most potent menaces to international peace. Weakness or vacuum invites aggression from outside, provoking conflict among those bent on conquest. Injustice and oppression breed explosion from within, with inevitable international repercussions. There can be no stable peace on the basis of class privilege, mass privation, and general backwardness. It is in this context that the Middle East is one of the world's danger zones. The newly won independence of the Arab countries will remain precarious as long as the empty shell of political sovereignty is not filled with a solid content of economic development and social progress. To this process the state of Israel, by virtue of its own interest and for purely objective reasons, can serve as a powerful catalytic agent. Here again the basic interests of Israel are in full dynamic harmony with those of a constructive world peace.


Fourth and last, Israel's demonstration of the co-existence within its national framework of divergent economic systems and ways of life. This unique diversity in unity is a feature of the Jewish reconstruction effort in Palestine which has as yet received scant attention from the world outside. Two basic principles have governed the social and economic evolution of the new Jewish society: first, the complete social self-determination of the settler - that is, his freedom to choose a form of social life which accords with his ideas; second, the freedom of economic enterprise, individual and collective. As a result, a structure has been built up and is steadily growing wherein different types of production and ownership function side by side, from the ultra-capitalistic and individualist to the ultra-socialistic and collectivist, with various intermediary types in between. In the process of peaceful growth the different forms shade into each other and replace one another as in a living tissue. The foundations of this social order, thus characterized by a symbiosis of socialism and capitalism, were firmly laid in the period preceding our independence. They will be retained and strengthened within the framework of the state. The new state democracy will safeguard these essential freedoms while subordinating them to the national purposes of the state, to its social principles and its international obligations. With all the stresses and frictions obtaining in Israel as in any modern society, there are inherent in this system the makings of a social peace.


This in brief expresses Israel's tenets and experience in grappling with the problem of peace. But it would be unwarranted to project those four elements to the world scene and expect the macrocosm to conform to the microcosm. The results achieved by international statesmanship in Palestine do not demonstrate the capacity of the United Nations to settle graver conflicts and solve problems of wider dimensions. What has proved decisive in the case of Palestine is the fact that the two major powers which stand at the opposite extremes of the world arena have aligned themselves, broadly speaking and at least at certain stages, in support of the same policy. Yet this incidental harmony does not yet seem to have established a precedent, and the fundamental disharmony between the two contending giants continues.


As to the pursuit of peace, all nations profess to be consecrated to that high objective. Yet the threat of war grows ominously. It is not enough merely to abjure and repudiate it. The accelerated development of backward territories and the removal of their worst inequalities would certainly make for greater contentment and therefore peace. Yet that avenue of progress alone by no means settles the issue. As such countries develop and mature, they may take their place in one of the two warring camps into which the world is today divided, thereby only enlarging the scope of the conflict. Moreover, the conflict is not now raging primarily in the backward areas of the globe. Its cockpits are rather located in the world's most civilized countries. In more than one country of Europe a struggle is being waged for the mastery of its soul, or rather two souls are struggling for supremacy.


THIS brings us back to the fourth element-the coexistence in one frame of divergent social systems and outlooks. Here, indeed, is the crux of the problem. For reduced to its fundamentals, the problem of world peace today is the problem of a peaceful development of two distinct social and political civilizations side by side. Whether a synthesis between the two is possible only time can show, provided humanity survives. As long as they diverge, and unless they learn to live together, the threat of a deathly clash will be ever present. If they cannot live together, neither an equilibrium, which cannot but be unstable, nor the preponderance of one system over the other, which must remain indecisive, can avert the catastrophe. The crucial question is therefore: Can they, will they agree to coexist, either forever or until such time as they will merge in some synthesis or one of them will prevail over its rival in peaceful evolution?


The experience of Israel does not of course resolve the enigma; yet it offers a clue to its solution. Why has the mutual adjustment of different systems proved feasible in Israel? Because they are subordinated to and united in a transcendent common purpose - the achievement of national salvation. The problem of world peace resolves itself therefore into the question: Is there a common world purpose which overrides the conflict between the two divergent political systems?


To that question the answer must be an emphatic affirmative. There is such a common purpose. It is the salvation of mankind? The common denominator of humanity is basic, elemental, and compelling. It is the will to live - the urge to survive. War has ceased to be a gamble between victory and defeat for either party. It spells certainty of destruction for both, a danger of annihilation for all. Peace and survival have become synonymous. Peace is no longer a means to an end. It is an end in itself; it is life itself. The hope of mankind's survival thus lies in the common realization of the deadly peril. Will that realization penetrate deeply into the mind of man? Will it determine conduct? On the answer to these questions depend the peace of the world and the future of mankind.

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