The Alternative That Flickered
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The Alternative That Flickered

“My country has left me”

by Yaakov Sharett

Those Were the Years, Nissim Mishal, Yediot Aharonot


The year 1954 was Moshe Sharett’s only full year as Prime Minister. He served as Israel’s second Prime Minister and Foreign Minister between January 1954 and August 1955.


This brief term can be explained by the fact that Sharett was given the post temporarily after Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, suddenly resigned. Ben-Gurion went to Sde Boker at the end of 1953, but continued to exert his influence from there, since he remained party leader, and even declared that he would be back.


Some believe that Ben-Gurion's resignation at the end of 1953 was designed to distance Sharett from the cabinet because he opposed heating up the borders with retaliation operations and warned against launching a pre-emptive war, or even talking about it - because talk just might start it. Indeed, when Ben-Gurion retired, he recommended that his party appoint Levi Eshkol, not Sharett, next Prime Minister. This move failed, but before leaving, Ben-Gurion managed to plant two booby traps for Sharett: He chose the extremist Pinhas Lavon as Defense Minister, and appointed the belligerent Moshe Dayan Chief of Staff.


Sharett did not have the slightest chance of overpowering the defense establishment. The IDF top brass ignored his authority and conducted an independent retaliation policy behind his back. Chief of Staff Dayan, who sought a war with Egypt, openly incited the officers against Sharett. In an odd twist of fate, it so happened that in the days of Israel's most moderate Prime Minister, the IDF operated Intelligence Branch agents in Egypt in July 1954 - without Sharett's knowledge and while he was conducting secret negotiations with President Nasser - in what would later be known as "The Affair". When the whole affair exploded, it marked the end of Sharett's term. Ben-Gurion returned to the Cabinet as Defense Minister (after Sharett fired Lavon) and, after the 1955 elections, was appointed Prime Minister again, replacing Sharett.


Being an intelligent man and a foreign minister who was sensitive to Israel's international status, Sharett realized that the very establishment of the State of Israel had put an end to the element of expansion in Zionism. He maintained that once the Jewish settlement had become a sovereign state and a member of the family of nations with equal rights and duties, new rules of existence applied to it. One of the most important of them was: no more conquering of territory.


Ben-Gurion did not agree. He did not consider the cease-fire lines of 1949 sacred. In his Independence Day speech in 1955, he declared: "Our future does not depend on what the gentiles say, but on what the Jews do."


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