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Israel Will Protect its Vital Interests, Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Eshkol

(January 21, 1964)

Israel's reaction to the first Arab summit came in a speech to the Knesset by Prime Minister Eshkol. He declared that Israel would draw water from Lake Kinnereth within the limits established in the Unified Plan. Referring to the Arab threat to divert the headwaters of the Jordan, he added that "Israel will oppose unilateral and illegal measures by the Arab States and will act to protect its vital interests. " The text of his statement follows:

Last week thirteen Arab Heads of State and representatives met in Cairo at the invitation of the Egyptian President in order to discuss ways of sabotaging the State of Israel's water plan. At the end of the conference a statement was issued containing attacks and threats against Israel, and reporting the adoption of decisions in both the military and the technical spheres.

Whatever was obscure in the statement was spelled out later by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, who announced the establishment of military, administrative and financial machinery for the execution of what he called "The Arab Plan for the Jordan Waters" which means the diversion of the headwaters of the Jordan to prevent their waters flowing into Israeli territory, with the further purpose of increasing the salinity of the water that will remain.

The deliberations of the conference were held in camera, but before the first session was closed to the public, the President of Egypt managed to reveal the gist of several decisions adopted in 1960 and 1961 by the Council of the Arab League, the League's Defence Council, and the Supreme Council of the Arab General Staffs. These decisions dealt with military and engineering measures designed to prevent the execution of Israel's water plan. The President of Egypt expressly stated that the measures planned in 1960/61 were to have been based on united military operations by the Arab States against Israel.

From the Egyptian President's statement it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that if these military and engineering plans to the detriment of Israel's rights and security were not carried out, it was only because the practical conditions required were lacking.

A few days have passed since the conference of the Arab Heads of State broke up, and it is important that the world should be aware of the deplorable significance of the decisions it adopted and the statements it issued. All the States that took part ill the conference are members of the United Nations Organization. Under the Charter of the United Nations, it is their duty to refrain not only from the use of force but from any threat of force against any other country. Compliance with these principles of the United Nations Charter is humanity's only hope of emerging from the nightmare of war and building a better world founded on justice, law and peace. In recent times the world has become more sensitive to the vital need for a relaxation of world and regional tensions and the avoidance of the danger of armed violence. The aspiration for peace in our time comes from the hearts of all mankind. It is common to all nations and all continents. And it is just in these days that the Heads of the Arab States openly and expressly proclaim that they planned acts of aggression against another State entitled to equal rights in the family of nations, and announce their intention to revive these plans and carry them into effect.

Is it not clear that those who make such proclamations regard the Charter of the United Nations as no more than a worthless scrap of paper? Has it not been demonstrated afresh that the signatures of Egypt and the other Arab countries on the Charter of the United Nations are of no value whatsoever?

We find ourselves confronted with a doctrine of international relations to which there is no parallel in our generation. It is contrary to all law and morality. It makes a mockery of the repeated declarations by the Egyptian President and his colleagues of their devotion to peace and world disarmament. It runs contrary to the mainstream of international thought in our days which has as its central objective the relaxation of tension and the strengthening of peace.

While it is not yet clear what the practical results of the Cairo conference will be, it has already brought out into the clear light of day aggressive and destructive aims that should shock the conscience of every lover of peace. Thirteen Heads of State were moved to assemble and deliberate together. How deplorable it is that the purpose of their meeting was not the social and economic advancement of their tens of millions of people. How horrifying that the only aim that could bring them together under one roof was their lust for aggression against a neighbouring State.

The Cairo conference has laid bare a general posture of hostility to Israel; but tile main subject with which it dealt was our country's national water scheme. Here the conference arrived at a dual conclusion: it painted a distorted picture of our legal and constructive enterprise; and it proclaimed a plan of sabotage, which is based entirely on negation and envy, violation of law and deliberate aggression.

Arab propaganda tries to describe Israel's water project as a unilateral and illegal scheme, which violates the rights of the Arab countries. There is not a grain of truth in this picture. This campaign of distortion deliberately passes over the history of tile scheme, its legal basis, and the true facts.

Eleven years ago the Arab States and Israel agreed to the mediation of the President of the United States, who sent the late Ambassador Eric Johnston to this part of the world as his special envoy to work out an agreed regional plan for the utilization of the waters of the Jordan, the Yarmuk and their tributaries. At the opening of the negotiations, the Arab countries on the one hand and Israel on the other submitted separate plans for the allocation of the Jordan and Yarmuk waters. For almost three years Ambassador Johnston conducted parallel and co-ordinated negotiations with the Arab Governments and with Israel.

After prolonged and exhaustive discussions, in which Arab, Israeli and international engineers took part, Mr. Johnston produced a Unified Regional Plan which was based upon accepted rules and principles of international law and procedure. This plan assured Syria and Lebanon of all the quantities of water demanded by them in the Arab plan, without any cuts whatsoever. The Unified Plan allocated to the Kingdom of Jordan all the water required by it for the irrigation of its irrigable areas.

This allocation was based on a detailed, objective survey. In other words, the needs of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon were fully satisfied by the Unified Plan. And indeed, as Ambassador Johnston testified in an article published in the New York Times on 10 August 1958, the Arab countries and Israel agreed to the Unified Plan from every point of view connected with its technical and other merits. In October 1955, however, the Arab League decided against ratification of the Plan, not for any reasons pertaining to the quantities of water allocated, but on the deliberate principle of opposing any cooperation even indirect with Israel.

But the three years of negotiation were not in vain. An agreed allocation of water had been determined, which was founded on criteria accepted the world over, and against which the parties concerned had made no objection. And now, in 1964 eleven years after the beginning of the negotiations over the Unified Plan, Israel will begin to draw its share of water from Lake Kinnereth in accordance with this Plan.

We have undertaken to remain within the framework of the quantities specified in the Unified Plan and we shall honour this undertaking. According to the principles of international law governing water questions, the refusal of one party to reach agreement with a second party does not give the party that refuses the right to prevent its neighbour drawing its reasonable share from a river flowing through the territories of a number of States. The accepted law pertaining to the allocation of water does not recognize the right of veto or the right to compel the second party to allow its water to run to waste.

Israel will not be the first country to draw water from the Jordan-Yarmuk system. For the past two years the Kingdom of Jordan has been drawing considerable quantities of water from this system in the framework of its Yarmuk Plan. This Plan enjoys the support of international development agencies, which aim at advancing the complete utilization of water resources in every country, in pursuit of the goal of comprehensive regional development. Syria and Lebanon are also drawing all their requirements from the headwaters of the Jordan.

This, then, is the situation: The Arab countries are utilizing the Jordan-Yarmuk system to meet all their needs, while they seek to prevent Israel drawing its share from this network. They believe, apparently, that what is permissible to them should be forbidden to Israel. Their aim is to injure Israel even at the cost of injury to themselves. They wish to convince the world that, in the name of hostility to Israel, they are entitled to prevent the flow of the Jordan headwaters in their natural channels in Israel's territory. I note with satisfaction that the world in general has not been convinced by this theory of hostility and hatred. It is becoming clearer and clearer to the world that the arguments of the Arab countries have nothing to do with water, but are meant to deny Israel's right to exist.

In closing, I wish to clarify the position of the Government of Israel.

Israel will draw water from Lake Kinnereth within the limits of the quantities laid down in the Unified Plan.

Israel will oppose unilateral and illegal measures by the Arab States and will act to protect its vital rights.

We believe that world public opinion will not be misled by malicious misstatements and will reject the campaign of incitements and threats against a legitimate and constructive development project. This area needs the benefits that will flow from its waters, and not incitement to bloodshed; it needs economic development, not barren strife; cooperation, not envious hostility; the utilization - not the waste - of its water resources; the advancement of peace and not the fomenting of war.

The more firmly world public opinion rejects hostility and aggression, and encourages useful and constructive development, the more it will help the Arab Governments to abandon a policy of reckless adventurism, and will help our area to advance along the road of progress, constructive endeavour and peace.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs