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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Speech on “A Just and Dignified Peace”

(September 10, 1968)

Now let me turn to the Middle East. That is an area of deep national interest to the American people-to all of our people-for the safety and the future of small nations are not the concern of one group of citizens alone.

To you tonight, I assure you they concern all Americans.

Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom, and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life.

It is quite natural that American Jews should feel particularly involved with Israel's destiny. That small land in the eastern Mediterranean saw the birth of your faith and your people thousands and thousands of years ago. Down through the centuries, through dispersion and through very grievous trials, your forefathers clung to their Jewish identity and clung to their ties with the land of Israel.

As the prophet Isaiah foretold: "And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from all the four corners of the earth." History knows no more moving example of persistence against the cruelest odds.

But conflict has surrounded the modern State of Israel since its very beginning. It is now more than a year that has passed since the 6-day war between Israel and its neighbors-a tragic and an unnecessary war which we tried in every way we could to prevent. That war was the third round of major hostilities in the Middle East since the United Nations established Israel just 21 years ago-the third round-and it just must be the last round.

From the day that war broke out, our policy-the policy of this Government has been to work in every capital, to labor in the United Nations, to convert the armistice arrangements of 1949 into a stable and agreed regime of peace. The time has come for real peace in the area-a peace of justice and reconciliation, not a cease-fire, not a temporary truce, not a renewal of the fragile armistice. No day has passed since then without our taking active steps to try to achieve this end.

The atmosphere of fear and mutual suspicion has made communication between the two sides extremely difficult. In this setting the plans of reasonable men, both Arabs and Israelis, have been frustrated. Despite the patient and perceptive efforts of Ambassador [Gunnar] Jarring, little real progress toward peace has been made.

I am convinced that a just and a dignified peace-a peace fair to the rightful interests of both sides-is possible. Without it, the people of the Middle East cannot shape their own destinies, because outsiders are going to exploit their rivalries, and their energies and abilities will be diverted to warfare instead of welfare. That just should not happen.

No nation that has been part of the tragic drama of these past 20 years is totally without blame. Violence and counter violence have absorbed the energy of all the parties. The process of peacemaking cannot be further delayed without danger and without peril. The United Nations Security Council resolution of last November laid down the principles of a just and lasting peace.

But I would remind the world tonight that that resolution is not self-executing. It created a framework within which men of good will ought to be able to arrive at a reasonable settlement.

For its part, the United States of America has fully supported the efforts of the United Nations representative, Ambassador Jarring, and we shall continue to do so. But it is the parties themselves who must make the major effort to begin seriously this much needed peacemaking process.

One fact is sure: The process of peacemaking will not begin until the leaders of the Middle East begin exchanging views on the hard issues through some agreed procedure which could permit active discussions to be pursued. Otherwise, no progress toward peace will be made.

In recent weeks some progress in this direction, I think, has been achieved. So tonight I appeal and I urge the leaders of the Middle East to try to maintain and to accelerate their dialogue. I urge them to put their views out on the table, to begin talking the substance of peace.

Many channels are open. How the talking is done at the outset is not very important tonight. But we just must not lose whatever momentum exists for peace. And, in the end, those who must live together must, in the words of Isaiah, learn to reason together.

The position of the United States rests on the principles of peace that I outlined on June 19, 1967. That statement remains the foundation of American policy.

First, it remains crucial that each nation's right to live be recognized. Arab governments must convince Israel and the world community that they have abandoned the idea of destroying Israel. But equally, Israel must persuade its Arab neighbors and the world community that Israel has no expansionist designs on their territory.

We are not here to judge whose fears are right or whose are wrong. Right or wrong, fear is the first obstacle to any peacemaking. Each side must do its share to overcome it, A major step in this direction would be for each party to issue promptly a clear, unqualified public assurance that it is now ready to commit itself to recognize the right of each of its neighbors to national life.

Second, the political independence and territorial integrity of all the states in the area must be assured.

We are not the ones to say where other nations should draw lines between them that will assure each the greatest security. It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders.

Some such lines must be agreed to by the neighbors involved as part of the transition from armistice to peace.

At the same time, it should be equally clear that boundaries cannot and should not reflect the weight of conquest. Each change must have a reason which each side, in honest negotiation, can accept as a part of a just compromise.

Third, it is more certain than ever that Jerusalem is a critical issue of any peace settlement. No one wishes to see the Holy City divided by barbed wire and by machineguns. I therefore tonight urge and appeal to the parties to stretch their imaginations so that their interests, and all the world's interest in Jerusalem, can be taken fully into account in any final settlement.

Fourth, the number of refugees is still increasing. The June war added some 200,000 refugees to those already displaced by the 1948 war. They face a bleak prospect as the winter approaches. We share a very deep concern for these refugees. Their plight is a symbol in the minds of the Arab peoples. In their eyes, it is a symbol of a wrong that must be made right before 20 years of war can end. And that fact must be dealt with in reaching a condition of peace.

All nations who are able, including Israel and her Arab neighbors, should participate directly and wholeheartedly in a massive program to assure these people a better and a more stable future.

Fifth, maritime rights must be respected. Their violation led to war in 1967. Respect for those rights is not only a legal consequence of peace. It is a symbolic recognition that all nations in the Middle East enjoy equal treatment before the law.

And no enduring peace settlement is possible until the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran are open to the ships of all nations and their right of passage is effectively guaranteed.

Sixth, the arms race continues. We have exercised restraint, while recognizing the legitimate needs of friendly governments. But we have no intention of allowing the balance of forces in the area to ever become an incentive for war.

We continue to hope that our restraint will be matched by the restraint of others, though I must observe that has been lacking since the end of the June war.

We have proposed, and I reiterate again tonight, the urgent need now for an international understanding on arms limitation for this region of the world.

The American interest in the Middle East is definite, is clear. There just must be a just peace in that region and soon. Time is not on the side of peace.

Now, my friends, I know that these two areas of the world are of very great concern to you, as they are to me. Many of you have roots in Europe, from which you or your forebears came in order to enrich the quality of life here in America. Most, if not all of you, have very deep ties with the land and with the people of Israel, as I do; for my Christian faith sprang from yours.

The Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories as the gallant struggle of modem Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.

Sources: Public Papers of the President