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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Letter to Israeli PM Eshkol on Flexibility in Peace Talks

(October 23, 1968)

President Johnson wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in an effort to pressure Israel to be more flexible in peace talks.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I have appreciated your recent letters, and I had a good talk with Foreign Minister Eban yesterday. He will be reporting in detail our strong feelings on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but I wish to write you this personal note to be sure our emphasis on that issue does not obscure a larger point.

I know you face a difficult series of meetings this week and wish to send you this word of encouragement.

I am deeply concerned, as you know, Mr. Prime Minister, about Israel's future, and I understand how strongly some of your colleagues feel that Israel's future can best be guaranteed by military means and expanded borders alone. It is so much easier to argue in terms of military balance and lines on a map than it is to argue the case for political compromise. But our own experience has proved that real peace is not found alone on the walls of a fortress---or under the umbrella of air power--or behind a nuclear shield.

Every American President knows that our most secure borders are the open borders with Mexico and Canada. That day may not be close for Israel with the UAR, but it could be close with Jordan.

I feel so strongly about the irrationality of trying to make peace by force alone that I must urge you to resist those who find it easier to risk Israel's future on today's expanded boundaries than to reach out for real peace. From my own difficult personal decision last March, I can say with feeling that it is not easy to lead a nation toward a necessary peace without jeopardizing hard-won gains and the future those gains have earned. But I can also say that it is worth reasonable risks, measured compromise, and personal pain.

I do not presume to say what your Government should do. But I pray that you and your colleagues will find the courage to seize this moment of opportunity so that peace may be "within thy walls."

I look forward to seeing you later this year.


Lyndon B. Johnson

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.