Press Conference With Prime Minister Rabin
(June 17, 1974)
A few hours after the departure of President Nixon, Prime Minister Rabin held a press conference in which he sought to assess the significance of the visit and to evaluate in general the state of Israel-US relations in light of the President's visit. The text of opening remarks and questions and answers follow:
Before touching on essential matters, I should like to refresh some memories. There exists between Israel and the US a long tradition of friendship and understanding, between the two nations and between the Governments and all their agencies. This friendship has found expression during times of trial for Israel, in the distant as well as the recent past. Over the past few years, and especially during the period that President Nixon has been in office, this friendship has increased, grown stronger and been manifested in practical matters that are of vital importance to Israel.
I should like to point out the central issues - that Israel wants American aid, and that this aid is vital to it.
Firstly, Israel must possess the capacity for independent self-defence. In addition to its will, Israel's capacity to resist aggression is also conditional on the means for self-defence - weapons. Israel needs a large amount of arms in the face of the massive aid extended in this sphere to the Arab States by the Soviet Union. Over the past years we have received considerable aid, due to the fact that the US has allowed us to acquire the weapons we needed to defend the State of Israel. The central and major source of arms for Israel, necessary for it to continue to defend itself, at present and in the future, in the face of ever-increasing needs, is the US.
A second sphere in which Israel must look to the US is that of financial aid. The actual supply of arms is not sufficient in itself to bear the brunt of the security situation. Financial aid is necessary so that Israel's burden of security will not be unbearably heavy. I should like to give an example. In the course of the past four US fiscal years, we have received over $4.5 billion from the US Government; some 4 billion of these dollars were utilized for purposes of security. In future, in view of security requirements and the ever-increasing need to procure arms, Israel will continue to stand in need of financial aid, so that it will be able to discharge its responsibilities as a State properly.
The third sphere in which Israel needs the US is in deterring Soviet freedom of military action in our region. The USSR maintains a presence in the Middle East, and, as recently as at the end of the Yom Kippur War, we witnessed threats and possible attempts to gain further ground. In addition to Israel's capacity for resistance, there is need for a deterrent against the USSR; this can be provided by the US alone.
The fourth sphere is that of political aid on the international scene, and especially in all that pertains to the UN. In the present international situation, the Arab States encounter no difficulty, within UN bodies, in passing resolutions which are of practical significance against Israel. Our need for the US, in the present as well as in the past, is aimed at making sure that the UN is not misused as a framework for international political action against Israel.
The fifth sphere of activity is implicit in the will of the US to aid Israel in fulfilling its functions throughout the world as a Jewish State. We have in the past, and will continue in the future, to make use of the goodwill of the US, its people, its Congress and its Government, to extend aid to the Jews living in distress, in countries where they are persecuted and from which they may not easily emigrate. There is no need to enumerate these countries. The aid of the US in this field, especially concerning the immigration of Soviet Jewry, has been highly valuable.
Thus, the friendship between the two nations and the ability of their Governments to collaborate is one of Israel's most important assets, one which Israel is bound to develop, nurture and strengthen. Unfortunately, Israel today cannot count many friends among the world's nations. Even fewer are the friends who are willing to translate abstract friendship into practical terms which can be of assistance in fulfilling the major objectives of the State. These are: ensuring security, striving towards a true peace, and development of Israel through building the State and absorbing immigration.
The visit of the US President is therefore of central and far-reaching significance for the present and the future. It is fraught with significance of several types, symbolic as well as practical. President Nixon is the first President in office to visit the State of Israel. This is of symbolic significance and lends greater validity to the reaffirmation of the friendship existing between Israel and US. The other symbolic significance lies in the fact that the President of the US came to Jerusalem, stayed in Jerusalem and held talks in Jerusalem. This he did despite the voluble disapproval of the Arab and Muslim world. I regard the conjunction of these two symbolic manifestations as being significant in a way which will certainly bear practical results.
Let us turn to the practical sphere. Since the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Arabs States, foiled in their efforts to attain their expressed political objectives through force of arms, have been attempting to achieve these objectives, or some of them, by political means. It was the achievement of the IDF and of Israel which prevented the Arab States from forcibly fulfilling their aims.
I do not know whether the Arabs States will continue to follow the political route toward their goals. But this route of political action obviously passes through Washington, not Moscow.
As a matter of fact, the problem confronting the Arab States, in their attempts to solve the conflict by political means and through the offices of the US is of a positive nature, and constitutes a manifestation of the achievements of the Yom Kippur War. We were aware of this. We knew, and agreed to the fact that the solution to the conflict would be evolved by political means, through the good offices of the US.
There is no doubt that the US has its own objectives in the region. We have been informed by the US that it also intends to nurture relations with Arab States with which she had previously maintained no relations, mainly on the basis of economic cooperation.
In the international reality of our existence, words alone do not constitute a basis for cooperation between nations if they find no practical expression. If the words are not brought to life through cooperation and the development of common interests, they do not in fact exist at all.
The US informed us of its intention. We found no fault with the economic aid that it plans to extend to several nations. We envisaged the possibility that these nations would redirect their attention, efforts and resources toward their own internal problems rather than toward waging war against Israel. It will be a great moment in the history of the Middle East when Arab States, rather than talking of war, will begin to speak of, and, better still, to act in the direction of development.
This trend was thus known to Israel, and did not contradict our view of the new reality which took shape after the Yom Kippur War. President Nixon's visit has served to crystallize the political developments resulting from the disengagement agreement and the new reality in the Middle East.
I am aware of the fact that up to the Yom Kippur War we were accustomed, to a considerable degree, to the idea of exclusivity in relations between Israel and the US. True, the US did have other friends besides Israel in the Middle East - Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others - but these were not central to the Arab-Israel confrontation.
It is, therefore, only natural that in certain aspects there is concern for the loss of the pre-Yom Kippur War exclusivity in Israel-US relations. But we live in a changing world, and it is impossible to remain oblivious to the change in reality. We must seek to derive the greatest possible benefit from this change. As I have said, this means mainly to utilize the closer Arab association with the US to institute political action toward a peace that will be acceptable and to which we will agree.
During the talks which took place here, and upon their conclusion, I have felt certain that, not only have the friendship and cooperation between the US and Israel not diminished, but they are in fact growing stronger.
I have every reason to assume that the US is aware of the fact that the administration which took office before the Yom Kippur War and approved maximum arms supplies to Israel by means of, a US airlift, the administration which has shown its readiness to strengthen Israel - that this very same administration and the very same policy have led the Arab States to turn to the US.
The assumption of a strong Israel is first and foremost in our own interests, and is Israel's most vital need. A strong Israel means a viable Israel, with the capacity for developing and advancing toward peace.
I, therefore, believe that after this visit, the US, too, understands and intends to translate thought into action, by continuing to assist Israel in achieving greater military and economic strength. This will serve both objectives noted above - ensuring a State that will be strong in itself, and ensuring a chance to advance toward peace. Because if Israel is not strong, any political negotiations are doomed.
At the same time, Israel has always been anxious for, and continues to strive toward, the advancement of peace. Israel wishes to advance toward peace with those who want peace; a peace which we will be prepared to accept.
Finally, before I answer your questions, I know there is one matter which is troubling many of us. This is the US decision to aid Egypt in building a nuclear reactor for the production of electricity. Let me say that I regard it as only natural that every Israeli should be concerned about the implementation of such a project in Egypt.
I am not a nuclear expert. Each and every one of us fears that even if the US applies every means of supervision, and even though a long period of time would elapse before this power station is established, the very fact of providing nuclear expertise may lead to a situation in which Egypt might decide to use this potential, in the long run, for other purposes as well.
In order to determine the degree to which this fear is in fact founded, I have asked for the authoritative opinion of two central persons whom I shall not name at present. I would prefer not to make an assessment at this stage, in view of the situation in this country and the positions held by these two persons, despite the feelings of general concern which we all naturally feel. I shall say nothing until I have been provided with the professional conclusions of those who have a comprehensive grasp of the subject.
I should like to make a third point in this connection. We must bear in mind that we live in a world in which technology is advancing at an accelerated pace and reaching tremendous dimensions. We are not living twenty or thirty years ago. Furthermore, there exists what is termed "the oil crisis" - the world's dependence on oil, the sources of which are unstable politically, and the price of which depends on the decisions of several rulers, not all of whom act solely on the basis of logical considerations. This has already in the past, and will in future, lead to a growing drive for the development of additional sources of energy. It is a grave error to believe that we can balk world technological advances, and the full exploitation of these advances, even by the less well developed States.
It is time that we looked around and became aware of what is happening at present in the world. We must abandon the assumption that life in the world of yesterday is still possible; this is true of areas of advanced technology as well. This reality must be faced, and appropriate adjustments must be made.
However, the subject came up for discussion in the course of the talks that were held. Of special importance in the discussions (I cannot say with whom specifically) was the fact that we, at least, had received no official word of the project, although we now know that an Egyptian delegation spent several weeks in the US and quite openly conducted ordinary business negotiations with companies and various bodies. This, however, does not release the US from its responsibility for the fact that we were not informed. We have now reached an understanding that such cases will not recur in the future.
Q: Over the past 24 hours we have heard both from President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger about painful decisions and risks that must be taken in order to attain peace. Can you tell us, on the basis of your conversations with them, to which decisions and risks they were referring?
A: I have no doubt that in order to advance towards peace, whether in a comprehensive arrangement or by stages, there will necessarily be discussions, arguments and difficult negotiations. We shall have to evoke our utmost ability in order to face these problems. I am convinced that we really do want peace, that Israel is not afraid of peace and that we are prepared, as stated by the previous Government as well as this one, to attain peace along with being ready for a territorial compromise.
There is no talk of a withdrawal to the 4 June, 1967 boundaries, but of a territorial compromise. I do not know when we shall face such decisions since negotiations have not yet begun. Therefore, if we wish to advance toward peace it will become necessary, at a certain stage, to hold concrete discussions in this realm as well, with whoever the peace negotiations are being conducted.
It must be borne in mind that the advance towards peace is full of risks. But the risk is no smaller when there is no progress toward peace, since such a situation involves the danger of renewed war. We do not fear war; we wish for peace. We shall enter upon negotiations with a sense of power, with the feeling that we are right and the belief that we are capable of coming to grips with the other side, with the nations of the world and with the US around the conference table as well.
Furthermore, I believe we must exhaust all the possibilities for advancing toward a greater degree of relaxation and peace. If, heaven forbid, we must face war again, it must be with the conviction that there was no choice, and that we had exhausted all the chances for peace. Should this happen, the leaders of the world will be able to say that we indeed did everything in our power to attain a peace acceptable to us and which would provide true security. War, if it should occur, would then be due solely to the intransigence of the other side. I believe it is vital that Israel's soldiers realize that war occurs only when there is no choice, after all the possibilities for its prevention have been explored.
Q: Is there a possibility that talks with Jordan will take place prior to the negotiations with Egypt?
A: I do not wish at this stage to state clear orders of priority. I should like to say only, that we are ready for peace negotiations with each of our neighbour States who were involved in the war, negotiations for peace without preconditions. This was, and is, our position. Wherever possible, and this is not so in all cases, we are prepared to examine the possibility of progress toward peace by stages.
Q: In your speech to the Knesset on presentation of the new Government, you spoke of Israel's readiness to engage in new initiatives towards peace, and not to remain waiting for initiatives taken by others. Can you elaborate on what directions this might take and was this brought up in any connection in the talks with President Nixon?
A: I don't believe that I can add very much. I believe that the willingness of Israel to engage in talks, to respond to initiatives of others, is part of it. Whatever we say, the other side will not sit down with us around the negotiation table. I wish they would, but as long as they do not, we are limited and we have to negotiate through a third party.
Allow me to remind you that the disengagement agreements, in a way, constituted a precedent in the relationships between the Arabs countries and Israel, in terms of the process and the form of the agreement. First, it was an agreement between the parties, between Egypt and Israel, not an agreement with a third party. Second, the process of negotiations included serious negotiations between the parties. With Egypt it was done in a much clearer way, with Syria it was done under the auspices of the Geneva Conference. I hope these precedents will be elaborated and developed in future negotiations.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, in reference to your statement about appointing two Israeli experts to examine and give their considered opinion about the Egyptian nuclear reactor, does this mean that until their opinion is submitted, exchanges of opinion between Israel and the US will be suspended, and was this made clear to the Americans today?
A: The matter came up in the course of the discussions, and I shall not go into details. We expressed our concern, and no more.
Q: May we have your reaction to a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Israel's failure, as he put it, with regard to the signing of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, means, as he put it, Israel is planning to manufacture nuclear weapons.
A: It is very strange that Fahmy has out of the blue, decided to raise this issue. Israel voted for the treaty. Israel has not signed. Israel is still in the process of making clarifications about certain details before any decision is taken.
Q: I assume that when you decided to consult the nuclear experts, you took into consideration the possibility that they might conclude that there is indeed cause for concern.
What will happen if this is the case, and what will the reaction of the Israel Government be?
A: I would not have appointed them had I not thought it necessary. But I regard as hypothetical, for the moment, the question of what will be done with their findings. I hope these will be forthcoming shortly, and I shall not deal now with possible developments in case of one conclusion or another.
Q: Since Kissinger is familiar with Israel's position concerning a territorial compromise, was he not referring to Jerusalem when he spoke of painful decisions?
A: I believe our position on this matter is so clear that I would be very much surprised to hear of such thoughts in this connection.
Q: Did the issue of the Palestinians come up in the talks in any form at all; if so, in what form, what was said and what was concluded?
A: Various subjects were discussed in the course of the talks, including that of the Palestinians. Israel's position in this matter is known, and has been expressed on various occasions, most recently when the Government was presented. All we could do with this matter was to once again explain our position.
Q: Mr. Rabin, the joint statement at the close of Mr. Nixon's visit does not appear to be a conclusion but rather a beginning. Further talks between Israel and the US will be necessary, and Nixon's visit to the USSR is also in the offing. How do you view further developments subsequent to the joint statement of today?
A: I should like to put it thus: nothing is final. Anything, any incident, any development constitutes a stage, a chapter. We live here and we shall continue to live here. Therefore, this visit should be viewed as an occasion, especially in the framework of Israel-US relations, and an indication of a further stage. This subsequent stage will be expressed by carrying out all that has been said here, and things will become more concrete.
The joint statement mentions the visit of a military delegation to Washington. Its assignment will be to deal with the matters agreed upon, and the concretization of all that has been and will be discussed. There will be more visits, since we shall continue the dialogue. This dialogue between ourselves and the US is, as known, quite intimate and intense. The dialogue will embrace other spheres as well, some which deserve further treatment and others in which further treatment is unnecessary. We shall continue to live here. The US will continue to exist. We shall go on making requests of the US in various realms, some of which were mentioned in the statement.
After we have realized the matters dealt with today, we shall still be confronted with the demands, problems and requirements of the future. The visit should therefore be regarded as part of a process rather than as a self-contained phenomenon. The visit is highly important in its own right, but it should be viewed within the proper context of Israel-US relations.