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Report to the Provisional Government by Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ben-Gurion on the Military and Political Situation

(June 17, 1948)

With the truce operative for some days, the Provisional Government continued its discussion of the political and military situation. Excerpts from a report by Mr. Ben-Gurion follow:

We have three objectives: Security, a Jewish State, and a pact between the Jews and the Arabs. Our goal must be not only the achievement of the first two, but eventually of the third as well. A pact between Jews and Arabs would, I believe, guarantee the fulfilment of Zionist aspirations and cause a revolutionary change in the Arab world. In any case, it would be extremely important for us.

I start with two basic assumptions: (1) The November 29 resolution is dead, or so it appears to me. Perhaps we may find ourselves in a situation where there is no alternative but to accept the November 29 resolution as the basis for a settlement, but I fail to see any enthusiastic supporters of the resolution, and if there are none, then it is indeed dead. (2) The dispute will be settled by force. The political question now is really a military one. This is so even in the unlikely event that fighting is not renewed. In any circumstances, military considerations will be dominant...

The war is not yet over; there is only a truce. If war begins again, it will be a life-death struggle for us, but not for them. We will obviously not exterminate the Egyptian people or the Syrian people. We could, I believe, destroy the Trans-Jordan Army and that part of the Egyptian Army sent here. But it is not our intention to slaughter the Egyptian people. However, if we are defeated, they will annihilate us. The Arabs have already arrested some hundred Jewish merchants in Baghdad on the charge that they were trading with Russia, though there is no law against trading with Russia. If they were to invade Tel Aviv, I am not at all sure that they would show mercy to its inhabitants. If war does begin again, we will be fighting for our lives. We cannot allow the Arabs to return to those places that they left.

The truce will be of value to us if it lasts for two months. We cannot accomplish a great deal in a month. We would also lose something by a two-month truce, but at its conclusion we would have a better organisational structure, as well as a trained and disciplined army.

I shall begin my discussion of other political questions with the Negev .... The Negev differs from every other section of the country for a very simple reason: it is a 12-million-dunam (3-million-acre) area which is both empty and desolate. In ordinary circumstances, this would certainly be no great advantage. A settled area would ordinarily have been better, but not from our point of view. From a Zionist viewpoint, an empty and desolate area is better, because we can turn it into a flourishing centre of Jewish settlement. We are dealing here not only with the Negev, but with the Dead Sea. You do not have to be an expert to realise the value of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is a vast treasure house, particularly the southern part. The exact location of the Dead Sea is not important. The important thing is what we can extract from it and take somewhere else. South of the Dead Sea lies a flat area, the Arava, and then, finally, the Red Sea.

It is only natural that the Arabs should want Eilat, but we also want it. The Negev is an enormous Zionist asset, and there is no substitute for it anywhere else in the Land of Israel. First of all, it is half of the Land of Israel. There is no such thing as the northern and the southern Negev. The Negev is barren and empty now, and that is why it is important. We can create there a densely populated Jewish area, perhaps with room for millions of people. Moshe Smilansky thinks that it would be possible for 2 million Jews to make a living from farming in the Negev. If he is correct, then an additional 3 million could make a living from industry. The Jews who might be settled there are, unfortunately, not yet with us. Even so, the Negev still offers very great opportunities.

The central military issue is the struggle for Jerusalem. In my opinion, the outcome will determine the fate of the Land of Israel as a whole. This is true not only because of Jerusalem's historic importance, but also because of its strategic importance. It is not only the road to Jerusalem that is at stake. The war has shown us that Jerusalem cannot survive unless it is linked geographically with the Jewish State.

A third key area, as we all understand, is western Galilee.

We must begin working in Jaffa. Arab workers must be employed there, and at the same wages as Jewish workers. An Arab should also have the right to be elected President of the State. If a Jew or a Negro does not have the right to be President of the United States then 1, for one, doubt the existence of civil rights there. But war is war. We did not start the war. The Arabs attacked us in Jaffa, Haifa, etc.; and I do not want those who fled to return. Everything that happens after the war will depend on the results of the war itself. While I oppose the return of the Arabs, I am for a pact with the Arab states after the war.

Our most serious potential problem is posed by Britain. I believe that we can stand up to the Arab world and the regular armies of the Arab states. But I doubt whether we could hold our own against the British Army. Therefore, I have always been against entering into a conflict with the British Army. Even as things stand, the British government is trying to strangle us. There were British commanders in Gezer and in Jerusalem, and the Arabs are using British weapons. The British are conducting a political campaign against us, because they feel that they have the Arabs in their pockets.

We will not solve our problems with the British unless we can win their political friendship. The British are a fine people, but they have suddenly turned against us because of the country's foreign policy. Eventually they will be forced to abandon their centres of power in the Middle East, and when that happens, we will be able to establish closer relationships with our Arab neighbours. If the Arabs are willing to negotiate, we should not stipulate territorial preconditions that would make it impossible for them to do so. The very meeting with the Arabs would be of value, even if it -did not achieve any positive results. It is important that the Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese know what we want. It is vital that we meet, and therefore no preconditions should be set. I don't know if such a meeting will take place, but we must try to bring it about. However, it will become possible only when the Arabs and Bernadotte understand that two things are not negotiable: we will not consider either abolishing the State or restricting its independence. If they are ready to sit down with us, it is important that we should meet. Therefore, no hard-and-fast rules should be set as prerequisites to a meeting.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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