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Statement to the Knesset by Foreign Minister Eban on Israel's foreign relations

(March 23, 1966)

Abba Eban had become Israel's Minister for Foreign Affairs in January 1966. On 23 March, he presented the budget estimates of his Ministry to the Knesset and this afforded him an occasion to furnish the Knesset with a comprehensive review of Israel's foreign policy. Excerpts dealing with the Middle East situation:

Every country that maintains normal relations with Israel, that refuses to truckle to pressure and blackmail, that places its relations with Israel beyond the reach of the negative influence of our enemies - every such State brings the prospects of peace nearer by so doing. The more Arab enmity finds itself isolated, the weaker it will continue to become ...

On the other hand, every State that is deterred from openly and unequivocally establishing friendship with Israel for fear of what the Arabs will say is merely helping - even if unwittingly - to perpetuate and encourage Arab enmity ...

The whole subject of the dispute is the existence of Israel, no more and no less. As that is the essence of the argument, there is no one single key to resolve it. Discussions about the refugees, about "gestures," about declarations, and all the rest, are only of tactical influence, and do not get anywhere near the heart of the matter. If only Arab leadership were ready to reconcile itself to the simple fact of Israel's existence, then it would be disposed to accept the consequences of that existence.

The question is whether Arab leadership is capable of grasping the profound and true character of the Middle East. That region embraces the Arab people but not them alone. The region can never be understood in Arab terms alone. Its characteristic peculiarity is not a tendency to "Arab unity" but rather to diversity and multiplicity, through a meeting and a ramification of very many cultures, languages, national memories and sovereignties.

Israel is not an interloper in the Middle East. Israel sprang from this region, Israel is returning to it ... There never was , there is not, and there cannot be a Middle East which is not illuminated by the influence of Israel ...

Realistic thinking on the Middle East must take into account both Israel's right of existence and the desire of all peoples in the Middle East to be free and independent, not only in respect to States outside the region but also in respect to those within it. Let one thing be perfectly clear. Peace is very much wanted by us and it is necessary to all the peoples in the region. But it is not a condition of our very existence ... We aspire to peace not because we cannot live without it, but because it is natural to live under its aegis.

If there is no escape from the absence of definitive peace for a further period of time, it is necessary to strive for co-existence based on a stable balance of forces. I should prefer to see the total cessation and halting of the arms race. If, thanks to the policy of other Powers and States in the Middle East, the race goes on, we shall not lag behind in it. Every extra stage in the race, every introduction of more destructive armaments, has invariably been the product of Egyptian initiative. At no time has Israel done anything except react to dangers that threatened it. That is still our policy.

In contrast to the hope of all enlightened people that there may be a truce in the tension in our region, there are heard from time to time, from across our frontiers, announcements that threaten all kinds of aggression, not excluding "a preventive war, 11 and all sorts of spurious pretexts are fabricated to justify those pronouncements. It is our duty to make the position of Israel clear beyond all possibility of misunderstanding. Our wish is for peace, but we have our strength, and we are irrevocably determined to repel any attack and frustrate any damage to the vital interests of the State.

It would be wrong to underrate the gravity of these Arab threats. I am unable to grasp the logic of many of our friends who regard these unceasing threats of aggression as mere slogans. First of all, these slogans are accompanied by military preparations. In addition, the threats themselves, even if they are not implemented, have a pernicious effect in intensifying tension, in inflaming the passions of those who hear them in the Arab world, in accelerating the arms race. In the absence of any declarations whatsoever in any other direction, we have no option but to look upon Arab announcements of that kind as declared and authoritative policy. More than that, there are not several kinds of war, of which "preventive war" is just one. Against a preventive war, as against any war, one has to take all measures of preparedness and defence.

It follows that the question of the arms race, for all its importance, brings us back to our starting-point: namely, are the Arab States ready to abandon their ambition to attack Israel? A bilateral agreement to halt the arms race might, in certain circumstances, be a significant manifestation of readiness to surrender the dream of extinguishing Israel. But logic will not accept the idea that readiness to disarm can exist side by side with the ambition to extirpate Israel ...

In a Middle East, where each of the Arab States can live under its own nationality, there is a greater chance of Israel-Arab co-existence than in a Middle East compulsorily subjugated to the imperial hegemony and domination of Cairo ...

Only a Middle East all of whose States live in peace with each other can be free of the constant interference of competing external elements. The paradox is that those leaders who demand the removal of foreign influences from the Middle East are the same who actually invite them in, by reason of the hostile tensions they keep alive in it.

The strengthening of the balance of defence and deterrence; the mobilization of as much international influence as possible in support of the independence and integrity of all the States in the region; the need to advance towards a more stable regime of peaceful co-existence - these were and will be the main themes of the unremitting dialogue Israel conducts with all the nations of the world on the problems of the Middle East.

Over and above all the rest of its purposes, Israel must stand by the special tests that stem from its Jewish character. The gift of Judaism to the world is enshrined in the sublimity and profundity of its ideas and values.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs