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Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Meir, (January 22, 1974)

In this statement, the Prime Minister explained the background of the separation of forces agreement with Egypt and the role of the United States in it, and expressed Israel's hopes following its signature. On that day the Knesset approved the agreement by 76 votes in favour and 36 against. Text:

Members of the Knesset,

On 17 January, the Government unanimously resolved that the Prime Minister be authorized to issue instructions for the signing of the agreement on the separation of forces on the Egyptian front. This decision was taken after a series of detailed discussions with the US Secretary of State, who had offered the Government of Egypt and the Government of Israel his tireless good offices.

On Friday, 18 January, an agreement with Egypt on the separation of forces was signed by the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen David Elazar, at Kilometre 101. Before the signing, we informed Dr. Kissinger that the agreement would be presented to the Knesset this week, and we asked him to inform the Egyptians of this. The agreement signed by the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. David Elazar, at Kilometre 101, is before you. Additional documents connected with ii this agreement and constituting part and parcel of it have been submitted to the Knesset Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Government's decision in this matter follows upon, and gives expression to, Israel's readiness to achieve an agreement with Egypt which should strengthen the cease-fire and make it possible to open the Canal and normalize civilian activity in the area.

The Government had already informed the seventh Knesset of this policy, and after the Yom Kippur War the Government informed the Knesset of its decision to respond to the Security Council's resolution and conduct negotiations on the separation of forces. On 13 November I informed the Knesset that we had signed the six-point agreement, which includes a paragraph on the separation of forces, and the Knesset took note of our statement.

As will be recalled, the first meeting of the Commanders at Kilometre 101 took place on 28 October. On 11 November the six-point agreement was signed by Maj.-General Aharon Yariv, for Israel, and by General Gamazy, for Egypt. But the talks by the Commanders were suspended, not by our volition, on 29 November. The discussions were transferred to the peace conference at Geneva, which opened on 21 December. At the opening session of this conference all the participants agreed to give priority to negotiations on the separation of the forces of Egypt and Israel as an essential and urgent stage towards the establishment of a lasting peace. Accordingly, the military working group started its activity on 26 December. As stated, the negotiations on the separation of forces came to a successful conclusion - after repeated talks conducted by Dr. Kissinger in Jerusalem and Egypt - again at Kilometre 101, on 18 January of this year.

Under this agreement, both parties undertook, as of the day it was signed, explicit reciprocal commitments to scrupulously observe the cease-fire at sea, on land and in the air, and to abstain from any military of para-military activity against each other in other words, a full and comprehensive cease-fire. Let me make it perfectly plain that the cease-fire means a commitment to refrain from blockade and obstruction of shipping to Israel and from Israel through the Bab El-Mandeb straits.

The agreement lays it down that the forces shall be separated and redeployed, and that the UN emergency Force shall be stationed in the area of separation east of the Canal. Within the framework of the redeployment of the forces, an evacuation and significant thinning-out of forces will be carried out on both sides of the Canal. The IDF will give up positions on the west bank of the Canal and be stationed on the new line at a distance of some 20 kilometres east of the Canal. Egypt will withdraw the main part of its forces from the east of the Canal westward. The separation will be carried out on a basis of reciprocity in the limitation of the size of the forces and in the quantities and categories of arms.

Both sides have defined the agreement as a first step towards a final, just and durable peace.

Several Egyptian leaders have accompanied the agreement with various statements, some of them disturbing, which have been designed apparently for the public in the Arab countries and, especially, for the rulers of the extremist Arab States who are not satisfied with the agreement, but a careful examination of statements by authorized spokesmen of the Government of Egypt show that the Government of Egypt intends to start clearing the Canal and fitting it for shipping, and to work for the population and rebuilding of the abandoned towns and the restoration of normal civilian life in the Canal area. These statements confirm our assumption that the Egyptian Government prefers to rehabilitate the deserted Suez Canal zone and turn it once again into an artery of life. If this aim actually begins to be achieved without delay, it can be a highly significant turning-point in the development of the region, a turning-point from war in the direction of peace.

It may be said that had it not been for Egypt's negative balance-sheet in the Yom Kippur war, had our forces not broken through and taken up positions on the western side of the Canal, it is very doubtful whether Egypt would have consented to the cease-fire agreement, to participation in the peace conference, and to the agreement on the separation of forces signed on 18 January, and the conditions would not have been created for the opening of the Canal as a natural result of this agreement.

In agreeing to the separation of forces in accordance with the provisions of the agreement we signed, we did not ignore various considerations associated with the international sphere and Israel's relations with other States. We took into account both regional and global circumstances, including our relations with the United States.

Members of the Knesset,

We did not sign the agreement on the separation of forces because of military inferiority or military necessity. We signed the agreement with the object of advancing towards a permanent peace settlement and, above all, in order to prevent escalation into a renewal of the war.

On 13 November I told the Knesset: "The stabilization of the cease-fire and the relaxation of military tension are important and essential objectives for the prevention of the resumption and continuation of the war. This aim is in itself sufficient in order that we should make every effort to attain it - particularly since we desire to regard it as a service towards an even loftier goal - the achievement of peace. In the course of this war that was forced upon us, the IDF broke through to the western side of the Canal, where they represent a well-established military fact. However, it is not Israel's aim to remain there permanently. We are anxious for an end to the war and the promotion of the peace process. We want to see in this agreement a first step towards negotiations with a view to a true peace between ourselves and the neighbouring States. We know that this goal cannot be attained by a short-cut - but it can certainly be approached step by step, insofar as our neighbours are ready for it."

Between 22 October and today there have been 1,075 incidents in that area. The number of our soldiers killed has totalled 22, and the number of wounded 107.

The alternative to this agreement is nothing but the renewal of war. There have indeed been days when this possibility seemed almost inevitable. I have no doubts as to the strength of the IDF had warfare resumed: the IDF would have overcome the aggressor. But responsible and sober judgement requires us to prefer a different line of development - a path that will open up and strengthen prospects of advancing towards peace, providing this agreement is not imposed, but is arrived at under reasonable circumstances and leaves at our disposal strong positions in case the agreement is violated.

The agreement is the fruit of our victory in the war, but we do not ignore the fact that is also reflects Egypt's achievements during the first days of the fighting.

Our military strategic position along the new line on the Egyptian front will be firm. The lines on which the IDF will be based, in accordance with the agreement, are suitable to their military purpose in the event of fighting. Throughout the entire region east of the Gidi and Mitle Passes the IDF will remain deployed in all the strength required, prepared for any eventuality. The forces stationed within the restricted zones complement the basic military deployment of the IDF and their capability to meet any violation of the cease-fire.

The agreement on the separation of forces will enable us to release some of the reserves, in stages, as has already been pointed out by the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff.

We are not relying on the UN Forces, but on ourselves. However, under prevailing conditions, so long as there is no peace, importance attaches to the stationing of the UN Force in order to maintain the agreed buffer zone between the forces, so long as the withdrawal of the UN Force is not carried out by a unilateral decision - for any sign of an Egyptian demand for the withdrawal of the UN Force without Israel's consent would be an indication of menacing plans and would enable Israel to react appropriately, as called for in the actual circumstances.

Members of the Knesset,

Our friend, the United States, under the leadership of President Nixon, and with the consistent support of the American Congress, has maintained the policy of encouraging negotiations between the parties for a solution of the conflict whilst observing in practice the principle of strengthening Israel. This policy entails ensuring that Israel shall be able to conduct negotiations from a position of strength - and not from weakness.

The growth of Israel's strength has been greatly assisted by this policy, and I have every reason to believe that the United States will continue to be alert to Israel's security requirements, maintaining a continuously positive approach.

I should like to note, with appreciation, the role played by the United States in the achievement of this agreement. The US Secretary of State gave the matter his personal and untiring attention. Dr. Kissinger paid a series of visits to Israel during the days that preceded the signing of the agreement. Both he and his assistants spent days and nights in flying from Jerusalem to Aswan and back again to Jerusalem. He succeeded in shaping the principles and ideas submitted to him by Israel and Egypt, and helping them to give definite form to the agreement.

It is a highly important fact that Secretary of State Kissinger also won the trust and cooperation of Egypt. He succeeded in faithfully explaining Egyptian considerations to us and also in making clear to Egypt Israel's positions, including those that she cannot forgo on any account. It is also noteworthy that, as opposed to other instances where the extenders of good offices attempted to adopt positions of their own, as though they were a party to the negotiations, the US was careful to extend its good offices in the positive and classic meaning of the term.

With the help of Dr. Kissinger's diligent and exhausting work in attaining this agreement, Israel and Egypt succeeded in thoroughly clarifying its provisions to each other. Thus the United States became a factor capable of testifying to the intentions of both parties in signing the document and the exact nature of the commitments undertaken by them in signing it. Israel attaches considerable importance to this role played by the United States. As long as the trust between Israel and Egypt still remains on so narrow a basis, the involvement of a friendly country such as the US could prove invaluable in the promotion of relations between the two parties and the continued observance of the settlements.

When deciding in favour of the agreement, we took Egypt's motives and arguments into account wherever these appeared to us to be reasonable, and I will state expressly that we were anxious to find a basis of mutual interest and lay the foundations for relations based on reciprocal trust. I am convinced that the agreement which was signed is also greatly to the interest of Egypt. We are not deterred by the advantages Egypt will derive from it.

Throughout the process of negotiation our representatives were firm in protecting the country's vital security interests and came to the conclusion that, to the best of the Government's judgement and in the considered opinion of our security advisers, we are assured of the practical ability both to maintain the agreement and to defend ourselves and react effectively should it be violated.

On the assumption that Egypt will adhere to the commitments she has undertaken in everything concerning the amount of troops and equipment, and in the hope that Egypt will actually restore normal civilian life in the Canal area, we may witness that positive development which we desire with all our hearts.

The consideration that an agreement may be violated could lead to our baulking at any agreement. The Government refuses to adopt this argument, although it takes various possible developments into account. We believe that the best and truest guarantee for the maintenance of the agreement on the separation of forces is rooted in the vital interests of both parties.

I will not go so far as to say that by this agreement we have achieved everything that we wanted to attain, just as Egypt has not gained all it wished for. We did our best to exhaust all the possibilities of negotiation, and the agreement achieved is preferable to the other alternatives and possibilities.

Members of the Knesset,

The line that we shall establish in Sinai, according to the agreement, does not constitute a permanent border for times of peace. The agreement states, as mentioned earlier, that this is a first step towards that peace. It has been our position from the start that the separation of forces is not the ultimate goal, for we are prepared to negotiate with Egypt on a durable peace within defensible borders. And insofar as it depends on us, we shall regard the separation of forces as an achievement which facilitates the creation of a suitable atmosphere for speeding up the prospects of peace. The negotiations conducted with the assistance of Dr. Kissinger were wholly confined to the stabilization of the cease-fire and the separation of the forces. We were not required to make - nor did we undertake - any commitments beyond the scope of these subjects.

Member of the Knesset,

To my great regret, I cannot indicate any progress in contacts with the Government of Syria over the issues of prisoners and separation of forces. The Syrian Government persists in its stubborn refusal to let us have the list of our prisoners or to enable the Red Cross to visit them. This refusal is unsurpassed in its brutality. Dr. Kissinger was unable to tell us that he had succeeded in his efforts to move matters from the state of deadlock, but we have been promised that his efforts will continue.

The Government of Israel reiterates that we will not discuss a separation of forces with Syria, nor participate with her in the Geneva Conference, before the lists of our dear ones in Syrian captivity are handed to us. This position of ours is supported by all political elements which do not turn their backs upon elementary human precepts.

Members of the Knesset,

I have limited myself to the subject of the agreement on the separation of forces on the Egyptian front, and I call upon the Knesset to support the Government in its decision. Should the Knesset approve the agreement, its implementation will commence, as planned, on Friday, 25 January.

Yesterday, at the opening of the Knesset, I said that we faced difficult decisions during the tenure of the eighth Knesset. Our capacity to stand firm in the political and military arenas depends on the revelation of Israel's distinctive qualities in the social, educational and economic spheres. We need strength and internal unity to stand up to the constructive efforts, the tasks of absorption and the struggles of our era and I am confident that we can muster the courage and sober wisdom to fulfil our mission.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs