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Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Meir, (March 10, 1974)

Elections to Israel's Eighth Knesset were held on 31 December 1973. Two months later, Prime Minister Golda Meir presented her new Government to the Knesset and won a vote of confidence. In her address she dealt with the recently signed separation of forces agreement with Egypt and the negotiations towards a similar agreement with Syria. Following is the foreign policy section of her address:

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

Before opening my statement in the Knesset today, I cannot refrain from calling to mind that the day after tomorrow the full list of all those who fell and are reported missing in the Yom Kippur War will be published on behalf of the Israel Defence Forces. This precious and sorrowful list comprises the best of our blood and our vigour. It is, as the poet says, "the ransom for our lives." We are grievously impoverished by the loss of those who fell, impoverished in spirit and in talents. We are one great family, brothers in sorrow and pain. Let us all sanctify ourselves for the hour in which we shall take this memorial brochure into our hands.

Members of the Knesset,

On 15 December 1969, when I presented the 15th Government to the Knesset I said, inter alia:

"Our primary objective is to maintain the deterrent power of the Israel Defence

Forces, which constitutes the guarantee of our security for the prevention of total war. We shall spare no political effort nor material sacrifice to guarantee that our soldiers will continue to possess the necessary means of warfare and deterrence."

I then went on to say:

"We are determined not to weaken in the struggle for peace. We are capable of enduring the struggle until the Arab leaders and their supporters recognize that threats of war, aggression on the cease-fire lines, acts of terrorism, and international pressure will not succeed in restoring the position that existed before June 1967. This recognition is the key to true peace. "

In retrospect, I may point out with satisfaction that we have spared no political or material effort to ensure the growing strength of the Israel Defence Forces, and that we have never ceased doing all in our power for the attainment of peace with the neighbouring States. Neither threats of war nor actual aggression have succeeded in returning us to the state of affairs that existed before June 1967.

I should add the following:

The maintenance of the strength and power of the Israel Defence Forces, which is the guarantee of our security, was not enough, in itself, to prevent total war. The war broke out on both fronts on the initiative of Egypt and Syria. The rulers of these countries misjudged the strength of the Israel Defence Forces.

I can not state with certainty that they hoped to achieve a decisive victory, but they were ready to pay a high price for their ambitions. Despite the difficult conditions, the Israel Defence Forces proved their superiority and were victorious; nevertheless, we must conclude that, although we must rely on the deterrent power of the Israel Defence Forces, we must rely in the main on their ability to win the victory should we face any additional aggressive adventure on the part of rulers of the neighbouring countries. It is with this in our minds that we must build up the strength of the Israel Defence Forces.

As a result of the experience we have acquired in the past four years, we feel strengthened in our conviction of the rightness of our stand against a return to the conditions prevailing before June 1967, just as we feel strengthened in our conviction of the vital necessity of peace while striving for a fair agreement. Accordingly, no less than in the past, and perhaps even more than in the past, we shall devote our efforts and our resources to ensuring that our army should possess the necessary means of deterrence, fighting and decision; no less than hitherto, and perhaps even more than ever before, we shall not flag in our struggle for peace. In the future, as in the past, the conditions for the attainment of peace continue to be our ability to defend ourselves and to overcome our aggressors, and the conduct of a clear-cut policy preferring peace to new victories.

Members of the Knesset,

This government which the Knesset is requested to invest with its confidence has arisen on the foundation of a clear-cut policy, regarding action for the attainment of peace with each of the neighbouring states as its primary aim. This peace should assure Israel of defensible borders, of unhampered development; it should be a peace that sets an end to wars, enables all the states in our region to devote their resources to construction, creative activity and welfare. In order to attain this objective, the Government's endeavours will be directed towards making the most of all the possibilities and prospects involved in the peace conference initiated at Geneva.

Israel will continue to reject the demand for a withdrawal to the lines of 4 June, which were never recognized boundaries and are not defensible borders. We shall strive for a stable peace and against borders that involve temptations and conditions making for new wars.

As in the past. we shall be ready for agreed arrangements with each of the Arab States, with a view to stabilizing the cease-fire and paving the way to the advancement of peace.

We shall strive to shorten as far as possible the interval that separates us from peace. Our policy will be designed to speed up the transition from cease-fire and the separation of forces to the peace we all hope for - but, failing peace or interim arrangements, we shall continue to maintain in full the position as determined by the cease-fire agreements.

We shall scrupulously observe the cease-fire on a basis or reciprocity, while aware that this is a transition stage on the way to peace within defensible borders. We are not deluding ourselves. We are fully aware that we are faced with difficult struggles for the borders of the State despite our readiness for compromise. We are well aware that the Arab States, despite the agreement of some of them to participate in the Geneva Conference, still insist on their demand for a complete withdrawal by Israel to the lines of 4 June and show no understanding for Israel's right to defensible borders. Nevertheless, Israel must conduct the negotiations for peace with courage, persistence and realism, with a view to exhausting every possibility to the full.

Members of the Knesset,

The 15th Government of the State of Israel was supported by 102 Knesset members, but in 1970 the Gahal faction left the Government because of its opposition to the peace initiative of the United States Government. The approval of this initiative by the Government of Israel made possible the cease-fire and the continued strengthening of the IDE The Likud faction opposed Israel's acceptance of the Security Council resolution of 22 October 1973 regarding the cease-fire. They objected to the Government's decision of 17 December 1973 on Israel's participation in the Geneva Peace Conference and opposed the signing of the agreement for the separation of forces on the Egyptian front. These facts influenced our considerations as to the formation of the Government required in the coming four years.

In this period the country needs a Government whose policy is guided by the striving for peace, a Government which has the capacity both to decide and to act in the international sphere. At this time it is preferable for Israel to have a Government which does not include representatives of parties whose declared positions and election platform are so incompatible with the political policy expressed in the basic principles which I will present to you.

Members of the Knesset,

We are now in the midst of efforts to find a political solution to the problems in dispute between the Arab countries and ourselves. The outgoing Government - in line with the aims of previous governments - has recently made a series of vital decisions in this direction: It agreed to a cease-fire with Egypt and Syria, signed the six-point agreement with Egypt (on 11 November 1973), carried out the exchange of prisoners agreement with Egypt (during the week from 15-22 November), accepted the invitation to participate in the Geneva Conference (which opened on 21 December 1973), signed the separation of forces agreement with Egypt (on 18 January 1974) and expressed its willingness to enter into negotiations on a separation of forces agreement with Syria.

We also offer our support and encouragement to the Red Cross, which is trying to ensure proper treatment of our prisoners until their release according to the Geneva Convention.

On 1 March we authorized the American Secretary of State to transmit our general ideas regarding disengagement to the Syrians. We authorized him to inform the Syrians that we are prepared to present detailed ideas within two weeks after the establishment of the new Government. We are prepared to send a senior and authorized representative to Washington for this purpose.

Members of the Knesset,

In my statement to the nation on 8 March, I said that, according to reliable information in our possession, there were preparations in Syria for aggressive military action. Even today I cannot assure you that we are confident that the Syrian Government has abandoned its preparations for an offensive. The danger still exists and our forces are deployed and prepared as far as is required. The state of preparedness, of course. imposes a burden on the reserves.

I hope that the war will not be renewed and. that an opportunity will be given for the exertion of all possible political efforts with a view to reaching agreement for the separation of forces. If, however, war is forced upon us, I have no doubt as to its results.

We are also prepared to discuss with the Jordanian Government the problems between us. We are interested at any time to conduct peace negotiations with Jordan.

We are striving towards a peace settlement between ourselves, and Jordan which would be based on the existence of two independent states - Israel, with united Jerusalem as her capital, and an Arab State to the east of Israel. In the neighbouring Jordanian-Palestinian State the identity of the Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs could find expression in peace and good-neighbourly relations with Israel. Israel rejects the establishment of an additional separate Arab State west of the Jordan.

In the course of the discussions on the formation of the Government, the question arose as to how the Government should behave if, after negotiations with Jordan, the hour of decision should arrive. My reply on this subject is clear: The Government will conduct negotiations with Jordan and will adopt decisions at each stage of the negotiations, but no peace agreement will be concluded with Jordan if it includes a territorial concession in regard to parts of Judaea and Samaria before we ask the people in new elections, if one of the parties participating in the coalition so demands.

Members of the Knesset,

On 16 December 1973, before the Government of Israel decided in favour of Israel's participation at the Geneva Conference, I was authorized by the Government to make it clear to external factors that, in our view, this Conference is designed for the conduct of negotiations between the countries directly concerned with the issue of peace in the Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon - which border on Israel. As and when the need arises to invite any additional factor, such an invitation would be contingent - like any other proposal within the framework of the Conference - on the prior consent of all the participating States. I was authorized to make it clear that Israel is opposed to the invitation of representatives of the terrorist organizations as participants or as observers, for the Government of Israel will not conduct negotiations with terrorist organizations whose declared objective is the destruction of the State of Israel.

I am convinced that these decisions were necessary in view of the conditions. They were designed to pave the way to peace and to test if the road is open on the Arab side. Security Council Resolution 338, which I have mentioned, led to the convening of the Geneva Peace Conference.

In my statement to the Knesset on 20 December 1973, I explained the Government's policy regarding the Conference. The Geneva Peace Conference is in its first stages. The separation of forces agreement on the Egyptian front must be regarded as an achievement directly connected with the Conference. Even if the negotiations move from place to place, the Geneva Conference remains the base which makes possible the discussions held in other places as well. We will continue to participate in the Conference with a view to exhausting the positive possibilities which it involves.

The final stage in the execution of the separation of forces agreement with Egypt has just been completed. The IDF are deployed along the new lines agreed upon. Since the day the agreement was signed, the cease-fire has been scrupulously observed on the ground, at sea and in the air. The thinning out of forces has also been executed in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the agreement.

In the document signed by the representatives of both sides, it was stated that the agreement represents the first step towards a final, just and lasting peace. We are all aware that Egypt is still a long way from Israel's vision of peace, but it is of positive significance that even according to the Egyptian version this was the first step towards peace, even if the road is long, even if there are many ups and downs on the way.

The Government of Israel also defined its position regarding the way in which we must proceed on the Syrian front. We stated that we would be prepared to discuss a separation of forces agreement with Syria after the Syrian Government transmitted a list, of our prisoners and permitted visits by the Red Cross. We were all relieved on 27 February when the American Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, brought with him the list of our prisoners and the news of the decision to allow visits by the Red Cross. The first visit to our prisoners has already taken place. From this platform I wish to express our gratitude to the Secretary of State for his unceasing efforts to achieve this goal. Obviously we have not yet achieved all our goals. We will not rest or be silent until all our prisoners are returned to Israel. We are prepared at all times to reach an agreement for the liberation of all our prisoners and the return of the 386 Syrian and other prisoners who fell into our hands on the northern front. I must point out again that in accordance with the Geneva Convention we expect the immediate return of our wounded prisoners. This is perhaps the place to note that on the Egyptian front all the prisoners were set free some two months before the separation of forces agreement was signed. We hope that the exchange of prisoners on the Syrian front will also soon become possible, in accordance with the positive Egyptian precedent.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs