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Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Meir, (October 26, 1971)

Further explanation of the Israeli view on the interim agreement was contained in the following foreign policy statement by the Prime Minister:

Upon the opening of the winter term, I deem it advisable to review before the Knesset a number of international developments relating to the central issues in our international affairs.

It will be recalled that, in response to the Egyptian President's statement, I announced in the Knesset on 9 February that "Israel is ready, today as in the past, to hold discussions with Egypt on arrangements for opening the Canal, even as a separate issue from other provisions." Despite the fact that we received no Egyptian reaction to this call of ours, we responded on 19 April to the request of the United States, presenting to it in detail our position on an agreement for opening the Suez Canal. We were guided by the interests of peace and the desire to consolidate the cease-fire, which is a condition for peace.

And indeed, in reaction to our proposal, the State Department spokesman stated on 29 April that Israel's viewpoint could serve as a basis for continuation of the talks on a settlement aimed at leading to the opening of the Canal. In May this year, when the US Secretary of State visited us, he found it possible - after detailed discussion with us - to despatch his assistant, Mr. Sisco, to Cairo in order to get Egyptian reactions to our proposals. The implication of this is that our proposals did not appear to him unreasonable per se. In Cairo, Mr. Sisco was promised that a pertinent Egyptian reaction would be submitted to Washington within a fortnight. To date we have not received this Egyptian reaction. Instead, we heard and still hear to this very day public Egyptian declarations rejecting in principle any special agreement on the opening of the Canal. The authorized Egyptian declarations state explicitly that it is not Egypt's concern to deal with the opening of the Suez Canal, but that all it wants is to bring about Israel's withdrawal from the Canal as a first stage in the total withdrawal of the Israel Defence Forces to the boundaries of 1967. And not only that, but the Egyptian Army would cross the Canal eastward, the cease-fire would be observed for only six months, and, if by the end of this period Israel did not agree on a timetable for the "total evacuation of its forces, Egypt would deem itself free to resume fire.

Egypt is not disguising its positions. To the best of our knowledge these public and authorized statements completely match Egypt's positions as they have been officially brought to the attention of international factors. From time to time these statements are accompanied by ultimative dates for the opening of fire. At the same time, the rulers of Egypt call upon the United States Government to exert all its influence in order, by using the pressure of an embargo on the supply of the weapons needed for our defence, to obtain Israel's agreement to additional concessions.

I will not tire the Knesset by quoting passages from these Egyptian statements. I will be content with President Sadat's latest statement to the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union on 16 October, upon his return from Moscow. Sadat repeated: "Every step involving any stage whatsoever must be included in the overall solution. Our forces must cross over to the eastern bank of the Canal in order to fulfil their national duty of liberating the land if an overall solution is not reached. There is no permanent cease-fire as long as a single foreign soldier is to be found on our lands. Our lands and our international borders are not a subject for discussion and we shall not abandon one inch. The same holds true for Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza and Jerusalem, and all Arab Land."

In August this year the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Sisco, visited Israel. To our great disappointment, from all we were told it became clear that there is no shift whatsoever, not even the smallest, in Egypt's positions.

Mr. Sisco on his part raised various thoughts and ideas as to how the positions of the parties could be brought closer together, but he made it clear that even if Israel should agree to any particular point in his ideas, he is still not sure that he will be able to achieve Egyptian approval for it. If we had accepted these ideas it would have been tantamount to conceding a number of our most crucial positions, without even being assured of Egyptian agreement. Thus it is clear that if we had gone on that path such concessions would have rapidly become the starting point for additional concessions by Israel to Egypt.

While Egypt's position remains rigid, and the Americans are unable to give us any authoritative information about a change in that position, we find ourselves having a discussion with the Americans about their recommendations for concessions on our part on some of the points we regard as most vital.

Members of the Knesset,

To my great regret I must point out that since March there have been disturbing changes in the approach of the United States to several items of the Canal settlement, and there is a danger that Egypt may regard this as encouragement for its rigid position, which is liable to frustrate the agreement itself.

I do not intend to survey in public the prolonged, earnest and detailed discussions that have taken place between ourselves and the representatives of the US Government. I will only mention a few examples: the cease-fire, crossing of forces, and the connection between the partial settlement and the overall settlement.

From the very first discussion on an arrangement for the opening of the Canal, in which we took into account a certain withdrawal of our forces from the water line, we made it clear that we were prepared to consider moving the Israel Defence Forces on condition of an Egyptian agreement to no renewal of the fighting, in other words, an unlimited cease-fire. It is clear that a cease-fire is necessary for the operation of the Canal and in order to prevent a deterioration leading, to war. I regret to state that things have been said recently, in public, by representatives of the US which might be interpreted by the Egyptians as approaching their attitude on this vital point. The US has spoken in favour of a cease-fire for a specified period on the assumption that at the end of the period the entire agreement -including the cease-fire - would come up for review. The obvious meaning of this is that after a specified period each party Would be able to open fire again - after Israel had withdrawn from the Canal line of fortifications.

As for the eastward crossing of the Canal by Egyptian troops, US representatives held at the beginning of the discussion that: no regular or irregular military forces of any kind shall be introduced into the area east of the Canal cease-fire line from which Israel forces will pull back. In the course of the discussions, the Americans raised the possibility of a symbolic crossing, and even mentioned figures. Recently, at the UN Assembly on 4 October, the Secretary of State stated that the parties are divided on the subject and added that "we believe that it is possible to reach a compromise on this subject." I am unable to understand how it is possible to reach a compromise between the Egyptian demand for the crossing of armed forces and the Israeli opposition to any crossing by armed forces. We are justified in assuming that a compromise between these two positions means that Israel should agree to a crossing, if only a limited one, by Egyptian forces.

This American approach, even if it does not involve agreement to the crossing of military forces of the strength demanded by the Egyptians, involves acquiescence in the Egyptian principle of the crossing of the Canal by military forces.

Israel opposed in principle any military crossing, for the basic logic of this settlement must be the separation of the armed forces, and not bringing them closer to each other on the eastern side of the Canal.

As for the connection between the partial settlement and Security Council Resolution (242) of November 1967, during the Secretary of State's visit to Israel in May, the US position was that the agreement on the opening of the Suez Canal is an agreement not entailing other commitments, but a deparate agreement standing on its own feet. Now we have heard from Secretary of State Rogers, in his speech at the UN on 4 October, that the Suez Canal accord would be merely a step toward the full implementation of Resolution 242 within a reasonable period, and is not a goal in itself.

US representatives have claimed and continue to claim that within the framework of a partial arrangement Egypt is not entitled to demand that Israel should commit itself to a total withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Indeed, Secretary of State Rogers repeated this American opposition in his last speech. This is an important and essential emphasis, but at the same time the Secretary of State saw fit to add that in respect of the final settlement US policy remains as it was expressed in his statement of December 1969 - that is, Israeli withdrawal to the international boundary. This is a clear statement to the Arabs and the world of United States support for the demand for Israel's withdrawal, in stages, to the international boundary. At first there would be a partial Israeli withdrawal without any prior commitment as to the final border. And after a certain period of time American support might be anticiapted for an Israeli withdrawal to the international boundary within the framework of an overall settlement.

From all the compromise proposals that I have mentioned the following picture appears: a cease-fire will be observed for a limited period, at the end of which the parties will review the agreement. It transpires that if, during this period, the Egyptians do not find that Israel is advancing towards implementation of Resolution 242, according to their interpretation and the Rogers Plan of 1969, they will have the right to open fire, and this at a time when the Israel Defence Forces will be at a distance from the Canal fortification line and Egyptian units will already have crossed the Canal and be located on its eastern bank.

I do not say that this is in fact the United States' intention. But there is no ignoring the fact that their compromise proposals are liable to lead to such a situation.

In all our contacts with the State Department, we repeatedly emphasized that the United States should refrain from putting forward proposals of its own, in order not to affect its role in offering good offices. By departing from the limits of "good offices", even unintentionally, it is liable to bring about a stalemate and harm the chances for negotiations. This is an additional reason for our criticism of Secretary of State Rogers' Six Points and the publication of this position.

Members of the Knesset,

When speaking in the Knesset on 9 June, I specified the main points of our position on a partial settlement, but since these principles still serve as our guide-lines, I deem it necessary to emphasize the principal points again:

With the aim of facilitating the achievement of a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, Israel is ready to come to a special agreement with Egypt for the opening of the Suez Canal to international shipping. This is to be on the basis of non-renewal of fighting, that is, observation of the cease-fire with no time limitation. Under agreed conditions the Government would be ready to propose to the Knesset that it decide to station the Israel Defence Forces some distance east of the Suez Canal.

We have announced that the special agreement for the opening of the Suez Canal must include, inter alia, the following points:

Egypt will clear, open and operate the Suez Canal for the use of ships and cargoes of all nations, including Israel, within six months of the date that this agreement goes into effect.

- Israel and Egypt will observe an unlimited cease-fire.

- The IDF will be stationed east of the Canal at some distance to be determined in the agreement.

- Egyptian civilian technicians required for the clearing, opening and operation of the Canal will cross over to the eastern bank of the Canal in order to carry out their functions.

- Egyptian armed forces, or any other armed forces, regular or otherwise, will not cross the Canal and will not be introduced into the area east of the Canal from which Israeli forces will withdraw.

- Egypt will thin out its forces west of the Canal as will be specified in the agreement.

- Ways and means of control will be agreed upon.

- The line held by the Israeli forces in accordance with the special agreement will not be regarded as final. When agreement is reached on a final border in the framework of a peace treaty, the IDF will withdraw to that border.

- The special agreement will not prevent the parties from continuing negotiations between them under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring, with a view to progress towards a just and lasting peace.

These were the main points of our approach as presented to the American Government in April 1971. To the best of our understanding these principles can facilitate the opening of the Canal to shipping of all States and renable the situation in the Canal area to be normalized and the abandoned cities to be rebuilt. They will lead to an additional separation between the armies and will prevent the danger of deterioration towards renewed firing. And all these could produce a congenial and appropriate atmosphere for peace negotiations. These principles indicate that Israel does not aspire, as it were, to perpetuate the status quo. Therefore we explicitly stated that the new line which we will hold after the withdrawal of the IDF from the Canal, when a special settlement is reached, will not be regarded as the final line, and that the final border to which the IDF will withdraw will be determined in the peace agreements. The Foreign Minister made this matter very clear in his last speech in the UN General Assembly, in which he explained in detail our approach to the question of a Canal settlement. Furthermore, we specifically stated that the special agreement will not prevent the continuation of negotiations between the parties under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring, for progress towards a just and lasting peace.

It can be said without hesitation: Anyone who wants the Canal to be opened to navigation, who wants a de-escalation which will prevent the renewal of the shooting, who wants to create an atmosphere which will facilitate the renewal of negotiations for peace, who wants progress towards an overall settlement - must admit that our proposals of 19 April include the conditions for achieving these goals. But anyone who wishes to achieve goals which are not in the nature of an agreement to open the Canal, goals that would lay Israel open to endangering its security - hopes in vain.

Members of the Knesset,

All the time Israel diligently fosters its defensive strength. The strengthening of the power and equipment of the IDF retains first place in Israel's concerns. The importance of our deterrent strength is obvious: our deterrent strength is the most important factor in the prevention of renewed shooting, and its enhancement is the condition that enables our political efforts for peace to be continued without military or political dictation. The US has given us much help in the acquisition of the arms necessary for our defence, and we appreciate the contribution of its Government to the preservation of the military balance. But we cannot ignore the fact that in recent months there has been an interruption in the supply of planes to Israel.

This delay is taking place against the background of the fact that since the ceasefire considerable quantities of Soviet arms and equipment, including planes, have continued to flow into Egypt and Syria, and while Soviet involvement in our area has increased.

Egypt, with the active help of the Soviet Union, continued to systematically develop its offensive power against Israel. The Egyptian Government has declared its intention to renew the war, and time and time again it sets itself deadlines for the opening of a military attack if Israel will not accept its dictations. The deadlines change, but the declared intention remains the same and the preparations continue unceasingly.

The Egyptian armed forces today have more than 2,000 tanks and more than 500 combat planes. Since the cease-fire alone, Egypt has received from Russia more than 120 combat planes. The Egyptian Army has crossing equipment and bridges, of Russian make, among the most modern in the world. The Soviet Union also continues to supply Egypt with helicopters for the transport and landing of troops from the air. The Egyptian Army, which, according to Egyptian leaders, comprises more than half a million soldiers today, is continually engaged in offensive manoeuvres, including training in crossing. The manoeuvres take place under the close supervision of Soviet advisers and instructors, including officers of the highest ranks. Under the instruction of Soviet advisors the Egyptian Army is engaged in the preparation of approaches to the Canal and the levelling of areas alongside it to facilitate the crossing of the Canal.

Here and there rumours have been circulated that relations between the Soviet Union and Egypt have been slightly strained and that, as a result, there has been a delay in certain arms shipments. There can be no certainty of the truth of these rumours, and in fact there is continual military supply between the two countries and the emphasis is always on continuity of supply.

The military ties between the Soviet Union and Egypt received contractual confirmation in the agreement signed in May between the Presidents of Egypt and the Soviet Union, and was emphasized anew following President Sadat's recent visit to Moscow. In the joint communiqué published at the end of the visit it was announced that "specific steps for the additional strengthening of the military might of Egypt" had been agreed upon. That is, a new military deal was concluded, including the supplying of additional armaments to Egypt - including, no doubt, new weapons. These specific steps may also indicate the possibility of reinforcing the Soviet military presence in Egypt.

The recent flight of the Mig 23 aircraft along the Israeli coast is a kind of reminder of this possibility.

Together with the shipment of arms to Egypt, the USSR is also continuing to equip Syria at a considerable pace. The Syrian Army today has 1,200 tanks and 250 combat planes, all of USSR manufacture. Parallel with this build-up, Syria is also holding offensive manoeuvres - and there, too, this is being done tinder the direction and guidance of Soviet advisers.

The recent federation agreement places at Egypt's disposal resources of military equipment in the possession of the federated States, including Libya's Mirage aircraft.

Soviet relations with Egypt are marked today by the obligations undertaken by the Soviet leadership when they signed the friendship and cooperation treaty with the Egyptian President. This Soviet obligation is expressed by the definition of the agreement, which was signed under the designation of the supreme stage in the relations between the two countries. As will be remembered, clause 8 of the agreement includes a definite undertaking to help build up Egypt's military strength in order to enable that country to liquidate by force - the consequences of the aggression".

Members of the Knesset,

The interruption of aircraft shipments to Israel and its grave significance from both the military and the political point of view should be seen against this background. The interruption of aircraft supplies to Israel upsets the balance of arms in the area and there is no doubt that it also encourages the Egyptian rulers in their preparations to violate the cease-fire and commence military operations against Israel if it does not obey their dictates. But we cannot ignore the political signficance of the interruption of aircraft shipments.

We hear President Sadat's repeated public demands to the US Government not to supply us with Phantoms. The Egyptian President does not conceal that American acceptance of this demand is, in his eyes, a central goal. He repeatedly emphasizes that he is not at all interested in Israel's position, but only in the US position, because his entire aim is to increase American pressure on us to force us to accept his dictates. And he repeatedly demands that the US use the non-supply of aircraft to weaken Israel's strength and position and to help him impose his conditions upon us.

For a number of months the US has not met our request for the supply of aircraft. This fact is no secret from Egypt or the USSR, and even though it is possible to assume that no such promise has been given to Egypt, the facts speak for themselves. Egypt is liable to interpret this as acceptance of its demands.

Israel vigorously rejects an attitude which makes the supply of its essential security needs conditional on any other matter, whether such condition be direct or indirect. Israel's right to have its security needs met cannot be conditional on other matters which are under discussion between the US and Israel or between the US and Egypt.

The United States Government has made it clear to us in the past that it is not in its interest that Israel should find itself in an inferior military position at a time when we are in the middle of political negotiations. In addition, we have reason to assume that the principle of continuous military supply, especially that of planes, is a permanent principle in the relations between our two countries. Israel cannot ignore this principle, with all the serious implications liable to follow for Israel's security. The Government of Israel calls upon the Government of the United States to enable it to acquire the planes which are vital to Israel's security.

Israel values the deep understanding which wide sections of the American public display towards this claim of ours, which touches our security needs.

On 14 October the Secretary of State announced that, following the Soviet Egyptian communiqué the United States would reconsider its position, particularly in view of President Nixon's promise that the military balance in the Middle East should not change. He also deplored the Moscow communiqué.

We would like to see, in this announcement of the Secretary of State a step which will lead to immediate practical results. We see no need for any new examination, especially since in our opinion the US Government has the data necessary for the Study of the problem and the adoption of a decision.

Members of the Knesset,

There is no basis whatsoever for the assumption that political concessions may be obtained from us by withholding the supply of the means vitally required for our security. Israel will not be prepared to agree to political conditions which undermine its security and future, even in return for a promise of the equipment needed for its security.

Now we are being offered an intensified discussion of the arrangement for the opening of the Canal, and this at the very time when the Egyptian position has hardened. Our position is that an agreement between Israel and Egypt on this topic would be desirable, and could even be a step towards permanent peace. But this is so only if it does not give Egypt advantages should it renew the fighting, and does not guarantee compliance with its position regarding the final border. After all, the Canal could be opened without an Israeli withdrawal. But since the opening of the Canal is being linked to some withdrawal of the IDF from the Canal line, Israel is justified in insisting on the maintenance of conditions vital to its interests. These conditions will reduce the risk that Israel has undertaken.

This is why the Government considers it necessary to carry out preliminary discussions with the United States Government, re-clarifying our position as established in April.

Members of the Knesset,

Last month the Security Council saw fit to adopt a resolution on Jerusalem. Not only Israel, but other international factors, were amazed at the very need to hold a meeting to discuss this matter. The proposal to hold the debate underwent many transformations and delays, and it becarne clear that there was no connection whatever between the motives for holding the debate and the actual situation in Jerusalem. The situation in United Jerusalem does not require debate in the international forum. It is perfectly normal. The debate in the Security Council was held solely to satisfy the desire of the Jordanian Government and some of its supporters to besmirch Israel in the international forum.

From the time Jordan conquered the Old City by force of arms, expelled its Jewish inhabitants and divided the city in two, to the day of the city's liberation and reunification in 1967, Jerusalem underwent 19 years of the violation of all that Israel holds sacred: destruction of synagogues and desecration of cemeteries, prevention of free access by Jews to their holiest places, violation of the Armistice Agreement provisions on free access to Mount Scopus and the operation of the educational and medical institutions located there. Never throughout all those years was the Security Council aroused or called into session to debate the desecration of Jerusalem, nor was the international conscience troubled at the atrocities, crimes and violations of law committed under the aegis of the Jordanian regime. Now, some four and a half years after the liberation of the city, when Jerusalem can live its life without barbed-wire fences, when Jews, Moslems and Christians are living together in cooperation and mutual respect, when its holy places are open to members of all faiths and access to them is in truth secure, when Jerusalem's Arab citizens, like its Jewish citizens, are benefiting from the development and prosperity of the city - the Security Council sees fit to convene and to resolve that the situation in the city may "prejudice the rights of the inhabitants and the interests of the international community, or a just and lasting peace", and "requests the Secretary-General ... using such instrumentalities as he may choose, including a representative or a mission, to report to the Security Council ... within sixty days on the implementation of this Resolution."

What has happened in Jerusalem to justify the debate and the Resolution? What interests of the world community are being harmed in Jerusalem? Is anyone being denied access to a holy place of any faith? Has any resident been deprived of his rights? Last year alone hundreds of thousands of tourists and guests visited Jerusalem, including tens of thousands of citizens of Arab States - despite the fact that these States are still in a state of war with Israel. All these people moved about freely everywhere. Is this not living and indisputable testimony to the situation in Jerusalem? We must ask the countries that are members of the Security Council, who raised their hands to support the Resolution that was adopted: Why may the Christian Holy Places be under the control of a Moslem State, but something is wrong when these places are under the control of a Jewish State? Is a Jewish State less trustworthy than a non-Jewish State?

Whatever may have been the motives of its sponsors and supporters, the Government of Israel will not enter into a discussion with any political factor on the basis of this Security Council Resolution. This Resolution is devoid of any moral foundation, and we consider it completely invalid. Israel will continue to devote its efforts to the development of the city for the benefit of all its residents. It will continue to guard scrupulously the holy places of all religions and will guarantee free access to them. It will continue to ensure respect for the religious rights of all denominations. This policy of Israel's has led to the development of fruitful relations between all sectors of the population, and it will ensure that the cooperation and fraternity between all Jerusalem's residents will continue and deepen. As in the past, Israel is ready to make agreements with Christian and Moslem religious authorities to guarantee the religious status and the universal character of the places which are holy to the religions.

From the Egyptian President's speeches one of two things may be understood: that he is announcing the renewal of hostilities on Egyptian initiative in 1971, or that he is announcing that a decision on Egyptian offensive action, with, the aim of reaching a final decision, will be taken in Egypt during 1971. In the War Minister's speech to air defence units on the front on 24 October, General Zadek said, inter alia: "The battle is near, and rather nearer than you imagine." And when he told his soldiers of his visit to Moscow he said that his hosts were determined to help Egypt.

If Egypt has in fact decided to renew hostilities in 1971, or at any other time that is for it to consider and decide on its own responsibility. It must certainly be clear to the Egyptian Government that an attack on the State of Israel will be met with determined resistance.

We are prepared to fight back, but we repeat our proposal of one of two possibilities: negotiations for a lasting peace, with no prior conditions, or - at least agreement on a special settlement for the opening of the Canal.

We do not want a renewal of hostilities, but we are convinced that the results to be expected from an Egyptian-initiated attack will bring failure and bitter disappointment to whoever pins his hopes on them.

We repeat our proposal to Egypt: to look to different, less gloomy horizons: horizons of peace in mutual respect.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs