Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Meir on the Interim Agreement
(February 9, 1971)
In the course of 1969 and 1970, and in view of the deadlock in the Jarring mission and the War of Attrition, new ideas were considered in Israel and the United States about the possibility of an interim agreement which would make possible the re-opening of the Suez Canal. On 4 February 1971, President Sadat announced that Egypt was willing to consider the idea. The reaction of the Prime Minister of Israel came in a statement to the Knesset on 9 February:
In my statement in the Knesset on 29 December 1970, I reported the Cabinet decision to terminate the suspension of our participation in the talks Linder the auspices of Dr. Jarring. I made it clear once again that we would act in accordance with the basic principles of the Government's policy, and its decisions which had been approved in the Knesset.
In other words, we shall act in accordance with the agreed policy of the Government to safeguard Israel's complete independence, the strengthening of its security and the advancement of peace between it and the neighbouring States, which will be founded on peace treaties achieved in direct negotiations between the parties without pre-conditions. In the peace treaties the agreed, secure and recognized borders will be laid down. In the absence of peace Israel will continue to maintain the situation as fixed at the cease-fire and will strengthen its position in keeping with the vital needs of its security and development. I also stressed that Israel is entitled to defensible, agreed frontiers. Israel will, therefore, never return to the borders of 4 June 1967, which heightened the temptation for aggression against our country.
I have repeatedly stated that we will continue to examine every possibility of achieving the longed-for peace, and in this connection I clarified our decision to respond to the American peace initiative on the cease-fire and the renewal of the talks under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring.
I think it is appropriate to recall the Government decision which was approved in the Knesset on 4 August last year in which, inter alia, the following was stated:
16 ... (3) The discussions under Ambassador Jarring's auspices shall be held within the framework of Security Council resolution (242) on the basis of the expression of readiness by the parties to carry out Security Council resolution
(242) in all its parts, in order to achieve an agreed and binding contractual peace agreement between the parties which will ensure.
"(A) Termination by Egypt, Jordan and Israel of all claims or states of' belligerency and respect and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of each other and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force. Each of the parties will be responsible within its territory for the prevention of all hostile acts by regular military forces or paramilitary forces, including irregular forces, against the armed forces or against civilians living in the territory of the other party,
"(B) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict to secure, recognized and agreed boundaries to be determined in the peace agreements.
"(4) Israel will participate in these discussions without prior conditions. Israel will not claim the prior acceptance by the other party of its positions, as Israel does not accept in advance the positions of the other parties as communicated publicly or otherwise. Each party will be free to present its proposals on the matters under discussion. "
After the Knesset approved my statement of 29 December, and our participation in the talks was renewed, Ambassador Jarring was invited to visit Jerusalem. On the eve of the renewal of the talks, we felt it advisable to clarify to him once again the principles of our policy, and to propose an efficient method and a suitable agenda for the conduct of the talks.
We aimed at a substantive clarification without delay. We had and we still have certain views concerning the venue and level of the talks. But we did not press this aspect, in order to avoid delay because of procedural arguments.
I must note here that our discussions with Ambassador Jarring during his visit to Jerusalem were useful not only in our view, but also according to the testimony of the UN envoy himself.
We submitted to Ambassador Jarring detailed proposals, including fundamental principles for peace, and requested him to transmit these to the Governments of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee has been given detailed reports on this subject, and, for the time being, I still prefer to refrain from making these documents public.
Our aim, in submitting these documents, was to ascertain whether each of the three Governments was prepared to make peace with us. We focussed the discussion from its inception on one simple, basic question: Is each of the three neighbouring States indeed prepared to make peace with Israel - a peace the clear meaning of which would be to put an absolute end to the conflict and the fighting? We did this in the conviction that only after a positive reply to this question had been received would the time come for discussion in detail with the aim of reaching agreement on all the clauses.
In these documents, we raised simple, basic and elementary principles accepted in the world at large and incorporated in the concept of peace among nations and States - principles in the absence of which no "peace" can be a real peace. We emphasized our readiness, pursuant to the decision that I have just read to you, to enter into a discussion with the other parties with a view to reaching agreement on all the clauses of Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council, including withdrawal to secure and agreed borders to the determined in treaties of peace. I firmly reject Egyptian and Jordanian charges that Israel has been evading discussion of any subject whatever contained in the clauses of the Security Council resolution.
The Governments of the Arab countries submitted to Ambassador Jarring documents which did not contain direct replies to the proposals we had made. The documents of the Arab States were nothing but a restatement of known positions, heavily coated with polemics. These documents evade the giving of direct replies. In accordance with our aim, which is to strive towards substantive talks, we preferred to refrain from replying to them with polemics, and to concentrate on the problems requiring clarification and agreement in the framework of peace agreements.
I must state with regret that in the documents submitted so far to Ambassador Jarring, the representatives of the Arab States took care not to state expressly that it is a question of establishing peace with Israel, and they spoke only of "peace in the region". These Governments have not kept their undertaking to conduct talks between the parties under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring for the purpose of "establishing a just and lasting peace between them", as is explicitly stated in the peace initiative of the United States which they accepted. It is not by chance that they speak of the need for the independence and territorial integrity of all the States of the region, but refrain from mentioning the name of Israel in this context.
Experience accumulated over 22 years proves that the expression "States of the region" has been adopted by the Arab Governments for the purpose of excluding Israel and not in order to include it. When Egypt announced, on many occasions, that the Suez Canal, for example, would be open to "all States" it was referring in fact to "all States" except Israel, whose international rights Egypt does not recognize. Therefore, the repetition of this expression in Egyptian statements today gives us cause for concern. It reinforces the impression that the Arab rulers see the main function of the Jarring talks not in the attainment of peace, but in bringing about our withdrawal and achieving what they term: "the rights of the Palestinian nation."
So far, the Arab delegates have not budged from their demand that the only subject to be considered should be withdrawal, despite the refusal to explicitly state their willingness to make peace with Israel and to discuss the principles of peace proposed by us.
The Israel Government has instructed its representative, Ambassador Tekoah, to request a reply to the questions and proposals which we put, since, unless we receive a clear and positive answer to them, we see no point in discussing the clauses preferred by the Arab representatives. These clauses are included in the agenda which we proposed, but the time to discuss them will duly come in the framework of the discussions on the content of peace.
Since the talks were resumed, the Egyptian leaders have not ceased to utter new threats every day or two, for the purpose of arousing apprehensions that they would open fire on 5 February. These threats have roused passions in Egypt with the aim of creating an atmosphere of tension.
Since the beginning of January 1971, the campaign to inflame the atmosphere inside and outside Egypt, to prepare men's hearts for total war, has been intensified. This campaign has included declarations by leaders, mainly President Sadat, and also certain practical steps. I shall mention only a few declarations.
On 4 January (in Tanta), President Sadat spoke once again about the expected total war, "which may not only encompass the armies deployed opposite one another, but spread to every factory, plough, village and homeland." It should be noted that on that occasion thousands shouted their agreement with Sadat on Egypt's readiness to fight Israel.
On I I January (at Assiut) Sadat said: "Israel will not escape punishment, no matter how long it takes." On this occasion also the crowd repeated thirty times "we shall fight."
In a television interview given to the Columbia Broadcasting Company (on 10 January), Sadat repeated the threat that the fighting against Israel was likely to break out again on 5 February unless the Four Powers agreed on a practical settlement to the Middle East conflict.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Riad said in Paris (on 9 January) that the war was likely to break out again in the Middle East after the end of the cease-fire period if the Four Powers did not intervene to impose peace.
The success of the regime in creating war hysteria may be seen in the reaction to a speech of Sadat before the Egyptian People's Council on 4 February. The crowd broke into prolonged, stormy cheering when Sadat said: "Our sacred duty, which no man can evade, is to free our soil and (that is) the reason for a clash with the enemy." Whereas not one assenting voice was heard when he stated the need to refrain from opening fire.
With all this, military preparations for the renewal of the war continued in Egypt and all this while discussions were being held under Dr. Jarring's auspices. The people of Israel displayed exemplary coolness and maturity, in contrast with the bellicose atmosphere in Egypt. At the same time, the Israel Defence Forces were ready and prepared to fight back if war had been forced on us by the Egyptians.
Israel was still willing to continue with the cease-fire, not in order to perpetuate the status quo, as Sadat charges, but to make progress in the efforts at a dialogue in order to achieve the peace we desire.
All this time, and especially in the most recent period, Egypt has been resorting to steps and stratagems aimed at getting the Four Powers to do something to "implement the Security Council resolution." Egypt accepted the American initiative calling for talks under the auspices of Dr. Jarring in order to achieve a peace agreement between the parties. It even submitted documents to Dr. Jarring, but from the point of view of content evaded substantive discussion which was likely to lead to peace. On the contrary, and at the same time, it made deliberate efforts to get the Four Powers to take action leading to an imposed solution.
Instead of striving for an agreement between the parties on peace within secure and agreed frontiers, Egypt is seeking to endow the Four Powers with the authority to impose a settlement. Not only is this intention incompatible with the mission and authority of Ambassador Jarring under the terms of the Security Council Resolution of November 1967, but it is aimed at sabotaging his mission. The function of the United Nations envoy, as defined in the Security Council Resolution, is to foster agreement and help to attain it by peaceful means. This was given added force by the American initiative, as a result of which it was agreed that talks under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring should be started. The Four Powers have no legal standing in connection with the Security Council resolution of November 1967, or in connection with other resoluitons of the Security Council. The only thing that characterizes these Four Powers is their permanent membership of the Security Council, but that does not endow them with any special or additional authority in the settlement of the present conflict in the Middle East. This is nothing but a group of countries with no formal status which meets to exchange views without the authority to make decisions or issue guidelines to Ambassador Jarring.
Among the means to a political settlement raised by the Arab States - and, together with them, from time to time, in various versions, by other political elements as well - we hear vague talk about "international guarantees" and "policing units." The Government of Israel rejects any idea of regarding these concepts of international guarantees, or of a police force sponsored by any international authority whatever, as a substitute for a contractual and binding peace that includes defensible borders to be agreed upon in free negotiations between Israel and its neighbours. The Government of Israel has not adopted any conception with regard to guarantees. The Government of Israel will be prepared to discuss additional security arrangements only after agreed security borders, specified in a peace treaty, have been determined.
Any discussion on the subject of guarantees in an international forum before there is agreement on peace and the borders of peace tends to help the Arab leaders in their purpose of exploiting the idea of guarantees in order to evade having to make peace, in the plain sense of the term, and presenting guarantees as a substitute for the conditions that will lead to genuine peace.
Upon my accession to my present office, at the presentation of the Government to the Knesset on 17 March 1969 and on 5 May 1969, the early stages of the Four-Power talks, I clearly stated in the Knesset that the Four-Power talks were an invitation to blackmail. So long as the illusion was implanted in the hearts of the Arab leaders that a solution was possible without negotiations between the Arab States and the State. of Israel - the cause of peace was not being advanced and the solution was being postponed. Like any independent State or any free nation, Israel will not allow its fate to be decided by anyone but itself.
I note with satisfaction that, so far, the United States Government has not given support to those factors that have tried to impede the progress of the talks under Dr. Jarring's auspices by discussions on substitutes and on the issuance of instructions to Dr. Jarring. It was the Soviet Union that demanded that the Four Powers issue instructions to the UN envoy, whereas the United States opposed this trend. Recently, however, the United States has declared its readiness to discuss additional guarantees in the Four-Power forum. I shall not withhold form the Knesset the fact that I view this readiness to enter into such a discussion at this time and within the framework of the Four Powers with grave concern, even after the United States has notified us that it is opposed to guarantees as a substitute for an agreement between the parties on peace borders but regards guarantees as supplementary to borders which will be agreed on.
We still demand firmly that the United States Government should refrain from supporting moves that may be exploited to facilitate efforts to evade peace. We have solid grounds for demanding this of the United States Government, knowing that it fully recognizes the importance of reaching an agreement between the parties and firmly maintains the position that not a single Israeli soldier need withdraw from the cease-fire lines before a contractual and mutually binding peace has been achieved.
I wish to reiterate and emphasize our position that the achievement of a peace agreement with defensible and agreed borders must precede any discussion on supplementary arrangements.
On 4 February, the President of Egypt delivered an address to the Egyptian National Council. To our great regret, it was not a speech of peace. In the course of the entire speech, the President of Egypt refrained from saying that Egypt was ready to make peace with Israel - plainly and clearly: "Peace between Egypt and Israel."
He complains that Egypt had to wait several months for Israel to come to the Jarring talks. Sadat knows very well why Israel suspended its participation in the talks. He pretends not to know about the violation of the standstill agreement and the redeployment of the missiles, as though this was some minor matter, a mere pretext.
In his speech, the Egyptian President re-states the well-known Arab position - the doctrine of stages for "the implementation of the Security Council Resolution", in other words, the withdrawal of the Israel Defence Forces from all the areas up to the armistice lines and, following that, "the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people", which, in effect, is an expression of support for the plan of the terrorist organizations for the destruction of the State of Israel. He even insures himself with a declaration that Egypt is not authorized to forego this right. We will not divert our attention from this passage in Sadat's speech, which strengthens our conviction - made clear to Ambassador Jarring and included in our documents - that peace means the total and absolute termination of the Israel-Arab conflict, including, of course, an agreed solution of the refugee problem. We believe that the refugee problem is a humanitarian problem. It is vital that the refugees be redeemed from their inferior position.
The refugee problem must find its agreed solution within the framework of peace. For this reason, and in view of the human aspect of the problem, we proposed to Ambassador Jarring that priority be given to this subject, and we have plans and proposals for a suitable solution of the problem to be arrived at by common effort.
On 4 November, the President of Egypt stated, and I quote: "We are complying with the call of the Secretary-General of the UN and agree to refrain from opening fire for a period which we cannot allow to exceed 30 days, which will end on 7 March. It is therefore up to the Secretary-General of the UN and to international society to make sure that in that period there will be real progress in the essence of the problem and not only in its external manifestaitons."
I am sure that not only the Israel Government, but every man in Israel is glad that the war was not renewed on 5 February. We want peace, not another victory. And so long as the firing has not been resumed, it is to be hoped that the renewal of the war can be prevented.
But to my great regret I must state the grave truth: that the announcement of abstention from shooting for not more than 30 days is equivalent to a threat to renew the war on 7 March 1971. We are invited to continue with talks in an eve-of-war atmosphere, in the shadow of an ultimatum, and on the basis of the unrealistic claim that agreement can be reached on such a complex subject in such a brief period. It should be remembered that the talks are not being conducted directly, but by a system whereby each party submits a document to Jarring and waits for the response of the other party. This announcement of abstention from shooting which "we cannot allow to extend for longer than 30 days", is not calculated to create the essential conditions required for real progress. I affirm that Israel has no interest in or intention of engaging in the Jarring talks for purposes of procrastination. With all our hearts we want to get progress on an agreement on all matters. An announcement of abstention from shooting for not more than 30 days is equivalent to the declaration of a date for the renewal of the war and adds a heavy weight on the Jarring talks.
We cannot permit ourselves to ignore systematic and practical measures which reveal large-scale warlike preparations on the part of the Egyptians. The fixing of a term of 30 days has aroused great disappointment and alarm in world public opinion, which hopes for serious and free negotiations.
I indicated the gravity and the danger of the statement by the President of Egypt on 4 February. That statement contravenes the Security Council Resolution of June 1967 on a cease-fire unlimited in time. Nevertheless, so long as Egypt has not renewed the fighting, in spite of the threat implicit in that statement, Israel will continue with its efforts to attain through the Jarring talks real progress towards a peace settlement.
From the speech by President Sadat we learn that in his eyes the essence of the problem is to attain a withdrawal by Israel forces, whereas the main problem, also according to the Security Council Resolution, is to achieve a peace settlement, the ending of the war. As I stated on 4 August, we are not ignoring the subject of withdrawal to agreed and defensible frontiers, but this and other clauses will be implemented only in the framework of peace agreements which put an end to the war.
I wish to dwell on another subject which president Sadat defined as "a new Egyptian intitiative." He says, and I quote: "We demand that within the period when we shall refrain from opening fire, a partial withdrawal be effected by the Israeli forces on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, as the first stage towards a timetable to be determined thereafter for the implementation of the remaining clauses of the Security Council Resolution."
And he adds: "If this is realized during this period, we shall be ready to begin at once with the clearing of the bed of the Suez Canal and its re-opening to international navigation and the service of the world economy."
Egypt demands of Israel a partial withdrawal of the Israel Forces on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, as a first step in the fixing of a timetable for the implementation of the remaining clauses of the Security Council Resolution.
In return for the withdrawal of the Israel Defence Forces, Egypt does not promise to implement the main clause of the Security Council Resolution, which is the achievement of a peace agreement between the parties and of secure and agreed borders. The sole return that is offered us is to begin at once with the clearing of the canal and its reopening for navigation - and this, too, without making it clear that navigation will be free and that, within the framework of the service that is to be rendered to the world economy, Israel's right to free navigation in the Canal will also be honoured.
I must make it unequivocally clear that Israel is wholeheartedly prepared to lend its support to the opening of the Canal to free international shipping for all States, including Israel. It is not we who are responsible for the blocking of the Canal.
Ever since the cease-fire in June 1967, authorized representatives of the Governments of Israel have clearly stated our readiness to negotiate with Egypt with regard to arrangements for operating the Suez Canal. Here is what Foreign Minister Abba Eban said on the Israel Broadcasting Service on 29 July 1967: "Israel will be prepared to arrive at an agreement in the matter of the Suez Canal, apart from an overall solution, on condition that the waterway will be open to all States, including Israel." Later, lie said that "Israel's position in this respect is absolutely clear."
On 18 October 1967 the late Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was asked: "Mr. Prime Minister, what did you mean when you spoke of separate negotiations with Egypt on the activation of the Suez Canal?" The late Levi EshkoI replied:
"I was asked whether we would be prepared to settle the matter of the Canal on its own, and to this I answered that we are prepared for the activation of the Canal on the explicit condition that anything granted to the States of the world, and the rights that they will enjoy, should be granted to, be enjoyed by, Israel as well."
That was our policy. Had Egypt maintained the cease-fire agreement according to the Security Council Resolution of June 1967, it would then have been possible to arrive at agreement with Israel on clearing the Canal and opening it for free navigation. But Egypt preferred, as we know, to try her strength in the War of Attrition, and clung to the belief that a blocked Canal is preferable to a sea-lane which would be open to Israeli shipping.
Opening the Canal to international navigation could be an expression of the desire and aim to attain peace. However, President Sadat's proposal, as presented in his speech, tries to achieve a strategic advantage by the withdrawal of Israel's forces without actual progress towards peace. To me, it seems strange to propose the withdrawal of our forces from the Canal outside a framework of agreed arrangements for the absolute termination of the war.
Members of the Knesset,
There is more that is obscure in President Sadat's proposal - in its present version - than what is expressly stated. The proposal is simply not clear. The essence is missing. At this time I do not propose to detail the serious questions which the President of Egypt has left obscure.
Direct face-to-face contact between us would make it easier to examine every proposal on Egypt's part or on Israel's part with the purpose of achieving unequivocal agreements on all provisions including the conditions and times for the implementation of the agreements.
Our position on the opening of the Canal has not changed. We are in favour of the opening of the Suez Canal to free navigation and would even willingly discuss proposals aimed at leading to normalization of civilian life in that area, and mutual de-escalation of the military confrontation. But does the President of Egypt believe that it is possible to carry out the work of clearing the Canal while the threat to renew the war is still in force? At any rate, 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.
Members of the Knesset,
Since my last statement in the Knesset, the dangerous involvement of the Soviet Union in the Egyptian war-machine has continued and deepened. Since the death of Nasser, the Soviets have taken further steps to consolidate the attachment of Egypt to the Soviet Union as "a faithful ally". We have no signs that indicate that the Soviet Union has urged Egypt to maintain the cease-fire with no time limit in accordance with the Security Council Resolution of June 1967.
On the contrary, the increased military aid, the massive flow of weaponry, including weapons of an offensive character (bridging equipment, heavy artillery, planes and gound-to-ground missiles), the growth in the number of Soviet army personnel, pilots, technicians and advisers, have encouraged and heartened the extremist elements in Egypt. This process has clear militant anti-Israel implications, which are not lost on either the Egyptians or the Soviets. But the process has global implications as well, and it is vital that these should not be lost on the nations of the world - and, in the first instance, on Israel's friends, who are in a position to take deterrent political measures and to aid us in procuring the tools and the means that are necessary for our selfdefence.
Members of the Knesset,
An extension of thirty days is too short a period for us to be complacent. We must be alert - but not frightened. The strengthening of the Israel Defence Forces continues apace. As time goes on, our strength grows, and it will continue to grow. If war should be forced upon us, we will face it and we will win. At the same time, now as before, our efforts will be directed, to the very best Of Our ability, to the removal of the danger of a resumption of the war and to the attainment of peace.