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British-Israel Relations: UK Considers How To Force Israeli Withdrawal Following Suez War

(February 22, 1957)

UK Considers How To Force Israeli Withdrawal Following Suez War

CONCLUSIONS of a Meeting of the Cabinet held in the Prime Ministers Room,
House of Commons, S.W. 1, on Friday, 22nd February, 1957, at 11 a.m.

The Foreign Secretary said that, although public opinion in the United States was increasingly opposed to the use of sanctions against Israel, the recent statement of policy by President Eisenhower, designed to bring further pressure to bear on the Government of Israel to withdraw their forces, had produced a situation in which we could not be certain that, if a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel was introduced in the United Nations, the United States Government would not feel obliged to vote in its favour. The body of opinion in the United Nations which was concerned to secure a just settlement for Israel was anxious to anticipate this risk by putting forward alternative proposals. These had now taken shape in a resolution drafted by the Canadian Government which would include the following proposals: (i) the parties should observe and implement the Armistice Agreement; (ii) a United Nations force should be deployed on both sides of the border between Israel and Egypt and in the Gaza Strip; (iii) the parties should refrain from interference with innocent passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba; (iv) the United Nations should be invited to send a commission to Gaza to supervise the replacement of the Israeli administration and to arrange for United Nations association with its future administration; (v) a United Nations Committee should be appointed to visit Gaza and make recommendations for a final settlement of the problem in that area; and (vi) if Israel still refused to withdraw her forces, the United Nations should give further consideration to effective measures to achieve the desired ends. If a resolution of this kind was passed by a two-thirds majority, the Government of Israel would have secured as much in the way of guarantees for their future security as they could reasonably hope to achieve. We should therefore express our support in principle for these proposals, even at the cost of accepting the implied threat of sanctions, rather than allow matters to drift into a deadlock which might have disastrous results.

A resolution of this kind might, however, be defeated or be mutilated to an extent which would render it useless for our purpose. If it was then supplanted by a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel, we should be faced with a very delicate decision. We could not vote in favour of a resolution which would afford Israel no prospect of a just settlement or of adequate guarantees of her security. But we could not vote against a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel without further alienating opinion in the Arab world. H.M. Ambassador at Bagdad had reported that, in the opinion of the Prime Minister of Iraq, it would be fatal to us to fail to insist on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, but that, if the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States pursued a common policy in this matter, they would regain the confidence of Iraq and other Arab Governments and would strengthen their hands in dealing with the Egyptian Government in future. We were now, therefore, in a position of great difficulty, inasmuch as we were uncertain of the course which the United States Government would ultimately adopt and were exposed to the risk that, if we remained passive in the face of developments, we should find ourselves confronted by a resolution which we should be unable either to support or to oppose.

In discussion it was suggested that public opinion in this country was now actively concerned to secure a just settlement for Israel. In the absence of such a settlement Israel could not reasonably be expected to withdraw her forces; but, so long as she refused to withdraw them, there could be no assurance that the Suez Canai would be re-opened or the Syrian pipeline repaired. But delay in this respect, though vital to ourselves, was far less important to Israel and, indeed, to the United States. Unless, therefore, Israel was confronted with at least the threat that sanctions would be invoked against her if she did not withdraw her troops, she would have no inducement to accelerate this withdrawal. On the other hand, if a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel was adopted by the United Nations (even though we ourselves voted against it or at least abstained) and if we subsequently wished to dissociate ourselves from its implementation, the effect on the supplies of oil to this country and to Western Europe might be no less damaging, quite apart from the harm to our political relations with the Arab States.

Initially, therefore, our efforts should be directed to securing the maximum support for the type of resolution which the Canadian Government had in mind. We should not ourselves sponsor a resolution of this kind; but we should speak vigorously in its favour and should seek to ensure that, in debate, it had priority over any Afro-Asian resolution invoking sanctions. In certain respects, however, the text of the Canadian resolution, as indicated in New York telegram No. 628, would need to be amended if it was to be acceptable to public opinion in this country. It was agreed that:

(i) In paragraph 7 the reference to clarification of the legal position of the Straits of Than and the Gulf of Aqaba should be omitted; the reference to "innocent passage " should be amended to " free passage"; and if, as seemed probable, the Canadian Government themselves wished to omit the reference to the assertion of belligerent rights, we need not object.

(ii) Paragraph 8, which appeared to weaken the specific provisions of paragraph 7, should, if possible, be omitted; but we should not insist on this omission against the better judgment of the Canadian Government.

(iii) Paragraph 11, which contained the implicit threat to invoke sanctions against Israel, should be amended to indicate that the United Nations were concerned less to secure a unilateral withdrawal by Israel than to ensure that both parties to the dispute implemented the terms of the resolution as a whole. It should therefore be redrafted, if possible, to read—" Unless the terms of this resolution are implemented and Israel withdraws, the General Assembly should give consideration to measures which might be effective in achieving the desired ends."

It would, however, be necessary to consider carefully our course of action if a resolution on the Canadian model failed to secure a hearing or was defeated on a vote, and a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel was then put forward. In addition to the fact that we could neither vote for nor vote against such a resolution without damage to our interests, the precedent which would be established if the General Assembly was allowed to demand the imposition of sanctions could be very damaging, particularly to a commercial nation such as ourselves. We should therefore spare no effort to ensure that a resolution of this kind was defeated, and that our own attitude towards it was put clearly on record. For this purpose it might be advisable that we should table a resolution of our own, outlining as clearly as possible the principles of a solution which we should be prepared to accept as just and reasonable. If possible, we should secure a vote on this resolution. But even if we failed to do so, our policy would have been demonstrated to world opinion and we should be justified thereafter in abstaining from voting on any resolution invoking sanctions against Israel. In so doing we should admittedly run the risk that our abstention might contribute to the necessary two-thirds majority vote in favour of the imposition of sanctions. But the alternative course of voting against a resolution invoking sanctions might imply consequences, in terms of our relations with the Arab States and the future safety of our oil supplies, which we could not lightly contemplate.

The Prime Minister said that it was clear that our immediate objective should be to secure the amendment of the Canadian resolution on the lines indicated in the discussion, and to give it our maximum support in debate. He proposed, therefore, to send a personal message to President Eisenhower, emphasising the importance of fair treatment for Israel and urging him to give the support of the United States Government to the Canadian resolution. If, however, the Canadian resolution failed to achieve its purpose and was supplanted by a resolution invoking sanctions against Israel, it would be necessary to consider carefully whether we should vote against such resolution or should merely abstain. Abstention might prove to be the wiser course; but whatever policy we pursued should be one which we could justify to our own conscience and to public opinion as just and honourable.

The Cabinet—

Invited the Foreign Secretary to instruct the United Kingdom representative at the United Nations to be guided, in the debate on the withdrawal of Israeli forces, by the views expressed in their discussion.


Sources:British Archives: CAB/128/31/13