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The Sinai-Suez Campaign: White House Statement on Withdrawal of Israeli Troops Within Armistice Lines

(February 17, 1957)

THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE is today making public a memorandum which the United States gave to the Government of Israel on February 11th. It relates to Israeli withdrawal to within the armistice lines as repeatedly called for by the United Nations. The memorandum outlines the policies which the United States would, thereafter, pursue in relation to the two matters--the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gaza Strip--which so far lead Israel not to withdraw.

Israel would prefer to have the future status of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gaza Strip definitely settled to its satisfaction prior to its withdrawal, and as a condition thereto. But all members of the United Nations are solemnly bound by the Charter to settle their international disputes by peaceful means and in their international relations to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of any state. These undertakings seem to preclude using the forcible seizure and occupation of other lands as bargaining power in the settlement of international disputes.

The United Kingdom and France, which occupied portions of Egypt at about the time of Israel's attack upon Egypt of last October, withdrew promptly and unconditionally in response to the same United Nation's Resolution that called for Israeli withdrawal. They deferred to the overwhelming judgment of the world community that a solution of their difficulties with Egypt should be sought after withdrawal and not be made a condition precedent to withdrawal. The United States believes that Israel should do likewise.

President Eisenhower's letter to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion of Israel of November 8, 1956, urged, as a matter of "highest priority" that "Israeli forces be withdrawn to the general armistice lines." "After which," the President said, "new and energetic steps should be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations to solve the basic problems which have given rise to the present difficulty."

Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in his reply said: "In view of the United Nations Resolutions regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Egypt and the creation of an international force, we will, upon conclusion of satisfactory arrangements with the United Nations in connection with this international force entering the Suez Canal area, willingly withdraw our forces."

The international force referred to by the Prime Minister has been created and, pursuant to arrangements which the United Nations has deemed satisfactory, has entered into and is now within the Suez Canal area. But while there has been a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces from Egypt, Israel persists in its occupation of Egyptian territory around the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba and of the Gaza Strip.

The United States is aware of the fact that Israel has legitimate grievances and should, in all fairness, see a prospect of remedying them. The United Nations General Assembly by its second resolution of February 2d, endorsing the Secretary General's report, gave such a prospect. We believe that that prospect is further assured by the view which the United States has formulated and communicated to Israel in its memorandum of February 11th. There, the United States took note of Israeli views with reference to the Gaza Strip and the Straits of Aqaba and made clear what the United States would do, after Israel's withdrawal, to help solve the problems that preoccupy Israel. Our declaration related to our intentions, both as a Member of the United Nations and as a maritime power having rights of our own.

The United States believes that the action of the United Nations of February 2d and the statements of various governments, including the United States memorandum of February 11th, provide Israel with the maximum assurance that it can reasonably expect at this juncture, or that can be reconciled with fairness to others.

Accordingly, the United States has renewed its plea to Israel to withdraw in accordance with the repeated demands of the United Nations and to rely upon the resoluteness of all friends of justice to bring about a state of affairs which will conform to the principles of justice and of international law and serve impartially the proper interests of all in the area. This, the United States believes, should provide a greater source of security for Israel than an occupation continued contrary to the overwhelming judgment of the world community.

The United States, for its part, will strive to remain true to, and support, the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the purposes and principles of the Charter as the world's best hope of peace.

Sources: Public Papers of the President