The U.S. Can Neither Ignore nor Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Washington Must Actively Manage a Dispute It Can’t End
Through a history of alternating victory and defeat, attainment and frustration, achievement and disappointment, Egypt formed an attitude and determination. This we must understand in order to comprehend Egypt today.
When we assumed responsibility after the Egyptian Revolution in 1952 three principles were fixed as our main targets. They appear as Egypt's motto: Freedom, Socialism and Unity. In Arabic, however, the words invoke for us meanings that can hardly be fully translated into English, word for word.
Freedom, for a country that has been coveted by almost every would-be empire-builder, means first ridding itself of foreign military rule. Four years after the Revolution, but 74 years after the British landed in our country, the last of the British troops departed from Egypt. During the 74 years of occupation, we were ruled as part of a political-military bloc. Our economic, social and cultural life, as well as our political and military attitudes, were directed to serve the interests of the British Empire. Although we had all the legal, political and moral arguments on our side in our struggle against the occupation, these arguments could do very little to dislodge the British, who made their presence secure by preventing Egypt from building any effective military force.
Freedom, regained, meant for us first a determination to keep away from all the political-military blocs. Secondly, it meant dedicated effort to strengthen the legal, political and moral forces in the world. Lastly, it meant that we should acquire and build our military defenses.
Staying out of blocs was not only the natural course for emergent Egypt. We considered it an attitude that should be adopted by all member-states of the newly organized United Nations. How could the Tribunal of Nations carry out its grave responsibilities if its members were to gang up in permanent blocs? How could matters of international justice, matters of peace and war, be judged on their own merits? "Nonalignment" came to be the word to indicate this attitude. The initial reaction of superpowers to nonalignment differed. The United States welcomed the nonalignment of Jugoslavia but not that of Egypt or India. The Soviet Union, which welcomed Egypt's nonalignment, would have preferred to have Jugoslavia aligned. Nonaligned countries, however, continued to believe that this attitude was the best for their own peace and progress and for that of the world.
Editor's Note: There is an invitation outstanding to the Israeli Prime Minister for an article in this field.
But to state that Egypt does not align herself with either East or West-a course which she will preserve-does not mean neutrality toward the international issues of justice, morality and the exigencies of human progress. For to be nonaligned does not indicate the absence of national decisions as to where we stand on an issue-by-issue basis.
We had hoped to see the legal, political and moral forces carrying more weight than they did during the period of British occupation of Egypt. We hoped that the Charter of the United Nations would be truly respected and jealously protected by all, especially by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Freedom from the foreigner was not the only freedom that Egypt desired. Throughout the past 20 years, we have sought to free our people from exploitation and need. We have also tried to assure the freedom and dignity of the individual. Land reform and reclamation, harnessing the Nile for more irrigation water and electricity, mining and industrialization were all essential if we were to achieve that freedom from exploitation and need. The system adopted as the framework for these reforms was "Socialism"- the second word figuring in our national motto.
Egypt is a country 7,000 years old. She has deep-rooted traditions and beliefs. God has been worshipped in this country perhaps longer than in any other. Monotheism has been concretized here since Akhnaton. The Egyptian peasant loves and lives for the small piece of land that he owns and looks forward to bequeathing it to his son. "Socialism" in Egypt had to be different. What was essential was to give every Egyptian the right opportunity and to give the nation as a whole the soundest plan for its development. This we tried to do. Under our Socialist system, the rate of growth of the gross national product (GNP), which before 1955 averaged 1.6 percent, rose in the decade between 1956 and 1966 to 6.7 percent. The per capita income, which in 1952 was 37 Egyptian pounds, more than doubled in 1971 to 81 Egyptian pounds, and this in spite of the great increase in the population. The rate of industrial growth averaged 11.4 percent between 1952 and 1971. The contribution of industry rose from nine percent in 1952 to 22 percent in 1971. Industrial exports were 11.9 percent of total exports in 1952, but rose to 32 percent in 1971. Electricity consumption in 1952 was 991 million KWH; in 1971, the figure was 8,113 million KWH.
In the social and cultural fields, the figures are perhaps more revealing. The enrollment of the universities and higher institutes, for example, was 40,000 students in 1952. The figure in 1971 was 213,000 men and women, with their education absolutely free, every youth having had an exactly equal opportunity since primary school.
The programs were all pragmatic in the development and organization of production and trade, and we have exerted every possible national effort in offering enlarged public services in the fields of education, culture, health and social affairs. We have also sought and accepted all assistance available, and in so doing we have been mindful of the responsibilities of the developed states toward the developing countries, conscious of the common struggle that must be waged if men are to progress in freedom.
In our effort to build our country in this Socialist context, we have sought to avoid class struggle and to protect our developing nation against it. Our socialism, accordingly, had to solve all class contradictions peacefully: the formula to reach this really was that of the alliance among all working forces where the intellectual and the national capitalist-the manufacturer, the trader and the farmer-as well as the worker, the peasant and the soldier can all work and coöperate. This alliance is still the backbone of our political structure in Egypt today.
Socialism, the second word in our motto, will not, however, be separated from the first: Freedom. Our socialism does not, and never has put us under any superpower or in any particular bloc. The American journalist or commentator who used to refer to Egypt as a client state or a satellite of the Soviet Union appears bewildered because he sees today that we are not. It is a simple fact that we have never been so. The Soviet Union did not seek, nor did we ever envisage, such a relationship.
Unity, the third word in our motto, has its historic connotations. The unity referred to is our unity with the Arab world around us. The nations of the Arab world are now fragmented-one country of 35 million and another of a few hundred thousand. The urge for Arab unity did not originate in Egypt. It did not begin after the 1952 Revolution. Its roots go deeper into many Arab lands. The Arabs are conscious that they were able to contribute most to human civilization when they were united. They think that, united again, they can assure a better and fuller life for their people on the one hand and best contribute to world peace and progress on the other.
In her era of independence, Egypt has constantly held two basic factors in mind: first, that any threat to the independence and territorial integrity of any of her neighboring Arab states is really a threat to her own independence and territorial integrity; and, second, that any assistance given to any Arab state in the course of overcoming such threats is an act of collective Arab self-defense. The cases of Egyptian assistance to North Africa, Syria, Yemen, the Gulf States and the Palestinian people must be understood in this light.
Pooling the human and natural resources of the Arab world would certainly generate a better economy for all its inhabitants. Closer coöperation would certainly assure their better security and ability to live in peace with a lesser effort and at a lesser expense.
The emergence of a unified Arab world, whose goals are peace and progress- not conflict and alignment-will take time, as does the growth of a tree or the maturation of a harvest, and as did the unification of the United States, of Germany and of Italy. The progression toward unity will meet with various negative factors as well as with various supportive circumstances.
Egyptian policy toward Arab unity today can be very briefly and clearly stated. It is not the imperial scheme. It is not a policy of coercion, pressure or even persuasion. Egypt is ready to go with any Arab country as far as that country wishes to go. We do not wish any country to go further- or quicker-than it wishes. Thus, Egypt is now a member of the Arab League, of the Syrian-Libyan-Egyptian Federation; she is a signatory of the Tripoli Declaration between Sudan, Libya and Egypt. We are now preparing for unity with Libya. Seven mixed Egyptian-Libyan Commissions have undertaken a full year's work to prepare in September 1973 for a plebiscite in both Libya and Egypt to ascertain the public will, in both countries, concerning this matter. The international community, West and East, should welcome such a policy. International support for unifying movements would, in our view, help in the harmonization of international relations on a global scale.
The longing of Egypt to stay independent and free, to assure the development of all her resources for all her people under a régime of social justice, and to build her ties and coöperate with her Arab sisters, have thus been the guiding lines of her policy for reconstruction ever since the Revolution in 1952, led by our late and great President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Egypt, however, was not able to give her full attention or to marshal all her forces in these directions. In 1952, the Egyptian government inherited the war with Zionism and Israel. As will be remembered, the United Nations, by a General Assembly Resolution in 1947, recommended, against Palestinian objections, the partition of the Arab country of Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. The state of Israel was proclaimed, but soon was to expand into the territory allocated to the Arab state. The armistice agreements of 1949 halted the war between the Arabs and the Zionists but did not put an end to tension or prevent clashes. In 1955, Israel launched a major attack on the sector of Gaza which was held in trust by Egypt for her Palestinian people. Egypt realized then that she did not have credible means of deterring such aggression. We tried to acquire arms. Failing to obtain them from the West, we were able to get them from Czechoslovakia (which had earlier provided the Israelis with the armaments they had desired). Israel did her best to capitalize on this in order to alienate us from the West and especially to alienate us from the United States.
The "Lavon Affair" should be mentioned here. Israeli agents were sent to Cairo to blow up U.S. and British buildings and, in general, to commit crimes against the Americans and the British which were to appear as if they were committed by Egyptians. Israel actively worked to get the West, especially the United States, exclusively on her side. This was the beginning of a relentless Israeli effort to create a bipolarization in our area. It suited Israeli policies to pose as the West's fortress in the Middle East against the Eastern bloc.
In 1956, Israel joined Britain and France in invading Egypt. The active opposition of both the Soviet Union and United States as well as of the United Nations to this aggression prevented Israel from expanding further at that time into new Arab lands. In 1967, however, the attack was relaunched, and this time the international reaction-especially that of the United States-has been different. Israel now occupies all of Palestine, the part allotted to her by the 1947 resolution and all the part allotted by the same resolution to the Palestinian people. She also occupies Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian lands. Israel is now bent on colonizing all the occupied territories and on creating in them what she likes to call new facts, in order to make this colonization permanent.
The myth that was created by Israel and her supporters that in 1967 she was exposed to a grave danger of "extermination" by Egypt is now being dissipated by those who have created it themselves. Israeli generals now confess that there was never such a danger, that Egypt was not prepared and did not intend to attack. According to the correspondent of Le Monde in Israel, writing to his paper on June 10, 1972: "Mr. Benton, member of the [Israeli] Council of Ministers during the Six-Day War . . . affirmed that the story of the threat of extermination has been invented [by Israel] to justify the annexation of the [Arab] occupied territories."[i]
Five years have now passed, with the situation burdening our lives and turning our energies away from our battle for development. The rate of growth of the GNP which rose in 1966 to 6.7 percent fell after 1967 to five percent. We now have to allocate for defense almost twice as much as we can allocate for development. We have hundreds of thousands of our boys on the alert for the defense of our land-the part that is occupied and the part that is not. This atmosphere is certainly not one under which we can best wage our national struggle to achieve the three objectives we mentioned above. To put an end to this situation, Egypt accepted all the U.N. decisions and suggestions.
Egypt has been coöperating with the Special Representative of the Secretary- General appointed in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. Egypt accepted and attentively followed the four-power talks conducted by the permanent members of the Security Council seeking to assist the Special Representative, Ambassador Gunnar Jarring. Egypt accepted all the General Assembly resolutions in the years that followed. Egypt responded affirmatively to the proposal of the U.S. government in June 1970 to cease fire for a specified period and to appoint a representative for discussions with the U.N. Secretary-General's Representative, Ambassador Jarring. I also initiated a "Test for Peace" when we called for an interim step that would have resulted in a partial withdrawal and an opening of the Suez Canal as the first step toward an agreed evacuation of the occupied lands, and restoration of the legitimate and acknowledged rights of the Palestinian people and peace.
On February 8, 1971, Ambassador Jarring presented to us and to Israel an identical aide-memoire asking for clear-cut commitments from us to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. On February 26, Israel boldly announced to the world that she had no intention of withdrawing from the lands she occupies. On July 26 this year, the Prime Minister of Israel declared the following to the Knesset: "Ambassador Jarring, in February 1971, made a surprise move which led, in fact, to the suspension of his activities. He demanded that Israel should make a prior commitment to withdraw to the international frontier, in other words, an attempt was made to exclude the subject of the borders from the scope of issues requiring negotiations and agreement. The Government of Israel rejected this demand. . . ."
In the same speech, the Prime Minister of Israel declared that "the ceasefire was attained following . . . the approach made by the U.S. Government to appoint representatives for talks with Jarring." She declared that she now considered Jarring's activities suspended; she insisted, however, that the ceasefire continue but announced to the world, at the same time, that "Israel has no intention of altering the [rejection] reply given on February 26, 1971."
How could Israel preserve her position, consolidate her occupation and frustrate our resistance? The answer is given in the same speech. The Prime Minister said: "The [U.S.] aid to Israel has been kept up and increased and has reached the level we have been privileged to perceive during the past two years" [the two years of our ceasefire, and Israel's refusal to coöperate with Ambassador Jarring].
Israel now insists on direct negotiations while she occupies our land and refuses even to announce her intention to withdraw from it in a context of peace. This is the same position she took in the summer of 1967 before the Security Council (and which the Council, in its Resolution 242 found-by omission-to be unacceptable). She feels she has the military means to defy one and all. She does. Israel, emboldened by the help she receives from the United States, is now obviously seeking to annex territories outside the land of Palestine. She declares that she is prepared to negotiate: how much- if any-may be restored of the land of Egypt proper, and at what price? These terms Israel knows to be unacceptable. Most probably, they are made because Israel is convinced that they are unacceptable. Israel, however, hopes to be able to dictate them in order that her will might be the law in our region.
On May 3, 1943, General Patrick J. Hurley, personal representative of President Roosevelt in the Middle East, reported to the President his discussions with the Zionists in Palestine. He said that the Zionists insisted on attaining Jewish leadership for the whole Middle East. The sophisticated weapons that Israel seeks now and acquires from the United States are more than weapons to dictate the peace that the Israeli military wish to impose; they are, in fact, weapons to ensure Israeli domination of our area. This domination is an old Zionist dream. If this ever happens and if the Zionist state were really to dominate our area, what would become of our three objectives? What would become of our freedom, of our effort to develop our resources for all, under a Socialist system of social justice? What would become of the consolidated Arab efforts to rebuild their lives, and to try, once more, to make a contribution to world peace and progress? All our objectives would certainly be shattered. Our efforts for the last 20 years-indeed much more than that-would be brutally undermined.
There is no "Delenda est Carthago" in our motto. We do not seek to conquer and destroy. The three words in our motto call for exerting all our efforts in order to reconstruct our country. With her burdens, Egypt has no need to squander her human and material resources on adventurism. Israel-on the other hand-obviously means to impose her will. By hoarding American sophisticated armaments, she seeks to intimidate and destroy the will of her neighbors. By speaking openly about the fruits of victory Israel is sticking to the old and discarded rights of conquest. The Israelis, moreover, are pointing the way by which we can regain our territorial integrity or they can reach more aggrandizement. In February 1971 they shunned the peace agreement which they had previously told the world was all they wanted. They have shunned my initiative for an interim first step toward complete evacuation and the restoration of justice and peace. Israel has in fact not forsaken the Zionists' demand that there would be "Jewish leadership of the whole Middle East." To us, this equals the restitution of the British, French and, before them, the dominant Ottoman régimes. The Arabs fought the British and French (who were Christians), the Ottomans (who were Moslem) and have now no alternative but to oppose the expansionist Israelis, who are Jews.
The United Nations, confronted with Israel's defiance, and frustrated in advance by the almost assured U.S. veto on imposing sanctions on Israel, offers little hope.
There is no alternative to the creation of a credible deterrent to the Israeli forces on which the U.S. administration lavishes most "generously" its most sophisticated weapons. Egypt here faces an embargo imposed by the West. In fact she also faces a partial embargo imposed by the East. The Soviet Union, whose great assistance to us in building our defenses and in the most important domains of development is unforgettable (and will remain unforgettable), declines to provide us with the weapons which would constitute this credible deterrent. This embargo is not likely to cause Israel and Zionism to abandon their impossible dreams or to cause us to abandon our determination to defend our integrity.
Twenty years ago, we made our rebellion in order to be able to build our country and rid it of external and internal hindrances to its progress and prosperity. Throughout those 20 years, we tried our best to realize for our people the objectives of our motto: Freedom, Socialism and Unity. As a result of these efforts, our people are today better educated, healthier and better employed. They enjoy their freedom and wish to make their lives full and meaningful. They are able to extend help and assistance to their neighbors in all fields. Egypt has worked in the international community for the peace and prosperity of the world as best as she could. In her bilateral relations Egypt has sought, and is seeking, the friendship and coöperation of all countries which understand and sympathize with the three principles of her nonaligned policy.
Egypt is handicapped in her efforts by wars imposed on her by Israeli expansionism and by Israel's persistence in denying the people of Palestine what Israel says she has sought for herself : their rights and their nationhood. Egypt has no interest in these wars. They are tremendous obstacles on her road to progress. There are today two facts in the Middle East. Everyone sees the first one, which is that the Israelis have been able to stay in our occupied lands for five years. The other fact is that they have not been able, during these five years, to impose their will.
The cause of peace will not be furthered, however, if the victor is allowed to dictate his terms and to exact "the fruits of victory." This is the language of the old world, the world that we thought went up in the flames of two major wars. This is not the language of the U.N. Charter, which entrusted to the Security Council and its permanent members historic responsibilities that cannot be shaken off easily. With all countries that still believe in the United Nations and its Charter, we shall fight against those obsolete concepts.
Egypt today has little interest in a world where power dictates its will. The future we and the other Arab nations dream of is one of justice and of peace in coöperation with all those who wish to assist our progress toward these goals.
[i] The same correspondent reported about a broadcast on the Israeli radio on the occasion of the fifth "anniversary" of the 1967 war. He said: "General Matityahou Peled, chief of the Bureau of Logistics during the 1967 conflict, asserted again that there was no danger of the Hebrew State being exterminated by Egypt. He even went further and asserted that there was no proof that the Egyptians really intended to attack Israel at the time. General Haim Herzog, of the Israeli military intelligence, admitted, with some embarrassment, the non-existence of such a danger. Neither the Israeli headquarters, nor the Pentagon's-as proven in the memoirs of the President of the United States at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, ever believed in this danger." The correspondent goes on to say, "The daily newspaper of the Labour Party Ot published this week [the week of June 10, 1972] a debate between Generals Weizman, Gavich, Peled and Herzog, in which they all agree, without ambiguity, that no danger of extermination threatened Israel before the Six-Day War."