Twenty-five years ago the Jewish state proclaimed its independence in a part of Palestine. Six months earlier, the General Assembly of the United Nations had recommended its establishment. This act of historic justice strove to fulfill the earlier pledge of the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate which gave recognition not only to an immediate Jewish need but also to the principle of a Jewish right to national self-expression. Zionism, as an aspiration, is as old as the Exile. As a political movement it goes back a hundred years. The vision of a Jewish return to the original homeland is far older than the solemn international commitments of 25 and 55 years ago. An independent Jewish state arose as the culmination of a long process of national liberation, which eventually won formal sanction through the moral sense of the community of nations.

In the twenty-fifth year of independence, Israel has ample cause for satisfaction: she has developed from a community of 600,000 at the close of the British Mandate into a technologically advanced, democratic state of three million. She has fulfilled her mission of homeland and refuge by absorbing over a million Jews from every sector of the globe, including half a million refugees from Arab lands as well as hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Nazi holocaust; and while engaged in her enormous constructive tasks she has managed, though vastly outnumbered, to repel concerted assaults by the Arab states on her very life. She has translated a remote dream into solid reality. In all this Israel has brought to fruition the labor of Jewish pioneers who, since the turn of the century, gave their lives to transform a barren and denuded land into fertile fields, flourishing settlements and new patterns of society. In surveying the burgeoning towns of modern

Israel, it is easy to forget that the land to which the young settlers came was rich only in historic memories and religious associations. It had neither oil nor abundant natural resources. Its wastes offered no temptation except to Zionist pioneers animated by the twin ideals of a new Jewish society and a reconstructed land.

The renewal of Jewish national independence after centuries of dispersion and persecution is one of the great ethical affirmations of our time. An age-old inequity was at last redressed, not at the expense of another people, but with full regard for the rights of others. For we were not alone in securing independence. In a parallel development, many Arab states were established in the same period and in the same region but in a far more generous expanse. In the huge area liberated by the Allies from Turkish domination we had been accorded a “small notch” which we sought to develop in peace and coöperation with our neighbors. The failure of that hope has been costly to both Arab and Jew, and I shall not pretend that the persistent conflict with the Arabs does not weigh heavily upon us.

Decades of struggle have brought much bloodshed to both. Nothing can be more horrifying than parents burying their children, and I know of families who have lost three generations of their sons in this tragic conflict. We would be happier if we could use all our energy in the more rewarding tasks of reclaiming the deserts and bare hills which still constitute so much of Israel. In Israel, as elsewhere, there are problems of economic deprivation and social maladjustment whose solution would be hastened by peace. But peace still remains elusive. Though the Arab peoples suffer grave ills of poverty and disease, their governments concentrate mainly on the sterile goal of destroying Israel’s independence. This fixation torments the Middle East and obstructs its creative destiny.


Yet this grim course was not inevitable. The heart of the Zionist faith was the conviction that Jewish independence could be achieved in harmony with Arab national aspirations.

From its inception, Zionism, as a political movement, strove to establish an Arab-Jewish understanding. A great number of attempts had been made before the famous Weizmann-Faisal agreement of January 1919 which welcomed the Jews to Palestine. These were followed by attempts in the 1930s and 1940s. All had one aim in view: to reach an agreement with our Arab neighbors. As late as 1947–48, we tried, in vain, to avert the course of events. In November 1947, shortly before the Partition Resolution was adopted at the United Nations, King Abdullah of Jordan promised me that he would never join the Arab states in a war against us and that after the U.N. Resolution was adopted we would meet to work out ways and means of peace and cooperation between our states. As late as May 10, 1948, just five days before the British were to leave Palestine, I crossed into what was already enemy territory—Jordan—and met the King in Amman. As I drove on the road leading to Amman, I could see the Mafraq camp and the Iraqi troops and guns massing there. At that meeting. King Abdullah did not deny the promise given me in November, but he stated that if we declared ourselves a state and insisted on unlimited Jewish immigration, he would have no choice but to join in a war against us. His alternative was to bring the whole area under his domination and curtail Jewish immigration. That was 25 years ago. Since the achievement of our independence and the conclusion of the Armistice Agreements of 1949, we have left no stone unturned in an endless effort to find avenues of dialogue which might lead to agreement.

Nothing could be more false than the Arab script in which Zionist “aggressors” appeared on the scene to dispossess local Palestinians. Since this accusation still constitutes the burden of the Arab case and provides the rationale for Arab enmity, it cannot be ignored even though the answers, like the charges, are familiar. We cannot assume a guilt we do not feel for sufferings of which we were not the cause.

Let me put it in the simplest terms. When I came to Palestine in 1921 my pioneer generation was neither morally obtuse nor uninformed. We knew there were Arabs in Palestine, just as we knew from our own experience that our labor in malaria-ridden kibbutzim transformed uninhabitable swamps into habitable soil. Far from ignoring the local population, we were sustained by the sincere conviction that our toil created more and better living space for both Arab and Jew. In this belief we were proven right. Between 1922 and 1947, the Arab population of Palestine grew from 670,000 to 1,200,000—a spectacular increase paralleled in no neighboring Arab territory. Thanks to the agricultural and industrial development of the country, Palestine changed from a land of Arab emigration to one of Arab immigration attracted by the higher standards of living and greater opportunities. The supposed Zionist dispossession of Arabs is a myth disproven by every official census.

We were also fully aware of Arab national aspirations in the Middle East. We assumed that these aspirations would find ample satisfaction in the various Arab states set up by the Allies in the vast areas freed from Ottoman domination. By the end of the British Mandate, 99 percent of that area had been allotted to the Arabs, one percent to the Jewish homeland. If there was any inequity in this distribution, surely the Arabs were not its victims. Hence we hoped, sincerely if perhaps naïvely, that Jewish and Arab independence would flourish peacefully side by side to the advantage of the entire Middle East.

Something else should be made clear. Palestinian Arab nationalism was not a visible factor at the time. Until recently, Arab nationalism constantly opposed the designation of one sector of the Middle East as Palestine. It regarded this “particularism” as a violation of the concept of a unitary Arab state. The territory that Jews cherished as historic Palestine the Arabs viewed merely as Southern Syria. As late as 1956, Ahmed Shukairy, at that time Syrian representative to the United Nations and later head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared in the Security Council that “it is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.”

At the time of the rebirth of the Jewish state, the argument was between the Jewish people and the Arab people. Though the nationalist demands of the latter had been richly fulfilled, they refused to honor the equivalent legitimacy of Jewish rights. Their position was that Arabs should be sovereign everywhere, the Jews nowhere.

Thus it was Arab intransigence that led to the compromise of the U.N. Partition Resolution by which the area encompassed by the Balfour Declaration was further cut so that Israel arose in one-fifth of the territory originally allotted for a Jewish homeland. (The first truncation had taken place in 1922 when three-fourths of the original Palestine area was severed for the establishment of Transjordan.) Nevertheless, for the sake of independence, peace and the possibility of freely bringing Jewish survivors to Israel’s shores, the Jews accepted this compromise and created Israel in a spirit of joy and hope. Instead of the Arabs doing likewise and establishing their state in the area assigned to them by the U.N. Resolution, seven Arab states attacked new-born Israel. They refused to accept the existence of the Jewish state and sought to throttle it at birth,


This chronology is essential for an understanding of the present impasse. There can be no greater mistake in assessing the current situation in the Middle East than to assume that the conflict continues because of a specific political Arab grievance: the plight of the Arab refugees; the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or in the Sinai; the reunification of Jerusalem. The record bears out the error of this view. In 1947­–48, when seven Arab states launched the invasion which resulted in the exodus of 600,000 Arabs, mainly to other parts of Palestine—to the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan—there had been no dispossessed Arabs and no Arab refugees. The Arab refugee problem was the result, not the cause, of the 1948 war. In June 1967, Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were all in Arab possession. Nevertheless, the Arabs concentrated their troops in Sinai, established a blockade and announced, in Nasser’s words on May 27, 1967, that the object of the war was “the destruction of Israel.” It is therefore absurd to contend that the present territorial configuration is the cause of the Middle East tension.

The heart of the problem is what caused the Six Day War, not the territories administered by Israel after the war. Simply put, the root issue is the Arab attitude to Israel’s very existence and security. Once the Arab countries accept the legitimacy of Israel as we have always accepted theirs, there is no reason for their intransigence against negotiating the differences between us. In this connection, let me state as firmly as I can that Israel’s insistence on negotiations, direct or indirect, is not a maneuver devised to bait our Arab enemies. The vehement refusal of the Arab leaders to discuss with us the terms of a peace settlement must raise the question as to whether they are really prepared to live in peace with us. This is the crux of the conflict.

Israel is sometimes accused of “rigidity” in her stated positions and is exhorted to be more “flexible.” These charges deserve careful examination. Since 1967, we have shifted from our original demand for direct bilateral negotiations—which we consider the most effective and promising method—to a procedure similar to that employed at Rhodes in 1948–49, when talks, both direct and indirect, took place. In 1970, in order to meet Arab intransigence, we agreed to the procedure of indirect negotiation in the first stage, hoping that this would pave the road to a peace agreement. An even more fundamental indication of Israel’s readiness for compromise may be found in our policy statements. We have said that whereas Israel would not return to the tragically vulnerable pre-June 1967 armistice lines, we do not insist that the present ceasefire lines be final. We thus leave open a very broad area for meaningful negotiation and compromise. The Arab states, on the other hand, continue to reiterate their demand for Israel’s “total withdrawal” to the June 4, 1967 lines. By this demand they distort Security Council Resolution 242 which never called for total withdrawal, or withdrawal from all the territories. The language of the Resolution is withdrawal “from territories,” acknowledging Israel’s right to live within “secure and recognized boundaries.” All attempts made to insert in the Resolution the demand for total withdrawal or withdrawal from “the” territories were rejected by the Security Council.

We know that the phrase “secure and recognized boundaries” is not a magic incantation. It is a theme for negotiation. In our insistence on this point, we are motivated by two realistic considerations based on our experience since 1948. We want boundaries whose very character will make aggression less inviting to any would-be invader, and which could be defended with fewer casualties if such aggression nevertheless took place. The enormous advantages in size of population and topography which our adversaries have always enjoyed have tempted them periodically to make assaults upon us. We want to weaken such temptation to the greatest possible degree.

After three wars for survival in the last 25 years, we cannot reasonably be expected to disregard our bitter experience. In 1948, 1956 and 1967, we learned how swiftly Egypt could move her tanks and regiments into Sinai from the south, and how readily our southern maritime approach could be blockaded from Sharm-el-Sheikh. To the south stretched the Gaza Strip, pointing as an aggressive finger into the heart of our territory. From there, fedayeen regularly infiltrated and carried out sabotage and murder, reaching all the way to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. On the eastern border Jordanian guns, pointing at our dwellings, could be seen by our children playing in the streets of Jerusalem. The city could be bombarded from our very doorstep. Israel herself could be readily cut at her 12-mile waist between the old line with Jordan and the sea near Nethanya. In the north, from the fortified ridge of the Golan Heights, the Syrians shelled our kibbutzim in the valley at will. To the west lay the Mediterranean into which the Arabs regularly promised to drive us. Having escaped from such tight encirclement, we feel justified in our determination not to reënter again a trap composed of vulnerable geography. Even in an age of rockets and missiles, we cannot renounce the added security inherent in more rational boundaries which would keep the potential adversary at a greater distance from our homes. When the new European security system was established after the Second World War, no one in his right mind proposed the precise reconstruction of the map which had spelled vulnerability and disaster for so many nations.

The border changes Israel seeks do not involve loss of territory vital to Arab interests. The Sinai desert has in the past served no Egyptian purpose save to provide a ready staging-ground for attacks on Israel and for the maintenance of blockade. No Egyptians live in Sinai and only a few Bedouin tribes (not Egyptian citizens) roam its sands. Sharm-el-Sheikh, a desolate, uninhabited outpost, was used by the Egyptians only to blockade the Gulf of Aqaba. In any case, Israel, under a peace settlement, would not seek to retain all or most of Sinai. As for the Golan Heights, it constituted primarily a military fortress directed at our agricultural settlements in the valley below. The West Bank presents a more complex problem. I have made it clear several times that in negotiations with the Kingdom of Jordan we will naturally present proposals for a territorial agreement.

My general comment holds good: the border changes sought by Israel will, by reducing the strategic advantage enjoyed by a would-be aggressor, help to deter war. Conversely, reconstructing these advantages would facilitate hostile designs against Israel and renew the prospects of war.

This is not the first time in our history that Israel has been urged to withdraw from Sinai, Sharm-el-Sheikh and Gaza at the close of hostilities: In 1956, in response to the massing of Egyptian armor in Sinai, the blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and the terrorist incursions from Egyptian-held Gaza, Israel acted in the Sinai. We repelled the Egyptian army, freed the Gaza Strip occupied by Egypt in 1948, removed Egyptian gun placements that for six years had blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, and restored free access for the movement of ships through a waterway which has the character of a lifeline for Israel.

In response to solemn assurances that the blockade would not be renewed, terrorist infiltration would not be restored, and the Egyptian forces would not reënter Gaza, Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai, Sharm-el-Sheikh and Gaza. As Foreign Minister, it was my office in March 1957 to announce to the General Assembly Israel’s compliance with the U.N. Resolution call ing for such withdrawal. Previously (January 1957), I had warned the General Assembly of the consequences of any action that might result “in the restoration of the blockade, and the consequent renewal of regional conflict, and international tension.” And I asked, in words painfully relevant today: “Shall Egypt be allowed once more to organize murder and sabotage in this strip [Gaza]? Shall Egypt be allowed to condemn the local population to permanent impoverishment and to block any solution of the refugee problem?”

The world knows what happened. Despite the “assurances” and the “hopes and expectations” on the strength of which Israel withdrew, Egyptian troops promptly reoccupied Gaza. Learning of this betrayal of our good faith as soon as I got back to Israel, I at once returned to the United States to voice my indignation to Secretary of State Dulles and U.N, Secretary-General Hammarskjöld. I shall never forget Secretary Hammarskjöld’s blunt question: “It’s not worth going to war for again, is it?” In 1967, the remaining elements of the 1957 arrangements were unilaterally violated by Egypt.

The repeated failure of international arrangements to safeguard our country’s vital interests has taught us a lesson we do not easily forget. International decisions proved meaningless in each crisis that we faced: in 1948 when the Arab states violated the Partition Resolution; in the long years of lawless blockade and terrorist incursion; and in 1967 when the international community, which had “assured” our territorial integrity and freedom from blockade, proved powerless to stand by its commitments. Hence, we inevitably reflect on this history when urged to take action which could result in diminishing our capacity for self-defense and make us dependent on international guarantees.

History repeats itself in the Middle East. After every war staged by the Arab states against us, they demand the restoration of the very borders they set out to destroy. When Egypt insists now upon total withdrawal of Israeli forces to the pre-June 4, 1967 lines, the simple question arises: If those borders were so sanctified for Egypt after the war, why were they not honored by Egypt before the war and why launch war to destroy them in the first place? The bitter truth is that the Arab leaders have not changed their attitudes about our very presence in this area. Arab statesmen, from Nasser to Sadat, have made no secret of their proposed strategy. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the influential editor of the Egyptian daily, Al-Ahram, formulated a notorious “Theory of Two Stages” in an article on February 25, 1971:

There are only two specific Arab goals at present: elimination of the consequences of the 1967 aggression through Israel’s withdrawal from all the lands it occupied that year, and elimination of the consequences of the 1948 aggression through the eradication of Israel.

The second goal is not, in fact, specific but abstract, and some of us make the mistake of starting with the second step instead of the first. On the basis of the conditions I have mentioned, it is possible to believe in the possibility of attaining the first goal. As for the second goal, we should learn from the enemy how to move step by step.[1]

We find this strategy all too concrete and decline to facilitate its implementation. Israel is a democracy in which various views, minimalist and maximalist, are freely advocated. We have our doves and hawks. Most Israelis are neither, but we do refuse the role of clay pigeon. More than once I have made it clear that we are ready for negotiations on the issue of borders and that we have never said that the ceasefire lines have to be the peace boundaries on all sectors. The borders must be defensible and for that purpose significant changes in the previous lines are necessary, but we are ready for a territorial compromise.


Jerusalem, mourned in Jewish prayers since the fall of the Temple, was never without a community of pious Jews. Furthermore, Jews constituted a majority of the ancient city from the mid-nineteenth century until 1948, when the Jordanian Army seized the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its religious shrines sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and drove out the Jewish inhabitants.

According to the 1949 Armistice Agreements signed by Jordan and Israel, free access to the Jewish Holy Places, to the Mount of Olives and to the university and hospital on Mount Scopus was agreed to. But instead of honoring this commitment, Jordan divided the city with walls, barbed wire and gun emplacements. For the first time since the Roman conquest, Jews were prevented from praying at their holiest shrine, the Western Wall. During the 19 years of Jordanian occupation, Jews were barred from their religious sites in total violation of the Armistice Agreements. Israel’s repeated appeals to the Security Council brought no redress.

In June 1967, Jordan again began shelling Jerusalem despite Israel’s message to King Hussein, sent through General Odd Bull, the U.N. representative, that Israel would not attack if Jordan kept out of the conflict. Hussein joined the Egyptian assault with the result that Jordan lost her hold on eastern Jerusalem. Israel reunited the artificially rent city. Our joy in the liberation of Jerusalem was marred by the sight of the sacred ancient Jewish Quarter and the venerable synagogues destroyed by Jordan. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives had been desecrated and thousands of its tombstones used as paving stones for Jordanian roads. Since 1967, Jews, Christians and Muslims have moved freely in and out of all its sectors.

Perhaps this record will explain why we view fears that are sometimes expressed for the sanctity of Jerusalem under Israeli rule as disingenuous. In 1948 and in 1967 the Arabs shelled Jerusalem with no regard for the safety of churches and holy places, without rousing the vocal apprehension of the world. In 1967, Israeli soldiers, to spare Jerusalem, risked their lives in hand-to-hand fighting, street by narrow street, rather than resort to heavy armor. Jordanian troops, on the other hand, used church roofs and even the minarets of their own mosques for gun emplacements. Journalists covering the Six Day War commented on the reverence with which Israeli soldiers approached Jerusalem.

Since that time, satisfaction has been expressed by Christian dignitaries at the care which Israel has bestowed on the Holy Places of Christendom. We have also shown strict regard for Muslim sanctuaries, though, while rebuilding our ruined synagogues and devastated Jewish Quarter, we have had cause to regret that the Arabs failed to display an equivalent respect for what we hold dear.

Israel has publicly announced her policy that Christian and Muslim Holy Places be administered by the respective heads of these religions. To this end, Israel wishes to enter into special agreements with the heads of the various denominations for the detailed implementation of this policy. Jerusalem shall remain united and the capital of Israel. Its Arab inhabitants will, of course, continue to enjoy full freedom and equality.

I don’t find it necessary to refute Arab propaganda about Israel’s alleged ill-treatment of the local population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Such charges are readily disproven by the daily life of the areas, the success of the “open bridges” policy, and the testimony of impartial observers. The manifest material advantages of the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza are undisputed. I know that a marked rise in the standard of living, free opportunities for work at the Israeli wage-rate (which is twice as high as Jordan’s), and the introduction of modern health and technological services are welcome benefits, but they do not in themselves solve sensitive political and national issues.

Let me therefore return to the overriding question of peace. In his recent article in Foreign Affairs,[2] President Sadat, among other accusations, several times charges that Israel seeks to “dominate” the Middle East. It is hard for me to believe that an Arab statesman seriously believes this evil phantasy. But Voltaire’s epigram—as long as men believe absurdities they will commit atrocities—reminds us of the bloody persecutions and wars that have stained the course of human history because men believed absurdities about others. The carnage of the Nazi epoch is only the most terrifying example of the depth to which people sink through the acceptance of imbecilic myths. For this reason I stress the obvious.

We are a small people of some three million among a hundred million Arabs, as our adversaries never tire of reminding us, A glance at the map shows Israel as a mere pinpoint amid huge Arab territories. To suggest that Israel, no matter how able or energetic, seeks to “dominate” this vast expanse is of the stuff of the “Elders of Zion” forgery, according to which the tiny persecuted Jewish minority conspired to rule the world.

Let me review our record in the Middle East Though the Balfour Declaration promised a Jewish homeland in the area of historic Palestine—an area extending from the Mediterranean to the borders of present-day Iraq—we accepted the severance of three-fourths of that territory for the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom east of the Jordan. We later accepted the further shrinkage of the original pledge through the U.N. Partition Resolution. Still later, in the tense last week of May 1967, when the Arab onslaught was imminent, Prime Minister Eshkol turned to the Arab states with a final plea for peace: “I would like to say again to the Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Syria, that we harbor no aggressive designs. We have no possible interest in violating either their security, their territory or their legitimate rights.” The Arabs responded by proclaiming that the hour of Israel’s annihilation had struck.

We did not seek to “expand” but neither did we dismiss Arab threats of a holocaust as “rhetoric.” We are too aware of the disparity of forces and resources available to Arab states for us to discount promises the Arabs twice before tried to fulfill. Having been driven to defend ourselves, we secured the bridgeheads from which our enemies sought to destroy us, but successful self-defense is hardly evidence of a desire for “domination.” Survival is not aggression.

In his article, President Sadat dwells on the impropriety of keeping “the fruits of victory.” I do not care to speculate on what would have been the fate of Israel had the Arabs enjoyed those fruits. Nor am I aware of any modern country that waged a successful war of self-defense whose peace treaty failed to correct the vulnerable and dangerous positions which had made it an inviting target for aggression. The adjustment of the border between Poland and East Germany provides a contemporary instance of significant border changes involving large areas of populated territory with the aim of offering increased security.

Israel is convinced that Poland was justified in insisting upon this territorial adjustment, and Chancellor Brandt deserves credit for the courage he displayed in carrying out the change. The presentation of the Nobel Prize to Willy Brandt is evidence that this is the sentiment of world opinion generally. Anyone familiar with our region cannot reasonably suggest that our right to insist upon border changes is less than that of Poland.


Total peace would be a more constructive slogan than total withdrawal. Since it may not be possible to reach total peace in a single step, Israel is willing to negotiate the immediate settlement of specific issues, notably that affecting the reopening of the Suez Canal. We have made the following proposal in regard to the Suez Canal: “With a view to facilitating the attainment of durable peace between Israel and the U.A.R., Israel is prepared to consider entering into a Special Agreement with the U.A.R. for the opening of the Suez Canal to international navigation, the observance of a ceasefire without limitation of time and nonresumption of fighting, and the stationing of the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] at some distance east of the Suez Canal.”

Among particulars spelled out in this proposal, the suggested agreement calls for the release of all prisoners of war within 15 days of its signing. It also states that the line to which the IDF would withdraw east of the Canal would not be considered final; subsequently the IDF would withdraw to the boundary determined by a peace settlement.

In offering, before a final peace, to forgo the strategic advantage of the water barrier provided by the Suez Canal, Israel took a calculated risk as a step toward the relaxation of tension. Such a decisive concession is hardly evidence of an intractable disposition. Of the countries involved, Israel has the least to gain from the Canal; Egypt the most. Yet Egypt rejected the proposal. Egypt demands an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the June 4, 1967, lines, prior to any process of negotiation. The precondition is related not only to negotiating an overall settlement, but to a partial Suez Canal agreement Egypt wishes to end the negotiations even before they begin. Thus, the rigidity of this position precludes progress toward peace.

Finally, there is the issue of the Arab refugees, I do not propose to reargue in detail the origins of this problem. That the exodus was instigated by the Arab leadership is readily demonstrated through Arab sources. To cite just one: “The Arab governments told us, ‘Go out so that we can get in.’ So we got out, but they did not get in.”[3] That the numbers of the authentic refugees have been grossly inflated through duplicate registrations and the accretion of Arabs from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to the relief rolls has been revealed by every check of the UNRWA. records. Nor do I seek to minimize the wretchedness and abnormality of unproductive existence in the camps. But who bears the responsibility for this situation?

The deliberate exploitation of the refugees for political ends began in 1948 and continues unabated to this day. The Arab governments have repeatedly rejected numerous lavish proposals for the solution of the Arab refugee problem. They make no secret of their motivation. One quotation will suffice: “Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason.”[4] A policy of calculated incitement in the camps, whose dissolution the Arab leadership refuse to permit, has kept the pot boiling. As the role of second-generation refugees begins to wear thin, there has appeared the image of the Palestinian terrorist sworn to “dismantle” Israel.

Israel has an indigenous minority of nearly half a million Arabs, constituting approximately 15 percent of the population. Israeli Arabs are equal citizens whose welfare and integration are our natural concern. But we cannot accept the repatriation of those who originally joined our enemies and in the intervening years have become a hostile army proposing to submerge Israel. And obviously we have no common language with Palestinian irredentists, whose cry is the “liquidation” of Israel, or assassins who pretend to the name of “revolutionaries.”

During the few years since the Six Day War, the position of the refugees in the areas administered by Israel has undergone substantial improvement—in employment, in education, in health and in living standards. This human progress indicates what might have been achieved during the 20 years prior to 1967 had Arab governments behaved humanely toward the refugees—their own kith and kin—rather than exploit them as a political weapon against Israel.

So long as the ceasefire remains intact, we shall continue to do all we can to relieve the refugees of the misery of the camps and restore to them their human dignity. A complete solution of the refugee problem, however, will come about only when the Arab states assume their full responsibility within the vast geography that is at their disposal.

Is the conflict then irreconcilable? Let me answer plainly: I do not consider Israel’s right to existence a theme for discussion. As long as all Arab designs are predicated on the immediate or eventual destruction of Israel, no progress toward peace is possible. At the same time, we believe that the differences between us and the Arabs are soluble, and that because of the genuine needs of the peoples of the Middle East reason will finally prevail. International funds, toward which Israel is prepared to contribute her share (we have offered compensation for Arab property in Israel), are available for the resettlement of Arab refugees still living in camps. Between the Mediterranean and Iraq—the original area of Mandatory Palestine—there is room for both a Jewish and an Arab state. The name of the Arab state and its internal constitution and order are its responsibility and concern.

I still hope that, in a world that has just seen the close of the Vietnamese conflict through negotiation and a movement toward coexistence among the great powers, the many sovereign Arab states will come to terms with the idea of Jewish national independence and with the reality of Israel, the one small land in which that independence can flourish. Genuine peace requires more than a signature to an agreement. That signature is a beginning; it is the passage to a bridge of understanding and of coöperation between nations across which will move people, ideas and goods. My vision of peace is regional exchange and coöperation. And who can deny that there is much to be done for the good of this area? We do not make this a condition for signing a peace agreement. We register it as an expression of the quality of relations we would wish to see develop between ourselves and our neighbors in peace.

[1] Cairo Radio, February 26, 1971, quoted from BBC Monitoring Service.

[2] Anwar el-Sadat, “Where Egypt Stands,” Foreign Affairs, October 1972.

[3] Statement of an Arab regugee, quoted in Al-Difaa (Amman), September 6, 1954.

[4] Resolution adopted at Refugee Conference, Syria, July 1957.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now