Basic Truths of the Middle East Conflict
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Mar 1976, p. 345-355
Shalev, His Excellency Mordechai, Speaker
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Item Type
Presentation of an up-to-date account of the situation in Israel and the Middle East. An attempt to answer the question "Why is there no solution yet to the Arab-Israel conflict?" The speaker's answer to that question, purporting that the basic answer is that the Arab States do not want peace. Discussion follows, with the speaker's description of demands and intentions of the Arab States. Next, the speaker's presentation of Israel's position, with a historical review of events since the 1960s. The role of the United States. A few comments about Canadian-Israel relations.
Date of Original
18 Mar 1976
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Full Text
MARCH 11, 1976
Basic Truths of the Middle East Conflict
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Allan Leal, Q.C.


Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen: We bid you a cordial welcome to this luncheon meeting of The Empire Club of Canada.

The notice calling this meeting, which you will have received, stated that:

Israel is only a dot on the planet but what a shadow it casts. It gets all the attention of a large nation. The whole world watches anxiously at the relations between little Israel and her oil rich Arab neighbours. The Great Powers have taken sides, the United Nations is sprinkled with Middle East problems. This is one of the most explosive areas in the world.

In these awesome circumstances, the burden of waging the peace falls heavily on the leaders of government and the career diplomats both at home and abroad. It is comforting to us and to the world at large that these people, in the best traditions of the Jewish race from time immemorial, have ranged themselves under the banners of peace and the rule of law so far as it in them lies and consistent with their own honour and survival.

In opening for the prosecution at Nuremburg, Robert H. Jackson said:

Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its precepts, its prohibitions and most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will in all countries may have the right to live by no man's leave underneath the law.

We welcome today Israel's new ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Mordechai Shalev. He was born in Czechoslovakia and, after taking his first degree in Masaryk University at Brno, he settled in Israel in 1939.

From 1942 to 1946 Mr. Shalev served in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army and in 1948-49 with the Israel defence forces with the rank of major. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a career diplomat in 1949. He has served that Ministry in its relations with the United States as Second Secretary and First Secretary of the Embassy in Washington, in the U.S. Division at home, as Consul General in Los Angeles and, prior to his posting in Canada, was Minister (Deputy Chief of Mission), Embassy of Israel in Washington. During his term of office in the U.S. Embassy he took his Master of Arts degree in International Affairs from the American University, Washington.

He has also served as Ambassador to Ghana, and Director of both the Consular Division and African Division of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

It is a privilege to introduce His Excellency Mordechai Shalev and to invite him to address you.

I am grateful for this opportunity to present to this distinguished gathering an up-to-date account of the situation in Israel and the Middle East. In my remarks, I may well be repeating some basic truths with which you are quite familiar, and I shall do so in the hope that the truth, if repeated often enough, also stands a chance of being accepted.

Let me first try to answer the most basic question of all why is there no solution yet to the Arab-Israel conflict? The answer to that question is really quite simple: the Arab States have not yet accepted the existence of a free and independent Jewish State in the Land of Israel as an unalterable fact. All the wars that they have launched against us, all the propaganda campaigns that they are conducting, all the antiIsrael resolutions that they are steamrollering through the United Nations and its various agencies, all derive from a basic Arab purpose, to eliminate the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East.

There may be some Arab countries whose leaders realize that the elimination of Israel is not a practical goal at this time. I am even ready to go a step further, and concede the possibility that there are Arab leaders who no longer consider the elimination of Israel as a realistic policy at any time, now or in the foreseeable future, but even they are not prepared, or are not capable of giving that realization on their part a convincing practical expression in the readiness to make peace with Israel. Even President Saadat of Egypt, who admittedly has gone farther than any other Arab leader in speaking about peace with Israel, relegates peace to the "next generation".

So, the answer to the basic question is there is no peace in the Middle East, no peace between the Arab States and Israel, because the Arab States do not want peace.

There are many things that they do want from Israel, but they do not want peace with it. That is the crux of the problem. Indeed, this has been the problem throughout the period of Israel's existence. It began even before the State of Israel came formally into being some 28 years ago.

In 1947, the UN decided on the partition of Palestine, or rather of what remained of the British Mandate of Palestine after the British had arbitrarily cut off a major portion, and created Transjordan out of it, and called for the creation of a Jewish and Arab State. Israel, the Jewish People, accepted this decision, even though it fell short of our needs and hopes and expectations. We accepted it for the sake of peace. The Arabs, rather than set up their own State, went to war against Israel to prevent its establishment, and when they failed in that, to bring about its destruction. They failed in that, too, but they did not make peace with Israel. An armistice was created and that turned out to be only a fragile instrument, to be violated again and again, in 1956, in 1967 and in 1973, the years in which the Arab States time and again launched wars against Israel to achieve their initial purpose of destroying the Jewish State.

It is important to recall this experience of the past 28 years in order to put into proper perspective the reasons that are sometimes put forward today for the absence of peace, by Arab spokesmen, and sometimes even by people of good will who are impatient with the present situation and think that quick solutions are available which do not call for a basic change in the Arab attitude. There are some who say today that Israel has to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the Six-Day War, and the road to peace will be open. But before 1967 there was not a single Israeli soldier on the West Bank, or in the Gaza Strip, or on the Golan Heights; so why did the Arabs launch the 1967 War, unless it was for the purpose of destroying Israel? Another point put forward is that there must be a Palestinian State. Again, what prevented the Arabs from creating a Palestinian State, in addition to Jordan which was already in existence, when the Partition Resolution called for such a state in 1947? Or, for that matter, in all the period up to 1967, when the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were in Arab hands, why did they not then create a Palestinian State there?

And there is that vague, but in reality most ominous demand of all, the so-called "rights of the Palestinians". When you ask an Arab leader what his conditions are for peace with Israel, if he is at all ready to address himself to that very hypothetical question, his answer is that Israel has to withdraw from all occupied territory and "the rights of the Palestinians have to be satisfied". In other words, even withdrawal from all occupied territories would not bring about peace, there would still be "the rights of the Palestinians" to be fulfilled. None of the Arab leaders spells out just what he means by that catch-all phrase, especially when he addresses himself to Western audiences; that job is left to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which makes no bones about its intentions to eliminate the State of Israel and replace it by a "secular and democratic state".

That is another one of those code-words that the Arabs have introduced into their anti-Israel propaganda and which they use to hoodwink and mislead an often too gullible Western public. In the so-called "Covenant" of the Palestine Liberation Organization, they make it quite clear what they mean by a secular and democratic state. It is a state from which most, if not all, Jews would be expelled. Sometimes the PLO spokesmen are less delicate in their prognosis of things to come, if they were to have their way, and speak of a fate that would befall the Jews of Israel that would be reminiscent of Hitler's Final Solution.

It is amusing, to say the least, that the Arabs who rule over twenty countries, none of which is either secular or democratic, should even dare to use that phrase. There was one state in the Middle East which had a sort of working democracy, and in which a Christian community has been fighting for its survival. Lebanon is a tragic example of the Arab concept of secularism and democracy. = I have given you a short summary of what the Arab demands and intentions have been throughout the years of Israel's existence. As I have mentioned, they have tried for most of these years to achieve their aims by the force of arms. At all times they have also conducted incessant political and economic warfare against Israel. In recent months, their political and diplomatic campaign against Israel has reached new lows. The most infamous example of all was the UN General Assembly Resolution, in which Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, was branded as a racist movement.

There is hardly any international meeting which the Arabs do not use to try to heap calumny and vilification upon Israel, to defame and slander our country, its institutions and leaders, and to distort historical facts. In this, incidentally, they have had the support and advice of experts. The Soviet Union has not only supplied the Arabs throughout the years with vast arsenals to enable them to commit aggression against Israel, but has also given them freely of its own know-how in the art of slander and the perversion of history, in the technique of the big lie, of turning black into white and white into black. It was the Soviet representative, the representative of the country which in 1939 made a pact with Hitler, who first insulted Israel and the most elementary standards of common decency by comparing Zionism with Nazism.

Israel, for its part, has at all times been ready to make peace with the Arabs, and to settle all outstanding differences by negotiation, the accepted practice of international relations. For example, after the stupendous victory of our forces over the combined Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies, in June 1967, we called immediately for a negotiated settlement. The Arab reply soon came--no recognition of Israel, no negotiation, no peace. And within a few years they attacked Israel again in the Yom Kippur war. Initially the Arabs had every advantage in that war, a vast preponderance of forces and sophisticated Soviet arms, and the incalculable element of surprise. And Israel suffered serious losses. But within a few days the tide that was designed to engulf Israel was reversed, and our armies threatened the capital of Syria in the north and were on the road to Cairo in the south.

At this point, October 21, 1973, a ceasefire was negotiated in Moscow by the U.S. Secretary of State. From the Soviet point of view, the purpose of the ceasefire was to save the remnants of the Egyptian and Syrian armies and the remnants of Soviet prestige. For the United States, I think it is fair to say, the purpose was to bring an end to the fighting, but also to do so in a manner which would enable a process of negotiations to develop, leading towards a peace settlement. The favourable military conditions that Israel had created enabled the U.S. to extract from the Soviet Union and from Egypt and Syria a paragraph in the Ceasefire Resolution (Security Council Resolution 338) calling for "negotiations . . . between the parties concerned ... aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East". It is this undertaking that provides the basis for whatever progress has been achieved in the Middle East towards peace. The Geneva Conference, the disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria, and the Interim Agreement with Egypt signed last August and recently carried out by Israel and Egypt, are all based on this paragraph in Resolution 338, and are part of the negotiations for a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

There is now an effort underway, spearheaded by Syria and sponsored by the Soviet Union, to destroy even this flimsy basis for peace negotiation. It took a veto by the U.S. in the Security Council last January to prevent Resolution 338 from being disavowed by the very body that created it. The Syrian purpose, of course, is to rid itself of its obligation to negotiate peace with Israel, and to have instead the Security Council impose a settlement on Syrian terms, which whatever else it would contain, would not provide for peace with Israel.

Egypt, on the whole, has co-operated with the U.S. efforts, and therein lies a ray of hope for the future. Not that Egypt has made any sacrifices in the agreements that she has made with Israel. In the Interim Agreement, the Sinai Agreement signed last August, it was Israel that gave up strategic positions in the Sinai, and he great economic asset that she held in the Abu Rudeis oilfields. Egypt's "concession", if concession it was, was to permit the passage of Israeli cargoes, not Israeli ships, through the Suez Canal, and the continued annual extension of the UN Emergency Force for the next three years at least. There was also some undertaking on the part of Egypt to relax the continued diplomatic onslaught on Israel and other anti-Israel practices. These undertakings have largely been observed in the breach. Nevertheless, we do not minimize the signs of change that are perceptible on the part of Egypt, although they are still a long way off from a clear readiness to negotiate a final peace treaty with Israel.

But the major concessions have been made by Israel and they should be enough to refute allegations that it is Israel which is "dragging its feet" or "playing for time". There is a fundamental difference between the position of Israel and that of any Arab country; indeed between Israel and any other country. No other country faces the dangers that Israel does; no other country faces a similar coalition of forces, military or political. No other country takes the risks that Israel takes when it withdraws from vital military and economic positions as we did in our agreement with Egypt. It is only natural, it is in fact our duty for the very future of our country, to conduct such negotiations with the utmost care and deliberation. For Israel, the margin of permissible error is extremely narrow, and whatever we decide is at best a choice between a greater or a lesser danger. This, too, should be borne in mind by anyone presuming to judge Israel's actions.

Even at this moment we are not standing still in our quest for peace. In the wake of Prime Minister Rabin's visit to Washington last January, we have agreed that the U.S. sound out the possibility of new agreements with each of the Arab States that fought Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan, agreements which would once and for all put an end to the state of war between us, even if they are not ready for full peace and all that this implies. Presumably this would entail further Israeli territorial concessions, although nothing has yet been spelled out.

In mentioning the United States, I must of course point out that the U.S. has played a major role in all the positive developments that have taken place. The U.S. has also greatly helped in keeping Israel militarily strong, by generous financial and military assistance. As you may have noticed, this has not made Israel blindly subservient to American desires and American policy; indeed, I doubt if America would want to deprive Israel of its freedom of action and, primarily, of its own responsibility for its fate. In playing this role, including the generous measure of support for Israel, the U.S., I believe, has not been the loser. Its relations with the Arab countries are today much better than they have ever been, politically and economically, in spite of its close and very meaningful ties with Israel. There is a lesson there for some countries, who abjectly caved in in the face of Arab threats and Arab pressure, and overnight revised their friendly attitude to Israel.

We do not ask any country to forego its ties with Arab countries, so long as this is not done at Israel's expense and not at the expense of truth and justice and international morality. I cannot deny the power and lure of the vast Arab resources of oil and petrodollars but I should think that any self-respecting country, any country that conducts its affairs on the principles of democracy, of morality and of law, indeed any country that cherishes its independence, would not permit its policy to be swayed by considerations of momentary material gain or advantage. That also implies that decent countries should vigorously oppose the various manifestations of the anti-Israel campaign, wherever it rears its ugly head.

For the past few months I have had the honour and privilege of representing my country in this great democracy, and I have come to appreciate the sincere, and genuine friendship that lies at the root of Canadian-Israel relations. It is natural that the Jewish community of Canada should maintain very special ties with Israel and take a very active and impressive part in the reconstruction of our ancient homeland and the rehabilitation of its people. But I find friendship and understanding for Israel in every walk of life, and the few exceptions that I encounter only prove that general rule. In my contacts with the government leaders, with members of Parliament of all political parties, I find deep concern for the problems that Israel faces, an unalterable commitment of strong support for Israel, and for the principle that any settlement of the Middle East problem must be freely negotiated between the parties concerned. I also find a readiness to explore new avenues of co-operation between our two countries, in our economic relations, in academic exchange and in a variety of other fields, and my colleagues and I shall do everything possible to add new contents to the existing network of relationships.

Let me also convey to you that in Israel there exists great sympathy for Canada and for its people. We have recently had the privilege of welcoming to Israel the Canadian Minister for External Affairs, and I am sure that during his short stay, Mr. MacEachen must have sensed the great popularity that Canada enjoys among the people of Israel. Friendship, however, must never be taken for granted and must be nurtured and sustained by word and by action. Thank you, therefore, for affording me this opportunity today to make this modest contribution to your understanding of Israel's position, and thereby also to the abiding friendship between our peoples.

Our distinguished speaker and guest was thanked on behalf of the audience by Mr. Leland H. Ausman, Secretary of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Basic Truths of the Middle East Conflict

Presentation of an up-to-date account of the situation in Israel and the Middle East. An attempt to answer the question "Why is there no solution yet to the Arab-Israel conflict?" The speaker's answer to that question, purporting that the basic answer is that the Arab States do not want peace. Discussion follows, with the speaker's description of demands and intentions of the Arab States. Next, the speaker's presentation of Israel's position, with a historical review of events since the 1960s. The role of the United States. A few comments about Canadian-Israel relations.