JERUSALEM (Jul. 10)
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol declared today that Israel would strive by all means for peace with the Arab countries. He said he would be willing to meet President Nasser of Egypt, or any other Arab leader, anytime and anywhere.
Speaking at his first press conference since he became Premier last month, the veteran Zionist leader ranged over many facets of Israel policies and problems, making it clear that his Government would adhere generally to the policies of his predecessor, David Ben-Gurion. Most of the questions and answers touched on basic security issues.
“If we could only meet face to face,” the Premier said, “the Arab leaders would find out that peace is in the best interests of all and that differences can be ironed out by negotiations and discussions. “He added that, without making any prior conditions, Israel remained ready to enter discussions. He emphasized that “we shall watch carefully for any opening which might indicate the existence of a possibility of making some progress.”
In the meanwhile, he said, the immediate security problem was to ensure that the Middle East arms balance be not further upset in Israel’s disfavor and, additionally, that there would be great value in an effective security guarantee safeguarding the integrity and independence of Israel and all other countries in the region. “Under all conditions, it is essential that Israel be kept sufficiently strong to deter any attack,” he declared.
GIVES HIS VIEWS ON UNITED STATES POLICY IN MIDDLE EAST
Asked whether the Hawk supersonic anti-aircraft missiles the United States is selling to Israel, would be sufficient for Israel’s defense needs for the foreseeable future, the Prime Minister replied that the Hawk missiles were important for use against enemy aircraft. He added that in considering overall defense needs, “we must take into consideration further developments which have taken place in the Arab countries or are likely to take place, and draw the necessary conclusions.”
Replying to a question about United States policy in the Middle East, he said he was convinced that the United States was striving to promote peace and stability in the area, although there might be differences in views as to how these goals could be achieved. He added that the best contribution the United States could make would be to take measures to prevent the creation of conditions under which an attack on Israel might be possible. He said also he thought the United States should persevere in efforts to persuade the Arabs to abandon their illegal policies of belligerence and preparations for war.
The Prime Minister was asked whether there was evidence that Egypt possessed non-conventional weapons. He replied that missiles and poison gas are non-conventional weapons. “It has already been reported that the Egyptians are manufacturing missiles and using poison gas,” he said.
OUTLINES HIS STAND ON COMPENSATION TO ARAB REFUGEES
He reiterated Israel’s long-standing position that its offer to pay compensation to Arab refugees for property abandoned during the 1948 war continued to be based on the understanding that international assistance to the refugees would be available and provided that the compensation was part of a comprehensive solution of the refugee problem; also that the property left behind by a half million Jewish refugees from the Arab countries was taken into account.
Replying to a number of questions touching on the explosive issue of Israel’s relations with West Germany, Mr. Eshkol declared that his Government would continue the policies in this area of the previous one. The initiative for diplomatic relations, he said, should come from the West German Government, but even in the absence of diplomatic relations “there is no reason why we should not maintain and develop contacts with West Germany in matters of mutual interests as until now.” He added he was confident that the West German Government would continue to demonstrate on every possible occasion its determination to uproot any relics of its Nazi past.
He disclosed that the first phase of the project to irrigate the Negev by diversion of the Jordan River through Lake Tiberias was nearing completion. He added, however, that the project would not begin operations before the spring or summer of 1964. He said the project was being developed in conformity with the unified plan developed by Eric Johnston as a special emissary of the then President Eisenhower in 1955, taking into account the water needs of the neighboring Arab states–a plan the Arabs rejected. The project was being carried out in a manner which would permit its being fitted into a unified plan whenever relations with the Arab states made such a plan feasible, he said.
FORMULATES GOVERNMENT ATTITUDE TOWARD ZIONIST MOVEMENT
He was asked about his views on the relations between Israel and the Zionist movement, and replied: “We shall give the Zionist movement all possible aid and encouragement, but it must be clear that the standing and prestige of the movement depends first and foremost on the movement itself, the scope of its activities, the efficiency of its organization and its standing in the Jewish communities abroad.” He said he hoped that Jews in the free countries would “respond to the challenge of pioneering and come to Israel to help us build the new free Jewish society.”
He denied press reports that former Premier Ben-Gurion had asked him to reopen the Lavon Affair, involving the 1954 security mishap when Pinhas Lavon was Defense Minister. Mr. Eshkol had been a member of a seven-man Ministerial Committee which exonerated Mr. Lavon from blame for the mishap, a finding which was a key factor in the resignation of Mr. Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister and the fall of the Government in 1961. Asked today if he regarded the affair as closed, Mr. Eshkol replied that he had not changed his opinion since the Ministerial Committee reported its findings.