Menu JTA Search

Eshkol Hopes for Joint East-west Peace Appeal to Arabs and Israel

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol expressed the hope here today that the general easing of East-West tensions, which he sees as “a welcome possibility,” might result in an appeal by the United States and the Soviet Union “to all parties in the Middle East” to start cooperating toward the mutual advantage of the Arab states and Israel.

Mr. Eshkol’s statement was made in an exclusive interview here with Joshua H. Just-man, chief Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent in Israel. The talk took place on the eve of two events which Israel considers of highest significance. One is Mr. Eshkol’s forthcoming State visit to Washington, where he will meet with President Johnson several times, beginning June 1. The other is Israel’s celebration of the 16th anniversary of the rebirth of the State, to be marked officially on Thursday.

In the context of the possible East-West rapprochement, Mr. Eshkol said, he hoped that both the East and the West might “appeal to all parties in the Middle East to embark on a course of peace and regional cooperation.” Pending such Arab-Israeli cooperation, however, he emphasized the fact that the maintenance of Israel’s security “is our main task now, and will continue to be our prime need for years to come.” Not everybody abroad, he held, understands exactly what Israel faces in regard to its security. “People not facing Israel’s day-to-day problems,” he said, “may not realize, or may not be in a position to assess fully, the fact that Israel’s destruction is the basic doctrine of openly declared Arab policy.” He pointed out that these threats are announced publicly and privately by the Arab leaders, at home and abroad, “even at the United Nations.”

“These are not empty threats,” he warned. “They are supported by preparations to carry them out. President (Gamal Abdel) Nasser (of Egypt) has stated that, for him, it is not a question of ‘if’ Israel is to be destroyed–but ‘when’ will his preparations for this task be completed. For us, therefore, there is no choice except to spare no effort to maintain and to enhance our deterrent capacity.”

ARMING OF NASSER FORCES ISRAEL TO MAINTAIN ‘MINIMUM’ STRENGTH

Asked what the great powers should do to check the danger that the situation would deteriorate, and whether aid given to Nasser by the United States and other Western Powers enhances the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East region, he replied: “They could do a great deal to remove the causes of tension. Take the matter of arms supply and other aid. We have witnessed the constant escalation of armaments in the Middle East. We view with gravity and with deep concern the flow of arms from the East to our self-declared enemies, particularly to Egypt.

“Let it be clear to all,” he continued, “that Israel never introduced new types of arms into this area. It is the Arabs who, with foreign aid, caused this escalation. That throws a heavy burden on us, especially when one considers the needs we bear in connection with immigration, absorption of immigrants, and development. We must maintain the minimum deterrent strength. After all, Nasser has not hesitated to use arms he received from abroad even against sister Arab states.

“We certainly do not begrudge to our neighbors any economic aid which raises standards of living and contributes toward economic and social progress. Unfortunately, President Nasser diverts large portions of Egypt’s national resources to build a dangerous war machine. We would hope he would abandon this barren course of squandering resources on military preparations, instead of using them for the welfare of the Egyptian people.” The Prime Minister stressed that, “for Israel, its security and economic strength and development are indivisible.”

LOOKS TO FREE WORLD FOR FURTHER IMMIGRATION; STATUS QUO ON STATE – RELIGION ISSUE

On the problem of Israel’s “complex task” of absorbing the immigrants, while simultaneously creating the framework for a homogeneous society, Mr. Eshkol said: “We are now completing the process of rescuing Jews from lands of oppression, and these reservoirs are being depleted. Our eyes, then, turn naturally to Jewish communities in lands of freedom. We shall need to present to the Jewish youth of these countries the challenge of helping Israel

The Premier was asked whether, in view of the recently sharpened debate over the issue of state and religion in Israel, the time is not ripe for seeking clear-cut decisions on that question. “We need to think the subject through carefully,” he replied. “The matter has not been given enough study. Maybe our generation is not in a position to crystalize these matters.

“We are in the midst of the ingathering of the exiles. There are great sociological differences among the various sections of our population. Both time and thought are required to find the pattern for our future. Thus, it seems preferable to me to preserve the status quo, without any so-called ‘conquest.’ If new problems develop, we shall need to rely on all our spiritual resources and ability in order to seek solutions based on the need of the survival of our people as a whole.”

WELCOMES OPINIONS OF AMERICAN-JEWISH LEADERS ON RELIGIOUS PRESSURES IN ISRAEL

Mr. Eshkol was asked about the message sent to Israel recently by many American Jewish leaders, concerning religious pressures in this country. The interviewer inquired whether such “intervention from the outside” might not turn Israel into a divisive force, adversely affecting the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community. The Premier immediately objected to the propriety of the term “intervention.”

“That was not an intervention by an alien body,” he stated, “but an indication that the Jewish world ‘lives’ Israel’s problems–what affects Israel, affects them. I see nothing wrong in an expression of opinion on these matters. Such an expression demonstrates the keen interest with which Jews follow Israel’s problems.

“I don’t understand how this process could possibly cause division, or why it should disturb relations between Israel and American Jewry. On the contrary, this strengthens the ties. We want fellow Jews to be seized of our problems, to be affected by them. Taking an interest from afar may lead to their taking a greater part from nearby.”

Another subject during the interview was the recently issued joint statement by the Government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization about the Zionist goals ahead. The Premier was asked whether that statement reduces, as far as Israel is concerned, the role of non-Zionist organizations in the achievement of the envisaged goals.

“No, it doesn’t,” he replied. “Let me put it this way: We would like to see the Zionist Organization at the highest level of achievement and activity–just as we hope that every organization which will maintain Jewish life abroad and strengthen ties with us and lead to personal identification with Israel will be strong.” He agreed that the Zionist movement, at present, is insufficiently equipped for carrying out the tasks that have been envisaged. “I have already indicated in my speech to the recent meeting of the World Zionist Actions Committee that organizational tools will have to be adapted to our new needs,” he said. The Prime Minister replied with an emphatic “yes” when asked whether he felt that parallel efforts in the direction of Zionist education needed to be made inside Israel.

NEXT STORY