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Eban, Ball Disagree on U.S. Role to Achieve a Mideast Settlement

August 18, 1977
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Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban and George Ball, Undersecretary of State in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, disagreed last night on whether American pressure is needed to bring about a Middle East settlement.

Appearing on the Public Broadcasting Service television’s MacNeil/Lehrer Report, Ball said only U.S. pressure could bring about a settlement while Eban argued that the U.S. should confine itself to using its “good offices” to helping the Arabs and Israelis negotiate an agreement among themselves.

Ball, repeating the argument he made in a recent Foreign Affairs article, said the United States has a “responsibility” to look after its own national interest and its principles. He said a settlement can be achieved in the Mideast only if the U.S. puts pressure on both Israel and the Arab nations.

Eban replied that if the U.S. were to try to force Israel to go against its convictions it would result only in the Jewish State taking a more stiff attitude since in the end it is Israeli blood that would be shed if things went wrong. He said the U.S. has to “respect the sovereignty even of small nations. The U.S. has not had much success in expressing its will on nations even weaker than Israel.”

Eban also denied that the U.S. has the same leverage on the Arab states as on Israel. But Ball said Egypt has shown that it is leaning more to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia depends on the U.S. for defense against the Soviet Union, and perhaps Iran or Iraq.


The two agreed that a Geneva conference should be prepared for in advance and that it would be better not to have a conference than to have it end in complete failure. But Ball said the conference must result in an overall peace settlement while Eban said partial agreements are still possible as a first step toward peace.

Both agreed that the Israeli government’s announcement of extending equal social and welfare benefits to the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not a major setback to peace efforts. But Eban, who is in the U.S. to explain the policy of the new Israeli government, said that if he were in Israel he would agree with the criticism of the policy by members of the opposition Labor Alignment to which he belongs. He said this was not because it is “inherently wrong,” but because it can result in “political rather than social or humanitarian interpretations.”

Ball also said that it was not important except to point out that Israeli occupation for the last 10 years has prevented a million Arabs from achieving self-determination. Eban said he believes the “identity of the Palestinian Arabs” can be achieved in the context of Jordan. But he said Israel will not support the self-determination of the Palestinians if that means creating a state on its borders dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel.

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