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Israel Gives Cold Shoulder to Egypt’s Willingness to Accept Sinai Peace Force

July 8, 1968
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The substance of a new Egyptian “peace offensive” was unveiled over the weekend with an announcement by Cairo that Egypt would be willing to accept the return of a United Nations peace-keeping force in the Sinai Peninsula which it had ousted in May, 1967. It got a cold reception in Israel. Although there was no immediate Government comment, Israeli officials made it clear that they would never again accept the presence of UN observers in the Sinai as a substitute for a negotiated peace treaty with Egypt. Israel had done just that – under United States and Soviet pressure – following the 1956 Suez crisis and gained neither access to the Suez Canal for Israeli shipping nor a lasting peace.

Official sources in Jerusalem branded Cairo’s offer as “insincere.” They said its immediate aim was to force an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the June, 1967 war so that the Suez Canal could be reopened but without the right of passage for Israeli ships. The Cairo statement was issued by Hassan el-Zayyat, official spokesman of the Egyptian Government. He told newsmen that “if implementation of the Security Council’s November (22, 1967) resolution necessitated the peacekeeping forces, we should have no objections.” That statement coincided with the presence in Moscow of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt accompanied by the Egyptian Chief of Staff, Gen. Abdel Moneim Riad. It followed by two days a statement by Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Riad, in Copenhagen that Egypt recognized Israel as a “reality” and did not seek its destruction. But Mr. Nasser’s current visit to Moscow, though billed as a “peace” mission, was intended, according to most reports, to press the Soviet leaders for more and greater military and economic aid. He was reported to have said in Moscow Friday that if a political solution could not be reached with Israel, the Arabs would “liberate the occupied territories.”

The peace-keeping force referred to by Cairo – United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) – was first sent to Egypt in the autumn of 1956 as part of the settlement of the Suez crisis, authorized by a vote of the UN General Assembly. Its purpose was to keep the peace between Israel and Egypt and toward that end it patrolled the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Desert and Sharm El Shiekh, commanding the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba which provides the only maritime access to the port of Eilat. The UNEF consisted of troops loaned by Canada, India, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Brazil, Norway and Denmark and was stationed entirely on the Egyptian side of the border; Israel refused to permit any UN forces on its side of the frontier. UNEF was removed – too hastily many observers contended – when President Nasser demanded its withdrawal in a note to Secretary-General U Thant in May, 1967. In the opinion of many, that withdrawal was a direct cause of the June, 1967 Six-Day War as it permitted Egypt to establish a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba and to mass troops in the Sinai which threatened Israel with invasion.

The return of UNEF now would pose some thorny legal problems. Observers at UN headquarters in New York pointed out that the force ceased to exist upon its withdrawal in May, 1967 because its existence was based on agreement between the UN and the governments involved. The question raised there was whether the former UNEF now dissolved could be “returned” or whether a new peace-keeping force had to be established by action of the General Assembly. The matter was further complicated by disagreement over the way UNEF was dissolved in the first place. Many governments, including Israel’s, felt that Mr. Thant had acted hastily and without sufficient consultation with UN members in complying with President Nasser’s demand. Others claimed that only the General Assembly could order the withdrawal of UNEF since that body had created it.


The diplomatic activity in some European capitals and the credence given by many diplomats to the Egyptian “peace offensive” has disturbed many Israelis, the Times said. They fear that plans are afoot to work out an arrangement that would not include a contractual agreement with the Arabs. That, they say, was a big mistake in 1956 when Israel sought guarantees of free passage through the Straits of Tiran from everyone except Egypt. When President Nasser decided to blockade the straits again in 1967, he was able to say that he never had any commitment to keep it open, the Israelis pointed out.

The Egyptian proposal for a return of the UNEF overshadowed the allegedly “dovish” statements by Foreign Minister Riad which caught the fancy of editorial writers last week. The London Times hailed Mr. Riad’s words as the “most significant advance toward a solution since the UN sent Jarring (Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring) to mediate” the Middle East dispute. The Telegraph said that Mr. Riad’s words were “a move toward peace” but asked “is the presence of thousands of Russian officers and technicians with Egyptian armed forces in the least reassuring to Israel?” The paper believed that the first step toward a Middle East peace must be taken by the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Riad’s reported assertion that Egypt accepts the “reality” of Israel’s existence was apparently taken more seriously by Palestinian Arab politicians than by Israelis. According to Beirut reports, the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine has attacked Mr. Riad. In a telegram addressed to the heads of Arab and Moslem countries, it said the statements by Mr. Riad “and some Arab officials indicating recognition of Israel as a reality…stab the Palestine commando action in the core and contradict the Khartoum conference resolutions.” The Khartoum conference of Arab heads of state in August, 1967 resolved that there would be no negotiations, no recognition and no peace with Israel.

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