Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in the Middle East.

February 20, 1957

[Delivered from the President's Office]

My Fellow Citizens:

May I first explain to you that for some days I have been experiencing a very stubborn cough, so if because of this I should have to interrupt myself this evening, I crave your indulgence in advance.

I come to you again to talk about the situation in the Middle East. The future of the United Nations and peace in the Middle East may be at stake.

In the four months since I talked to you about the crisis in that area, the United Nations has made considerable progress in resolving some of the difficult problems. We are now, however, faced with a fateful moment as the result of the failure of Israel to withdraw its forces behind the Armistice lines, as contemplated by the United Nations Resolutions on this subject.

I have already today met with leaders of both Parties from the Senate and the House of Representatives. We had a very useful exchange of views. It was the general feeling of that meeting that I should lay the situation before the American people.

Now, before talking about the specific issues involved, I want to make clear that these issues are not something remote and abstract, but involve matters vitally touching upon the future of each one of us.

The Middle East is a land-bridge between the Eurasian and African continents. Millions of tons of commerce are transmitted through it annually. Its own products, especially petroleum, are essential to Europe and to the Western world.

The United States has no ambitions or desires in this region. It hopes only that each country there may maintain its independence and live peacefully within itself and with its neighbors and, by peaceful cooperation with others, develop its own spiritual and material resources. But that much is vital to the peace and well-being of us all. This is our concern today.

So tonight I report to you on the matters in controversy and on what I believe the position of the United States must be.

When I talked to you last October, I pointed out that the United States fully realized that military action against Egypt resulted from grave and repeated provocations. But I said also that the use of military force to solve international disputes could not be reconciled with the principles and purposes of the United Nations. I added that our country could not believe that resort to force and war would for long serve the permanent interests of the attacking nations, which were Britain, France and Israel.

So I pledged that the United States would seek through the United Nations to end the conflict. We would strive to bring about a recall of the forces of invasion, and then make a renewed and earnest effort through that Organization to secure justice, under international law, for all the parties concerned.

Since that time much has been achieved and many of the dangers implicit in the situation have been avoided. The Governments of Britain and France have withdrawn their forces from Egypt. Thereby they showed respect for the opinions of mankind as expressed almost unanimously by the 80 nation members of the United Nations General Assembly.

I want to pay tribute to the wisdom of this action of our friends and allies. They made an immense contribution to world order. Also they put the other nations of the world under a heavy obligation to see to it that these two nations do not suffer by reason of their compliance with the United Nations Resolutions. This has special application, I think, to their treaty rights to passage through the Suez Canal which had been made an international waterway for all by the Treaty of 1888.

The Prime Minister of Israel, in answer to a personal communication, assured me early in November that Israel would willingly withdraw its forces if and when there should be created a United Nations force to move into the Suez Canal area. This force was, in fact, created and has moved into the Canal area.

Subsequently, Israeli forces were withdrawn from much of the territory of Egypt which they had occupied. However, Israeli forces still remain outside the Armistice lines. They are at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba which is about 100 miles from the nearest Israeli territory. They are also in the Gaza Strip which, by the Armistice Agreement, was to be occupied by Egypt. These facts create the present crisis.

We are approaching a fateful moment when either we must recognize that the United Nations is unable to restore peace in this area, or the United Nations must renew with increased vigor its efforts to bring about Israeli withdrawal.

Repeated, but, so far, unsuccessful, efforts have been made to bring about a voluntary withdrawal by Israel. These efforts have been made both by the United Nations and by the United States and other member states.

Equally serious efforts have been made to bring about conditions designed to assure that if Israel will withdraw in response to the repeated requests of the United Nations, there will then be achieved a greater security and tranquility for that nation. This means that the United Nations would assert a determination to see that in the Middle East there will be a greater degree of justice and compliance with international law than was the case prior to the events of last October-November.

A United Nations Emergency Force, with Egypt's consent, entered that nation's territory in order to help maintain the cease-fire, which the United Nations called for on November 2. The Secretary General, who ably and devotedly serves the United Nations, has recommended a number of measures which might be taken by the United Nations and by its Emergency Force to assure for the future the avoidance by either side of belligerent acts.

The United Nations General Assembly on February 2 by an overwhelming vote adopted a pertinent Resolution. It was to the effect that, after full withdrawal of Israel from the Gulf of Aqaba and Gaza areas, the United Nations Emergency Force should be placed on the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice lines to assure the scrupulous maintenance of the Armistice Agreement. Also the United Nations General Assembly called for the implementation of other measures proposed by the Secretary General. These other measures embraced the use of the United Nations Emergency Forces at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, so as to assure non-belligerency in this area.

The United States was a co-sponsor of this United Nations Resolution. Thus the United States sought to assure that Israel would, for the future, enjoy its rights under the Armistice and under international law.

In view of the valued friendly relations which the United States has always had with the State of Israel, I wrote to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion on February 3. I recalled his statement to me of November 8 to the effect that the Israeli forces would be withdrawn under certain conditions, and I urged that, in view of the General Assembly Resolutions of February 2, Israel should complete that withdrawal.

However, the Prime Minister, in his reply, took the position that Israel would not evacuate its military forces from the Gaza Strip unless Israel retained the civil administration and police. This would be in contradiction to the Armistice Agreement. Also, the reply said that Israel would not withdraw from the Straits of Aqaba unless freedom of passage through the Straits was assured.

It was a matter of keen disappointment to us that the Government of Israel, despite the United Nations action, still felt unwilling to withdraw.

However, in a further effort to meet the views of Israel in these respects, Secretary of State Dulles, at my direction, gave to the Government of Israel on February 11 a statement of United States policy. This has now been made public. It pointed out that neither the United States nor the United Nations had authority to impose upon the parties a substantial modification of the Armistice Agreement which was freely signed by both Israel and Egypt. Nevertheless, the statement said, the United States as a member of the United Nations would seek such disposition of the United Nations Emergency Force as would assure that the Gaza Strip could no longer be used as a source of armed infiltration and reprisals.

The Secretary of State orally informed the Israeli Ambassador that the United States would be glad to urge and support, also, some participation by the United Nations, with the approval of Egypt, in the administration of the Gaza Strip. The principal population of the Strip consists of about 200,000 Arab refugees, who exist largely as a charge upon the benevolence of the United Nations and its members.

With reference to the passage into and through the Gulf of Aqaba, we expressed the conviction that the Gulf constitutes international waters, and that no nation has the right to prevent free and innocent passage in the Gulf. We announced that the United States was prepared to exercise this right itself and to join with others to secure general recognition of this right.

The Government of Israel has not yet accepted, as adequate insurance of its own safety after withdrawal, the far-reaching United Nations Resolution of February 2 plus the important declaration of United States policy made by our Secretary of State on February 11.

Israel seeks something more. It insists on firm guarantees as a condition to withdrawing its forces of invasion.

This raises a basic question of principle. Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of United Nations disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal?

If we agree that armed attack can properly achieve the purposes of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order. We will, in effect, have countenanced the use of force as a means of settling international differences and through this gaining national advantages.

I do not, myself, see how this could be reconciled with the Charter of the United Nations. The basic pledge of all the members of the United Nations is that they will settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and will not use force against the territorial integrity of another state.

If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the very foundation of the Organization, and our best hope of establishing a world order. That would be a disaster for us all.

I would, I feel, be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me, if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal.

Of course, we and all the members of the United Nations ought to support justice and conformity with international law. The first Article of the Charter states the purpose of the United Nations to be "the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes." But it is to be observed that conformity with justice and international law are to be brought about "by peaceful means."

We cannot consider that the armed invasion and occupation of another country are "peaceful means" or proper means to achieve justice and conformity with international law.

We do, however, believe that upon the suppression of the present act of aggression and breach of the peace, there should be a greater effort by the United Nations and its members to secure justice and conformity with international law. Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps the world community has been at fault in not having paid enough attention to this basic truth. The United States, for its part, will vigorously seek solutions of the problems of the area in accordance with justice and international law. And we shall in this great effort seek the association of other like-minded nations which realize, as we do, that peace and justice are in the long run inseparable.

But the United Nations faces immediately the problem of what to do next. If it does nothing, if it accepts the ignoring of its repeated resolutions calling for the withdrawal of invading forces, then it will have admitted failure. That failure would be a blow to the authority and influence of the United Nations in the world and to the hopes which humanity placed in the United Nations as the means of achieving peace with justice.

I do not believe that Israel's default should be ignored because the United Nations has not been able effectively to carry out its resolutions condemning the Soviet Union for its armed suppression of the people of Hungary. Perhaps this is a case where the proverb applies that two wrongs do not make a right.

No one deplores more than I the fact that the Soviet Union ignores the resolutions of the United Nations. Also no nation is more vigorous than is the United States in seeking to exert moral pressure against the Soviet Union, which by reason of its size and power, and by reason of its veto in the Security Council, is relatively impervious to other types of sanction.

The United States and other free nations are making clear by every means at their command the evil of Soviet conduct in Hungary. It would indeed be a sad day if the United States ever felt that it had to subject Israel to the same type of moral pressure as is being applied to the Soviet Union.

There can, of course, be no equating of a nation like Israel with that of the Soviet Union. The people of Israel, like those of the United States, are imbued with a religious faith and a sense of moral values. We are entitled to expect, and do expect, from such peoples of the free world a contribution to world order which unhappily we cannot expect from a nation controlled by atheistic despots.

It has been suggested that United Nations actions against Israel should not be pressed because Egypt has in the past violated the Armistice Agreement and international law. It is true that both Egypt and Israel, prior to last October, engaged in reprisals in violation of the Armistice agreements. Egypt ignored the United Nations in exercising belligerent rights in relation to Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal and in the Gulf of Aqaba. However, such violations constitute no justification for the armed invasion of Egypt by Israel which the United Nations is now seeking to undo.

Failure to withdraw would be harmful to the long term good of Israel. It would, in addition to its injury to the United Nations, jeopardize the prospects of the peaceful solution of the problems of the Mid-East. This could bring incalculable ills to our friends and indeed to our nation itself. It would make infinitely more difficult the realization of the goals which I laid out in my Middle East message of January fifth to the Congress seeking to strengthen the area against Communist aggression, direct or indirect.

The United Nations must not fail. I believe that--in the interests of peace--the United Nations has no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel to comply with the withdrawal resolutions. Of course, we still hope that the Government of Israel will see that its best immediate and long-term interests lie in compliance with the United Nations and in placing its trust in the Resolutions of the United Nations and in the declaration of the United States with reference to the future.

Egypt, by accepting the Six Principles adopted by the Security Council last October in relation to the Suez Canal, bound itself to free and open transit through the Canal without discrimination, and to the principle that the operation of the Canal should be insulated from the politics of any country.

We should not assume that if Israel withdraws, Egypt will prevent Israeli shipping from using the Suez Canal or the Gulf of Aqaba. If, unhappily, Egypt does hereafter violate the Armistice agreement or other international obligations, then this should be dealt with firmly by the society of nations.

The present moment is a grave one, but we are hopeful that reason and right will prevail. Since the events of last October-November, solid progress has been made, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. There is the cease-fire, the forces of Britain and France have been withdrawn, the forces of Israel have been partially withdrawn, and the clearing of the Canal nears completion. When Israel completes its withdrawal, it will have removed a definite block to further progress.

Once this block is removed, there will be serious and creative tasks for the United Nations to perform. There needs to be respect for the right of Israel to national existence and to internal development. Complicated provisions insuring the effective international use of the Suez Canal will need to be worked out in detail. The Arab refugee problem must be solved. As I said in my special message to Congress on January 5, it must be made certain that all the Middle East is kept free from aggression and infiltration.

Finally, all who cherish freedom, including ourselves, should help the nations of the Middle East achieve their just aspirations for improving the well-being of their peoples.

What I have spoken about tonight is only one step in a long process calling for patience and diligence, but at this moment it is the critical issue on which future progress depends.

It is an issue which can be solved if only we will apply the principles of the United Nations.

That is why, my fellow Americans, I know that you want the United States to continue to use its maximum influence to sustain those principles as the world's best hope for peace.

Good night--and thank you very much.

Note: In further reference to this subject a White House statement was issued on February 22, 1957, from which the following is excerpted:

The President and the Secretary of State discussed the speech of last night of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion of Israel insofar as the text was available.

The President and the Secretary regret that the Government of Israel has not yet found it possible to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba.

The door is certainly not closed to further discussion of the situation.

The President and the Secretary welcome such further discussion because they believe that a full understanding of the United States position and the United Nations Resolutions of February second should make it possible for Israel to proceed with the withdrawal.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in the Middle East. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234105

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