Abba Eban on the Palestinians

Question: What do you think will or should be the next step? Will it be going to Geneva, or partial agreements with Jordan and Syria?

A.E.: I frankly think that the next step in our external policy should be internal. I think that we should put our country in a position in which it can negotiate, without inhibition, on a definite mandate for territorial compromise. The government should go to the people and say: “We cannot proceed beyond this Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement without having a clear understanding of what the principles are. We want a mandate for peace based on territorial concessions in all sectors, including Gaza and the West Bank.” We must get rid of this incubus which still hangs on us. Now the government does not regard itself as competent to evacuate any part of the West Bank without asking the people. That means we are left with the Syrian option.

I come back again to the fact that the crux of the Palestinian conflict is the conflict between Israel and the Palestine Arabs. I do not accept the definition that I’ve heard from Premier Rabin and others, that the heart of the problem is the Egyptian-Israeli conflict. It is the war of the Palestine succession. Israel and the Palestine Arabs have never reached an agreement on their relationship or on the limits of their jurisdiction. Egypt was drawn in in solidarity with the Palestine Arabs.

Incidentally, they very nearly were not drawn in. There has been a publication of the 1948 discussion, which shows how narrow the verdict was. Syria came in also in solidarity with the Palestine Arabs, and although Egypt is a stronger element than the Palestine Arabs, it is the Palestine Arabs who are the determinative factor in the conflict. Even if you look at the history of the wars of 1948 and thereafter, you find that Egypt was spurred or jogged into the war by the Palestinians in 1948; in 1956 by the Fedayin; in 1967 it was the Fatah actions on the Syrian boundary which prevented what was otherwise a relative quiescence across the whole Middle Eastern scene.

We are not facing facts if we refuse to make this decision. The government can say we’ll do the best that we can to get such adjustments that are necessary for security, but the basic principle must be that we will give territory for peace in the West Bank, as in Sinai. Once the government is thus equipped, it can go to Geneva without any fear. It will still have to bargain but it will not have to have this complex.

Assuming this is done, then how do you envision a solution of the Palestinian problem? If the PLO agreed to recognize Israel and to accept a state in part of what they call Palestine is there a chance of coming to an agreement with them, or does it have to be through King Hussein?

Israel could only solve the Israeli part of the…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.