thumbnail of Middle East crisis; Panel discussion, part one
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The situation today sounds tense. It's not the first time in the Middle East that we are faced with such tenseness. But again if the tense situation means anything and if contributes to anything I hope it contributes to something more than just hysteria of support to Israel search for real justice that would mitigate against any deeper conflict existed already. Thank you very much. Thank you all Ariel. My next panelist is Benjamin Halperin. He's been a faculty member at Brandeis University since 1961. Previously he was a research associate at the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He has served as associate director for information and education of the Jewish
Jewish Agency for Palestine in New York. He's author of the idea of a Jewish state and currently is preparing a study of the Israeli society. Mr. Halperin will discuss Israeli objectors and the viewpoints of. Israel's foreign policy is determined by its government in terms of the normal considerations of any foreign policy. It is concerned to protect the existence and the integrity of the political entity called Israel. There are also a number of unusual. Considerations that determine Israel's foreign policy. The main one is that the state of Israel considers itself as protecting not only its own territory. But also. The
chances of survival. And the integrity of the whole Jewish people. This is more than an ideological friend. With which the Israel government decorates documents. It is written into the legislation of the country into its basic legislation. Now the Israel government. Seize both. Its territory and the survival of the Jewish people as threatened. And it is. Above all determined that that threat shall not be met under the same conditions. As the threat to the Jewish people in the time of Hitler. This again is not mere rhetoric.
But it is a determining consideration in the Israeli policy. The theme of resistance. Which is a favorite topic of literati in our own country and which I throw Hannah Arendt. Has been made a general subject of discussion. Isn't Israel. An operative conception underlying government decisions. Among other things. Israel in addition conceives its position as one of isolation and encircled. Not quite but nearly approaching that of the European Jews in the past World War I. I. Well I was going to make a comparison but I will
forbear. Now the reasons for this isolation and the encirclement are inherent in the strategic situation of the state. It is a state of Two and a half million people. Two and a quarter million Jews. In a territory which is described by. Its main opponents are stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean and comprising 100 million people in possession of oil resources of interest if not as much interest as previously still of major interest to Europe. In possession of lines of communication of still considerable interest to Europe and Asia and Africa. And with the sympathy for the more of a greater back
hinterland of people of similar religious beliefs and similar. World Perspectives. Under those circumstances Israel does not expect on any cool calculation of its chances that it is going to be a major interest of any power great or small. To protect Israel. And therefore Israel falls back upon the sole weapon of resistance of its all or nothing determination to maintain its survival which it sees as threatening. It concedes that that resistance is capable of producing repercussions of such an order.
That it can force some consideration of Israel's case by other powers with interests in the area. It also conceives. Understands. That that power of resistance can be crushed. Easily in one way by the United States and in another way by Russia. And that it is to be exercised. Only in the last resort. It has had object lessons in this matter both from the United States and from Russia. I don't know whether. There have been too many other cases in which the United States has gone to the point of proposing sanctions. As it did. Or virtually did in
1956 against Israel in earlier occasions. The United States has compelled Israel to relinquish a position which it held to be legitimate and vital to its interest through withholding aid. These are the whips with which the United States can flog Israel as it is dependent on the goodwill and the support of that country. In the case of Russia. The leverage that can be applied against Israel goes as far as threats of nuclear bombing. Israel has had to. Exist continually by an exercise of brinksmanship. It is not an unusual situation but I think that the continual exercise of this policy. Is unusual. In
Israel's view. Many concessions are possible and under pressure have been made but belligerently is not. And the blockade is a belligerent act. Assurances about no further belligerent acts being in prospect. Do not I'm not accepted by the Israel government. If they have to consider two statements those made in the Security Council would say that no further offense no sensitive action will be taken by Egypt and others made in Cairo which say that after having restored the status quo ante 956 we will now restore one thousand forty eight. They take the latter statement seriously.
And they do not need that latter statement. It was known in advance and well calculated that Israel would respond to any such act as the blockade. In terms of a casuist belli. To have taken this step. Implies preparations for war made in concert with other powers notably the Soviet Union which gave specific guarantees and perhaps have since expanded them. There can be no question what the Israel government will do. It appears to me and I need not waste further words on it. I will close by referring to what Israel public opinion may do. The Israel government today is in
terms of Israel policy politics. A leftish government does not include communists but it includes the left wing the Marxist party. My palm. Which is a peace party and has always considered that there is a possibility of arriving at a bi national solution for Israel and Trans Jordan. And. The position I have indicated on the Straits is the official position of that government. The position of the public of public opinion is to if one would say so to the right certainly to the more militant side of that attitude. The
Israel government today is under pressure which I assume will lead to its defeat at the next election. There have even been peculiar statements in the form of a denial. That the Army would take over. This has been denied. Perhaps not denied but rejected by Ben Gurion. And I believe that there is not the slightest chance that it might happen. Given the nature of Israeli politics but that this is that it is necessary to state this is it seems to me symptomatic. The general opinion of the public. I assume not having been there is one of impatience. And of indignation with its government for not having struck and struck a blow earlier.
Oh. I do not believe that there is anything that I should add to this because it seems to me that the conclusions are quite clear. Thank. Ranker man is William Polk who came to this university from the State Department's Policy Planning Council. He is professor of history and a director both of the university's Center for Middle Eastern studies and of the Adley Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. He is a Fellow of the Center for Policy Study. He is the author of the United States and the Arab world among other works. He will present an analysis of the different courses of action that might be pursued by the participants in the present situation
coming on the end of a fairly lengthy presentation I think abo oil down what I had to say relate to two general categories and suggest some alternative alternative positions within them. It seems to me that the greatest danger in a time of crisis is that one neglects to use the elements of flexibility that it presents that we all in a time of clock crisis are sufficiently threatened and frightened by what we see before us that we attempt to find a palliative that will act as an aspirin to get us beyond these moments of crisis to something like normalcy or the status quo ante or in the case of the Middle East what has been over many years is a long and very passion play. With Crises punctuating periods of relatively stable crisis in between. It seems to me that we have within the present time a great
possibility of taking a really very serious and fundamental look at the nature of social political international and regional change to see if we can't hope to use this time to come out of the other side of the crisis with something at least marginally better than we went in with. I think it's terribly important in this connection to recognize that one of our great dangers in looking at international policy is to be trapped to some degree by our own preconceptions of what it is that the world is all about. We formulated policies in the past which have tended to group together certain attitudes and ideas and interpretations of the relationships of various powers of our own interests and of the things we can do about the world. These It often seems to me are rather like snapshots that many of us keep on our desks even when
the reality changes we tend to hang on to the snapshots and regard them with as fond memories of rather sunnier days when those we like were a little bit more apt to sit on our laps or be more amenable to what it was that we wanted in the world. I think the it is perfectly clear that the American position in the Middle East has changed over the recent years. As Professor binder has pointed out the depth and extent of that change makes it little short of revolutionary. Over the course of the past 20 years I think it's equally important to recognize that the tools by which we minister to our needs in the world community have themselves change. We are as a people far less concerned today than we have been in the past with keeping our own ability to act in the world available to us. Our aid program has disintegrated in recent years. Our ability to
exercise our will in the world through means of action which whether they were right or wrong were available to us in the 1040s and 1056 have generally declined in efficacy. The Sixth Fleet is a symbol perhaps of the kind of power which we had in the 1950s but it seems to me that one of the really interesting and currently perhaps not fully understood aspects of the Middle East crisis is when one compares the kind of capability that the Sixth Fleet gave to the United States in 158 with the kind of problem we are faced with today and the capability of the Sixth Fleet and acting on that one sees the enormous nature of change inherent in the area itself and in our relationship with the Soviet Union. I don't mean by this and I'm sure it will be interpreted in this way as saying that those things which the United States is committed to now they and their own nature in the world community should in any sense have been
changed. I mean simply that the kind of world with which we are dealing and our own ability to deal with it has changed radically. We are as Professor binder has pointed out in the midst of a vast revolution in many aspects of the Middle East itself. And we have not kept pace with this by the slow pace of our own ability to relate to the world by our ideas about our role in the Middle Eastern in the world community and about the kinds of programs that we've been able to mount to bring about. A kind of position that I think we would all agree we would like to see. We face a situation in the Middle East with violently conflicting nationalisms. We face a situation in which the relative relationship the United States and the Soviet Union and the other great powers has changed considerably over recent years. And our
major problem in the short term and in the immediate crisis can be posed as how to put these things together in something less than a lethal next year. It seems to me that there are perhaps three courses of action. Which are possible in the weeks to come. The first of these is a possibility of a deteriorating crisis in which the Arab States and Israel will get into or perhaps by an Israeli forcing of the Straits. And at that point there are a number of possibilities that are opened up. Each one of these contains obviously very great dangers for all the participants. The first is the possibility of something like the events of 1056 in which the Israeli army destroys a large part of the Egyptian military force and captures the Sinai Peninsula but stops more or less at the Suez Canal. The
second of these is the possibility of a major push into perhaps into Cairo perhaps into Damascus in which Israel would be faced with an extraordinarily complicated problem of what to do with a very difficult area. The third of these possibilities is if for various reasons there is simply a rash of frontier fighting with virtually no conclusive result although perhaps considerable punishment being administered by one side to the other or by both sides to one another. The second general category of possible action is that if President Nasir stopped short. More or less where he is now recognizing that he has made considerable tactical gains within the Arab camp itself and to a certain extent in reestablishing his own initiative in the world
community and perhaps also in silencing some parts of the criticism that has been leveled against him in his own country and in other Arab countries. The third possibility is a fairly major changing of the nature of the game perhaps with the United Nations or under the United Nations Aegis. Reinstating the armistice agreement which was denounced in 1056 at the recreation of the next armistice commission or various other works along these lines. My own interest lies considerably beyond these points I think it is perfectly obvious to envisage something happening in any one of the three of them marginally affected by actions of the American government. But I think that it is very important to recognize that a policy which moves on an ad hoc basis from one day's events to another
simply is not adequate for a world in revolution. And what I think is most imperative to be gained by the United States and hopefully by the world community out of this crisis is the recognition that it is perfectly predictable that if we simply get beyond this crisis and move back into a period of stable crisis we have seen the last of the pre nuclear Middle Eastern wars. And I don't think that's the kind of future that any of us particularly want to soberly and carefully move toward. It seems to me that it is terribly important to take a very hard look at the capabilities that we have of influencing the Middle East. I'll be at marginally and of boiling the many and assorted and unhappy problems of the area down into those which are of major critical importance to all the actors and certainly to the United States. The first of these in my opinion is the arms problem.
I think that it is predictable that as we have seen over the past 10 or 15 years the escalation of weaponry will continue and we are on the brink of a quantum step forward in which the possibilities of wholesale destruction of the area and perhaps of the triggering of a major nuclear conflict are immediately ahead of us. I think this problem literally dwarfs virtually any other problem that we can see in the area. I think however that the fact of the enormity of this problem must not blind us to a host of critical but somewhat or relatively somewhat smaller problems. A very good example of the kind of thing that we've had in the past I think is brought up by the refugee problem. We have managed over the years since the emigration of the majority of the Arab community from then Palestine
Mandate to keep them alive. We spend about three dollars a month ministering to all of their human needs including education health housing and food. We have argued constructively and with statesman like responsibility in the past that we did not have the money to equip these people to be rebuilt military did to live in societies again that marginal extra dollar a month was simply not available. And it seems to me that this is the kind of thing which exemplifies the nature of this. What I regarded as a dreary passion play in the Middle East. The fact is that we simply cannot take what have been in the past regarded as sober serious short term and responsible views on such a problem. Rather we must break out of the confines that we've looked at the problem and to begin to do something fundamental about revising the nature of it.
I think on this particular issue it's perfectly clear that we've got to use this period of crisis to recognise that we've got to begin. Collectively through the United Nations a program of education and training which will move the Arab refugees toward the possibility of re-entering society. It seems to me that the same kind of thing can be said about the water problem. We have as one of the other speakers mentioned in the past drawn up the various schemes for allocating water for hopefully designing ways that we can cut down on some of the nature of the water problems. The more difficult aspects now with the kind of technology that we have we are able to break out of this problem through desalination and we should be able to make quite major strides toward removing this small irritant from the overall problem. A similar kind of thing which Mr. Binder went into a good deal
in his talk is the problem that as long as the Egyptians and many other peoples in the world feel an increasing desperation. In there a scramble to acquire the things of life which they have come to think of as necessities. As long as they are are frustrated in this for perhaps domestic reasons perhaps good and sufficient reasons but nonetheless frustrated our chances of achieving a long term and stable peace in the area are extremely minimal. It seems to me that we have begun to make some minor moves in this direction. But again I think it is a sobering factor in the evaluation of America's ability to affect the course of world events and we consider what a tiny fraction of our gross national product we are today putting into moves in this direction in comparison to what we were doing in the days of the Marshall Plan. I
think in short that I thought of this at the table would probably agree that there is no magic solution and there probably in many areas is no rational solution. One of the terrible problems of looking at world affairs is that we all seek all the time the moral and the rational. I think we should continue to do so. But we should also recognize that very often people are not moved by either one of these two issues in their more critical aspects. It's sobering I think that in 1036. Having reached a position in the then Palestine Mandate of the violent antagonism between the Arab and the Jewish community the British. Are shaking their heads in collective sorrow over their inability to get these two peoples to live and work together in a small country raised a traditional British suggestion through a traditional British slogan that after all. Half a loaf is better than no bread so that
was a rather good idea simply to partition the country. This obviously has not worked over the years and it seems to me that it is extremely unlikely to work. I think therefore that probably what we are going to be faced with if we are wise enough to take the challenge as a result of this crisis is a throwing back into the hopper. If you will of virtually all of the outstanding issues of the Palestine problem to see if we can't break down some of their component parts for a more sensible long term action. And if we can't also break out of some of the confines of the problem to move in what is not a short term tactical approach but rather a long term strategic approach which God willing will keep us from getting into a nuclear war in which the problems of the Middle East will be truly solved. Thank you.
Middle East crisis
Panel discussion, part one
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-qj77z088).
This program presents the second part of a panel discussion on unrest in the Middle East.
A panel discussion sponsored June 1, 1967, by University of Chicago Center for Policy Study. Participants: Leonard Binder and William R. Polk of University of Chicago, Tahseen Bashir of Arab States Delegation, Benjamin Halpern of Brandeis University.
Global Affairs
Public Affairs
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Panelist: Binder, Leonard
Panelist: Polk, William R. (William Roe), 1929-
Panelist: Basheer, Tahseen
Panelist: Halpern, Ben
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:56
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Middle East crisis; Panel discussion, part one,” 1967-06-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 16, 2021,
MLA: “Middle East crisis; Panel discussion, part one.” 1967-06-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 16, 2021. <>.
APA: Middle East crisis; Panel discussion, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from