Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Abba Eban,

Former Israeli Ambassador to U.N. and U.S.
Jan. 29, 1990

by Abba Eban

I am very grateful to you, President Wefald, for the warmth and sincerity of your welcome. Let me assure you that it does me no harm at all to hear my qualities described with objective restraint. A chairman's introductions are a unique and particular form of literary expression. The objective is to reconcile courtesy with truth, if possible with some bias in favor of courtesy, and this has been most generously accomplished this morning.

I am certainly in much better heart and spirit than on the first occasion on which I was ever presented to an audience in the United States. On that occasion the chairman, apologizing for the brevity of his introduction, said, "I as your chairman do not have to make a long and boring speech because we have invited Abba Eban here for that purpose." And even that memory faded into oblivion when nine years later, I renounced my two embassies in the United States and the United Nations. By that time chairmen's introductions were becoming much more effusive, and the last chairman who sped me on my homeward journey said, "Abba Eban is well-known throughout the entire civilized world and also here in the Bronx."

My second tribute of gratitude goes out to all of you for converging here in such numbers today. By this you bear witness to the constructive disquiet with which the American people follows the fortunes of the Middle East in this turbulent and formative hour. It is certainly an inspiring experience to offer these observations ostensibly so far from my home ground and deep in the heartland of the United States of America. Certainly those of your forefathers who decided to purchase Kansas in a triumphant real estate transaction have no reason to regret either their foresight or its consequences.

Today there are no heartlands, no isolation, no places removed from the general preoccupation and concern of humanity. We live in the age of the communications revolution, which has brought all parts of the human race into growing proximity and discourse. But even now there are some areas in the human preoccupation which have a special priority, and it is in that sense that I invite you to consider that in spite of the turbulent and inspiring events which have swept over central and eastern Europe, the Middle East, the cradle and the source of our civilizations, still deserves a large part of your national and public concern. But for the dramatic events in our region in the past two years, Israel would have devoted last year to the celebration of the 40th anniversary of its independence. Those of you who were in our country during that period can bear witness with me that Israelis did not celebrate that event in any spirit of ecstatic satisfaction. We approached the anniversary in a deeply reflective mood. We were caught up in the pathos between the unlimited dreams of the past and the harsh realities of the present. All newly born societies experience that particular transition.

In order to seize the ears and the imagination of the world we had to indulge in a somewhat Utopian rhetoric. We appealed to biblical memories; we appealed to ancient prophecy; we appealed to the depth of our agony and suffering. How could we ever have done otherwise? We appealed to the spirit of justice and equality, which demanded that the world community could not constitute itself without a Jewish thread in the diverse international tapestry.

Now, the only trouble with Utopia is that it does not exist, and you might have noticed that all those who in literature have described the ideal society have taken the precaution of situating their ideal society either on a desert island or on the peak of some inaccessible mountain, thus avoiding the two conditions which operate against Utopia: boundaries and neighbors. Utopia has no boundaries and no neighbors; Plato's republic has no foreign policy. Well, Israel has had a different destiny. It has faced the necessity not only to live up to its ideals, but also to live the harsh realities and compromises and defects of the existing world system.

Well, we certainly do have boundaries, and across those boundaries we have been afflicted by the most implacable hostility that has ever affected any family of the human race. As for neighbors, well, I as a Jew have no trouble with the Christian doctrine, that one ought to love one's enemies and also love one's neighbors. That is quite logical because they are usually the same people. Israel, despite many of its other successes, has not yet come into an orderly system of regional harmony. And this was the reason we expressed our jubilation at 40 years of independence with this undercurrent of anxiety, and yet we were and are entitled to celebrate our anniversaries.

When everything is said and done and written, Israel is a great and noble adventure. It is primarily, of course, a spectacle of growth, an embattled community of 650,000 when independence was proclaimed, and now in a country of 4.5 million, 3.5 million Jews, perhaps the highest rate of demographic growth of any modern state.

It is the growth also of an economy which had nothing to offer to the world in those days, but which now in the last recorded year sent its goods and services to the extent of $12 billion into the world markets, perhaps surprisingly the highest rate of exportable surplus of any nation state.

It is the growth of a society more particularly, the rescue of our society from the dangers of anarchy and disintegration, which many predicted for us in the light of the bewildering variety of tongues and origins and backgrounds and temperaments out of which came our immigrant flood, the growth of a culture.

Israel's growth is more exactly the revival of mankind's oldest culture, the culture of the Jewish people, which stretches across the entire range of man's intellectual and modern experience from the early dawn of its roots until the shining possibilities of its future, from Biblical prophecy to atomic science, the one national whose conscience adherence has followed the whole of that continuous pageant.

It is the growth of power, of a people which in the days of its early struggles in the late 1940s was concretely and credibly faced with the possibility of physical extinction, and which now emerges with a defensive and deterrent power able to meet any likely or conceivable challenge from outside its region.

Well, these are Israel's achievements.

I could, in fact, spend our brief encounter today doing nothing but to claim the rhetoric of self-congratulation. Some of Israel's friends in the world, especially in the United States, believe that we expect nothing from them except uncritical adulation to what I have called the Jewish mother syndrome, the belief that the off-spring is entirely free of any limitation or defect. Well, the Jewish mother approach does have its emotional satisfactions, but it also has its intellectual dangers, one of which is the danger lest the recipients of the praise should come to believe everything said on their behalf, and thereby become virtually unfit for normal human contact. I, myself, had a Jewish mother who used to say and believe that I had attained the highest peaks of moral and intellectual perfection, and the fact that it is more or less true in my particular case does not vindicate it as a general principle.

Forgive me, therefore, if I associate you this morning not only with our achievements and successes, but also with our dilemmas, our challenges, and with the special anguish of the present hour. For the truth is that Israel faces its fifth decade in unanticipated growth of material power, and yet in deep confusion about its structure and its values. The crisis of its structure comes to prominent expression against the comparative picture of modern reality.

The crisis of structure means, of course, the condition in which Israel, until then an immaculate democracy, found itself in: the position of exercising a coercive jurisdiction over more than a million, then more than 1.5 million, now 1.7 million, members of another nation recognized by the whole world as possessing its own identity and particularity, and held under our jurisdiction by nothing except superior military force. Not for one single moment in 24 hours of any day do these two peoples the Israelis in the area defined as sovereign areas by our parliament, and the Palestinians in the West Bank in Gaza share a single common experience, a sense of common origin, common hope, common tongue, common faith, common aspiration. There does not exist upon the surface of the inhabited globe any two communities between which there is a lesser flow of common destiny and aspiration.

That is the crisis of Israel's structure. It is at the source, of course, of the unresolved regional tension. It is also the origin and the cause of many of Israel's international complications.

We have now reached a point, which I call a volcanic point, in which the fact that there is no durability in this structure now compels, I believe, universal international assent. This is a volcanic situation. It cannot improve by the passage of time, and therefore, it does present for international diplomacy a challenge that contemporary international diplomacy is now too slow to understand and to conceive. It is an algebraic problem. It is not because we are Jews and they are Moslems, it is not because we are Israelis and they are Palestinians that this particular structural paradox seems to me explosive and, therefore, inexorably transitory. There are no conditions in which two people can find harmony in conditions such as these.

For example, in a seminar in Holland a few months ago I asked my courteous hosts, whether Holland, for the sake of more territory heaven knows they could do with it: Israel's size with the population of fourteen million was able to achieve a larger territorial framework by incorporating five million Germans unwillingly into their area. Would not everybody know that this was suicide? How far back do you have to go in European history to understand that a nation's security is not only or primarily a function of its territorial size, it is a function of its inner cohesion, of the harmony that makes people want to live together under the same flag and to revere the same anthem, and to nourish the same memories, and to express the same hopes. And in the absence of that unifying voluntary energy, no national society can be assured of any degree of stability. Does this even have to be proved in the conditions of today? Because what are the major two lessons which reflect themselves from the east European democratic revolution on to the Middle East, and especially on to the Arab-Israeli relationship?

The first lesson is this: Every nation justifiably requires to be represented by spokesmen of its own choice. And, therefore, the question whether we should speak to the Palestine organizations or they to us is entirely transcended by the knowledge that in any negotiation, there is value only if each party selects its own representatives. Therefore, in Washington the day before yesterday, when I found the Israeli and the United States government sitting down to decide who shall represent the Palestinian nation, I was seized by a sense of absurdity.

I, therefore, offer the following breathtaking innovation. My proposal is that Israelis should compose the Israeli delegation, the United States should appoint the American representatives, Egypt should appoint the Egyptian representatives, and the Palestinians should appoint the Palestinian representatives. It is not my concern who they are, PLO, ABC, XYZ. I suggest that we disinterest ourselves entirely from this problem, because if your adversary negotiator does not draw his mandate from his own people, then your negotiation with him will in any case be sterile. And, therefore, I do not fully accept the idea that Americans and Israelis should regard themselves as competent to appoint the adversary negotiating representatives.

We had a very satisfactory discussion with what are called moderate Lebanese in 1982 at the height of the conflict. They were appointed by the Maranite Christian community. We met there up in Keliamin Shomar, an Arab village across the boundary. We drank excellent wine, we spoke elegant French, we signed an agreement entirely satisfactory to us. All that was wrong was the signature. Because it was signed by President Amin Gemayil, whose authority expires at the front porch of his house, it was the signature of somebody who was signing a check without having a bank account. Therefore, the champagne hardly had time for its effervescence to subside before it became obvious that this was a sterile objective. It does not matter if your partners in the negotiation are abrasive, radical; it is more likely that they should be than they should not be.

I remind you that peace talks always take place between nations that have been at war. And, therefore, war is the prior assumption of a peace treaty. You do not have peace negotiations between the United States and Canada, or between Holland and Luxembourg, and therefore, the task is not to be fooled, it is to understand exactly what each party believes, what are the inner convictions which burn within its soul. Well, the people of Eastern Europe have suddenly decided that each of them must be represented by a spokesman of its own choice.

The second lesson is this: The crisis of nationhood. It was fondly believed after the Second World War that the nation-state was obsolete, and the celebrated historian, Professor Toynbee, said that the nation is on the way to extinction, because no nation-state can independently and autonomously maintain its own security, its own economy, its own trade, so the nation-state is doomed. But since then about a 100 new nation-states have been founded.

In other words, history has had the audacity to flow in a direction opposite to that which Professor Toynbee predicted, and this causes a great deal of academic anguish on the part of those whose prophecies have proved to be in vain. But now we face the crisis of knowing exactly what makes a nation-state viable, and the lesson is this: You cannot have a binational or a multinational structure except on the basis of consent and equality. Peoples who do not wish to live together, and especially which do not have to live one under the jurisdiction of another, cannot by military force be coerced into accepting that fate.

And, therefore, relating this to our own parochial, but for us, crucial area: if the British cannot rule India, if the French cannot rule Algeria, if the Dutch cannot rule Indonesia, if the Belgians cannot rule the Congo, if the Portuguese cannot rule Angola and Mozambique, if the Soviet Union cannot rule Estonia and Lithuania without their consent, why does anybody think that Israel can rule another nation half its own size, except in conditions which must shortly yield to an agreement based on consent and equality. And consent and equality are not the conditions in which the present Israeli-Palestinian structure exists today. There is neither consent, nor is there equality.

Therefore, it all really comes back to this country, it conies back to the most pregnant and resonant sentence ever offered in modern political thought. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the government. And this Jeffersonian statement now resonates throughout history with the most awe inspiring relevance: governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This statement was made in 1776, but is that not the central theme of the year of 1990?

And therefore, the question is how can we replace this structure with one which is dominated by consent and by equality? One of the answers takes me back in memory. Nostalgia is not what it used to be, yet I cannot forget that it is now many a decade since I first came to the United States to join, and a few months thereafter to lead, Israel's struggle for integration into the family of sovereign states. This was a dramatic change in our history's fortune. It takes us back to the years immediately on the morrow of the Second World War. The Jewish people was at the lowest ebb of its fortunes in all the thousands of years of its continuous history. Millions of our kinsmen had been butchered and slaughtered in Europe. A million Jewish children had been thrown unbelievably into the furnace. From the depths of man's divided nature there had sprung at the throat of the Jewish people the most violent hatred that had ever convulsed the spirit of man.

Many people wondered whether this might not be the end of the march of the Jewish people across history's stage. How could a people with its manpower depleted, its self-confidence and dignity dragged down in a whole decade of defamation, how could it summon the optimism, the buoyancy, the resilience with which to embark upon a new birth of freedom? And yet within a few years of that moment of weakness, the flag of Israel was aloft in its own name and pride.

The attack had been repulsed, the gates had been opened, and national society was being fashioned, and new warm waves of pride flowed into every home in the length and breadth of the world in which the legacy and the traditions of this people were cherished and revered.

A few years earlier, in addition to the haunting memories of the Holocaust, we faced a situation of siege and alienation in the land in which the national home had been promised. The world community was constituting itself in the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. Every nation behind its own name and flag except that nation that had suffered most from the absence of a recognized and legitimate identity, the Jewish representatives were up there in some remote gallery.

Well, this was a fantastic recuperation, and it came as a result of an international action, because the breakthrough in the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to its homeland preceded and inspired its other victories on the battlefield as well. In other words, there was a brief shining moment of international grace which enabled the Jewish people to emerge into its new condition. Provoked perhaps by a sense of guilt at not having been able to prevent our agony, inspired perhaps by a sense of what the word "Israel" means in the spiritual history of mankind, but perhaps also dictated by a sense of justice and equality. Whatever the reasons, this was a revolutionary achievement.

Yes, but to everything there is a price, and I have to recall, indeed I have to bear witness perhaps as the last central witness in that drama, that in order to achieve that transition which is the source of our present strength and pride, we had to promise. We promised that we would not claim 100 percent of the territory and 100 percent of the sovereignty. In the area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, we promised that we would share sovereignty and that we would share territory with the other people.

Partition was the slogan under which we went into battle. I said, on behalf of the Jewish people, "This land of ours, that for us is the land of Israel, but others call Palestine, this is a land of two histories, a land of two cultures, a land of two tongues, a land of two faiths, of two national memories, of two dreams, and of two aspirations. Duality is written into the very texture and fabric, the history and the geography of this land and, therefore, duality must be expressed in its political structure. Territory and sovereignty must be shared."

And if through the lack of affinity it cannot be shared within a single sovereignty, then the territory and the sovereignty must be shared, that is, to say, divided. I can tell you that if we had claimed then 100 percent of the sovereignty and 100 percent of the territory, the number of nations that would have given us the support of their hand and voice would have been zero, and the world community would have organized successfully to prevent our emergence.

Well, that was the issue then and that is the issue today. There is much more paradox than logic in history. Then it was the Palestine nations who said that they must have 100 percent of the territory, they must have 100 percent of the sovereignty. There is not any room for the Jewish state of Israel. But because they claimed everything, they got nothing. Because modern history tells us that those who say all or nothing are much more likely to get nothing than to get all.

Now apparently under the attrition of their own faith and the weakness of their claim to absolute 100 percentism, there are some amongst them that have a willingness to share. And the Israeli dilemma is, should we not therefore recall the origins of our statehood and put the willingness to share, that is to say, to separate but equal and harmonious identities between ourselves and the neighboring nation, until we could take a model from other nations, especially from the European community. In that revolutionary experiment, which I think has gone beyond experimental change, I think that European integration has even transcended the particularism of DeGaulle, and I think it is going to transcend also the particularity of Margaret Thatcher.

There is not any escape except for the development of momentum in the European community. What is its basis? Its basis is that there is the kind of sovereignty which is not absolute, a sovereignty which expresses a nation's flag and its culture, its judicial system, but which is yet diluted by integration and mutual accessibility. The kind of sovereignty in the European community is not any longer a sovereignty in which every nation can do what it likes. They cannot do exactly what they like. They are committed to a common foreign policy. They are committed to common economic norms. Their boundaries are bridges and no longer barriers.

Why cannot these three peoples, the Israeli, the Jordanian, and the Palestinian people each express sovereignty diluted by community or confederative limitations? This would mean that in renouncing territory we do not open the way to unbridled rearmament. The area from which withdrawal takes place can be and must be demilitarized, because we are not going to have hostile tanks within a few miles of our homes. It can and should be submitted to community obligations, a common foreign policy security.

People should move freely as they do between the three original states in the European unity system, the Benelux: Belgium and the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The three became the six, and the six became the nine, and the nine became the twelve. That is the kind of boundary and the sort of structure to which we should aspire. And I would predict that if we can reach an agreement on structure, the precise definitions of boundaries and security arrangements will be much less abrasive.

You will recall that the allies of the 1950s would not have agreed to allow sovereignty to the Federal Republic of Germany if it had not accepted membership in a community and security guarantees with all the constraints that that imposed. Sovereignty must be respected and at the same time transcended.

Therefore, it seems to me that the moment is right for a new attempt to solve the basic problems of the Israeli-Arab relationship. Well, the opportunities are there; Middle Eastern history proves that. In fact, Middle Eastern nations have never missed a chance of losing an opportunity. And if what I have said to you is regarded as reasonable, then that is a very damaging diagnosis to make, because reason has played a very small part in world history and no part whatever in the history of the Middle East. Passions, emotions, memories, vengeance, pride, emotion, honor, dignity, metaphysical hopes, messianic, these have dominated the Middle Eastern world.

It is time that we celebrated the supremacy of reason. That I believe is the answer, and that we approach our decisions not in the pretense of altruism, but in self-interest. I want Israel to have a more compact structure, not because I want to do something for the Palestinians; that is not my responsibility. I want to do something for Israel. And the damage inflicted by the occupational relationship is damage that is done much more to ourselves who exercise it, than by those who are its unwilling subjects.

My own diplomatic experience tells me that all nations take their decisions in the name of self-interest and then explain their decisions in the name of self-sacrificial altruism. But here is something in which surely self-interest and enlightened principle come together. David Lloyd George once said, "I am a man of principle, but one of my principles is expedience." Here we have to do that which is both principled and expedient.

And this brings me at the end to a somewhat mournful dirge about the lack of preoccupation that now afflicts our area. There has been what is euphemistically called a peace process. The peace process means that Israelis and Palestinians should have discourse in order to decide upon their relationships, and ultimately upon their functional powers, and ultimately upon their borders. In other words, the issues really are: what are the areas of sovereignty, what is the status of that population, what is the status of those territories, and what is the ideal structural relationship in which Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians should live? Yes, but we were told before that there must be an election. Well, we were told before the election there must be a dialogue about the election, and that should be discussed in Cairo. Yes, but before you can meet in Cairo you have got to have a meeting in Washington. It is the house that Jack built. And before you can have that meeting in Washington you must agree on the conditions in which you can negotiate in Washington, about the conditions for the negotiation in Cairo, about the conditions for the election, and about the conditions for the eventual structure.

Thus every day some new level of procrastination intervenes, and therefore, you will not here find a great admirer of the current peace process. I happened to meet Secretary Baker the night before last at a cocktail party of course, it is impossible to communicate anything at a cocktail party. I have said that the cocktail party is the only human institution for which there is not even a theoretical justification, because, see, it implies proximity without communication. But at our table, at a dinner which was supposed to be devoted to humor, we were all asked to speculate what are the least likely things to happen in 1990, and I wrote down the least likely things to happen in 1990 are a snowstorm in the Sahara and an election of the West Bank in Gaza. Because so long as their accumulation of prior conditions is not broken, then there is not likely to be success, and if I tell you that this requires a new sense of conscience in Israel, it means much greater development in the Palestinian progress towards pragmatic realism, more even than has been made.

I think it also requires more help from the United States, because it is the third party that has been decisive in the contractual history between our peoples. When there has been assertive mediation, such as that of President Carter in bringing about the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, such as that of Secretary Kissinger in bringing about the disengagement agreements of 1974 and 1975, without which the Yom Kippur war would have been resumed, the third party is crucial. The two parties alone cannot reach a solution. They can each state their own positions, but if there is nobody in the middle to bridge the gap, and as it were, to halve the differences, they simply disperse, sometimes in good will and sometimes in bad will, but in the consciousness of their own divisions.

We cannot do this alone and, therefore, I believe that there should be a critical attitude to the relatively quiescent and procrastinatory nature of American diplomacy in our region.

We are now told that the meeting of foreign ministers will not take place in January, perhaps in February, more likely in March, and perhaps in April. Now in the meantime life is not standing still, radicalism is growing, casualties are mounting both in Israel and on the Arab side. Moderate realistic elements are being besieged by elements much more radical and much more insensitive to compromise, and therefore, to say that something can wait for a month or a year seems to me lacking in responsibility. It seems to me that if an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is not held now, then the sun might never rise upon it again.

And therefore, with all of the drama of Bucharest and of Belgrade and of Berlin and East Germany, and of the Soviet Union itself, the Middle East should come back somehow into the spectrum of American policy. I am not so sure if I am saying this in an objective spirit. Secretary Kissinger in his memoirs formulates my definition of objectivity. I think it is on page 1,750 of the second volume. In my review of that book in a European newspaper, I said that I do not know if Henry is a great writer, but if you get through this book you have got to be a great reader. He describes what he says is my definition of objectivity. He says, "Eban's definition of objectivity is the blind acceptance of 100 percent of Eban's views." Well, that is fair enough. I do not believe that anybody else has a different definition of objectivity. He certainly has not.

But whether we can have an objective understanding, the United States and Israel should move together in a certain strategy, using the good office of the Egyptian government, which has made a triumphant recuperation from the isolation which it suffered in the name of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty. Bear in mind that when President Mubarek took office Egypt was reviled by all the other members of the Arab league, was abused by the PLO, was banished from the League of Moslem states, lost its position in the organization of the Arab Unity, and was no longer an accepted member of the non-aligned group. Today every single Arab ambassador has come back to Cairo, to Cairo in which the flag of the Israeli embassy flies. Egypt is now the president of the organization of African Unity, the vice president of the non-aligned movement, and we shall use that prestige in order to bring about an association of Israel and Egypt and Jordan, and whatever representation the Palestinians decide in order to bring this matter back to its urgency.

And in making this hope and appeal on Israel's behalf, to what can I appeal, except to that which we have together accomplished in these 40 years. We have not disappointed the hopes of all our friends, the state that we have built, the society that we have fashioned, the culture that we have revived, the landscapes that we have brought back into fertility and life, the graves that we have dug, the tears that we have shed because of them. The spirits that have been roused, the inexpressible hopes that have been kindled. These are all part of the memories of those four decades, and now those years are over. Over and yet in a sense unending and forever alive, for as those 40 years sink down beneath the horizon they leave behind a twilight streaked with everlasting fire that will live on and on deep in the mind and heart of our nation as long as any memory of the past endures. A new dimension has been added to our Jewish experience, and the excoriation of it will take many years.

This then is our message. To those who have sustained us, do not abandon us in the middle of the road. Stand with us, constant in purpose, steadfast in resolve, until the obstacles are surmounted and the task is done.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

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