This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

Eisenhower's lesson for Bush

Mideast summit is an occasion for U.S. to use its clout with Israel


The year was 1956. Following Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26, Israel colluded with Britain and France to gain control of the strategically important waterway, which connects Europe with Asia without having to circumnavigate Africa.

Although the campaign was initially successful -- Israel managed to occupy the Sinai desert within a few days -- it rapidly deteriorated into a political fiasco. Both the Soviet Union and the United States demanded an immediate cease-fire and managed to arrest the imperial aspirations of the attacking parties. By Nov. 21, three weeks after the campaign began and two weeks after the implementation of a cease-fire, a United Nations Emergency Force reached Port Said, and a month later the Anglo-French forces left Egyptian soil.

Israeli historian Benny Morris reminds us that both Britain and France lost their regional clout as a result of the Suez Campaign, and their position as protectors of Western interests in the Middle East was largely taken over by the United States.

-- Hulton Archives/
Getty Images

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office during this historical juncture and many people may recall the Eisenhower Doctrine, delivered as a message to Congress on Jan. 5, 1957, in response to the Soviet Union’s efforts to make further inroads in the Middle East following the war. Eisenhower declared that the United States would not hesitate to use force if its vital interests were threatened by the Soviet Union and that countries taking a stance against communism would be granted aid in various forms. What most people do not remember, however, is that Eisenhower also dealt directly with Israel during this period, forcing the nascent state to bow down to U.S. national interests.

Eisenhower was already in his second term and had nothing to lose. Following the United Nations’ vote calling upon all invading armies to withdraw from Egyptian soil, he instructed acting Secretary of State Herbert Hoover Jr. to deliver a threat to Israel: The United States would cut all aid and encourage Israel’s expulsion from the United Nations if it did not abide by the General Assembly’s resolution.

Though many decision-makers in Israel were alarmed by the threat, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion reasoned that over time the world would grow used to Israel’s occupation of key strategic sites in the Sinai and instructed the military to withdraw slowly but to remain in the Gaza Strip and Sharam ash-Sheikh, a small town through which the Straits of Tiran are controlled. Three months after the United Nations’ resolution and Mr. Hoover’s threat, Israel still occupied these areas.

Ben-Gurion went so far as to declare that Israel would not exit the Gaza Strip “even if the U.S. imposes sanctions,” and instructed the military to establish an administrative government in the region. He did not, however, take into account Eisenhower’s resolve.

Recognizing that Israel’s ongoing occupation of Egyptian land would jeopardize its own regional interests, the White House guaranteed Israel’s right to self-defense but demanded that it fully withdraw from all territories that had been seized during the Suez campaign. On March 6, 1957, Ben-Gurion finally bowed to U.S. pressure.

Fifty years have passed since Eisenhower’s decision to compel Israel to abide by a U.N. resolution, and while much has changed over the years, many of the key issues involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, like the notion of land for peace, remain strikingly similar. Consequently, Eisenhower’s tenacity should serve as a lesson for President George W. Bush as he prepares for the international Middle East summit scheduled for November.

If the United States wishes to remain credible in the eyes of its Arab and European allies, it must force Israel to abide by U.N. Resolution 242. Mr. Bush must insist that Israel dismantle all of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and fully withdraw to the 1967 borders. The Palestinians should be able to establish a state with their capital in East Jerusalem, and a creative solution to the refugee problem must be found and agreed upon.

President Bush’s unwavering support for such a solution would help counter many of the accusations voiced against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and would empower the region’s moderate forces -- those who are struggling for a democratic Middle East.

Ironically, if Mr. Bush stands firm like Eisenhower and uses his weight to ensure a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he will not only be advancing U.S. national interests, but Israeli interests as well. Due to the rapid advancement of modern warfare, Israel’s military and technological edge will not be enough to secure its borders. Only peace can do that. Therefore, as an Israeli Jew who wants his children and future grandchildren to live in the region in peace, I can safely assert that Mr. Bush would be doing Israel’s citizenry a great service by pressuring the government for a full withdrawal.

Dr. Neve Gordon teaches in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: