Eisenhower Urges Israel to Adhere to UN Resolutions
Credit: Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum

February 20, 1957

In a nationally televised radio and television address to the American people, President Dwight Eisenhower discusses the situation in the Middle East in the aftermath of the October 1956 Suez War.  In his speech, the President emphasizes the need for Israel to abide by the United Nations Resolutions regarding withdrawal from Sinai and the Gaza Strip.  The address came at a time when friction was high between the US and Israel as Israel sought rights and guarantees from the international community and especially the US prior to withdrawal.

In early November 1956, the UN General Assembly, with support from both the United States and USSR,  passed a series of resolutions calling for a ceasefire and a withdrawal of troops from Sinai. Britain and France, who had planned and executed the October 1956 action together with Israel. would withdraw their forces in December 1956.  Israel withdrew her troops from most of the territories, with the exception of the Gaza Strip and the area around the Straits of Tiran.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sought assurances from the international community regarding freedom of navigation to the port of Eilat as well as ensuring a prevention of Egyptian military buildup in Gaza.  Despite the fact that in November he had pledged a full Israeli withdrawal during a national radio address, both Ben-Gurion and the Knesset refused to authorize a complete withdrawal.

On February 11, 1957, just weeks after his second inauguration, President Eisenhower delivered a memorandum to the government of Israel outlining US policies once Israel agreed to withdraw.  The memo was released to the public on February 17.  In his February 20 radio and television address, Eisenhower stated, “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.”

Eisenhower’s strong stance resulted in several days of debate in the Knesset as well as increased negotiations between Israel and the United States.  On March 1, 1957, after receiving a guarantee from the United States to affirm Israel’s right of passage through the Straits of Tiran and the UN agreed to the stationing of UN emergency forces in Sinai, Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, announced at the United Nations that Israel would withdraw from all the territories.

In May 1967 those UN monitors were themselves withdrawn by Nasser, knowing that the winds of war were at hand. Nasser re-militarized Sinai, resulting in Israel’s decision to preemptively strike (the June 1967 war) Egyptian forces that threatened Israel and its oil supply routes to Eilat. The photo shows Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and President Eisenhower in the White House in 1960.

An audio excerpt of the address is available here: http://tinyurl.com/lpgqm8m

The full transcript of the President’s speech from February 20, 1957 is available here: http://tinyurl.com/m8s5bt5