Knesset Debates Israeli Withdrawal from Sinai

November 14, 1956

The Knesset debates Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s announcement that Israeli troops will withdraw from Sinai after the 1956 Suez War.

A week earlier, Ben-Gurion announced on Israeli radio that Israel would withdraw its troops from the Sinai following the 1956 Suez War. The brief war had been a collusively planned operation between Britain, France and Israel aimed at toppling Egyptian President Nasser and securing the Suez Canal for international shipping. In just five days, Egypt had lost all of Sinai to Israel.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was reelected in the midst of the hostilities, sent a letter to Ben-Gurion stating, “I must say Mr. Prime Minister, that the United States views these reports (reports that Israel did not intend to withdraw from Sinai as part of the cease fire agreement) if true, with deep concern…It is our belief that as a matter of highest priority peace should be restored and foreign troops, except for United Nations forces withdrawn from Egypt, after which new and energetic steps should be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations to solve the basic problems which have given rise to the present difficulty.”

Ben-Gurion read the entirety of President Eisenhower’s letter as part of his radio address and included his reply to the President in which he stated, “In view of the United Nations resolutions regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Egypt and the creation of an international force, we will upon the conclusion of satisfactory arrangements with the United Nations in connection with the international forces entering the Suez Canal area, withdraw our forces.”

Despite Ben-Gurion’s assurances of a withdrawal to both the United States and the Israeli public in his November 8th radio address, Israeli troops were still in place, when on November 14th, the issue was brought up in the Knesset by two different MKs. First Moshe Sneh, a member of Maki, the Communist Party, raised objection not just to the delay in withdrawing the troops but to the entire operation and government policy towards “areas of Palestine which are outside the State of Israel” as a whole. Sneh accused the government of ignoring, “the existence of the Palestinian Arab people of one million individuals, disregard(ing) the bitter fate of homeless refugees and overlooking its right to national existence.” Sneh called on the Knesset to forge a new path towards mutual agreement. His plea was voted down by a vote of 76 to 3.

Also speaking in the Knesset on the 14th was Aryeh Ben Eliezer of the Herut party. Ben Eliezer was critical of the Prime Minister’s radio address and accused him of a complete turnaround in regards to his views on Israeli troops in the Sinai. The Prime Minister had in his radio address, in his opinion, reversed the decision of the Knesset which had approved of his initial stance of not removing Israeli troops. Ben Eliezer expressed that without a negotiated peace process, Israel should not withdraw its troops. Withdrawal would only embolden Nasser and Ben Eliezer pointed out that the Egyptian leader was acting, “as if he were the victor, trying to adapt the UN resolutions to his needs and plans, and proving that his plans to attack Israel at some other time are still in effect.”

Ben Eliezer called for a debate on the Prime Minister’s decision which was rejected by a vote of 66-13. Israel would ultimately withdraw from Sinai in March 1957 and UN troops were put into place. However, in May 1967 those UN monitors were withdrawn, knowing that the winds of war were at hand. Nasser re-militarized Sinai, resulting in Israel’s decision to strike pre-emptively (the June 1967 war) Egyptian forces that threatened Israel and its oil supply routes to Elat. The photo above shows Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan holding a press conference about the 1956 War on November 14, 1956.