April 19, 2024

1955. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion Returns Amid Tensions with Egypt

David Ben-Gurion Returns to Power
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the opening session of the Knesset in 1949
Bill Downs

CBS Jerusalem

November 1955

David Ben-Gurion is scheduled to give a foreign affairs statement before the Knesset on Wednesday. It will serve to intensify the increased discussion about whether the fiery old Zionist warrior should, like Churchill, finally be put to pasture.

Various political leaders who have been discussing the internal political picture following the growth of the right-wing in the last election are now fond of pointing out that perhaps Ben-Gurion faces "honorable retirement," as did Churchill—that Churchill had his Eden and Ben-Gurion has his Sharett.

Like Churchill, Ben-Gurion is certainly the most respected citizen in his nation. But more and more public thrusts are being directed at him, and there is a general feeling that Israel wants to terminate its pioneering phase and solidify its present gains.

Typical was the comment of a CBS News driver when we completed an interview with Ben-Gurion last week. The driver asked, "Was he wearing his shepherd's uniform?" Ben-Gurion had on battledress, which is now being referred to jokingly. Like Churchill's siren suit, the shepherd's uniform seems to be going out of style.

Although the right-wing swing brought a demotion for Sharett back to Foreign Minister, he, like Eden, is considered the almost inevitable successor if there is a change here—particularly after Sharett's propaganda trip in the Big Four foreign ministers conferences in Paris and Geneva which were regarded as a big success, spotlighting Israel's dangerous position and the threat of war following the Egyptian-Communist arms deal.

There have been serious second thoughts here following Ben-Gurion's return to power. Coincident with his designation as the new premier, there was an attack on the Gaza border. Shortly after assuming office, Ben-Gurion told the Knesset he is willing to sit down with Egypt's Nasser and discuss peace or border settlement or any kind of stabilizing arrangement to bring peace to the Middle East. A few hours later, the Israeli army moved in one of the year's biggest actions to remove Egyptian soldiers from Israel soil in the Nitzana area.

Although Ben-Gurion's critics refuse to condemn him or his record or personality, they point out that under the circumstances it would appear difficult for him to ever be able to arrange a sit-down with any Arab leader to discuss settlement of Israeli-Arab troubles.
One non-governmental independent intellectual explained that Ben-Gurion's roots in Poland—he is so intensely interested in establishing, organizing, and securing the new Israeli state that he never really understood or comprehended the subtleties of Arab-Muslim pride, sensitivity, and personality, and thus never worked out a formula to satisfy these "face" requirements in dealing with his neighbors. On the other hand, the same sources pointed out that Sharett was raised among Arabs as a youth, speaks their language, and generally has a greater understanding of their thinking and internal political problems.

Israel's tough retaliatory policy has been successful in maintaining the borders and security of this beachhead nation, although in the process it scared a large part of the world to death earlier this month.

Ben-Gurion's also so-called tough policy stands up as moderate compared with the hotheaded former Irgunists and extreme nationalists in right-wing groupings.

Barring more border crises or fedayeen attacks against civilians, popular temper in this country is right now for peace. The new situation created by Communist arms deliveries to Egypt made plain that Israel must make a long range settlement with her neighbors if possible.

Therein lies renascent talk that Ben-Gurion might be more valuable to Israel as an elder statesmen rather than an active politician. There is no government crisis looming or imminent in Israel, but as demands for settlement grow and as external and internal pressures are exerted on the governments in Cairo and Jerusalem, the situation could change. The only trouble is that no one, including Dulles or Eden, seems anywhere close to the formula for a solution to the problems in the Middle East.