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The Road to the Israeli–Polish Rapprochement

JACOB ABADI|Saturday, July 18, 2009

Polish Israeli relations have been marked by numerous upheavals. The existence of a thriving Jewish community in Poland and the Holocaust experience had profound impact on the bilateral relations from the very beginning. And what made the bilateral relations particularly unique was the fact that Poland became a Soviet satellite in the aftermath of the Second World War.
It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Polish Government was in a position to fashion an independent foreign policy and normalize relations with Israel. It would be inaccurate, however, to assume that Polish foreign policy during the Soviet era was a mere reflection of Moscow will.

This article follows the twists and turns in the bilateral relations from the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 to the present day. Its main argument is that Poland’s attitude toward Israel was determined by considerations of raison d’e´tat and that its leaders used the freedom of action allowed by the Soviet Union to full extent. Successive Polish Governments tended to yield to Soviet pressure on major foreign policy issues and therefore maintained relations with Israel in low profile. But while the official declarations which emanated from Warsaw were highly critical of Israel, contact between the two countries did not cease despite occasional periods of tension.

Throughout the entire period the Polish Government had demonstrated a remarkable sense of pragmatism. It managed to maintain a high level of cooperation with Israel without seriously alienating the Arab states or causing a serious crisis in its relations with its Soviet master. However, it was only with the fall of the Soviet Union that Poland was in a position to grant Israel official recognition. Despite its official declarations, Poland’s policy was largely determined by its desire to improve its political and economic standing in a changing world.

This article discusses the evolution of Israeli–Polish relations by analysing the political and economic imperatives which Poland had to face throughout the entire period. Israeli–Polish relations underwent periods of serious tension throughout the years but there was much in common between the two countries to sustain a reasonable level of understanding and to lead to a rapprochement after several decades. Jews always remember how King Casimir the Great (1333–1370) invited their ancestors to come to Poland with a view to develop the country’s economy, and granted them extensive privileges. Escaping persecution in other parts of Europe, many Jews came Middle Eastern Studies,
Vol. 41, No. 6, 863 – 888, November 2005
ISSN 0026-3206 Print/1743-7881 Online/05/060863-26 ª 2005 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/00263200500261878
to Poland where they prospered and established a new cultural centre after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Although there were episodes of persecution and pogroms after Poland’s division between Russia, Prussia and Austria in the eighteenth century, the Jews lived in relative safety in that country.

Jewish life in Poland was not seriously disrupted until the Nazi conquest in the Second World War. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that leaders of the Yishuv (The Jewish community in Palestine prior to Israel’s independence) contacted the Polish Government and offered to join the Polish war effort with the proviso that they serve only in Jewish battalions. According to Moshe Sharett, the Yishuv’s chief negotiator at that time, the Polish Government agreed to these conditions.

1. This expression of goodwill on the part of the Jews contributed to better understanding between the two sides and despite British objection Poland allowed Jewish refugees to travel freely through its territory during the war.

2. Moreover, the Irgun (one of the Yishuv’s paramilitary forces) was given considerable freedom to recruit members in Poland, and to help survivors immigrate to Palestine.

3. Abraham Stern, member of the Irgun and the founder of the militant Stern Gang, which fought against the British during the Mandatory period, managed to obtain from the Polish Government a commitment to hold training courses for Irgun members and to send arms to its fighters in Palestine. Moreover, the Polish Government supplied the Irgun small amounts of machine-guns, pistols and ammunition.

4. Polish attitude toward the Holocaust was mixed. While many Poles were indifferent to the fate of the Jews, many others rescued Jews as the numerous names at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem testify.

5. According to Marek Kahan, a Polish lawyer who acted on behalf of the members of Betar (the youth organization of the Revisionist wing of the Zionist movement) in Poland prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, many Polish officers identified with the Irgun.

6. According to Israel’s representative in the United Nations, Abba Eban, Poland was one of the nine ‘stalwart defenders’ of the partition principle and its representative participated on the sub-committee which discussed the Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947.

7. And when Israel sought recognition as a sovereign state in 1948, Poland was among the first countries to grant it.

8. Israel’s interest in cordial relations with Poland was keen from the very beginning. Initially, the leaders of the young Israeli state sought to avoid choosing sides in the Cold War. Numerous statements were made by Israeli leaders to that effect. Both Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett stated that Israel would remain friendly with both sides of the global conflict.

9. Israel’s adherence to the principle of ‘non-identification’ underscored the importance of the Soviet Union and Poland, one of its most important satellites, in the eyes of the Israeli Government. In addition, the existence of a large Jewish community in that country increased its importance in the eyes of the Israeli leaders. Shortly after the Second World War the tension between the Soviet Union and the West mounted and Poland became a Soviet satellite. The Soviet Union began to champion the Arab cause and Israeli–Soviet relations deteriorated. The new Soviet orientation was disquieting for the Israelis and there was growing concern that the Jews of Poland would not be allowed to leave the country. In November 1948, Golda 864 J. Abadi Meir, Israel’s Minister in Moscow met the Israeli ministers of Warsaw and Prague in Paris where they expressed their concern that the doors to Jewish immigration would close within six months.

10. The Israeli diplomats came quickly to the realization that the Polish leaders were far from being masters in their own country. It was clear that after its fall into the Soviet orbit Poland was no longer capable of pursuing an independent foreign policy. While Poland’s policy toward Israel was less hostile than that of the Soviet Union it did not differ substantially from the general policy of the Soviet bloc. However, it would be wrong to regard Poland’s policy toward Israel as identical to that of the Soviet Union. The Polish Government followed the Soviet line but managed to use the leeway allowed by Moscow to the full extent. This becomes obvious when one examines the speeches delivered by Polish representatives in the United Nations, which lack the ferocity characteristic of their Soviet masters. A careful examination of the bilateral relations reveals that it was only after Moscow expressed disenchantment over its policy in matters affecting its contacts with Israel and the emigration of Jews that the Polish Government yielded to its pressure.

11. Although the Polish Government followed the Soviet line Israeli–Polish relations had dynamics of their own and to treat the development of the bilateral relations as a mere by-product of Poland’s subservience to Moscow would be too simplistic. For example, the crisis in the bilateral relations, which occurred in December 1952, had little to do with the Soviet Union. In that crisis the Polish Government expressed its resentment over the activities of Israeli agents in Poland, which it regarded as subversive. A memorandum to that effect was sent by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Israeli Legation in Warsaw. It read in part: Both the international law and the recognized international usages regulate the scope of normal activity of diplomatic missions whose task, as is known, consist in representing and defending the interests of their States and their citizens in the State to which they are accredited. In no case does the competence of the diplomatic missions include the promoting, inciting to activity, or inspiring of any political groups in a country in which the diplomatic missions are exercising their political activity as well as the organizing of emigration of citizens of that country or propagating such emigration.

12. Referring to specific activities carried out by the Israelis, the Polish Foreign Ministry
went on to argue that the Israeli Legation did not follow the proper diplomatic etiquette. It blamed the Israeli Legation for pretending to act on behalf of Polish citizens of Jewish nationality, and for attempting to become an ideological and organizational centre for the remnants of defunct Zionist organizations which it described as imperialist and bourgeois. Moreover, it blamed the Israeli Legation for maintaining contacts with right-wing militant Jews such as Ozjasz Raczko. It also blamed the Legation for encouraging Jewish emigration and for interrogating the immigrants regarding their knowledge of Polish state secrets. The Foreign Ministry’s note ended with a demand that the Israeli delegation cease all these activities at once.

13. These allegations may have been exaggerated. Nonetheless, it is easy to understand why a country aspiring to achieve sovereignty might consider them a threat. And as it turned out, the crisis did not end with that note. The Polish Foreign The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 865 Ministry had informed the Israeli Government that it regarded Arie Leon Kubovy, who served as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Israel in Poland a persona non grata because ‘he misused his diplomatic privileges by causing damage to the Polish Popular Republic’ and it asked for his immediate recall.

14. When the Israeli delegation brought the Law of Return to the attention of the Polish Jews the Polish Government blamed the delegation for conducting activities incompatible with its diplomatic functions. The Israeli response was that by doing so the Polish Government was encouraging anti-Semitism in Poland.

15. The official Polish periodical Nowe Drogi contained an article by Michael Miroski which described Zionism as a tool of US imperialism.
16. Yet despite the verbal assault conducted by the Polish Government there were contacts between the two countries, which intensified by the mid 1950s. In the summer of 1955, the Polish Government invited a hundred Israelis to participate in the Festival of the Democratic Youth. It also announced its intention to open an agency in Tel Aviv to convert currency against the Israeli pound. Here again, the action taken by the Polish Government was not dictated by Soviet intervention but by the dire economic circumstances in Poland at that time. And although the guidelines for obtaining a visa to Poland remained strict, Israelis were encouraged to visit that country.

17. Further complications in the bilateral relations occurred in 1956, and they had little to do with Soviet–Polish relations. Agents of the Mossad who cooperated with the CIA at that time became active in Polish affairs. It was in Poland that the Mossad obtained a secret speech by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which was replete with serious allegations against Joseph Stalin. According to Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist named Philip Ben obtained a copy of the speech from a Communist Party official. Stefan Staszewski, then chief of the Communist Party in Poland sent copies of the speech to some of his comrades in Eastern Europe, one of which was Eduard Ochab, the first secretary of the Polish Communist Party. The latter distributed copies of the speech to Western news correspondents, one of which was Ben who later handed it over to the CIA. That this matter caused tension in the bilateral relations was largely due to Ben’s journalistic practices which were not well received by the Polish authorities. The Polish Government was displeased with Ben’s reports about a labour strike in Poznan, which he published in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv and the French daily Le Monde in October 1956. Moreover, Ben smuggled his Polish mistress out of the country.
Consequently, he was declared a persona non grata and ‘an agent of Israel and American intelligence’.

18. In this case as in the previous one, the Polish Government operated as a sovereign country displeased with Israeli actions in Poland and its ties with the Soviet Union had little to do with that response. Polish foreign policy did not deviate much from that of the Soviet Union prior to the Sinai Campaign of 1956. The Soviet Union undertook the task of supporting Egypt against Israel and expected Poland to support it in this endeavor. The Polish regime acquiesced and soon Egyptian navy personnel were trained both in the Soviet Union and Poland.19 However, even then Warsaw sought to fashion its own foreign policy and its attitude toward Israel was somewhat more moderate than that of its Soviet masters. When Wladyslaw Gomulka came to power in Poland in 1956, he declared that all Jews who wished to leave for Israel were free to do so. This declaration resulted in a mass 866 J. Abadi exodus of Jews who left the country between 1956 and 1958. Only 27,000 remained in Poland thereafter.

20. Contacts between Israel and Poland began to increase at that time. This was one way of asserting Polish independence. However, the Polish Government kept a low profile in these matters. Israeli officials were invited to Poland and Polish officials visited Israel. Contacts were also made in the commercial and the cultural fields but these were not given publicity. Commenting on the visit, which a delegation of Polish health officials paid to Israel by the end of 1957, Israel’s Ambassador to Warsaw, Katriel Katz recalled: No one cared to announce its return in the newspaper. This phenomenon is characteristic of the political atmosphere in which Polish–Israeli relations are kept away from the eyes of the public. They are kept at a low-profile out of fear that their positive aspect would become too obvious and thereby trigger unsympathetic interpretations by the big brother, and embarrassing interpretations by those who are fond of finding any sign of deviation from the Soviet line’.

21. Attempting to assert its independence from the Soviet Union the Polish Government sought to gain influence in Washington. Polish officials appreciated the power of the Jewish lobby in the USA. They sought to use it in their economic negotiations but they feared that they would not be able to meet Zionist demands.
22. That the Polish Government did not feel free to promote its ties with Israel was due not only to Soviet pressure but also to the fact that there were many Poles hostile to Israel, not only among the public, but also in the Polish bureaucracy. Manifestations of anti-Semitism were not lacking in Poland and some Poles had openly expressed hostility toward Israel. Thus for example, in a letter of 1 November 1957 to Israel’s Ambassador in Poland the writer stated that the Polish people appealed to Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to bring all ‘Palestinian subjects’ back to Israel because they were involved in a terrorist campaign against the Polish people and destroyed Polish culture. The author stated that these ‘Palestinian subjects’ operated in Government and the media circles and demanded that they return to Israel ‘so that the Polish people would be free of the burden of Israeli colonialism’

23. These manifestations of anti-Semitism had little impact on the Government’s action. Far from willing to keep Israel at such a distance the Polish Government sought to improve the state of bilateral relations. When Poland’s Ambassador Antoni Bida presented his credentials to Israel’s President Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv noted that his arrival coincided with a distinct improvement in Israeli–Polish relations.

24. On 4 December 1957 a Polish medical delegation arrived in Israel. This was the first mission to visit Israel from behind the Iron Curtain. The two countries began negotiating the exchange of medical information and experts. A bilateral trade agreement was signed and the two countries agreed to exchange literature. Poland agreed to buy $10,000 worth of Israeli literature and Israel agreed to purchase $20,000 worth of Polish books. Moreover, Poland adopted a more positive attitude to Jewish immigration to Israel. Observers attributed this change in the policy of the Polish Government to its desire to pursue an independent foreign policy. Commenting about this change the British ambassador in Tel Aviv said, The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 867 ‘the importance of these recent developments must, of course, be interpreted with caution, but in light of the Soviet Union’s current Middle East policy they may reflect increased courage by the Polish Government to take an independent line’.

25. Officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry had often stated that Polish–Israeli relations were not as warm as they hoped. The fact that Arab politicians were trying to score diplomatic victories in Warsaw discouraged the Polish Government from expressions of solidarity with Israel. In an age when pan-Arab sentiment swept through the Arab world it seemed less than prudent to embark on a visible pro- Israeli diplomacy. From the viewpoint of the Polish Government, it was essential to maintain friendship with the Arab states with their numerous votes in the UN, and to maintain commercial relations with them in order to gain access to their markets. This was precisely the reason why the Polish Government endeavoured to expand its ties with Egypt. In 1962, Poland provided $20 million to Egypt, and in 1964 it provided additional $40 million. In addition, a cooperation agreement in economic areas (mines and geological research) was signed between the two countries.

26. Top Egyptian personnel including Deputy Prime Minister, Mahmud Fawzi, Finance Minister, Nazih Delf and Deputy Minister of Economics and Foreign Trade, Hamed El Sayel, came to Warsaw at the invitation of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

27. By the mid 1960s, Poland’s trade with Egypt increased to the extent that Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem expressed their concern.

28. Poland’s tendency to court the Arab states manifested itself in statements made by the Polish media. Polish newspapers and radio broadcasts reflected a clear bias toward the Arabs. Thus for example, under the headline ‘Encounter on the Israeli– Syrian Border’ a Polish newspaper reported in July 1964, that the IDF opened fire on a Syrian position along the border, and that the Syrian units retaliated by destroying three Israeli armoured vehicles.

29. Another announcement, based on news which emanated from Cairo stated that four Israeli Mirage aircraft had flown over Alexandria; that two aircraft were shot down by Egyptian fire and that one fell into the sea. The author quoted an Israeli communique´ denying that the incident took place.

30. Poland’s attempt to improve relations with Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al- Nasser was not only an outcome of a tendency to conform to Soviet policy in the Middle East, which was highly favourable toward the Arab states, but also a consequence of its security needs. Polish interests in Middle Eastern affairs increased considerably in those years.

31. The reasons for the increasing importance of the Middle Eastern countries were commercial as well as political. Primarily, the Polish Government sought to obtain Arab support for its position on the Oder–Neisse border issue and therefore its diplomatic activity in the Arab states intensified considerably.

32. Following the visit by an Egyptian delegation to Warsaw in October 1964, a joint communique´ was published in which both countries pledged to maintain peaceful existence; abide by the Moscow agreement to limit nuclear experimentation; decrease their military budgets; denounce foreign bases; condemn racism; and support resolutions adopted by the United Nations. Poland had also agreed to support resolutions made by the non-aligned nations and to help their struggle against imperialism. The communique´ also stated that the Polish Government was willing to support Nasser and his 868 J. Abadi constructive role in the United Arab Republic. In addition, both sides agreed to intensify their contacts and cooperation.

33. The fact that the communique´ did not mention the Palestine issue was a clear indication that Arab–Polish solidarity had its limits and that the Polish Government was clearly not inclined to keep Israel at a distance. Officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry believed that this was an indication that the Arabs understood the limits of their ability to manipulate Polish foreign policy and that they were not in a position to dictate policy on the entire Eastern Bloc.

34. Indeed, the Polish Foreign Ministry was far from willing to accommodate Egyptian demands. This becomes evident from the meetings of Egyptian officials with their counterparts in the Polish Foreign Ministry. For example, in his meeting with officials in the Polish Foreign Ministry, in the autumn of 1964, Fawzi sought to gain Polish support on issues related to the Arab–Israeli conflict by insisting on adding to the Polish–Egyptian agreement a special clause designed to obtain Polish support on the Palestinian refugees and the distribution of the waters of the Jordan River. Seeking to extricate themselves from this imbroglio the Poles suggested a compromise, which added the phrase 'according to the UN resolutions’. Fawzi did not agree and the entire clause was eliminated. In another clause dealing with Poland’s support for the resolution of the non-aligned nations Fawzi suggested emphasizing the part dealing with the Palestinians. The Poles did not agree and insisted on softening this clause by adding the words ‘in the spirit of these resolutions to consolidate the peace’. It took two weeks of convincing to reach a mutually acceptable formula.

35. Already in the first meeting Fawzi was told explicitly that the Poles were not willing to discuss Polish–Israeli relations. Therefore, he was forced to avoid the issue. Similarly, after the failure of the Polish Government to obtain from Egypt recognition of Poland’s border in the West the issue was avoided.

36. But while thorny political issues were difficult to overcome the two countries found it easier to reach an agreement in the technical and scientific field. An agreement in these fields was reached on 12 February 1965.

37. While trying to enlist Arab goodwill to its cause the Polish Government did not wish to jeopardize its relations with Israel. Reacting to Israel’s concern that Fawzi’s visit might have adverse effect on the bilateral relations officials in Warsaw took every opportunity to reassure the Israelis that the visit would not have a negative impact on bilateral relations.

38. And when the Polish ambassador asked an Israeli Foreign Ministry official whether he believed that Poland’s tendency to improve relations with the Arab states would have adverse effects on its ties with Israel, the official responded by saying, ‘I am not aware of the details. But from previous experience I could tell him that the Israeli Government is always certain that Poland’s leaders will not yield to Arab pressure, and will not take part in anti-Israeli declarations, neither in Warsaw, nor in Cairo’.

39. To set the record straight, however, Polish officials made it clear to their Israeli counterparts that they had interests in the Arab world and therefore they were not at liberty to give much publicity to their relations with Israel. For example, a Polish official told Eban that while his Government was convinced that Israel has the right to exist as a sovereign state it had vital interests in the Arab world and therefore was not in a position to lend a ‘spectacular character’ to its relations with Israel.

40. Israel’s willingness to recognize the Oder–Neisse line earned it handsome dividends in Warsaw and prevented serious erosion in bilateral relations. In fact, The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 869 Polish response to Israeli initiative was overwhelmingly positive and officials in Warsaw expressed their satisfaction with the Israeli decision. Speaking in the name of the Executive Committee of the Polish Council of National Unity which represented the Polish Government in Exile in London, Zhigniev Stypulkowski stated that he was grateful for that recognition.

41. The Polish Government continued to insist on keeping a low profile in its ties with Israel. In fact, the publicity issue caused friction between the two countries and the matter was raised by Polish officials on several occasions. For example, in his response to questions by Bronislaw Stoma, Chairman of the Catholic Party and Deputy Director of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Minister Adam Rapacky complained that Israel gave publicity to these relations and thereby made it difficult for Poland to maintain normal relations with the Arab states. However, he said that Israel’s recognition of Poland’s western border was a most welcome development and that his Government recognized Israel as a sovereign state and was opposed to its destruction.

42. Officials in Jerusalem hoped that in return for Israel’s recognition of the Oder– Neisse line the Polish Government would intervene on its behalf in Moscow in an attempt to moderate the Soviet attitude to Israel, which verged on hostility in those days.

43. Unwilling to antagonize its Soviet master the Polish Government tended to avoid discussing the issue and Polish Government officials advised their Israeli counterparts to approach Moscow directly.

44. A new Soviet–Polish agreement signed on 8 April 1965 tied Poland more closely to the socialist camp and thereby brought a turning point in Israeli–Polish relations. Moscow’s sensitivity to Middle Eastern affairs and to its relations with its satellite states made it more difficult for Poland to pursue an aggressive policy in the region, particularly one aimed at improving its relations with Israel. It was clear to Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem that Poland’s policy toward Israel was becoming less independent and that the Polish Government was compelled to act more closely in line with the Soviet Union. Concerned about Soviet reaction, Polish Government officials thought it prudent to express hostility toward Israel by occasional criticism and unfriendly remarks. Israeli diplomats who dealt with Polish affairs discerned a clear change of tone in the rhetoric which emanated from Warsaw. For example, in his letter of 18 May 1965 to the Foreign Ministry, the Israeli ambassador writes: I am looking for a reason for the hysteria that attacked the Poles, which in my opinion emanates from the search for ‘reasonable’ excuse for the deterioration in the relations. As much as I converse with Foreign Ministry officials, they are kind and they agree to my explanation, nevertheless, the general atmosphere is that there is an obvious tendency to denounce us. . .My conclusion is that all this is nothing but the first sign of Poland’s integration in the Soviet anti-Israeli policy.

45. In May 1965, a Radio Cairo broadcast provided an account of a seminar in which a young female student denounced Zionism in all its forms and called on all Arab countries to unite and destroy Israel. This story, which was apparently false, triggered a fierce response in the Israeli press, both in the right wing Herut daily and 870 J. Abadi the Jerusalem Post. Both papers blamed Poland for its past collaboration with Nazi Germany against the Jews. These comments triggered a furious response from the Polish organ Zycie Warszawy (No. 116, 15 May 1965) whose editor accused the Israeli Government of an attempt to demonize Poland in order to justify the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the German Federal Republic. Israel’s Prime Minister stated that while he regretted the comments, he was not in a position to prevent the newspapers from expressing their views since there was no censorship in Israel. Officials at the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw dismissed the Polish accusation, saying that it contradicted the official stand of the Polish Government which left the issue of Israeli–German relations to Israel’s discretion.

46. Reports published by the Israeli press in 1965 on anti-Semitism and harassment of< Jews were an additional factor leading to tension in bilateral relations.

47.  Moreover, Warsaw cancelled a visit by a Polish delegation to Israel in that year without giving an explanation. Seeking to improve the state of bilateral relations Israel reaffirmed its recognition of the Oder–Neisse border and announced the renewal of the Polish– Israeli commercial agreement.

48. The Israeli measures helped reduce the tension somewhat and the Polish Government expressed its willingness to moderate its attitude toward Israel and to take steps to discourage critics of the connection with Israel. The most obvious example ofWarsaw’s goodwill was the dismissal of the UAR ambassador to Poland, Sa’ad A. Afra who protested against Poland’s ties with Israel.

49. However, the anti-Israeli sentiment which engulfed Poland at that time lessened the effectiveness of all measures taken by both governments. Anti-Israeli articles appeared in the Polish press and manifestations of anti-Semitism increased considerably in the mid 1960s. Although it sought to improve bilateral relations, the Polish Government tended to react with indifference to the manifestations of anti-Semitism and shirked its responsibility, allowing the press to express its anti-Israeli sentiments virtually without restraint. Free from Government pressure the Polish press unleashed a ferocious campaign against Israel. For example, the magazine Kultura took the liberty of publishing an article in which it criticized the ‘mistreatment’ of the Arab minority in Israel. The author argued that this was a direct outcome of Ben Gurion’s policy.

50. When the official organ of the socialist youth organization Walka Mlodych (Struggle of Youth) published an article claiming that Israel was an artificial creation of imperialism, Polish Government officials argued that the Foreign Ministry had no control over it.

51. And when the anti-Israeli book West of Jordan by Andrzej Zeromski was published the Polish ambassador argued that although the publication was official his Government did not promote publications denouncing Israel. He expressed his regrets but argued that Polish writers had freedom of expression which the Government was in no position to curb.

52. The campaign against anti-Semitism waged by Jewish organs only intensified the anti-Israeli sentiment, and articles published in The Jewish Chronicle whose authors protested against anti-Semitism in Poland and criticized the Polish authorities for indifference to the fate of the Jews did not help to lessen the tension in bilateral relations.

53. At the same time, pro-Arab statements made by Polish Government officials became more vocal and more frequent causing much concern in Jerusalem. When Poland’s President Edward Ochab visited Egypt in the autumn of 1965, the Israeli Foreign Ministry looked at the possibility of asking him to avoid mentioning< The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 871 Israel during the visit.

54. Yet despite these anti-Israeli manifestations the Polish Government did not allow the relations with Israel to deteriorate. Officials in the Polish Foreign Ministry reassured the Israeli embassy in Warsaw that Ochab’s visit to Egypt will have no adverse effect on Poland’s relations with Israel.

55. Nasser was the one to mention Israel as an instrument of imperialism during that visit. Although President Ochab spoke about imperialism he did not mention Israel by name.

56. He told Nasser ‘we always supported your heroic struggle against the ‘‘triple imperialist aggression’’

57. without mentioning Israel by name’. In a joint communique´ issued in Cairo, both countries declared their full support for the Palestinian people according to the UN Charter.

58. The visit triggered a critical response from Israeli officials who argued that Ochab was aware of Nasser’s intention to liquidate Israel and that the joint announcement was in fact a tacit approval of his intentions.

59. Despite the Government’s endeavour to mend fences with the Arab states Polish public opinion was not entirely sympathetic to their cause. Polish journalists and intellectuals had their own opinions on Arab affairs and these were often critical. Some of them were highly critical of Egyptian socialism and did not refrain from criticizing the deficiencies of that system.

60. In May 1966, Eban held a meeting in Warsaw in which all Israeli ambassadors of Eastern Europe participated. This was the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister and it came at Israel’s initiative. Not only did the Polish Government not object to the meeting but also encouraged the participants to meet again. As the Israeli veteran Foreign Ministry official Gideon Rafael recalled in his memoirs. ‘It was a curious conference where it was not only our diplomats who listened to the debates. Rumour has it that a technical hitch deprived the attentive Polish authorities of some of our wisdoms and induced them to ask for a repeat performance’.

61. What accounted for this favourable attitude was a change in the Soviet view of Israel which had taken place at that time. Encouraged by Israel’s stand on the Oder–Neisse line and its objection to Germany’s nuclear arms project the Soviet Union sought to forge closer links with Israel and therefore supported the Israeli initiative in Poland.

62. Despite improvement in bilateral relations it was clear that the Polish Government was far from ready for full normalization with Israel, and Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem remained dissatisfied. In a letter of August 1966 to the Foreign Ministry, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official stated that there were no outstanding problems in bilateral relations; that Jews continued to emigrate from Poland without restrictions; and that trade relations were normal. However, he said that while Israel wanted to enhance political contacts the Poles remained distant because they did not wish to impair their relations with the Arabs.

63. Following the Six Day War of 1967, Poland severed its relations with Israel. A similar step was taken by all Eastern European countries except Romania. Anti-Jewish measures were adopted by the Polish Government and many Jews were dismissed from their positions. Overnight, Poland’s policy turned pro-Arab. Zionism was described as an exploitative movement and an instrument of US imperialism and Polish officials demanded that Israel withdraw from all occupied territories. However, the Poles were divided over the policy that their Government should adopt toward Israel. Whereas some attributed Arab defeat to Israel’s aggression others were happy to see the Arab clients of the Soviet Union suffer defeat and many marched in the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the Jewish state.
64. 872 J. Abadi The new stand adopted by the Polish regime was more in line with Soviet policy but was by no means a mere reflection of Soviet attitude. Poland’s policy toward Israel was determined not only by the nature of Polish–Soviet relations but also by Polish domestic factors. The struggle for power in that country had a radicalizing effect on the Government’s attitude toward Israel. An ultra-nationalist group called the ‘partisans’ operated at that time in Poland. It was extremely hostile to Germans, Ukrainians and Jews. Under the leadership of Deputy Minister of the Interior, Mieczyslav Moczar who was known for his role in the Polish underground, this group sought to capitalize on Anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments in order to come to power and thereby encouraged Gomulka’s Government to intensify its hostility toward Israel.

65. Following the Six Day War the Soviet Union sought to rehabilitate the Arab armies and Poland became a channel through which the Soviet Union delivered aid to the Arab countries. Polish diplomats became active in this endeavour. The Polish Ambassador in Egypt asked Riad to consider providing the socialist countries of the Soviet bloc with military facilities in Egypt in order to help rehabilitate the Egyptian army. He also suggested that Egypt conclude a military agreement with the Soviet Union in order to expedite the shipment of arms.

66. These developments caused concern in Israel and left the Israelis suspicious of Polish aims. The liberal atmosphere which prevailed in Czechoslovakia and other countries within the Soviet bloc in the late 1960s encouraged intellectuals and liberals to criticize the Communist regimes there. Although Poland was more firmly under Soviet control than most Eastern European countries, the regime was not immune to criticism by these groups. In an attempt to silence its critics the Polish Government lashed out at the Jews and attributed the turmoil to the encouragement of what is described as the ‘Zionist fifth column’. In his capacity as Minister of the Interior, Moczar warded off criticism by blaming the Jews. But even then the Polish Government was not entirely hostile to Israel and was not wholly in favour of the anti-Jewish campaign. It was Moczar and not Gomulka who was responsible for the anti-Jewish campaign. A member of the Party Secretariat told Nicholas Bethell that ‘not all the manifestations of the anti-Zionist campaign were supported by Gomulka’. In fact, Gomulka who was married to a Jewish woman tended to suppress the anti-Jewish sentiment. He was dragged by the events and even opposed some of its measures. In one of his speeches he said explicitly that it would be a misunderstanding to think that Zionism constituted a danger to socialism in Poland.

67. In a report published by the London-based Institute of Jewish Affairs, Lukasz Hirszowicz argued that the Polish regime tended to be preoccupied with the Jewish question in times of crisis and that it blamed the Jews for the events of 1968 because it needed a scapegoat. According to Hirszowicz the Polish Government came out with accusations against the Jews which stated that:
(a) Jewish Communists sympathized with Israel
(b) Jewish army officers organized illegal parties to celebrate Israel’s victory in the
Six Day War and
(c) Jewish students held illegal demonstrations demanding that Roman
Zmabrowski, one of the Jewish members of the Politburo, be restored to his The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 873 position. The Polish authorities had even suggested that the Jews were responsible for the rise of Edward Gierek who became the leader of the young technocrat faction of the party and replaced Gomulka as the party’s first secretary. According to the same report the organs of the Solidarity movement stated that during the events of 1968 the Polish Government made wide-ranging use of anti-Semitism in its propaganda. The report describes the Grunwald Patriotic Union as the most anti-Semitic organization in Poland. It also mentions names of publications with anti-Semitic tendencies. These included two Warsaw weeklies, the army daily, and the weekly of the official Communist party.

68. Gomulka’s statement that Zionist circles represented a fifth column and undermined world peace and Poland’s security triggered a fierce anti-Jewish campaign in the armed forces and the media.

69. The anti-Jewish campaign was orchestrated by two journalists of the Polish security service, Tadeusz Walichnowski and Ryszard Gontarz. Walichnowski was the author of the book Zionist Activities and Organization in which he accused the Jews of conspiracy against Poland in collaboration with imperialists and capitalists from the USA and and other countries in the West. In a pamphlet entitled ‘The Mechanism of Jewish Propaganda’ and a book entitled The Israeli Aggression he blamed the Polish Jews who emigrated to Israel for aggression against the Arabs. And in a subsequent book entitled Israel, West Germany and Poland he went to the extent of accusingg the Jews of collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War. He even argued that the Jews collaborated with West Germany against Poland.

70. By the late 1960s, bilateral relations remained cold on the diplomatic level and the official statements of the Polish Government remained highly critical of Israel. In a joint statement on the occasion of the visit by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil to Poland on 4 April 1970, both sides affirmed their opposition to acquisition of territories by force and called for the fulfilment of the 242 UN Security Council Resolution of 22 November 1967, which required Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

71. In November 1970, the Polish representative on the Security Council said that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon constituted one link in a chain of aggressive acts committed daily by its leaders whom he blamed for ignoring successive UN resolutions.

72. Warsaw continued to support anti-Israeli resolutions in the UN and by the mid 1970s its attitude verged on hostility. In November 1975, Poland voted in favour of the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism. This vote which was in line with those of the Arab states, the overwhelming majority of Third World countries and the Soviet Union, did not surprise the Israeli who tended to regard Poland as a satellite country whose foreign policy was largely dictated by Moscow. There was no significant progress in the diplomatic field during the 1970s, yet many Israelis acted to promote goodwill toward Poland.

73. By the late 1970s the technological and cultural exchange expanded significantly. Israeli authors, artists and students were allowed to visit Poland to attend conferences and the Israeli Government encouraged Polish intellectuals to visit Israel.

74. In the spring of 1978 the Polish Academy invited Israeli historians to take part in a conference on church history.

75. 874 J. Abadi Hopes for better relations rose considerably in the spring of 1978, when a delegation of Israelis visited Poland on the occasion of the opening of the Jewish pavilion at the site of Auschwitz concentration camp. The participants returned optimistic about the future of bilateral relations. Alexander Zvielli who came to Poland with the delegation after 39 years of absence recalled his experience saying: In our six days here, we have observed a different world, and we leave it with a feeling that there is some new hope for an improvement in Polish–Israeli relations. It is inconceivable that the connection between our two peoples, which lasted more than a millennium, can remain severed for ever.

76. During the ceremonies the Poles demonstrated a friendly attitude toward Israel for the first time since 1967. They also honoured the memory of Janusz Korczak, a Jew of Polish origin who chose to accompany the children in his orphanage on their way to Treblinka death camp.

77. Head of the Israeli delegation, Nahum Goldman who met Poland’s President Henryk Jablonsky stated that the event marked the beginning of a new orientation of Poland’s foreign policy. The reason for this change in Poland’s attitude can be attributed to the pragmatic tendencies of the Polish Government which manifested themselves with greater vigour by the end of the 1970s. The Polish Government became determined to act as a sovereign country and sought to fashion its own foreign policy toward the Middle East. In addition, the economic imperative forced a change of attitude toward Israel. In its quest to obtain the status of a most favoured nation the Polish Government sought to obtain the support of the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington.

78. Moreover, continued hostility to Israel would have left the Polish Government incapable of exerting any influence on Middle Eastern affairs. Naturally, Israelis differed in their interpretation of the Polish attitude during the ceremonies. Dr Yitzhak Arad, director of the Yad Vashem Institute said that by inviting Israelis to attend the opening of the museum ‘the Poles have done about all they can without asking someone else’s permission. What happens from here will depend on many factors, including the situation in Lebanon’.

79. Stephen Grayek, Chairman of the World Federation of Partisans, Ghetto Fighters and Concentration Camp Inmates told reporters that two Polish ministers called the occasion ‘a bridge’ toward normalization.

80. Others argued that while the Polish invitation was a step in the right direction, Jews throughout the world ought to make it clear to the Poles that such symbolic acts were insufficient and that Jews would not be able to visit Poland as long as its Government refused to grant Israel recognition.

81. Nevertheless, Israeli officials regarded the event as a breakthrough in the bilateral relations. At a ceremony awarding 22 Righteous Gentile medals to Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Yad Vashem’s director Gideon Hausner said, ‘The whole world has forgotten about the Holocaust, except for the Poles and the Jews.’ The Polish Government reciprocated by statements of goodwill toward Israel, and Zbigniew Drewnowski, chief editor of the Polish news agency Interpress stated that Israeli journalists wishing to visit Poland would be granted visas. He explained that Poland was interested in good press reports in Israel and hoped for strong ties between the two countries. Although the Polish Government became receptive to The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 875 the idea of improved relations with Israel it did not tolerate criticism from Jews particularly when such criticism implied that its policy had hitherto been anti-Semitic.

82. The improvement in bilateral relations can be understood better when one considers the impact of domestic politics in Poland at that time. The statement made by Gierek regarding the possibility of improved relations with Israel reflected the fierce debates that were then raging in the ruling party in Poland regarding the orientation of the country’s foreign relations. Primarily, it came as a result of the emerging influence of the party’s more liberal technocrats and the eclipse of the oldguard Stalinists and nationalists. Led by Gierek, the technocrats sought popularity among the masses by presenting themselves as liberals willing to depart from the rigid and obsolete ways and to put Poland on the road to economic recovery and progress. These technocrats attempted to show that they were daring and courageous enough to forge economic links with the West thereby weakening the Soviet grip on their country. Moreover, they were convinced that the Jewish community in the USA could help them improve their standing in Washington. It was precisely for that reason that the Polish Government facilitated the opening of the Jewish pavilion at the Auschwitz memorial and invited Jews and Israelis to take part. It was also at that time that the Polish Government became more receptive to Israeli offers of cooperation in all fields, and the anti-Semitic comments of yesteryears, when Gomulka was in power, had practically disappeared. However, the Polish regime was still not ready yet to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Realizing that such a step would lead to strong reaction from the Soviet Union the Polish Government resisted Israeli pressure to normalize relations. In addition, the Polish Government sought to avoid criticism by the Arab states and the Palestinians who managed to obtain worldwide support to their cause at that time. What made it difficult for the Polish Government to embark on an open dialogue with Israel were the events which took place in the occupied territories and particularly Israel’s involvement in Lebanon. When the issue was raised during their visit to Warsaw in the spring of 1978, Israeli officials were told that Poland could not proceed with the normalization process due to the turmoil in Lebanon and to the fact that the Palestinian question remained unresolved. However, future events were to demonstrate that neither the Lebanese crisis nor the Palestinian issue were the primary causes for Warsaw’s unwillingness to normalize relations with Israel. The establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel came despite the fact that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict remained unresolved. Throughout the entire course of the Cold War the Polish Government remained reluctant to antagonize the Soviet Union whose military forces were stationed on Polish soil. Yet despite the fact that the Polish Government did not move quickly to normalize relations with Israel in the spring of 1978, it clearly demonstrated that it was willing to go a long way to establish trust between the two countries.

83. When the Israeli delegation arrived in Poland in April 1978, two Polish ministers stated that the visit was a good beginning and a bridge to better relations, and that the establishment of full normalization between the two countries was a possibility.

84. The Communist Party organ Trybuna Ludu published a statement made by Gierek saying that the two countries had relations and that Poland supported the creation of the state of Israel. Moreover, he was reported to have said that he did not rule out
876 J. Abadi the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations with Israel but added that this would not materialize without a solution to the Palestinian problem.

85. These statements of goodwill on the part of the Polish Government did not go unnoticed in the Arab states and triggered an avalanche of critical responses from the Arab press. For example, the Iraqi daily Al-Jumhuriya stated that the ceremonies commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the invitation which the Polish Government extended to the Israelis to attend them constituted an insult to the Arabs. The paper criticized the Israeli–Polish rapprochement and argued that the event constituted a reward to the Israeli aggressor.

86. Another factor which contributed to greater understanding between Israel and Poland was the position taken by Karol Wojtyla who became Pope John Paul II. Prior to his election the Polish pontiff was active in Zanak, an organization of Roman Catholic intellectuals based in Cracow and known for its pro–Zionist tendencies. The Pope refrained from anti-Israeli statements and declared his support for the Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt. This expression of goodwill on the part of the Polish pontiff had a salutary effect on bilateral relations.

87. Whether or not the new attitude was a result of a change of heart among the Polish public is difficult to say. According to Ben Zion Tomer, an Israeli writer who was invited to visit Poland by the Polish Minister of Religion Jerzy Kuberski in the summer of 1981, there was still anti-Semitism in Poland but by and large the Polish intellectuals as well as the man in the street had deep sympathy and even admiration for Israel.

88. Nevertheless, anti-Semitic feelings still prevailed in Poland and complicated the normalization process. Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian guerrillas was regarded by many Poles as an act of aggression and the continuation of the Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories intensified criticism against the right wing Likud Government. Moreover, the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak in June 1981, alienated many Poles and was harshly condemned in the Polish media. Polish criticism reached a crescendo later that year when Israel carried out its anti-terrorist campaign on Polish soil. The Polish military daily ZolnierzWolnosci condemned Israel for attempting to assassinate a PLO leader Mohammed Odeh (Abu Daoud) in Warsaw’s Victoria Hotel on 5 August 1981. The paper argued that ‘Zionist groups’ were joining forces with hostile individuals in an attempt to restore capitalism and provoke Soviet intervention in Poland. It accused the ‘Zionist groups’ of helping Solidarity and its leader Lech Walesa to undermine the Polish regime. It also referred to the existence of ‘rightist trends with pro-fascist Zionist groupings’ in Israel and claimed that Israel tortured and abused Palestinians in jail.

89. Yet despite the anti-Israel campaign carried out by some of Poland’s most prominent organs the two countries moved slowly toward normalization. In the autumn of 1981, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir met his Polish counterpart Joseph Czyrek for the first time since Poland severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967. Shamir raised the possibility of renewing the diplomatic relations. He said that the two countries ought to start with a cultural exchange and offered agricultural assistance to help Poland overcome its economic crisis.

90. What made the rapprochement between the two countries difficult was the distrust which many Israelis harboured toward Poland. Many Israelis regarded the Poles as crafty and untrustworthy. Many were disenchanted with the behaviour of the Polish officials who were in charge of the ceremonies commemorating the fortieth The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 877 anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in the spring of 1983. They comp that the Polish authorities charged them exorbitant fees for visiting Jewish cemeteries and discouraged them from opening the Auschwitz pavilion in honour of the Jewish martyrs who perished during the Nazi Holocaust.

91. The Israelis were even more outraged when a PLO delegation was allowed to lay a wreath during the Warsaw Ghetto ceremonies. Education Minister Zevulun Hammer protested vigorously. Responding to PLO representative Fuad Yaseen who said that ‘The Jewish people were victims of Nazism and the Palestinians are victims of the New Nazis–Zionists and Israel,’ Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat said that the PLO desecrates the holy memory of the heroes of the ghetto and that its participation was a betrayal of assurances given by the Polish authorities that the organization would not participate in the ceremonies.

92. Tension mounted further when organizers of the memorial service in Auschwitz tried to prevent the Israeli delegation, which carried the Israeli flag, from approaching the monument.

93. Four Israeli officials decided to leave the ceremonies and fly back to Israel.

94. Many Israelis remained dissatisfied with Poland’s behaviour and numerous expressions of discontent appeared in the press. In a letter to the editor of the Jerusalem Post an Israeli of Polish origin wondered why the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) condemned Soviet intervention in Poland saying that the Poles mistreated the Jews throughout the centuries and never supported Israel.

95. In another editorial the author argued that while Germany acknowledged its guilt and agreed to pay reparations to Holocaust victims, Poland had never made such a gesture.

96. On the other hand, there were those who spoke on Poland’s behalf and argued that the overwhelming majority of the Polish people were anti-Nazi and loyal to the Jews.

97. What intensified Israel’s interest in better relations with Poland was the condition of Jews in that country. In the summer of 1983, Orthodox Jews in the USA called upon Israel to pay closer attention to the needs of the Jewish community in Poland. They stated that they were concerned that the Jewish community, which numbered about 8000 at that time, was in dire need of assistance due to the danger that Reform Judaism would gain converts from among the Polish Jews.

98. By the end of 1984, the Polish Government allowed the Israeli intelligence expert Ari Ben-Menashe to go to Warsaw to negotiate the sale of weapons to Iran.

99. The Histadrut (Israel’s General Federation of Labour) had long maintained contact with the Polish underground trade union, Solidarity. According to Marek Garztecki, head of the Solidarity Information Bureau in London, the two movements maintained contact through the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels.

100. Solidarity activists had great admiration for the Histadrut which they regarded as a model trade union worthy of imitation. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa responded graciously to the Histadrut’s support in a letter which he sent in early November 1985, and which read in part: ‘I wish to convey my thanks to the Histadrut for your unswerving support in our struggle to remain a free trade union . . . Solidarity is still very much alive and active. We are the only hope for our people for a life of freedom and dignity’.

101. By May 1985, the ambassadors of both countries met in Bonn. The Poles suggested that in order to promote bilateral trade the two countries establish a commercial office staffed by foreign personnel. On their part, the Israelis suggested the establishment of embassies. Unwilling to antagonize the Soviet Union the Poles 878 J. Abadi did not seem ready to fashion an independent foreign policy toward Israel. Polish behaviour, as Jerusalem Post correspondent Wladimir Struminski put it, ‘resembles the behaviour of the Soviet Union over the recent meeting in Helsinki’. He added that the Polish move was closely coordinated with the Soviet Union, which ‘assigned Poland the role of a scout’.

102. Nevertheless, the ambassadors’ meeting constituted an important milestone in the process of rapprochement. According to observers in Warsaw this move was calculated to support the regime of Wojciech Jaruzelski whose image was tarnished as a result of its oppressive policy toward the Solidarity movement in 1981.

103. By the autumn of 1986, there was much talk about a further improvement in Poland’s attitude toward Israel. Foreign Minister Shamir met his Polish counterpart Marian Orzechovski and they agreed that interest sections would open simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Warsaw. It was agreed that the Israeli interest section would operate within the Dutch embassy in Warsaw and the Polish one at the Finnish embassy in Israel. Unwilling to face criticism from the Soviet Union the Poles insisted that the Israeli interest section would deal only with cultural and humanitarian affairs. Realizing that non-political affairs were less likely to provoke Soviet reaction the Poles agreed to discuss the possibilities of cooperation in commercial and cultural fields.

104. In November 1986, the Polish Chamber Orchestra came to perform in Israel, with PrimeMinister Shamir as a guest of honour.

105. Other confidence-building measures were soon taken by the Polish Government. Expressions of anti-Semitism were suppressed and during the High Holidays of that year the Polish Government provided protection to Jews and Israelis who came for services in Polish synagogues.

106. In an interview with the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende Poland’s Foreign Minister Marian Orzechowski was quoted as saying that his country might raise its level of representation in Israel into full diplomatic status. Orzechwski stated that although Poland followed the rest of the countries of Eastern Europe, except Romania, in severing its diplomatic relations with Israel following the Six Day War, the ties between the two countries were unique due to the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish community in Poland during the Second WorldWar. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials were cautiously optimistic saying that they would have to see the full text of the interview.

107. By early 1987, there were more other signs of goodwill from Warsaw. A group of Polish youth arrived in Israel for a ten day visit. This was the second Polish group to come to Israel since 1967.

108. A representative of the Polish Government visited Kibbutz Lochamei Hageta’ot and showed interest in its industries.

109. Shortly afterwards, the Israeli shipping company, Zim, and the Polish Government-owned Italmex reached an agreement according to which Zim agreed to deliver containers of electronic scales and other weighing equipment from Poland to Gaza.

110. However, the Polish Government remained reluctant to complete the normalization process and there were still incidents which stood in the way. For example, in January 1987 Henryka (Hna) Zachariasz, a Jewess of Polish origin asked permission to emigrate to Israel and her request was denied.

111. Moreover, the fact that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict reached another crescendo with the outbreak of the Intifada by the end of that year slowed down the normalization process forcing the Polish Government to backtrack its plans to upgrade relations with Israel.

112. The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 879 Another crisis in the bilateral relations occurred at that time when the committee which organized the celebration commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising issued a statement which left the Israelis infuriated. It stated that the event will have ‘anti-war and anti-fascist implications’ and referred to ‘dangerous, revisionist and neo-Nazi trends in the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the possible consequences of Israel’s policy of expansion’.

113. The statement triggered an angry response not only from Israel but also from Jewish organizations whose leaders stated that they would not take part in the celebrations unless the statement was retracted. Polish officials tried to reassure the Israelis that a conciliatory statement would be issued by their Government. Observers in Israel believed that the statement was made as a gesture to the Palestinians on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the partition of Palestine.

114. Polish officials told Mordechai Palzur, Israel’s most senior diplomat in Warsaw that the statement was ‘unintentional’ but Palzur said that the explanation was inadequate and Israel would not be satisfied with anything less than a full apology.

115. Soon afterwards, Trybuna Ludu published a statement saying that the coming ceremonies will honour all those who fell in the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, and Stefan Grayek, President of the World Federation of Former Jewish Fighters and Concentration Camp Inmates received a letter of apology from the committee’s chair regretting the incident and begging forgiveness for the inaccuracy of the report.

116. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by saying that Israel ‘noted with satisfaction that an incident which could have adversely affected the ceremonies themselves, as well as the atmosphere of Polish–Jewish relations has come to an end’.

117. The two countries seemed willing to resume the contacts and in September 1988 Industry and Trade Minister Ariel Sharon visited Poland in an effort to promote bilateral trade.

118. Pundits provided several explanations for this positive shift in Poland’s policy toward Israel. According to a Polish source Warsaw’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War was a consequence of Soviet pressure and not of Gomulka’s initiative. Some even argued that Gomulka was against the decision. Others stated that Poland had no superpower interests in the Middle East and was therefore unlikely to adopt such a decision without Soviet pressure. They argued that most Poles were in favour of cordial relations with Israel and looked forward to visiting that country. Moreover, they stressed that Poland sought to improve its ties with Jews throughout the world, especially in the USA hoping that these ties would help Poland overcome its economic hardships. Indeed, the notion that American Jews had access to the corridors of power in Washington and could therefore influence US attitudes towards Poland weighed heavily in the decision to upgrade relations with Israel.
Polish officials argued frequently that increased trade with Israel would jeopardize their interests in the Arab world: they should not be taken lightly. The Polish Government feared that violating the regulations established by the Arab Boycott Office would have serious consequences on its commercial interests in the Arab world. Most Arab countries adhered to these regulations and even the onset of the Middle East peace process in the late 1980s did not bring an end to the Arab Boycott. Polish officials stated explicitly that they were interested in exporting coal and other raw materials to Israel but added that they were unwilling to antagonize 880 J. Abadi Arab countries such as Iraq and Libya, which purchased about 3 per cent of Poland’s total exports.

119. Many more obstacles had to be overcome before the two countries could normalize their relations and these were not easily overcome. Israel’s reaction to the Intifada continued to cause displeasure in Warsaw. The bilateral relations reached another point of crisis in the spring of 1988, when a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry Jerzy Urban said that Israel’s actions in the occupied territories were an insult to the memory of the defenders of the Warsaw Ghetto. A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Danny Schok reacted furiously by saying that the comment trivialized the Holocaust, and Transport Minister Chaim Korfu said that before criticizing Israel the Polish Government should examine its brutal treatment of the demonstrators in Gdansk and other cities. According to foreign ministry sources the Polish Government made that comment in response to Arab criticism of its attempt to improve relations with Israel.

120. Yet despite this exchange of bitter rhetoric the Poles did not ignore the benefits which normalization with Israel could bring. Israel’s expertise in high-tech industries was highly appreciated inWarsaw and Israeli officials who met their Polish counterparts expressed willingness to offer Israeli know-how to Poland.

121. Israel’s drive to improve relations with Poland continued relentlessly. In June 1988, Shamir met Foreign Minister Marion Orzechowsky and expressed hope that full diplomatic relations between the two countries would soon be restored.

122. In the same month Foreign Ministry Director General Yossi Beilin met Poland’s Foreign Minister Tadaeusz Olechowski in Poland. The Poles expressed their desire to expand links with Israel in the areas of trade and tourism. However, they stated that they would not upgrade the level of their ties with Israel beyond the interest section level in the near future.

123. However, the Polish Government allowed other mutual activities to continue. In August 1988, the two countries reached an agreement on guidelines for trips of Israeli youth to the death camps.

124. The collapse of the Soviet Union which left the USA as the world’s only great power removed the last obstacles on the way to rapprochement between the two countries. The perception that the Jewish lobby wielded considerable influence in Washington, and Poland’s desire to benefit from the Israeli expertise in the technological field intensified its desire to normalize relations with Israel. However, the overriding factor leading to full normalization was the collapse of the Soviet Union which released the Polish Government from the need to follow the Soviet line. In fact, strengthening the ties with Israel provided the Polish Government with the opportunity to assert its independence from Moscow.Moreover, the Polish economy was in dire need of investment and there was a need to stimulate economic activity. Free from socialist shibboleths and obsolete Marxist rhetoric, the Polish Government saw little risk in approaching Israel which had long been associated with corrupt capitalism and American influence. Moreover, the onset of the Middle East peace process was a sign to the Polish Government that rapprochement with Israel would not result in substantial damage to Poland’s interests in the Arab world.
Besides, contacts between the Histadrut and the Solidarity movement had laid the foundation for cooperation between the two countries. The Solidarity movement and the Histadrut had maintained contact for quite some time. However, this relationship was not as smooth as might appear. Many< The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 881 Solidarity members felt that Israel was indifferent to them and thereby lost an opportunity to establish better relations between the two countries. It was largely because he aspired to demonstrate his independence from the Soviet Union that Solidarity’s leader Lech Walesa showed interest in closer cooperation with Israel.
Recognizing the influence which Jews in the USA had on American foreign policy he tried to gain their confidence. He stated in his autobiography that he had no anti- Semitic leanings and boasted that his Government harboured Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and facilitated the transfer of Soviet Jews to Israel.

125. The Solidarity movement which came to power in 1989 did not see much risk in moving the normalization process forward. During 1991, President Walesa signed with Israel agreements of cooperation in matters relating to cultural, scientific and commercial exchange, and in 1991 Poland resumed its diplomatic relations with Israel. Now the bilateral relations expanded to other vital areas such as defence. Anxious to strengthen its military capability the new regime in Poland sought to benefit from Israel’s expertise. A report published by the Israeli daily Davar on 9 April 1992 announced that the IDF and the Polish Army would exchange military attache´ s.

126. According to a report by the Royal United Service Institute there was close cooperation between Israel and Poland in the defence field. The IDF’s Chief of Staff, General Ehud Barak, visited Poland in April 1992, and the Polish General, Tadeusz Wilecki, visited Israel in November 1993. These visits resulted in a military cooperation agreement signed during the visit of the Polish Defence Minister to Israel in April 1994. Both sides agreed to meet regularly to coordinate their cooperation in defence matters. The Poles saw a great benefit in Israel’s expertise in refitting old aircraft, helicopters and armoured vehicles and sought to purchase spare parts. Israel sought to use the Polish market in order to sell arms and equipment to Third World countries.

127. In May 1992, Israel’s President Chaim Herzog met President Walesa who had visited Israel in the previous year. Both sides exchanged words of gratitude and stressed their common experiences in the past.

128. Walesa told his guest that anti- Semitism in Poland had virtually disappeared and the parties which used anti-Semitic slogans remained powerless. Herzog had also met the Polish Prime Minister, Jan Olszewski and the Foreign Minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski and all agreed that the two countries had common interests and that much more had to be done. Poland’s Ambassador to Israel, Jan Dowgiallo, stated that his country was interested in closer commercial contacts and investment opportunities.

129.  The new atmosphere encouraged more Israeli firms to consider Poland as a market for their products. This change also manifested itself in the political sphere and both countries tried to resolve the remaining outstanding issues between them. As part of its effort to adopt additional confidence-building measures the Polish Government allowed Jews of the former Soviet Union and former Polish citizens of Jewish descent to return to Poland.

130. Seeking to play a greater role in Middle Eastern affairs, the Polish Government thought it prudent to appear even-handed in its policy toward the Arab–Israeli conflict. On 6 June 2001, Poland’s foreign minister told the members of the Sejm (the Polish house of representatives):
We are concerned that the prospects for lasting peace in the Middle East are negligible, despite international efforts. Still, we shall continue to actively 882 J. Abadi develop political and economic relations with partners in the Middle East, both Israel–with which we have special historic ties, and with its neighbours, thh Arab states. We shall continue to conduct an even-handed policy toward both sides of the Arab–Israeli conflict. We consistently support dialogue between the Jews and the Palestinians. We reject the methods of terror and violence in solving political, national or religious conflicts. We want to contribute to durable and just peace in the region, including by participation in UN peace missions.

131. In April 2002, Bogdan Goralczyk, Director of the Political Cabinet of the Polish ForeignMinistry, explained the position of the Polish Government on the violence in the Middle East and the Intifada. He appealed to both Israelis and Palestinians to implement UN Resolution 1492, calling on both sides to adopt measures to end the violence. He stated that his country was in a difficult position because it wished to promote better relations with both Israel and the Arab world.

132. The intensification of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in the West Bank in 2003, and the failure of the Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace process intensified Poland’s desire to be involved in the peace-making process. The Polish Government welcomed the appointment of Ahmed Qurei as the new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and expressed hope that he would begin to control violence, address Israel’s concerns and start confidence-building measures to promote peace between the two peoples. Moreover, Poland called upon Israel to reverse its decision to build the separation barrier in the West Bank, expressed its support for the unofficial Geneva Accord and the US-sponsored Road Map, and stated its willingness to help implement it.1

133. Further measures taken by the Polish Government in 2003 have demonstrated its goodwill toward Israel and the Jewish people. In July 2003, the Czech Republic agreed to return to Poland a collection of 34 manuscripts which the Jewish Theological Seminar in Wroclaw lost during the Second World War. The Polish Government announced that the manuscripts would be returned to the Jewish community prior to the celebration of the 800th anniversary of its foundation in October 2003.

134. And when the Sejm was about to discuss the budget, Maciej
Kozlowski who served as Poland’s Ambassador to Israel until 2003 spoke in favour of allocating $63 million to the construction of a Jewish museum in Poland saying, ‘I am deeply convinced that it is Poland and Poles who primarily need the History Museum of Polish Jews. It is a project that may reverse the alarming upsurge in anti- Semitic sentiments, it is an educational enterprise that can let us reclaim part of our own, genuine history’.

135. These measures assured the Israelis of Poland’s goodwill and helped the two countries to eliminate the remaining obstacles which stood on the edge of normalization.
Israeli–Polish relations underwent several stages. During the early period which encompasses the years 1948 to 1965, contact between the two countries was limited and the Polish Government maintained a low profile in its relations with Israel. A turning point in bilateral relations occurred in the spring of 1965 when a new Soviet– Polish agreement signed on 8 April 1965, brought Poland closer to the Eastern bloc The Road to Israeli–Polish Rapprochement 883 Israeli–Polish relations reached their nadir in 1967, when the Polish Government was compelled to adhere to Moscow’s policy and severed its relations with Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War. This stage in which the Polish Government consistently branded Israel as an aggressor lasted until 1978, but even then commercial and cultural contacts continued. Improvement in bilateral relations, which began in 1978, was motivated by pragmatic considerations of the Polish Government. Factors such as the clout which the Jews in the USA had in the corridors of power in Washington, the need to rehabilitate the faltering Polish economy, and the desire to benefit from Israeli expertise played a crucial role in the normalization process. Furthermore, the changing attitude toward Israel was one way of asserting Poland’s independence from Soviet control. The last phase of the bilateral relations occurred in the late 1980s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which freed the Polish Government from the need to adhere to Moscow’s policy. Led by Solidarity President Walesa the new regime was free to consider Poland’s needs as a sovereign state. Above all, it was the onset of the Middle East peace process which encouraged the Polish Government to normalize its relations with Israel. As an independent country Poland sought to play a role in the peace-making process. Its official statements demonstrated concern for the fate of the Palestinians and its statesmen insisted that rapprochement with Israel was contingent upon a settlement of the conflict. However, the bloody evolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict demonstrated that Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinians did not loom large in the decision to upgrade the bilateral relation and that the Polish Government was motivated by more pragmatic considerations which had to do with Poland’s position as a sovereign state determined to make the most of the benefits which normalization with Israel could bring.
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