JERUSALEM, June 27, 1967 (UPI) - Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said bluntly today that Israel will not give up the lands it won in this month's Middle East war until her Arab neighbors sit down and directly negotiate a peace settlement. "We will hold on to it as a guarantee until they come to the peace table," the 72-year-old government chief said in an interview.
The Arabs demand the return of their lost territory now and they have refused to bargain directly with Israel. The Soviet Union has championed the Arab cause and is leading their drive in the United Nations for return of Israeli-occupied territory.
"There are some things that are impossible for a small country. Abandoning this territory without a peace settlement is one of them," Eshkol said.
He spoke in Jerusalem, whose old city so rich in religious shrines was seized from Jordan in the six-day war and which many Israelis are loathe ever to return.
In a wide-ranging review of issues raised by the Mideast crisis, Eshkol made these other points:
Israel does not exclude participation of the United States and the Soviet Union in a Mideast peace settlement. But it considers it should be worked out primarily in direct talks between Israel and her Arab neighbors.
Israeli troops intercepted and tape-recorded radio commands in Russian during the fighting with Syria. But Eshkol said he knew of no Russians being captured, as was widely reported here.
Any future peace settlement with the Arabs must be based on mutual recognition. The Arabs have refused for 19 years to recognize the State of Israel.
A future peace settlement must give Israel better frontiers and make it no longer possible for the Arabs to shell her cities and border settlements.
Eshkol said Israel is eager to solve the refugee problem, perhaps through exchange of population. He said Israel "is willing to put up money or contribute to an international loan to help heal this festering sore."
He said he is perturbed by Russia's replacement of the planes and tanks lost by Egypt and Syria in the recent fighting.
He said he also feels bitter bitter at French President Charles de Gaulle's arms ban on Israel.
"But optimism is Israel's secret weapon and I am optimistic that he will change his mind," he said.
Eshkol repeatedly stressed that Israel will not give up the territory it conquered until the Arabs sit down to negotiate.
"If we gave back territory before concluding a peace settlement, we should the most stupid people in the world," Eshkol said.
He recalled that in a recent speech to Israeli troops at Sharm-el-Sheikh, the strongpoint guarding the entrance to the gulf of Aqaba, he said he is willing to meet Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, Jordanian King Hussein and the president of Syria for peace talks.
"I repeat this," he said.
Eshkol said that, without naming any names, he is convinced some Arab leaders would he ready to talk peace now if they were not afraid of being branded as traitors by Nasser.
But he said simple common sense and the economic mess into which Nasser's policies have brought Egypt will force it to the peace table sooner or later.