9. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 27, 19551


  • Report on Discussion with the British on Alpha


  • United Kingdom:
    • Mr. Scott
    • Mr. Shuckburgh
    • United States:
    • Mr. Hoover
    • Mr. Russell
    • Mr. Hare
    • Mr. Jernegan
    • Mr. Burdett

Mr. Russell presented a summary of the discussions with Mr. Shuckburgh on operation Alpha, making the following points:

Despite the difficulties involved, it is worth making the effort. It is impossible to assess accurately ahead of time all the factors, particularly the psychological ones which may bear on the final result. We should go ahead and be in a position to take advantage of every favorable development.

The first approach should be made to Egypt. Among the inducements which may be extended are:

Help to the RCC to stay in power.
Support for Egypt as a focal point of power in the Middle East to enable her to play her rightful role in the area and in the world.
Military aid in the context of a peace settlement.
Assistance towards the High Aswan Dam.

(Mr. Hoover inquired whether Egypt would be approached as the leader of the Arab states, observing that the Arabs now seem to be quarreling among themselves. Mr. Russell replied that the appeal would be to Egyptian nationalism rather than to Egypt as an Arab leader.)


A security guarantee is essential. A treaty by the US and the UK, and possibly Turkey and France, is envisaged with Israel and a separate one with Egypt. Other Arab states could adhere to the Egyptian treaty or separate treaties could be concluded with each. The treaty would refer to the various provisions of the settlement but could be invoked only in case of a real attack by the Arabs or Israel on the other. All the provisions of the settlement would not be [Page 25] guaranteed and the guarantors would not be expected to act in case of minor frontier incidents or even raids on the scale of Qibya.2

(Mr. Hoover inquired whether a new agency was contemplated to settle disputes between the two parties. Mr. Russell replied that the UNTSO would continue to perform this function. He added that staff talks might be held with the two parties regarding the implementation of the security guarantees.)


Territorial changes symbolic of a retreat by Israel are necessary. However, careful examination of the problem reveals no practical opportunities for large cessions of territory. The following might be considered: Lebanon—no change; Syria—minor adjustments along the lines of previous Syrian-Israel discussions under UNTSO auspices. If the Johnston Mission succeeds, the changes would have to be within the framework of the Unified Plan. Jordan—a series of frontier modifications to unite Arab villages with their lands now in Israel hands. The bulk of the Latrun demilitarized area would go to Jordan, but the old Jerusalem road would be given to Israel. Jerusalem—no change except for a division of the No Man’s Lands . . . . The Negev—Egypt has demanded that Israel cede a portion of the Negev to unite her with Jordan. Arrangements could be made whereby Egypt would receive a small wedge of territory in the Negev a few miles north of Elath. This wedge would come to a point on the Jordan border and would not cut the Israel road to Elath. Both Israel and Arab traffic would be permitted to cross the junction point, perhaps by means of a bridge and underpass. A track across the Sinai Desert could be developed to provide communication from Egypt to Jordan.

(Mr. Hoover mentioned that it might be important to provide also for oil pipelines to cross.)

The Arabs would be expected to terminate the secondary boycott of Israel, but would not be pressed to trade directly with Israel. Egypt would be asked to remove restrictions on Suez Canal traffic.
France and Turkey would not be informed of the plan at an early stage. Whether they should be parties to the treaty guaranteeing security would depend on the views of the Arabs. Israel would certainly like at least Turkey to participate.

Mr. Russell concluded that the above points will form the basis for further study and that working parties would be established to consider details.

Mr. Shuckburgh explained that the basic difficulty would be to persuade the Arabs that it is worth their while to make peace. It [Page 26] would be necessary to overcome psychological inhibitions. Territorial adjustments, repatriation of refugees and compensation would all help. The question of territory was particularly difficult. Mr. Shuckburgh felt there might be a divergence here between the US and the UK views. He thought that Israel should cede all the territory east of Lake Tiberias and of the Jordan River. He concluded that all things considered, there was barely enough in the plan for the Arabs to make it worth-while going ahead.

Mr. Hare observed that one set of “gimmicks” was needed to appeal to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. These might include the territorial changes, refugee repatriation and compensation. These items would not appeal to Egypt for whom a different set of “gimmicks” would be required, which might consist of economic and military aid.

Mr. Shuckburgh pointed out that the settlement provided more for Israel than for the Arabs and listed among her benefits the security guarantee, . . . improved trading opportunities and peace. To obtain this he felt that Israel must make some sacrifices.

Mr. Hare stated that instead of saying that Israel wants peace it might be more accurate to state that she wants arrangements which will permit a consolidation of her position. The Arabs are not ready to accord this.

Mr. Shuckburgh explained that it was planned to see first whether Nasser3 is ready to play. Then, the plan would be explained in detail to Israel. If the negotiations break down as a result of her intransigence, the interests of the US and the UK in the Middle East require that responsibility should rest on Israel. Mr. Russell observed that when Mr. Eden stops in Cairo about February 20 he might in his talks with Nasser help create an appropriate atmosphere but would not reveal the plans as such. After Ambassador Byroade4 arrived he would require a few weeks to establish his position before broaching the question of Israel to Nasser. Mr. Russell stated that it was planned to resume the talks with the UK in London about February 21 and that the approach might be made in mid-March or the first of April.

In assessing the possibilities of success, Mr. Hare explained that the present impasse was the result of all the forces and imagination which have been applied to the problem in the past. It was necessary to see if some new element was now present. The indications of [Page 27] receptivity on the part of Egypt, the greater readiness in certain quarters of the Arab world to take a broader view of the matter and the relatively favorable reception given Eric Johnston, might constitute such new factors. In addition, something was needed to crack the problem open. Perhaps, this impact had been supplied by the Turk-Iraq announcement. Also, the US and the UK were now prepared to go further than in the past by guaranteeing the settlement and by directing their assistance programs specifically towards an agreement. Even considering all these possibly favorable factors he was not overly encouraged over the prospects. He felt that the chances were only moderate. Mr. Shuckburgh stated that it was best not to do anything until after Mr. Johnston’s return. If he came close to obtaining an agreement it might be better not to disturb the situation by the present project. Mr. Russell suggested, however, it might be useful to take advantage of the momentum gained.

Mr. Russell agreed with Mr. Shuckburgh’s observation that it would be very dangerous if the Western Powers came up with something at which Israel leaped and which the Arabs regarded as another sell-out. Mr. Jernegan also stated that this was the big danger in the undertaking. Mr. Russell thought it might be wise to go a little further with Nasser in the first discussions with him than had originally been planned before broaching the plan to Israel. Mr. Hare expressed the opinion that it was advisable to work gradually and not put forward the whole package at once on a take it or leave it basis. Mr. Shuckburgh stated that many of the elements are interdependent. For example, Egypt would not want to lift the Suez Canal restrictions unless she received some benefit elsewhere. In addition, once an offer was made by the Western Powers it would be difficult to take it back.

Mr. Hoover stated that in view of Israel’s strong desire for a security undertaking it would be difficult to withdraw the offer once it were made. He wondered if some one other than the US or the UK could explore the problem with Israel.

Mr. Russell listed Israel’s desires as: Direct talks with the Arabs; a security pact with a Western Power; participation in regional defense and no arms shipments to the Arabs. He stressed that Israel did not want others to work out a peace plan.

Mr. Hare stated that Egypt was the key to the project in that it was the largest Arab country and therefore could move more independently and could be appealed to with items not directly a part of the Palestine settlement. Mr. Shuckburgh recalled that Mr. Sharett had always had the idea of approaching the weakest Arab state first, i.e., Jordan. In reply to a question he added that the UK felt there [Page 28] was a good chance that Jordan might be the second Arab state to reach a settlement.

. . . . . . .

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Washington Talks, Jan.–Feb. 1955: Memos, etc. during progress of meetings (Dated 1/24 thru 2/4). Top Secret; Alpha; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Burdett on January 28.
  2. For documentation on the Qibya incident of October 17, 1953, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, Part 1, pp. 1361 ff.
  3. On January 17, the Department instructed the Embassy in Cairo that henceforth it was to spell the Egyptian Prime Minister’s name “Nasser” instead of “Nasir”. (Telegram 1113 to Cairo; Department of State, Central Files, 774.13/1–1755)
  4. Byroade remained Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs until January 25, one day after being appointed Ambassador to Egypt.