26. Message From Robert B. Anderson to the Department of State1

No. 13

We met this evening2 at seven o’clock with PriMin Nasr and Colonel Zacharia at the latter’s apartment… .

I opened the discussion by suggesting we explore the possibilities of settling those issues which created tension in order that we might get on with profitable discussions involving the realization of Egypt’s national aspirations and the establishment of some unity among Arab States.
Nasr said that before beginning any discussions he thought he should in all honesty point out the problem of settlement involved all of the Arab States and not just Egypt. That in view of the universal Arab interest a “quick settlement” was just impossible. He felt an atmosphere of Arab acceptance had to be created. I then asked him if we could try to establish a series of formulae in principle, leaving the details to be settled in the atmosphere which he referred to as “Arab acceptance”. He thought this could be done.
Nasr stated it was necessary first to clarify the issues with reference to the refugees. On this point he stated emphatically that no one could speak for the refugees and that decisions had to be made by them. He felt that no solution regardless of the amount of compensation would be acceptable either to the refugees or to the Arab States except one involving an expression of Israeli willingness to repatriate all of the refugees. We pointed out this program would involve such a large population increase in Israel that it would likely be impossible for Israel to accept. Nasr stated he believed that only a small percentage of refugees would want to return to Israel but that [Page 44] the principle of the right of choice as to whether to return or take compensation should be preserved.
It was then suggested that for purposes of exploration we might inquire as to his feeling about a program offering repatriation to the refugees on a basis not to exceed 20 percent per year for a five year period with the right of any of the refugees at any time to elect to take compensation in lieu of repatriation. Nasr believed this formula would be acceptable and would serve the purpose of her lowering the percentage of those electing repatriation although preserving the right of election which he thought was essential. We made clear this solution might not be acceptable to Israel and was exploratory.
Nasr said that he thought a solution of the boundaries must go hand in hand with a solution of refugee problem. At this point he reverted to the U.N. resolutions stating that the partition resolution of 47 and the U.N. resolution of 49 had been accepted by the Arab States prior to the Bandung Conference of 55 and had been refused by Israel.
Nasr then expressed himself as believing that the proposed partition as provided by the U.N. resolution of 47 was impractical and would be the source of future trouble. He reiterated his comment that a land link to sovereign Arab territory was essential to a lasting settlement and referred to the historical connection between the Arabs of Africa and Asia for 2,000 years. I asked him at this point if he were not primarily concerned with the psychological existence of a land link between the Arabs of Africa and Asia rather than with the amount or value and area of territory involved. He replied that this was so but that he was still concerned with the size of the sovereign Arab area providing the land link.
After considerable discussion in principle we procured maps and suggested he delineate the amount of territory which he felt was essential to a settlement, whereupon Nasr said that he believed the line should run from Dhahiriya about 10 miles south-west of Hebron to Gaza.
After this pronouncement there was a moment of complete silence, following which I expressed the view to the PriMin that any such proposal would likely create an impossible situation for the Israelis and that no Israeli Govt could likely survive such a division. This point of view was strongly supported … , each pointing out that the proposal would be completely unacceptable to the Israelis and would doubtlessly produce a stalemate to any efforts of settlement. Both Nasr and Zacharia appeared visibly shaken by the emphatic points of view which we expressed and Nasr hastened to explain that this was a proposal which he had made some 11 months [Page 45] ago to Ambassador Byroade3 and was now restating the same proposal to us. He stated that under his proposal the Israelis would have more total territory than they would have had under the United Nations partition of 1947 and that in any event the land which he was asking for was arid and of little value.
We restated a firm belief that any such proposals would be unacceptable to the Israelis and hoped that he would reconsider his demands. He then indicated a willingness to restudy his demands and stated that “while the Israeli problem was constantly on his mind he had not thought too much recently about solutions”. We then went in to dinner which was a pleasant affair during which time discussion of business was suspended.
Following dinner I restated to the PriMin that I felt that he should realize the serious importance which we attached to the effort at hand. We regarded this effort as one which amounted to a great hour of decision for Egypt and would have considerable influence on the achievement of her national objectives. I reiterated that the U.S. had thus far maintained a position of flexibility in the Near East and that we were faced with some important decisions to be made at an early date. I hoped that I might be able to report to our Government a sufficient amount of flexibility in the Egyptian position that would give real hopes of achieving a settlement which would allow our respective nations to plan logically and clearly a future course of action, both for Egypt as a nation and for the Arab States collectively. I pointed out that while I had not yet visited Israel, I felt that any such proposals along the line of the territorial division proposed by Nasr would further increase Israeli suspicions and very possibly could lead Israel to believe that settlement was not feasible and therefore raised the possibility of their taking precipitate action which regardless of any ultimate outcome could be exceedingly damaging to Egypt and could set back her plans for national development. I stated that even if Israel were not moved to drastic action, the best that Nasr could hope for would be large expenditures for military purposes over a number of years which would in itself severely limit their ability to achieve economic growth and development such as the PriMin had outlined as being a part of his plan for Egypt’s development. I emphasized that in the absence of a settlement the Western powers and particularly the U.S. would force some major decision of policy in the Middle East which might have to be made without the collaboration of Egypt. We hoped for a solution of tensions that would allow us to plan with Egypt on both a national and a regional basis and outlined some ideas which we [Page 46] have discussed at the inception of my trip as a basis for such cooperative planning in an atmosphere of peace.
We further pointed out that Nasr must surely realize as well as anyone the heavy drain which his military machine would place on his country. That it was a waste of his national assets at the very time when increased population and increased opportunity for Egypt created both necessity and hope for their further advancement… .
Nasr then reiterated for the second time that while the Israeli problem had been constantly on his mind he had not recently thought much about solutions. He was now prepared to do so.
It was then suggested he determine whether there were other problems which could be settled in principle leaving only proposed thinking with reference to the refugees and the problem of the Negev to be dealt with.
Nasr then pointed out that the only other territorial change of importance with which he was concerned was the Samakh Triangle at the southeast corner of Lake Tiberias. This area, Nasr said, was not essentially of concern to him but he thought was essentially in Syrian thinking and stated that the area comprised the high ground around Lake Tiberias and gave the country holding it a decided military advantage.
He then stated there would be some minor problems in aligning Arab communities and farms. He regarded them of not very great importance.
We asked him specifically about the elimination of the blockade and the secondary boycott and the Israeli use of the Suez Canal. Nasr replied that in the absence of a state of belligerency there would be no problem involved. He stated that so far as direct trading between Israel and Egypt was concerned each nation would have to be left free to determine its own practices.
We also asked the PriMin about his feeling concerning Jerusalem and the Holy Places. He answered quickly saying that both he and the Jordanians preferred a division of Jerusalem and the Holy Places substantially along existing lines.
It was then agreed that … [the others] and Zacharia would meet Saturday morning4 at 1030 at Zacharia’s house for the purpose of exploring and determining alternative solutions of the Negev5 [Page 47] territorial question and timing and that all of us would resume our discussions with the PriMin at 830 Saturday evening.6
I then pointed out to the PriMin that while we did not wish to rush him, I hoped to go to Israel on Sunday.7 That to further delay going would merely create suspicion and I felt it was necessary to go with enough assurances on his part that there was flexibility in his thinking so as not to be required to take a pessimistic point of view with Israel. To this Nasr replied that he understood the problem and would give it intense thought. One additional piece of info which I believe you shave [should] have is that … [it was] mentioned to Nasr at … meeting with the PriMin prior to my arrival, the hope that a meeting might take place between Nasr and Ben Gurion in the immediate future. Nasr’s immediate reaction was that such a meeting was impossible. … it was possible that Ben Gurion would not be willing to make as many concessions to an intermediary as he might be willing to make directly. Nasr agreed to think over this suggestion and left it open as a possibility. Up to this time I had thought it best not to raise a question of a meeting myself until there was some clearer definition of his willingness to negotiate on points of difference.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part I. Secret.
  2. Presumably Anderson is describing his meeting with Nasser scheduled for Thursday, January 19.
  3. Presumably Nasser is referring to his conversation with Byroade on April 5, 1955. See vol. XIV, p. 141.
  4. January 21.
  5. According to Message 14, January 22, Colonel Muhieddin stated “emphatically that there no chance Nasr settle for less than whole Negev up to Dhahiriya Gaza line and that Egypt would not negotiate on this point.” It was pointed out that this would put Anderson in an impossible situation because the Israelis would also insist on the entire Negev. Alternate plans for a territorial settlement in the Negev were then presented. One proposal was to divide the Negev in half; the other was to provide Israel with a corridor to Elath. Colonel Muhieddin indicated his willingness to consider, “if only academically”, the proposition. The meeting produced no other results, leading to the conclusion that “Nasr is convinced he cannot sell settlement to his people or to other Arab states unless Arabs get bulk of Negev territory”, and that if his territorial requirements were met, Nasser would agree to all other points needed to conclude a settlement. (Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha— Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part I)
  6. See infra.
  7. January 22.