615. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 26, 19561

SUBJECT

  • Withdrawal of Israel Forces

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Reuven Shiloah, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • NEA—Mr. Rountree
  • NE—Mr. Bergus

Mr. Eban reported that on the subject of the withdrawal of Israel troops from Egyptian territory, the Israelis had sent the UN Secretary General a letter on November 252 repeating Israel’s intention to withdraw subject to satisfactory arrangements being made. Israel suggested that it wished to discuss these arrangements immediately.

The Israelis had already spoken to the Secretary General informally. They had said that the practical problems created by Israel’s withdrawal could be solved through the use of the United Nations Emergency Force.

The UNEF should be used at the entry to the Gulf of Aqaba to prevent a renewal of the maritime blockade there. This was an international waterway which Israel had succeeded in opening; it should not now be closed as a result of UN action.

With regard to Sinai, Israel wanted occupation of key points by the UNEF pending agreements between Egypt and the UN and Israel and the UN looking to the demilitarization of the Peninsula.

There had been troubles in Gaza but the situation looked better now. Tragic outbreaks had taken place on November 10 and 11. Municipal services had now been improved, and exports of citrus and dates from the Gaza strip were being facilitated. Regarding the long-term future of Gaza, Israel had been vague. The question for decision was whether the whole structure of the State of Israel, which had been based on a heavy Jewish majority, should be changed. On the other hand, Israel’s absorption of Gaza and the assumption of responsibility for the people living there could be a large contribution to an ultimate settlement. Until this matter had been decided by the Israelis, Israel had no juridical aim in Gaza. For [Page 1199]the present, Israel would seek a non-Egyptian solution for Gaza which would leave open the possibility of eventual Israel sovereignty over the Strip.

The Secretary General thought that practical solutions to such problems as the Gulf of Aqaba could be reached if questions of sovereignty were not raised. Mr. Rountree inquired as to who, in Israel’s view, was sovereign over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Mr. Eban replied that Israel understood they had been under Saudi Arab sovereignty, but that Egypt had occupied them, presumably with Saudi consent.

Mr. Eban continued that Mr. Hammarskjold wanted to know what UN member states thought about the problems of withdrawal. Mr. Eban urged that the U.S. give the Secretary General its views on these problems. The Israelis had approached Mr. Lodge on this question, but he had been uninstructed. The United States could not be an agnostic on these points.

Mr. Rountree indicated that these questions were occupying our attention. The U.S. position was that there should be a withdrawal of foreign troops from Egyptian territory and that UN influence should be directed to the prevention of the recurrence of the dangers in the Near East situation. Our views on the second of these points were not clearly defined and would depend on recommendations of the UNEF and the Secretary General.

Mr. Eban said that if Israel simply walked out of Egypt, a vacuum would be created which Egypt would have to fill. Mr. Lodge had talked of phasing. Mr. Rountree said that there was an obvious difficulty in defining a phased withdrawal. The British and French had talked of man for man replacement of their forces. Mr. Eban said that Israel’s interest was in places rather than men.

Mr. Eban referred to the many economic possibilities of Aqaba as an alternative to the Suez Canal. Israel had decided to lay an oil pipeline from Eilat to Beersheba. Efforts to acquire the necessary pipe were currently underway.

Withdrawal created many problems. The Secretary General himself had insisted that Israel not leave a vacuum in Gaza. That is why Israel regretted peremptory UNGA resolutions calling for withdrawal which served only to delay discussions which would lead to withdrawal. Mr. Eban was surprised that the U.S. had voted for a resolution which stated that there had been no Israel withdrawal, when in fact substantial numbers of Israel troops had returned to Israel territory. Israel planned to publish its letter to the Secretary General. Mr. Rountree thought this might be a useful step.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/11–2656. Secret. Drafted by Bergus on November 27.
  2. Reference is presumably to the letter from Meir to Hammarskjöld dated November 26 in “Exchange of letters between the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel and the Secretary-General”, U.N. doc. A/3395.