159. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, February 26, 1957, 1:42 p.m.1


  • Israeli Withdrawal


  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Reuven Shiloah, Minister of Israel
  • The Secretary
  • The Under Secretary
  • Mr. Francis O. Wilcox, IO
  • Mr. William H. Rountree, NEA
  • Mr. Herman Phleger, L

Ambassador Eban reported briefly on his meeting yesterday with the Secretary General on the problem of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Egypt. He indicated that he believed that in spite of certain differences we were moving towards agreement. Indeed he thought the time had about arrived for Israel to announce that portion of its withdrawal schedule relating to Aqaba.

The Secretary intervened to point out that a matter that was giving us very great concern was Israel’s attitude towards the Armistice Agreement. If the Armistice Agreement were voided, then there is a recurrence to belligerency and that would raise difficult problems about innocent passage through the Straits of Tiran.

Ambassador Eban replied that it was Israel’s assumption that the UN Charter would prevail. In the event the Armistice Agreement does not apply, the relations between Israel and Egypt, he said, would be governed by the Charter. Israel in these circumstances remained in a state of non-belligerency even though the Armistice Agreement might be inoperative. The Secretary and Mr. Phleger pointed out that if we did not have the Armistice Agreement to guide us we would have only chaos in the area. The UN Charter in itself was not sufficient. Our assurances with respect to Israeli withdrawal were predicated upon the existence of the Armistice Agreement and the legal framework which it provided. The Secretary made clear that this point goes to the whole heart of Israel’s position in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Ambassador Eban protested that Israel [Egypt?] had repeatedly asserted belligerency rights and had repudiated the Armistice Agreement. He maintained that Egypt wanted the Armistice Agreement minus its own non-belligerency.

[Page 292]

Ambassador Eban then went on to say that with respect to Gaza, he thought we had come closer together. Israel had simplified and made more flexible its position. Any kind of jurisdiction, he said, which does not mean the return of Egypt would be acceptable to Israel. What Israel envisaged was de facto exclusion of Egypt; his government was interested in substance and not in form. He doubted, however, whether plans contemplated by the Secretary General conformed to this principle. In his exchanges with the Secretary General he said the latter had envisaged the return of Egyptian control with practical arrangements subject to Egyptian approval. The Secretary General, he said, even spoke of possible return of Egyptian forces to the area. What the Ambassador had learned at the UN therefore seemed at variance with the hope Israel had entertained about the future of Gaza. The Secretary General, said Eban, had made clear that he could not limit Egypt’s rights as they were defined by the Armistice Agreement and by the resolutions of the General Assembly; that Egypt retained the rights which they had before and that any arrangements made would depend upon Egypt’s consent. This was very important from the point of view of Israel.

The Ambassador then turned to procedural matters, pointing out that the problems involved in Gaza particularly could not be resolved in a matter of days. He said the Pearson proposal calling for a UN Commission to go to Gaza was an important development in New York although he did not know whether Mr. Pearson would press the suggestion. He felt, however, that the Secretary General was pretty thoroughly bound by the legal position in which he found himself and had not demonstrated very much flexibility.

The Ambassador then suggested the following procedure:

The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Aqaba together with finalizing of the arrangements contained in our aide-mémoire;
The entry of UNEF into the area which would prevent belligerent activities;
The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza;
Arrival of the UN Commission or some other organ of the UN in Gaza. The Commission would establish itself there and make recommendations with respect to both interim and long-term arrangements for Gaza.

He admitted that all the problems involved would not be solved in this fashion, but that a good many of them could. He further pointed out that it would be impossible to change the administration of Gaza overnight anyway. Moreover, he felt that if the U.S. could cooperate, we would be able to show real progress in a matter of days without waiting until everything is agreed upon.

[Page 293]

The Secretary stated that he doubted very much that this would constitute a practical procedure. He said there was a definite link between Gaza and Aqaba and he doubted that the U.S. would feel able to give any assurances with respect to Aqaba if there was not compliance on the part of Israel with UN resolutions relating to Gaza and if rights were asserted by Israel which were incompatible with the terms of the Armistice Agreement. The Secretary said that he believed a solution needs to be found for the whole problem and that the solution ought to involve the withdrawal of forces from both Gaza and Aqaba. He envisaged a gradual withdrawal of administrative forces from Gaza and the initial replacement by UNEF and by UN administrative machinery. It might be possible to retain on a de facto basis some of the administrative machinery now there. In any event, he said, the conditions would have to be such as to give to Israel confidence that the situation would not deteriorate again. Personally he did not think it would deteriorate. The Secretary General, according to his report of February 22, envisaged a long-term arrangement for the area.

The Secretary then commented on talks he had had that morning with M. Pineau and with the President. M. Pineau, he said, had some ideas which might be helpful but that he preferred to have Pineau discuss them with Ambassador Eban. In any event, the ideas M. Pineau put forth commended themselves to the President and to M. Mollet.

The Secretary then went on to say that the thing that disturbed us most is Israel’s position that there isn’t any Armistice Agreement; if that is the case, we will be on an uncharted sea. He hoped very much we could get a common understanding about that; otherwise our whole position would be undermined as would the status of the resolutions approved by the General Assembly. The Secretary expressed the view that there would be an adverse reaction by UN members with respect to any belligerency on the part of Egypt. It was not a situation, he said, which involves only two or three countries of the Middle East area; the potentialities are world-wide in scope.

Ambassador Eban protested that Israel had not repudiated the Armistice Agreement; his government has merely said that Egyptian action in violating the agreement and in denouncing it had brought the Armistice Agreement to naught. The Secretary commented that we were faced with the same problem in Korea; that an Armistice Agreement had existed for more than four years without any political settlement. The Armistice Agreement system, however, had been violated by North Korea. As a result, some people feel that we should treat the Armistice Agreement as void. We do not want to do that, however, because it acts as a restraining factor and gives at least a de facto status with respect to boundaries and other problems. If the agreement were [Page 294] terminated, then the whole area would be in a state of chaos. He hoped, therefore, that Israel would not seek our support for any position involving a renunciation of the Armistice Agreement.

The Secretary then called attention to the situation in New York, stating that it was important to get quick action from Israel if we were to avoid a show-down on a resolution. He said that we were discussing the provisions of a possible resolution in New York; that we were most reluctant to proceed and that he hoped that such a resolution would not be necessary.

Ambassador Eban said that things were in a state of flux in New York; that Canada was putting forth certain proposals2 and that the Secretary General had not been able to meet the positions which the U.S. and Israel had agreed upon. He could not understand the procedure we were following in discussing at this juncture with other governments measures against Israel. It did not seem to him to be logical or desirable for us to be talking with Israeli representatives on constructive measures to resolve the Aqaba and Gaza problems and at the same time carrying on discussions in New York about the kind of punitive measures to apply against Israel. On his part he would urge working day and night to try to resolve the basic problems. Moreover, he felt that the majority of the UN would not be in favor of sanctions. The African-Asian group would support such a move but he could not imagine the U.S. approving.

Mr. Rountree agreed that indeed a majority of the members would prefer to avoid the issue of sanctions and that they would prefer prompt solution through the process of Israeli withdrawal rather than any recourse to sanctions. For this reason, the Secretary had exerted so many efforts to postpone the debate and to find some formula which would permit progress. M. Pineau’s proposal, he thought, might be helpful.

Ambassador Eban objected again to our discussions in New York relating to any sanctions proposals. He thought instead that the U.S. should make known its opposition to the resolution of the Asian-Arab states and in that manner avert a sanctions vote. He continued to believe that we had made enough progress in our discussions to permit us to go ahead along constructive lines.

The Ambassador then inquired with respect to Gaza and Aqaba; whether we took the view that the U.S. doctrine with respect to innocent passage would come into effect only when the entire Gaza problem is solved. Mr. Phleger replied that the Straits were international in character and that the principles outlined in the report of the International [Page 295] Law Commission of the UN would uphold the right of innocent passage. This did not apply, however, to nations at war or in a state of belligerency. We did not feel we were bound to support the idea that passage through the Straits under such circumstances was in effect innocent passage. When Israel had withdrawn behind the armistice lines, then we would be in a position to agree. When the UN moved into Gaza, even if a few people were left from the Israeli administration, the rights could then be exercised. In any event, it ought to be clear that our rights in the Straits were not dependent on Israel’s rights.

Mr. Rountree referred again to the press reports from Israel that the Israelis considered the Armistice Agreement as a dead letter. Mr. Phleger pointed out that we were trying to restore the validity of the Armistice Agreement and then require compliance on the part of Egypt.

With respect to Gaza, the Ambassador said that Israel wants to make sure that the solution is an international solution and not an Egyptian solution. They were not insisting upon a de jure change in the Egyptian position. He commented that there was a danger in emphasizing the Armistice Agreement—that this could work against the interests of Israel. The control of Gaza could go back to Egypt as the result of too much emphasis on the Armistice Agreement. He added that if our people thought that the new regime in Gaza would be in fact a return of Egyptian control, it would be serious indeed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/2–2657. Confidential. Drafted by Wilcox. The time of the meeting is from Dulles’ Appointment Book. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)
  2. On February 25, the Mission in New York transmitted to the Department of State the text of a draft resolution which the Canadian Delegation had made available to the U.S. Mission. (Delga 800 from USUN; Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/2–2557)