162. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, February 27, 1957, Noon1

SUBJECT

  • Israeli Withdrawal

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mrs. Golda Meir, Israeli Minister
  • Mr. Abba Eban, Israeli Ambassador
  • Mr. Reuven Shiloah, Israeli Minister
  • The Secretary Christian A. HerterU
  • Francis O. WilcoxIO
  • Herman PhlegerL
  • William M. RountreeNEA

Mrs. Meir began by expressing the appreciation of the Israeli Government for the great personal effort which the Secretary had made to solve the Israeli-Egyptian problem. The Secretary responded that no effort had been spared, and he sincerely hoped for a successful result.

Mrs. Meir said the proposed formula which had been discussed the previous day by Ambassador Eban with Mr. Pineau 2 had been telegraphed to the Government in Jerusalem, and that the Ambassador had been in touch that morning with the Prime Minister. Mr. Ben Gurion’s first reaction had been generally favorable, and he was calling the cabinet together urgently to consider the proposal. She hoped during the course of the day to have more definitive information. She thought there may be a “few corrections” but no major revisions. She was anxious that we reach a favorable conclusion as soon as possible, but as a democracy Israel must go through its democratic procedures before making a decision. She remarked that, with a favorable response from the Prime Minister it was to be hoped that “one or two or three days” might be provided to work out the details. She understood the difficulty of the U.S. position at the United Nations, but for Israel it was a strain and created great problems to have over its head a threat of certain action if Israel did not withdraw. It would be extremely helpful, she said, if a few days delay in the United Nations could be provided for discussions of the new proposal, without having to be concerned about possible new resolutions, sanctions, and so forth.

The Ambassador interjected that he had spoken to the Prime Minister while the Foreign Minister was enroute to Washington. He would thus like to describe the Prime Minister’s reaction, which was one of “an affirmative spirit” although he had made one or two proposals for clarification. These would be discussed with Mr. Pineau at a meeting already arranged for 2:15 p.m. today. The Ambassador had stressed to the Prime Minister the urgency of the matter and hoped that by today he would have a decision in principle that Israel [Page 301] would agree to solution along the lines proposed. It would not take several days before the basic attitude was determined, although some time might be required for all of the details to be worked out.

The Secretary said that the Israeli representatives must realize the very difficult situation in the General Assembly. Previous delays had been arranged by the exertion of great influence, and even then on a day by day, indeed hour by hour, basis. His last request from Prime Minister Ben Gurion had been to arrange for a postponement until last Monday. While it had not been possible technically to do so, it had been done in substance. Already it was Wednesday, and the problem of additional postponements was perhaps insurmountable. He could appreciate the fact that it might be embarrassing for the Israeli Government to seem to be acting under the threat of events in the General Assembly, and he had tried to avoid that as much as possible. He did not think it would be possible to hold off further unless we could say at least that there was agreement in principle to Israeli withdrawal, and request time to work out details regarding an exchange of views to accompany that withdrawal.

The Foreign Minister repeated the hope that by the end of the day they would have the decision in principle. We could then go over the proposed statement paragraph by paragraph. The Secretary responded that that procedure would be agreeable but he saw no reason why it could not be done in a few hours rather than days. Mrs. Meir maintained that it would be preferable to take two or three days, assuming a favorable cabinet decision. In the event of such a decision the pressure presumably would be lessened.

Responding to the Secretary’s query, Mr. Wilcox said the Palestine question was the main item holding up the General Assembly recess. The New Guinea item was before the Assembly, and he thought it could be disposed of quickly. The members would be anxious not to prolong the session by further postponement.

Ambassador Eban remarked that perhaps a postponement would not be needed since there were a number of delegates to the General Assembly having ideas to express who might go ahead with their speeches, without the introduction of any new resolutions, particularly an American resolution. That would have the effect of slowing down matters while the details of the current proposal were being worked out. Mrs. Meir commented that speeches did not worry her; it was “rumors of United States resolutions and American consultations with other delegations” that worried her.

The Secretary said that we had to operate on two fronts to meet two contingencies: 1) that the efforts being made here to solve the problem would work out, and 2) that they would not. It was difficult to keep the situation in a proper state of development at both places. Ambassador Lodge had had talks with other delegations who co-sponsored [Page 302] with us the second resolution of February 2, a proposed draft resolution which might be submitted in the unhappy contingency of failure here. We had made certain suggestions to him regarding this resolution and had received certain proposed amendments, which we had commented on. The Secretary said that he had just authorized a statement to be made by the Department’s press officer saying in effect that the United States position remained as described by the President in his television address, and that we were considering at the United Nations how to implement that policy if it should become necessary to do so. The statement would say, however, that we hoped we would not have to pursue the matter at the United Nations and were meeting with the Government of Israel in that respect.

Repeating that she thought it possible to have a reply from Jerusalem during the course of the day, the Foreign Minister said she was sure the Secretary appreciated the difficult position for her Government in light of reports and rumors which were undoubtedly reaching Israel regarding a possible American resolution at the General Assembly. The Secretary responded that some of the stories regarding the American position should reassure Israel. He quoted an item in the Baltimore Sun to the effect that the Administration was in full retreat on the matter of pressure against Israel.

Mrs. Meir wondered about procedures, assuming that the reply from Jerusalem was affirmative. Time would be needed after the reply was received to consider how to implement the arrangement. The Secretary said he did not see why two or three days were needed to complete the matter. If the Israeli decision should be negative, that certainly would not present a prospect upon which we could call for suspension of United Nations consideration. If it were affirmative, relatively little time would be needed to make appropriate statements. He emphasized that we would have to have something definite today if we were to withhold further action on the resolution in New York. The Ambassador said the Prime Minister’s first reaction had been such to provide hope that the matter could be worked out, and it would be a tragedy if this opportunity should be lost. He said the statements being made at New York were primarily by people who were not interested in a constructive approach and he was not aware of great pressure from the more moderate delegations. The Secretary responded that most delegations were awaiting knowledge of the United States position. They did not want to commit themselves prematurely and, for our part, we were glad there were those who wished to take our attitude into account.

Mrs. Meir repeated that it was indeed the American attitude which concerned Israel. She recalled that after the meetings over the weekend, we all had been hopeful that a solution was possible and felt [Page 303] that we had travelled a long way toward a solution, but that Monday those hopes had been shattered. Surely she said, we should make every attempt this time to succeed.

The Secretary said that Mrs. Meir had previously raised the question of procedure. He wondered why we could not discuss procedure now on the assumption that the Israeli Government’s decision would be favorable. He felt there was no need to lose time. We must find a way to put the decision into effect without delay. He would like to have Mrs. Meir’s ideas as to what procedures should be followed, then we could move instantly when a decision was rendered.

Responding to Mrs. Meir’s comment that she would appreciate the Secretary’s ideas in this regard, he said he hoped that, in the main, the arrangements would be carried out in the United Nations, with the Israelis making their statement to be followed by statements by the United States and other delegations who wished to join. The Israelis might say that they were withdrawing and then state what Israel would expect would happen after that withdrawal. That would not need Assembly action. It was important that what was said not be inconsistent with the factual situation as regards the Secretary General, since we must avoid a situation in which Mr. Hammarskjold would feel compelled to “throw a spanner into the machinery”. The Ambassador said, regarding the proposed American statement, that the Secretary had indicated the United States would express its hope that the UNEF would not withdraw from the Straits area without prior notice. He hoped that would be included.

The Secretary replied that we would say something along the lines that we hoped the United Nations forces would not be suddenly withdrawn without appropriate notification to the United Nations.

Responding to Mrs. Meir’s comment that, after the statements on withdrawal, some delegations which would not like them might put in resolutions, the Secretary said the important thing was that Israel would be stating that it was withdrawing. He hoped that there would be no resolutions submitted after that.

Ambassador Eban remarked that he had promised to let the Secretary know the precise language which Israel would employ regarding the defense of its shipping through the Straits. He hoped a draft would be completed in the course of the day and that he would promptly thereafter give it to the Secretary.

The Secretary suggested that we have further talks about procedures. It was important to get the arrangements down concisely. He would talk with Ambassador Lodge and thought it would be useful if some of his associates could meet with Israeli representatives to pursue the matter.

Mr. Herter emphasized the view we must have something specific if matters in the General Assembly were to be delayed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/2–2757. Secret. Drafted by Rountree.
  2. In his autobiography, Eban recalls that during a conversation with Dulles, Dulles informed him that Mollet and Pineau, who were currently in Washington, had made a proposal which Eisenhower and Dulles thought might help to solve the deadlock. When Eban later saw Pineau, Pineau handed him a memorandum in French together with an English translation. According to Eban, the French memorandum suggested that Israel announce its complete withdrawal in accordance with U.N. resolutions on the understanding that the initial takeover of Gaza would be exclusively by the U.N. Emergency Force; that the United Nations would be the agency used for civilian administration; that U.N. administration would continue until a peace settlement was achieved; and that if Egyptian actions led to a deterioration of conditions, “Israel would reserve its freedom to act to defend its rights.” ( Abba Eban, An Autobiography, p. 248)