268. Informal Memorandum From W. Howard Wriggins of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1



  • Today’s Thoughts on Arab-Israel Problem

1. Time Perspective

In the euphoria from Israel’s remarkable performance, I said last week, “It’s a new ball game.” After Nasser’s political performance on Friday, and noting the positions taken by the Arabs since then, I suspect that if it is a new ball game, it will have many all-too-familiar plays.

While the Israelis occupy substantial parts of neighboring Arab states, Syria and Egypt can sit it out for some time yet. True, the economic pressures on Egypt will mount as the costs of mobilization continue and the canal tolls remain stopped. While food supplies now in hand will last three or four weeks, their new harvest will be starting now and requisitioning of supplies is feasible. If the Soviets are willing to provide substantial help, Cairo could hold out longer. Much will depend on whether Nasser can retain his army. My guess is he will be able to hold out for months rather than weeks.

Jordan, of course, is a different case. Hussein can hardly ignore the presence of Israeli forces, and the refugee flow they have provoked. On the other hand, can he settle with the Israelis unless the Israelis are prepared to make a substantially generous offer? There is, I believe, much wisdom in the attached telegram from Findley Burns. (Amman 4229)2

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However, I fear that unless we weigh in in Tel Aviv, Dayan, rather than Eshkol, will call the tune. I understand the President’s reluctance to get his hand in the machinery. But if he doesn’t, privately or publicly, I believe we are in for a long and stormy stalemate during which the Russians will more than make up for what they have temporarily lost. And it will be at our expense.

2. Components of a Settlement

I suppose by now the outlines of a possible settlement are fairly clear:

formal Arab recognition of Israel’s existence;
safety from Syria’s direct threat from the heights (a de-militarized zone on the Syrian heights might do it);
internationalization of the Old City and sharing of tourist earnings;
guarantee of free passage for all ships through Sharm el-Sheik and Suez;
a bold Israeli initiative on Arab refugees. With their new strength they can afford to be more generous than during their frightened past. This might include: (a) free private choice for up to 10–15 percent of the “old” refugees; (b) substantial Israeli and international financing of their resettlement in Israel; (c) training and resettlement arrangements, internationally financed with the cooperation of the oil rich states, for resettlement elsewhere of other refugees; (d) if Israel holds on to Gaza, these refugees, after careful vetting, might also be settled in Israel;
Israel withdraws from Sinai, the West Bank and Syria, leaving (a) an international presence at Sharm el-Sheik; (b) a de-militarized zone on the Syrian heights; (c) an adjustment of frontiers with Jordan to broaden the wedge into Jerusalem, etc.

3. Operational Question

It is unlikely that a settlement reached under international auspices will have the viability of an agreement reached by the Arabs negotiating directly with Israel. On the other hand, this is precisely what the Arabs are the least likely to want to do. How can we encourage a direct negotiation between the two when our own leverage has been so materially reduced by these events? Perhaps we can use the impending Soviet initiative at the UN to promote some form of Arab-Israeli dialogue?

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. V. No classification marking. Wriggins sent a copy to Bundy.
  2. The attached copy of telegram 4229 from Amman, June 11, bears the following handwritten note in an unidentified hand: “Walt, This is a wise telegram from Amman.” The telegram transmitted Burns’ recommendations for U.S. policy in the Middle East. It argued that Israeli magnanimity with the Arabs would be Israel’s best means of obtaining real gains and that if there was to be any likelihood of a lasting peace, “Israel must not further humiliate the Arabs.” It declared, “It appears to us that what Israel should want most are rights: rights of access to the international waterways, to the Holy City, and the right to have a logical defensible border with her neighbors. If she aims at any semblance of peace with the Arabs, she should not expect, with but a few small exceptions, territorial changes.” It urged immediate U.S. public statements expressing concern at the exodus of evacuees from the West Bank and calling on Israel to keep them in place and urging Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the recent fighting. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)