366. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State 1

167. State 6581.2

At his request I called on P.M. Eshkol at his house in Jerusalem this afternoon for what developed into one hour dialogue. He started by indicating considerable agitation over Secretary’s message contained in reftel. His concern also corroborated by fact this Sabbath eve and he supposed to be on vacation.
Eshkol welcomed overture from Hussein. However, he professed inability to understand our apparent surprise at Hussein’s step. Recalling various recent statements by King which he interpreted to effect King would attempt achieve Arab summit and failing that would feel free to proceed on his own, Prime Minister said move should not have been unexpected. What disturbed Eshkol was tenor of Secretary’s message that Israel should respond with concessions on Jerusalem and specifically indicate a willingness to regard renunciation of city under Israeli control as subject modification. He averred most positively that he had stretched his cabinet like a rubber band on a number of problems which had been considered in last few weeks but that rubber band would break immediately if he authorized Eban to make any statements that measures to reunify city only “interim” and subject further debate. As to GA debate and resolution on Jerusalem he urged that we not support resolution calling for retrogression. His argument was that such U.S. support would be disservice to Hussein who would then be expected to achieve more in negotiation than any Israeli Government could ultimately give. He differentiated Holy Places from fundamental attitude toward Israeli control and sovereignty of city and stressed success he believes he is achieving in realistic discussions with Vatican as to suitable arrangements to safeguard religious interests.
I said that despite his apparent optimism that Hussein would come forward and seek discussions with Israel, my feeling was we were less sanguine in this regard which might explain our seeming surprise at King’s overture. I noted Hussein’s public posture had not been uniformly receptive to idea of settlement and obvious hazards such step entailed, as exemplified by fate of King’s grandfather. I also stressed significance King’s move as possible opening wedge to peaceful discussions with other Arab states, obviously in all our interests. As to Jerusalem, I made clear our non recognition unilateral renunciation, in fact our non recognition over twenty years of Israel’s position on Jerusalem and Hussein’s claim to West Bank. I urged in strongest terms that what we need is some sort of helpful gesture on part Israel in response to major courageous initiative King is taking. I said I appreciated that Israel’s position on fundamentals of unification of Jerusalem under Israeli aegis apparently could not be reconciled with our position that administrative steps Israel has already taken should be regarded as of interim nature and subject international recognition or modification later. I added what we seemed to need was indication of flexibility as to legitimate international interests in city, particularly the interests of Moslems.
After considerable back and forth along above lines, Eshkol appeared somewhat more inclined seek formula of more helpful import. He still adamant on fundamentals, but, focusing on religious interests, said he prepared go limit in establishing practical and legal jurisdiction of various religious persuasions over sites their legitimate concern. [Page 664] Specifically he quite willing accept Hussein as guardian Moslem interests if in fact King could make such position stick in Moslem world. He referred to Islamic concept of caliphate of which many Arab monarchs had claimed right wear mantle. Finally, he concurred in thought that universality of city could well be most productive approach.
I cannot, after this meeting, predict that Eban’s response to Secretary will, on basis instructions he will receive from P.M., be as forthcoming as we might like. However, within limits of basic issues as Israelis see them, I hope Eshkol will approve instructions authorizing Eban to direct his reply in as positive a direction as his drafting ingenuity, which is not inconsiderable, will permit.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Sandstorm/Whirlwind. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Sandstorm. Repeated to USUN. Received at 7:17 p.m.
  2. Document 360.