367. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Near East Settlement


  • Mr. Abba Eban, Foreign Minister of Israel
  • Ambassador Avraham Harman, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Emanuel Shimoni, Private Secretary to the Foreign Minister
  • The Secretary and Under Secretary
  • M—Mr. Rostow
  • NEARodger P. Davies, Deputy Assistant Secretary

Mr. Eban began the discussion by expressing hope that the General Assembly would adjourn and consideration of the Near East problem [Page 665] revert to the Security Council. He did not think a compromise resolution was possible, noted a mood of general resignation among delegations, and said the Francophone African states were playing with the idea of a resolution returning the problem to the Security Council.

The Secretary thought some formula for bridging the gap between withdrawal and termination of belligerency might be found. The Soviets have kept pushing for this in corridor conversations. He noted that a simple move for adjournment of the General Assembly might win a majority, thus returning the issue to the Council.

Mr. Eban said Israel was anxious to move toward a settlement with the Arabs. Its priorities were Jordan, the UAR, Syria, and then Algeria. Hussein’s indication that he was interested in terms for a settlement was an important but not entirely new development. He had been responsive to suggestions that he explore terms when raised by the British and by Sarragat, and the Pope. Israel considers Hussein’s approach through the U.S. as important since it was made through a great power and after his visit to Cairo. Israel recognizes that Nasser may only want to get Hussein into trouble by not interposing objection. There is, of course, much vagueness in what Hussein has proposed. Definitive arrangements to untangle himself from his mess are essential. As a matter of fact, the Jordanese have been showing themselves realistic on an ad hoc basis. The Prime Minister has been negotiating through UN agencies on practical matters. Through UNRWA’s Assistant Commissioner General Reddaway, the Jordanese have proposed an exchange of wheat which is surplus on one bank for vegetables which are surplus on the other bank of the Jordan. The policy of return of refugees is being negotiated in the same channels. These are, however, indirect contacts. Israel hopes Hussein can be brought to something more substantive in the form of a dialogue. It might be possible for Hussein to appoint one or two people to meet either in the area or in Europe to explore modalities. The increased mixing of Arabs and Israelis in the West Bank may make it feasible to maintain secrecy of meetings in the area.

The Secretary said that assuming bilateral arrangements between Israel and Jordan could be arranged, it would be extremely dangerous to Hussein if these surfaced in advance of arrangements with others. Subversion and, possibly, assassination might result.

Mr. Eban said that in preliminary stages he felt the negotiators need not be conspicuous, but they should be capable of defining issues and the limits of policy and concessions ad referendum to their principals. In the case of Egypt and Syria, Israel had a clear idea of what settlement it would work for. With respect to the West Bank and Jordan, however, the situation was more difficult. There is a plurality of thinking in Israel. Some advocate a Palestinian solution: an autonomous Palestine tying the West Bank to Israel or associated with both Israel and Transjordan. Others doubt this is feasible or desirable and urge a Jordanian solution.

[Page 666]

The Secretary said that the Palestinian solution would seem to involve a second-class status for the Arabs and could lead to Palestinian demands to become the 14th Arab state.

Mr. Eban responded to Mr. Rostow’s comment that a binational secular state might provide a solution by saying this would be the most dramatic of all. He doubted, however, that the 1.3 million Arabs could be mixed successfully with the 2–1/2 million Israelis. In any event, this would mean an entirely different concept than that of Israel as a state embodying Hebrew concepts. In any event, Israel needs an internal decision on whether to seek a Jordanian or Palestinian solution. If the Jordanian formula is decided on, Israel would require better and more viable boundaries and economic association.

Israel would be willing to compensate for the loss of Jerusalem by economic help and access to the sea.

The Secretary said he felt there were advantages in the U.S. avoiding being used as an intermediary between Israel and Jordan. Mr. Eban agreed and thought Israel would not like the U.S. at Hussein’s side with the latter hoping the USG would press his claims.

The Secretary saw real trouble ahead on Jerusalem. There are strong feelings in many places on this issue. The USG had never agreed with either the Israeli or Jordanian positions on Jerusalem, and there had been sharp, adverse reaction to recent Israeli steps in Jerusalem. The question of Jerusalem must be kept open for further discussion and negotiations. The U.S. sought solid international arrangements, and this would not be satisfied by scattered rights over a few holy places.

The Foreign Minister indicated that there were some 40,000 Arabs in the old city and 60–75,000 in the Jerusalem area.

Mr. Eban said Israel was much more conciliatory to international interest as opposed to Jordanian interest. Israel was close to agreeing on a formula with the Vatican by which diplomatic status of the holy places would replace the extraterritorial enclave formula previously sought. The Pope expressed interest in having jurisdiction over his prelates in Jerusalem. Rome clearly was moving away from a dogmatic approach, and a practical solution assuring an international presence was in the offing. The Vatican and Israel did not wish UN control over any part of Jerusalem since UN mechanisms in the Near East implied fragility and had been of a transitory nature. The universal interests of the Church were much more permanent.

The Secretary said this formula was interesting but did not exhaust all possibilities.

Mr. Eban said the question of the Haram ash-Sharif (Dome of the Rock) was more difficult. It was inconceivable that Jordan could return to Jerusalem. Hundreds of people had been killed by Jordanian soldiers [Page 667] when there was no need for the King to move on the city. He must now bear the consequences of his unacceptable action. Nevertheless, Moslem interests would be part and parcel of discussions with the King.

On continued fighting along the Suez Canal, Mr. Eban thought the Egyptians might interpret the presence and movement of Israeli forces as mounting a threat at the cease-fire line. Arrival of UN observers this week-end may calm the situation.2 It was noted that the Egyptians refused to permit the observers to cross from one bank of the Canal to the other. On Sharm ash-Shaykh, Mr. Eban said there was nothing there in the way of habitation, and the best solution might be to leave the place unoccupied.

There was some prospect of settlement of refugees in the El Arish area. Surveys going back to 1902 indicated some water resources.

Mr. Eban thought that Soviet frustration at tactics which blocked their arms in the UNGA may be causing them to advise the Arabs to revise their positions away from intransigency.

In response to the Secretary’s question, Mr. Eban said President De Gaulle’s views were in sharp contrast to French public opinion. In the latest polls, Israel rated greater popularity than did the General himself. In his conversation with the General on May 24, Mr. Eban was told Israel had a good case, but a solution of its problem could be obtained only in the context of four-power agreement. The French viewed their Near East policy as part of their global policy. De Gaulle felt then that there was a disequilibrium between U.S. and USSR power and, undoubtedly, Soviet reverses in the Middle East made him feel that the gap now was even greater. De Gaulle sought to restore equilibrium by throwing support to the weaker power. He is not able to understand or to recognize the rebuffs he has received from Kosygin. He has refused to accept evidence that the Soviets will work in a two-power but not a four-power context. Despite General De Gaulle, there had been some resumption of military supplies from France. These are enough to keep Israel’s Mirages flying.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Davies. The time of the meeting is from Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library) Eban met with Eugene Rostow over lunch. Rostow stated that the preceding weeks had demonstrated the need for consultation on a continuing basis on subjects in which both sides had a vital interest and in which the United States could be drawn into “difficult situations” as a result of Israeli actions. Pressed for an example, he cited Israel’s actions with respect to Jerusalem. Eban said that Israel had also learned lessons from the preceding weeks; the Israeli Government “now recognized that it had no real alternative to self-reliance militarily.” (Memorandum of conversation, July 15; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  2. Secretary-General Thant reported to the Security Council on July 11 that the UAR and Israeli Governments had accepted the stationing of UN military observers in the Suez Canal sector. (UN document S/8053) Both Israel and the UAR complained of cease-fire violations in letters of July 12, 13, 14, and 15 from the UAR and letters of July 14 and 15 from Israel. (UN documents S/8054, S/8061, S/8057, S/8062, S/8059, and S/8060) Telegram 1081 from USDAO Tel Aviv, July 16, reported that a cease-fire had begun at midnight, July 15/16. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR) Telegram 149 from Jerusalem, July 17, reported that General Bull had informed Consul General Wilson that he had instructed his two teams of UN military observers at Ismailiya and Qantara to commence cease-fire supervision as of 1600 GMT that day. (Ibid., POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR/UN)