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

391. Subject: August 4 Discussion with Foreign Minister Eban.

Ref: Tel Aviv 385.2

Since August 4 luncheon discussion with Foreign Minister Eban, Ambassador Harman and Moshe Bitan offered opportunity carry out my instructions (State 14236)3 in relation several subjects, I am reporting them together in a single wire.
UN matters.
Conversation commenced with my remark that we still could not understand why GOI became so jittery in latter stages of UN Emergency Assembly meeting when it appeared that US and USSR were finally getting together on text which contained essentials of our position with which Israel agreed. Eban instantly produced from his pocket copies of US text of June 20 and subsequent US–USSR draft (indicating, I suppose, he had either expected to bring up subject himself or anticipated my approach). He contended that latter text was erosion in that it did not talk about negotiated political settlement and first place went to troop withdrawal, leaving second emphasis only on permanent settlement and security. Eban said that term “negotiation” was omitted in latter text as though it were an “impolite word.” Eban and I agreed that there was little chance that Arabs would have accepted US–USSR text anyway, but when I stressed that this was chance for US to get together with Soviets, he claimed that Soviets had not been persuaded to accept US objectives but were merely attempting to erode US position. Eban went on to comment that in UN context symbols too were important and US–USSR draft omitted terminology about ending “state of belligerency.” He advised that in future discussions with Soviets we should talk about policies and not drafts. I agreed on basis of ideal desirability but pointed out that discussions in UN context naturally center around drafts.
Later in conversation Ambassador Harman raised point that Arabs had also insisted on removal of word “peace” from late version of [Page 756] draft resolution indicating that they still were not willing to face up to end of state of belligerency with Israel. I indicated that Security Council was much wound up in its own particular procedures and that meanings of words took on different significance there and stressed again that if we looked broadly at our relations with Soviets since end of World War II, contrast was impressive. Our interests coincide now more than ever before, I pointed out, citing Chinese Communist problem and general significance of Soviets becoming “have” nation. To be sure there was not yet real meeting of minds but we do talk together more now and seem to be making progress towards actions in our mutual interest. I referred also to pre-Six-Day War Israeli statements that peace would only come to Middle East if US and Soviet Union could get together. Eban admitted that he had agreed to “harmonization” of great powers as requirement for peace but added that he had always meant by it that USSR should accept US policies. He remarked that in fact Soviet Union had not closed the “hole” when it should have during the last five or six years if it had genuine interest in settling world problems. When he referred to current Nuclear [Non-]Proliferation Treaty negotiations, I interjected that Israel’s signature would help too. After acknowledging this remark with short laugh, Eban continued that if Soviets had been afraid of Communist China, they would have made settlement in Vietnam. I told him we were not becoming starry eyed but gratifying change had occurred. Eban advised “don’t leave well fortified positions and go into no-man’s land at this point.” In GOI opinion, he stated, US position in UNSC should be based on restatement of President Johnson’s five points and original June 20 draft resolution. He pointed out in that draft freedom of maritime passage was treated as something absolutely required so that no question could be raised later regarding Canal, I asked him pointedly whether this meant that GOI had no apprehensions about taking up freedom of transit in Security Council. Eban said in his opinion our original draft was so worded that this right would not have been vulnerable to Soviet veto. He mentioned that perhaps he should make a statement of Israeli attitude on essential points for UN consideration but I cautioned him against making any public statements about alleged changes in our position. Eban praised Ambassador Goldberg’s handling of Emergency Session which he said showed great skill but reiterated importance which Israelis see in symbolism involved in retaining reference to “belligerence.” He warned again that Soviet objective to get Israel out of occupied territory remained unchanged to which I replied that Soviets would not have gone so far with us if they had still thought they could get Israel out unconditionally, which was object of original position they had abandoned.
Eban recommended that we try to persuade Soviets to concert with us in limiting arms supply to which Harman remarked we have [Page 757] tried this often. Eban agreed that US had tried it often and Soviets had always declined. If we bring it up again, it would show whether Soviets have an international interest in peace in this area rather than desire achieve local advantage. I pointed out that we could not go that far yet with Soviets but our common interests were growing broader.
Regarding UN tactics Eban said GOI felt it would be helpful not to resume public discussions until September. He reported that he had found in talking with Seydoux that nobody was enthusiastic including Arabs and Soviets who, to French distress, were “more interested in a duet than a quartet.” When I remarked that George Brown did not appear so happy about waiting, Eban replied that UK thinks Canal closure weighs more heavily on it than anyone else but GOI believes best way to be diplomatically effective in immediate future is in traditional channels. I told him we agreed it would probably be best not to resume discussion until sometime around end of August.
Concerning Jerusalem Eban remarked that as we may have noticed there has been some domestic political difficulty here but GOI will accept someone coming over to look around on behalf of SYG provided he is well balanced in his outlook.
Movement Towards Settlement.
Eban expressed opinion that present tactical situation might be more important now than examining broad area objectives. He believed what we need most is “obdurate patience.” He recalled that outcome of UN Emergency meeting shut door on unconditional withdrawal and that Arabs now must realize that they cannot get what they want without coming to Israelis directly. Choice, Eban added, was between “cease fire or peace.” He cautioned strongly against becoming jumpy, nervous and running around excitedly in Washington. Some people, he added, appeared patient but others claimed things were getting worse thus demonstrating loss of nerve. He quoted one LA delegate as saying that free world is so unaccustomed to victory that when they get it, they just run around trying to give it away.
I told Eban that there could be two trends of thinking in regard to tactics. On the one hand it could be argued that time favors Israel and US in efforts towards achieving settlement; on the other, time may not necessarily be on our side. Perhaps Israel has too good nerves after nineteen years of conditioning. They reason that due largely to GOI restraint early in crisis (something for which I said I claimed a little credit, thus enabling Eban to say he had had something to do with it too), it was made clear to world that Israel was ringed around with enemies who were harassing it. Hence, when one last Egyptian incitement occurred and Israel pushed all buttons, in world estimation it was victim of aggression and gave good account of itself militarily. Now, however, this “victim” is sitting on territory [Page 758] of its neighbors in improved security situation. Under these conditions its status as “victim” will to an extent tend to be forgotten and will be replaced by image of Israel as “top dog.” Any apparent reluctance to move toward reasonable solutions now will react against Israel. I pointed out that refugee problem including early return of those on East Bank is very important in this. Ideally, I added it is possible to see advantages of just sitting until Arabs forced to talk but with world made up of human beings this may not be best course.
Eban stated he agreed that victim concept is fading internationally as illustrated by vacillating UN and disappearing French and Canadian support. Yet, he emphasized, GOI must have nerve to let time pass and refuse to make known its peace terms. Eban did admit, however, that much research was now going on as to possible conditions of settlement, including matters such as economic, demographic, and political factors in Israel-Palestine equation. He said that GOI was conducting exercises as though they were real negotiations with Arabs. I interjected that danger is if present situation is crystallized with Israel as only real power in area, it will take on all attributes of former so-called imperialism and all its troubles. Eban responded by statement that I was authorized to say GOI was not just sitting but that “a certain solidity is now required.” He said that very fact I felt so strongly on this matter showed problem is arising. Yet, he commented, Arabs are just now coming up against realities which they would not have done before July [June] 4. He expressed hope that after another few weeks or months more progress could be expected from them. I told him few weeks or months might be all right but not to let it go too far. Eban countered with view that changes required in Arab outlook are so fundamental that more time might be needed for them to make necessary adjustment. Harman said he admitted need for movement towards peace but that quick movement could bring us to conclusion short of full change which [garble] would be self-defeating. In his opinion things are moving in right direction as result of Assembly [garble]. He referred to possible Yemen settlement and withdrawal of Egyptian troops now there. I told Harman that I personally accepted much of what he said but to be realistic, vis-à-vis Soviets US had lost a lot. I observed that now it was clear we were not looking for love and esteem of Arabs, perhaps relationship based on mutual interests such as oil could be re-established on more realistic basis, but present situation certainly was not favorable. Eban interjected that it would have been much worse for our relations with Arabs if Israel had not helped us out on June 5. I told him with some vehemence not to press me on what might have happened if Israel had not won victory. As result, I said, now we have to wrestle with peace problems. Returning to charge on refugees I pointed out that image made great difference, and right now question [Page 759] arose whether Israel did not appear to be more interested in holding real estate than in solving basic problems. Bitan interjected that Israel’s preference for sticking to essentials over images was like ours in Vietnam. I said it seems to me that action on refugees would show whether Israeli image was like ours in Vietnam. I said it seemed to me that action on refugees would show whether Israeli image was becoming that of an obstinate victor or remained that of victim of aggression. As to refugees going to East Bank, their motives were multiple which was all more reason to show everyone there were no road blocks to returning them. Eban remarked that Jordanian willingness to meet for discussion on problems of returning refugees showed they accepted necessity of coming to agreement. I told Eban that frankly Israeli requirements regarding meetings, forms and so on did not add to Israel’s credit in face of great humanitarian problem. Eban commented that he had been attracted by idea of making some refugees “non-refugees” and that he had talked to Horowitz about it who thought that they might get some outside assistance for such move. Then I recalled lunch I gave for Nixon on June 22 when Allon and other ministers appeared enthusiastic to get started on refugee problem. I said that although I might be speaking out of turn, if GOI could find projects which would really move towards solution, I felt sure we could find ways of helping. Harman added that limited specific project on refugees brought to West Bank would set wheels in motion but would “cost x millions of dollars” for equipment and other essentials. I repeated that we would be sympathetic to project involving final solution to human problem. Eban observed that maybe transition time between cease fire and peace could be used to move forward on refugee problem but important thing was not to become impatient. Certain processes could only occur with “time plus firmness,” especially on part of those who set high value on Soviet behavior. He admitted that progress was less apparent on Arab side but claimed that something was happening there too and reiterated GOI position that it had no favorites and would talk to anyone.
Arms Supplies.
Eban brought up question of arms supplies from US stating that he found our attitude puzzling in view of Soviet rearmament of Arabs. Although this admittedly was more dangerous now politically than militarily, it would serve discourage Arabs from making moves for peaceful settlement with Israel. I remarked that some in Washington do not rule out possibility of suicide air attack on Israeli cities even now. Eban observed that such an attempt would merely strengthen Israel’s point. In any event, he claimed, in one European country where embargo on arms for Israel was publicly announced GOI could now get what it needed to maintain equipment, which it had, although admittedly not obtain more [Page 760] planes. In US, however, nothing was moving. Using contents State 15900,4 I told him about decision supply up to $3 million worth of spares, possible Weizman trip and fact that we had not said “no” to request for planes. Ambassador Harman stated US position has amounted to “suspension of routine supplies” as well as refusal provide new items of equipment and that he had raised matter first about six weeks ago with Mr. Battle who said he thought it could be unscrambled. Weeks went by and still, according to Ambassador, no progress was made and even at meeting to which I had referred, all we did was talk about an amount, we did not raise the suspension. Harman said he could find no rhyme or reason in our reluctance to supply arms in view of our close relations. I responded that outlook appeared favorable judging from tenor of reftel.
Eban commented that he had impression some minds in Washington were attached to idea of withholding arms as form of pressure on Israel. If so, he stated firmly, there should be no misunderstanding. GOI feels present situation is its fundamental chance for peace and security and that Israelis would lose by giving anything away before proper time. Here, he added, it was problem of Arabs and not of Soviets. I reminded him that we could not agree that sitting on occupied territory would be enough and concluded with admonition “don’t start digging in.”
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Received on August 9 at 0759Z.
  2. Telegram 385 from Tel Aviv, August 4 (ibid.), reported briefly that Barbour had carried out the instructions in Document 396.
  3. Document 396.
  4. Telegram 15900 to Tel Aviv, August 4, conveyed information concerning an August 2 conversation between Eugene Rostow and Evron. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)