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

17947. On reviewing the first talks between King Hussein and Ambassador Burns, we are sending this message to supplement State 142362 as guidance for you during the next stage of the negotiations between Israel and Jordan.


While we are not at this point pressing King Hussein to move forward into a negotiating position, our posture vis-à-vis GOI is not symmetrical. We wish GOI to be under no doubt that we regard successful negotiations between Israel and Jordan as greatly in their interest and in ours. Peaceful arrangements between Israel and Jordan could have positive and far-reaching effects on the entire situation in the Middle East. Tactically, such a step could stimulate others in the same direction. Strategically, it would give the parties and others a chance which is not now really available to make progress on the refugee problem and on Jerusalem, and to help lift the curse of the Palestine issue from the soul of the Arab world. Although we know the chances of success are not [Page 765] great, the opportunity is so important and so transitory that we believe we should try to persuade the Israelis to see their own true interest here.3

The political advantages of an understanding between Israel and Jordan are highlighted by considering the probable consequences of not having such an accord: the possible partition of Jordan; a radical, highly armed state on Israel’s Eastern frontier; a status for Jerusalem which would permanently affront large parts of the Muslim world; and continued agitation to liberate the Palestinians throughout the Middle East.

We are aware of the revival of interest among some Israelis, Jordanian West Bankers, and Saudis in the idea of a semi-autonomous Palestinian state on the West Bank, possibly with Gaza. On the whole we rate its chances for success as less than that of a Jordanian-Israeli agreement. We prefer trying latter course first in any event.


We do not agree with the view often expressed here by representatives of GOI that time and immobility will produce results favorable to peace. The influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East is far greater today than in 1956–57, both through Egypt and more directly. Weak countries like Libya and Jordan could succumb, thus imperiling several other governments. The level of arms in the Middle East is an autonomous threat to peace.

To counter Soviet efforts, to strengthen Arab moderates, and in simple interest of peace itself we therefore seek a succession of steps towards peace at this time, small or large, agreed or unilateral. We believe that such a process could favor such chances of progress as there may be in our talks on the Middle East with the Soviet Union.


You should stress to GOI that our central commitment is to support the territorial integrity and political independence of all the states of the Middle East. It is as much in the interest of GOI as it is in our interest to maintain the credibility of that support. As applied to Jordan, as King Hussein understands, the issue of territorial integrity raises problems not present in the case of Syria or Egypt. The Jordanian and Israeli boundaries include armistice lines, which have a legal status somewhat different from that of definitive international frontiers. While King Hussein has remarked that the armistice lines “make no sense” and will require revision, it is in our view nonetheless highly probable that no peace settlement between Israel and Jordan would be accepted by the world community unless it gives Jordan some special position in [Page 766] the Old City of Jerusalem. We assume that Jordan would receive the bulk of the West Bank, which is equally regarded as “Jordanian territory”.

Against this background, it is a matter of high importance that a settlement between Israel and Jordan respect our commitment to support the territorial integrity of all the states of the area. If in the end negotiations between Israel and Jordan fail for any reason, and we face an indefinite continuation of the status quo, it is necessary that both we and GOI be in a position to show that every reasonable effort towards an agreement has been made, and made in good time and good faith.


We understand the strength of the Israeli attachment to Jerusalem. Other peoples also have strong feelings with regard to the Holy Places of Jerusalem, equally rooted in history.

Taking the political stakes into account, we cannot conclude at this early point that it will be impossible to find a formula for the Old City and its environs which could satisfy (a) the Israeli interest in an open city under unified administration; (b) the Jordanian and Muslim interest in an acknowledgment of Jordanian sovereignty for a section of the city; and (c) the Christian interest in the status of the Holy Places.

We could probably accept any solution on which GOI and Hussein could agree. We continue to believe that the issue will not be faced realistically except in the context of actual negotiations.

Your course therefore should be to advise a realistic preparation by GOI for a beginning of negotiations, bearing in mind that chance of such negotiations depends to major degree on this review. Before negotiations could have any chance of success, GOI must be ready to face issue of Jerusalem with far more flexibility than they have yet displayed. We recognize that they will not at once agree to this view, but we should keep pressing it upon them privately.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR/SANDSTORM. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Sandstorm. Drafted by Eugene Rostow on July 31; cleared by Battle, Walt Rostow, Kohler, and Katzenbach; and approved by Rusk. Repeated Priority to London and Amman. The telegram includes handwritten revisions, apparently in Rusk’s handwriting. Bundy sent the draft telegram to the President on August 1, with a memorandum stating that Rusk wanted him to see it and that it was designed “to keep the attention of the Israelis on the need not to freeze the status quo either in fact or in their bargaining positions.” Rostow forwarded it to the President with an August 2 memorandum, concurring in Bundy’s recommendation and commenting that he thought “we shall have to find a way not merely to get a reasonable Jerusalem position out of the Israelis but also a way of letting Hussein know such a position exists, before he will put his stack into a negotiation.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol IX)
  2. Document 396.
  3. In the original draft, the last part of the sentence reads: “we believe we should use our influence in Israel to encourage a favorable outcome.” The following paragraph was crossed out: “In this process, if it develops, we shall consult with leaders of the American Jewish community. We believe they may favor a compromise solution between Israel and Jordan, even if it involves concessions on Jerusalem.”
  4. In the original draft, the last two sentences read: “Before such a negotiation can begin with any chance of success, GOI must agree to face issue of Jerusalem with far more flexibility than they have yet displayed. At a later point, we could perhaps assist in the articulation of plans for the Old City, if necessary, to prevent a breakdown of negotiations.”