442. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

950. Re: Israeli Views on Middle East.

In dinner conversation with me Sept 19 Eban outlined current Israeli policy flowing from internal debate during summer and recent series of cabinet meetings. Essential points he made are set out below.2 Rafael and Harman present on Israeli side, and Sisco, Buffum and Pedersen on US side.

Eban said most important thing was that they had decided to take current stands on position of security principle rather than on territorial basis and to keep their options open for future negotiations. Implications that their position had hardened since last June was not true, he said. However, if Israel were compelled to state its specific policy publicly at this time they would have to be stated in a maximalist position. Israel’s general position was that in the absence of a situation of peace Israel would have to maintain its positions on basis of considerations of national security but in a peace agreement with Arabs they could be in a flexible negotiating position.

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With respect to Egypt, Eban said their idea was that border would follow the international frontier. There would be an international presence in Straits of Tiran to assure freedom of navigation, possibly of major maritime powers in Gulf or something on the shore. There would be a demilitarization of the Sinai. Suez Canal would be open to ships of all nations on basis of “declaratory” assurances (i.e., without some external presence). Demilitarization of Sinai would be assured by some sort of international presence, possibly an enlarged UNTSO type of operation, and possibly including UAR and Israeli troops. Idea of demilitarization of Sinai was difficult to achieve if UAR stayed in Gaza Strip.

Gaza territory was also security problem for Israel. Israel would like have the territory without the population but did not see how that could come about. He intimated there may even be an exchange of territory along the international frontier in favor of Egypt in return for Gaza Strip going to Israel. He thought Egypt might even be glad to be rid of Gaza Strip. Another possibility apparently under consideration was some form of international authority of Gaza Strip. (Eban noted this had been discussed in 1956 with US and that he had memcon with Dulles in his files about it.)3

On Syria, he said it was hard to contemplate an early peace agreement as long as Syrian Govt retained its present complexion. There had been a discussion of a demilitarization arrangement on Syrian Heights similar to idea re Sinai. Conclusion, however, which he shared, was that this would not be safe and that some territorial adjustments would have to be made.

Re Jerusalem, the Holy Moslem quarter would create perpetual emotional religious problems as long as it under Israeli control. GOI therefore had in mind arrangement which would put it under Moslem control and sovereignty. Rest of city was now united, and Arab inhabitants were free to travel throughout Israel. There could be some arrangement which would insure free Jordanian access to and participation in economic life of city.

West Bank presented particularly difficult problems. Incorporation of West Bank into Israel, with its large Arab population, would completely transform Israel’s national existence and reason for being. An Israeli demographic expert had estimated that at present rate of population growth this would produce an Arab majority in Israel within 15 years. In any case it would cause a total reshaping of Israeli politics, as [Page 836] Arab votes were sought, and thus produce alterations in structure of Israel that they did not desire. Neither could Arabs be incorporated into Israel without granting them Israeli citizenship. This would not be permitted by international community nor would it be acceptable to Israeli people themselves.

Eban said they had also given thought to establishment of separate, autonomous Palestinian state on West Bank. This also has serious drawbacks. Days of autonomous dependent regions had really passed. Creation of Palestinian state might simply increase irredentist desires. There would be yet another Arab state on Arab scene. In a year or two it would ask for UN membership, and it would be admitted. Such prospects did not look attractive. On the other hand, now that Israelis for first time had opportunity to visit areas of historic significance to them, it would be difficult for their citizens to understand govt simply turning the area back. Sort of thinking they were therefore thinking of would include two elements: (a) demilitarization of West Bank, with a UN inspection system; and (b) some form of economic, customs or travel arrangements which would permit access to and larger cooperation with the area. He referred to possibility of a free port on Mediterranean for Jordan as a move in same direction. I believe he also had in mind some border adjustments for security purposes, as he referred to Israeli security psychosis resulting from fact entire population was in range of Arab guns but he was not precise about what they might be.

Re refugee problem, Eban made clear Israel was deliberately opening up travel from Gaza to the West Bank in hopes it would relieve population pressures in Gaza. He also said Israel was issuing a few small pilot projects for economic resettlement for a few refugees in order to demonstrate feasibility of doing this within reasonable length of time. He implied Israel would welcome external international help for a much larger effort.

Re General Assembly, Eban thought there would be a substantial Arab effort to obtain political backing for their position requiring Israeli withdrawal without compensating actions on their side. If this failed, possibilities of direct settlement would be enhanced. He thought objective in Assembly should be to insure that no such decision were taken. He said specifically that appointment of a UN rep without any precise terms of reference would be acceptable, but indicated GOI does not want to play this card yet.

In explaining Israel’s insistence of a settlement directly committing parties in the area, Eban expounded Israel’s considered assessment of events leading up to current outbreak of fighting. One of their basic conclusions from this was that external restraints, including both the UN and direct support that could be expected in the interests of its security [Page 837] by Israel from various countries including France and US and from maritime powers with respect to maritime rights, were weaker than both they and UAR had calculated. In future, therefore, security guarantees had to come from the area and to a much lesser extent from external forces.

Their appreciation of sequence of events was:

In middle of May Nasser’s objective was to apply pressures on Israel to prevent Israel from retaliating against Syrian Al Fatah raids. He had been spurred on to this by Sov Union which wanted to protect Syria and which gave UAR false intelligence about Israeli troop concentrations on Syrian border. Nasser’s intention was to hold a corridor to Israel so that his troops were in direct confrontation with Israel. Israel knew as a fact that he was prepared to have UNEF stay in Straits of Tiran, Gaza, and Quintella.
Nasser expected that UN and other external pressures, particularly US, would prevent him from going further. When UN proved unexpectedly weak, both in SC and in saying UNEF would have to be pulled out entirely, he changed his objective to restoration of the pre-1956 status, i.e. including blockade of the Gulf. He again expected international pressures to restrain him at that point. Inability of maritime powers to agree on an effective course of action and general weakness of resistance to his moves then caused him to make the next decision.
From about 29th May, UAR objective changed to one of open [illegible]— against Israel. He began to create the alliances with Jordan and to obtain the support of Iraq and countries as far away as Algeria for a final assault. Eban described UAR policy from this point on as moving forward in a drunken fashion. Messages to troop commanders indicated clear offensive indications, and UAR began to reconnoiter by air Israel’s key industrial and other facilities suitable for aerial attack. (He implied that Israel had a great deal of firm intelligence on this period both from captured documents and from intercepted telephone conversations at the time.)

Amb Harman expressed considerable sensitivity about arms supplies from US, saying he had been able to obtain the delivery of only about $700 thousand of equipment out of the $3 million total which they had already paid, and that there were considerable uncertainties about future plane sales. He said they would need 79 planes but not for delivery before end of 1968. He stressed importance to their logistics of “nuts and bolts” and said military value of captured Sov equipment had been considerably exaggerated in the press.

I conveyed to FonMin substance of message Sisco had brought us with him about need for Israel to express itself and act with magnanimity [Page 838] and not be too rigid about method of negotiating a settlement.4 I also urged them to continue to exercise leniency about return of refugees from Jordan to West Bank. Eban said they had decided to allow return to be extended but with a larger degree of control in Israeli hands. They would allow hardship cases and relatives to continue to return.5

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated Priority to Tel Aviv. A retyped copy of this telegram was sent to the President with a covering note from Walt Rostow commenting that it was “a pretty full portrait of Israel’s frame of mind at the moment.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII)
  2. Telegram 949 from USUN, September 23, reported that Eban also said that Israel was uncertain about the prospects for a settlement with King Hussein, since what had emerged from the conference at Khartoum was a call for a common policy which seemed to have tied the King’s hands. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR/SANDSTORM)
  3. Eban and Dulles discussed Gaza a number of times during the months after the Suez crisis; for records of those conversations, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, volumes XVI and XVII.
  4. The Sisco message has not been found. A draft telegram to Barbour instructing him to see Eban before his departure for New York to express concern at “indications Israeli objectives may be shifting from original position seeking peace with no territorial gains toward one of territorial expansion” was sent to President Johnson for clearance on September 15. His reaction was that they should not send the telegram but “let Goldberg do it.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII)
  5. Rusk expressed the hope that the Israelis would resume permitting the refugees to return to the West Bank without political conditions in a letter to Eban transmitted in telegram 31492 to Tel Aviv, September 2. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, REF ARAB) Eban replied in a letter transmitted in telegram 37827 from Tel Aviv, September 15. (Ibid.)