476. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Defining our Position on “Territorial Integrity” in the Mid-East

I have spent some days in discussions of what our commitment to territorial integrity in the Middle East means today. We still are not agreed.

This is not just an academic exercise because the answer will eventually determine how hard we lean on Israel if and when a territorial settlement is negotiated. We need a tentative view soon because Eban sees the President 24 October. As Evron told you, now while Eban is here is the time to understand each other, disagreements and all. If we [Page 911] say nothing about how our commitment relates to the West Bank, Eban will go away thinking it’s not important to us.

In the slightly longer term, we will need to know where we stand because any UN representative will need US muscle behind him. If we’re serious, it may be the time to begin showing Eban a little of this muscle while he’s here.

The policy question is: Do we think the pre-war map of the Middle East is about right and will we work to restore it? Or do we accept the seeming Israeli argument that it would be better to have the West Bank than to rely again on an unreliable King Hussein?

The tactical questions are: Will we lean on Israel and, if so, should we lay the groundwork with Eban to avoid later misunderstanding? Or do we want to avoid facing this issue until the situation is riper and we have to?

There is a wide gap within our ranks over how we should interpret our past commitment in the wake of the June war. Since the argument is neither open nor sharp, there’s some value in trying to sort out what’s behind the contending positions.

Secretary Rusk has told several foreign ministers now that we had no trouble with pre-June boundaries and would work to restore them if we could do so in the context of permanent peace. Without ascribing the following arguments to the Secretary, those who take a similar position have these considerations in mind:

This position is the logical extension of the President’s re-commitment to territorial integrity on 19 June and his statement that “certainly there must be withdrawal.”
It also reflects the strong feeling, which the Secretary expressed movingly last week in speaking of Vietnam, that it is important to preserve the credibility of the “pledged word” of the US. Though the Senate has not formally committed us to defend territorial integrity in the Middle East per se, we cannot dismiss lightly the word of four Presidents backed by Congressional support of the related Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower Doctrine and CENTO.
It reflects some sympathy for the Arab case. Our Arab friends and oil executives argue persuasively that we can’t let them down by breaking our word.
We seem to be signed onto the principle that the conquest of territory by war is “inadmissible.” Many people argue that this is unrealistic because Israel’s pre-June boundaries were themselves determined in battle. But though we shied away from this in the 19 June principles, we accepted it in the US-Soviet draft resolution, and a lot of people feel strongly about it.
It is hard to dispute that, for 17 years, our commitment referred to 1949 Armistice lines. The Tripartite Declaration (1950) specifically referred to them, and in 1956 we pressed Israel back behind them.

Others are more cautious about going that far. They feel, for one reason or another, that the drastically changed post-June situation requires some redefinition of past positions. Their position stems from these considerations:

Anyone who fully appreciates Israel’s position knows how hard—maybe impossible—it will be to force Israel back to 4 June lines, especially in Jerusalem. We got a foretaste of their position in their sharp reaction to the US-Soviet draft resolution in July. The professional levels of our government frankly doubt that the President will be willing in an election year to exert the kind of pressure on Israel that would be necessary to restore armistice lines, even as permanent boundaries.
The President himself feeds this view when he tells all his Arab visitors that he can’t influence Israel to do what it doesn’t want to do.
The 19 June statement itself says territorial integrity can only be defined “on the basis of peace between the parties.” That is read almost everywhere as qualification of our earlier commitment. In essence, it says we’ll settle for whatever the parties can negotiate. As the President’s last letter to Tito said, “We have no preconceptions on frontiers as such.”
In all fairness, this is more than weaseling in the face of Israeli intransigence. It’s belated recognition that our pledges to oppose aggression are sometimes not intended to cover provoked aggression. We’ve always told the Saudis this about our commitment to their territorial integrity. But we never got around to qualifying our general pledge similarly. One of the main differences between 1956 and 1967 is that we honestly feel that the Arabs asked for what they got by pulling the rug out from under our 1957 peace settlement.
Some may instinctively feel that the Israelis are right in saying that the Arabs will only get serious about working out a settlement when they realize no one else will do it for them. If we are ready to act on the basis of past commitment to territorial integrity, the Arabs will go on expecting us to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. Therefore, we’re better off redefining our commitment in terms of the 19 June principles and dragging our feet.

So here we are: The Secretary of State intimating that we are honor-bound to go back to 4 June lines if only we can establish conditions of peace. The Secretary of Defense saying we have to stick by Jordan in Israel’s interest as well as our own. Israel disagreeing violently. The President saying, at least for effect, that we can’t get back to June 4 lines. [Page 913] Ambassador Goldberg opposing any further public effort to define our position because it will just get us in further trouble with everyone. The professionals remembering sadly that Israel is Israel, believing the President and trying to build a position that bridges these two contradictory positions.

IRG/NEA has been working steadily on these issues, as well as on the related problems of Jerusalem and where we go with Jordan. Secretary Rusk will have his own meetings on them later this week. But since both you and the President will be seeing Eban next week, I want to let you begin mulling these questions over well in advance.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII. Secret.