128. Memorandum for the Record1

SUBJECT

  • Conversation with Israeli Minister Evron

Evron came in on March 29, at his request, to share his observations from his quick trip to Jerusalem. As usual, our conversation was tabbed as strictly personal and off-the-record. As can be imagined, it dealt mainly with the March 21 Israeli attack on Karameh and Israeli thinking in the aftermath.

I began by asking him what the Israelis see at the end of their current course of gradually escalating terrorist raids and retaliatory attacks. Although the results of a military review of the Karameh attack have not been finished, Evron indicated that the Israelis were not necessarily satisfied with that sort of attack as the best means to counter terrorism. He said that they would experiment with other tactics, “such as today’s” (at the moment the air and artillery attack south of Lake Tiberias was going on). He also indicated, “in the utmost confidence,” [Page 253] that the Israelis are building a “fence” from the Dead Sea to Lake Tiberias. (This is the reason for the Israeli request for a large number of anti-personnel mines which he hoped we might free quickly.) Concluding this line of discussion, he was quite ready to admit that these counter-attacks would not stop terrorism.

When I said I did not see how the Israelis could expect to stop activities based on land which they do not consistently control, he agreed that the main problem is to convince Hussein to do the job. When I said I did not believe that Israel’s counter attacks would do that either, he disagreed, but he did not argue as strongly as he usually does when he is convinced of what he is saying.

I suggested that, if the military track did not promise a solution, it seemed to me this was all the more reason to get into negotiations. He suggested that more flexibility was needed before that could happen. Then telling him I wanted to ask a very indiscreet question, I asked whether Israel was denied the flexibility necessary to begin negotiations by the fact that the Israeli Government had not yet made up its mind what its position would be. I said it seemed clear to me that what the Arabs were seeking in all this haggling over whether Israel did or did not accept the UN resolution was some assurance that there was a deal at the end of the road. I realized that Foreign Minister Eban had, through us, passed the word that the Arabs would find Israel ready to negotiate generously, but it was clear that this was not convincing to the Arabs in the current atmosphere. Would an Israeli Government decision now on its negotiating terms enable some such assurance to be made?

Evron answered quite readily, thoughtfully and not emotionally. He said, first, that the moment there was a “glimmer” of Arab willingness to come to the table, the Israeli Government would “make up its mind in a moment.” He said emphatically that the greatest single impression he had brought away from Jerusalem this time was the overriding desire for peace. Having felt this in his early talks there, he asked Eban whether he was right and Eban confirmed his view that everyone is “fed up with all this bloodshed.”

Second, however, Evron said he had been considering for months the question of whether Israel should stake out its position before negotiations to encourage them. He said he did not believe this was the right procedure. But his main point was that, in international negotiations, one never lays his cards on the table before negotiations begin. He did not push the usual Eban line about willingness to negotiate being a necessary sign of an Arab change of heart, although this omission may have been simple oversight.

At the end of our conversation, he confirmed that he had described to Eban that questioning of the US-Israeli relationship going on in [Page 254] Washington that he had heard from me before his departure as well as from Harry McPherson. We had both told him that an increasing number of people were more and more troubled over whether this relationship would ever become a two-way street. Secretary Rusk had asked the Israeli Government for certain actions in Jerusalem and on refugees, and his questions have been ignored. We have advised against retaliation, and our advice has been ignored. Evron said he had arrived in the Foreign Ministry the morning that Ave Harman was giving his final impressions of the US-Israeli relationship. On the basis of Evron’s report and Harman’s comments, Eban at the Cabinet meeting which made the final decision to go ahead with the Israeli raid on Karameh, described this change in the Washington mood to the Cabinet. Evron felt that this had made some impression since both Minister Begin and Allon had asked Evron later whether what Eban said was true.

Evron at one point during this conversation said that one of the ideas that had occurred to him personally—and he said he had not heard this mentioned in Israel at all, so it was strictly personal-is whether now is not the time for Israel to begin thinking again seriously about a separate Palestinian entity. Hussein is so weak that perhaps only the Palestinians can take the lead. Already there are new economic relationships growing up between the towns of old Israel and the former West Bank of Jordan. Evron felt that the Palestinians were beginning to see the economic and other advantages of peace and, if they could be adequately organized, might be just the ones to stand up and take the lead in a settlement that Hussein might or might not join later. Evron did not seem to be suggesting a permanent separation of the West Bank from Jordan, but simply a settlement that could be worked out now as a first step in what might become a full settlement with Jordan later on when that was possible.

Comment: Two reflections stand out in my mind after this conversation. First, although Eppie made clear that he had not had time for full talks with the Israeli military after the attack on Karameh, he seemed to confirm that there is some second thinking going on about the effectiveness of Israel’s current force. Second, there is obviously a great deal of concern about the American relationship and I wonder whether we might not have more effect on Israel’s course than we now feel possible.

H.S.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, Israel, 3/1/68-4/30/68. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Saunders on April 1.