139. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders and John W. Foster of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Comment on Amman 42662

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the attached secret message from Eban to Hussein and Nasser. We can’t even be sure that this third-hand account is completely accurate. The substance of the Israeli position as reported contains nothing new. The interesting aspect is the fact that they seem to be putting on some pressure now.

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Whatever else one reads into it, it’s an ultimatum-direct negotiations now or we’ll attack-softened somewhat by the line that the politicians may be losing control in Israel and this may be the Arabs’ last chance for some time to get the kind of forthcoming deal Eban can offer.

Why should Eban apply the pressure now? From other Israelis we have the impression that they’d rather sit until the Arabs come to them. Possible explanations:

There is a serious debate going on over how to stop terrorism, and Eban and other moderates may have bought enough time from the hard-liners to give negotiations one final try. Eban probably does feel it would be disastrous for Israel’s hard-liners to gain the upper hand, but if he can’t stop terrorism the peaceful way he may not be able to hold out against those who urge the military solution. While it sounds quite uncharacteristic for Eban to admit that terrorism is having an unsettling effect in Israel, he is still speaking from a position of strength since the alternative he poses is further use of force.
The situation may not be so neat as that described above, and this may be just one of several simultaneous attempts to explore a new tack. We know they are considering such things as seizing part of the East Bank, working directly against Nasser and Hussein, an $80 million fence on the Jordan, dealing directly with the Palestinians, and a wide variety of military answers to terrorism, three of which have been tried in the past month. It would not be surprising if they were to make diplomatic use of these to try to precipitate negotiations. They’d have nothing to lose, except that an ultimatum of this sort may do more harm than good if poorly presented.
Or they may be afraid of us and this may be their way of pressing the Arabs to talk on their terms before we push them to change their terms. They’re alert enough to know by now that a lot of people here are beginning to talk about “partial solutions” and “last chance for peace.” They also know that American public opinion against our “pro-Israeli” policy is slowly coming to life. Except for the insight it provides if other evidence fills out the picture, there’s no immediate operational aspect to this message.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. IX, Cables and Memos, 3/68–5/68. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 4266 from Amman, April 8, reported on a message the Jordanian Government had just received from Israel. A personal message from Eban to King Hussein, also intended for Nasser, it indicated that Israel was eager for a settlement with the Arab states, and felt that fedayeen activities made it imperative that the settlement be reached quickly. Eban stated that if a settlement was not reached during April, Israel would have to resort to force to resolve the Fedayeen problem. Eban added that the only way to achieve a settlement was through direct contact between Israel and the Arab states. He offered assurances that Israel was prepared to discuss border and security issues in a positive manner. Israel was prepared to be flexible on the issue of Jerusalem, but could not contemplate divided control of the city. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR/SANDSTORM)