255. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Herewith George Ball’s account of his meeting with Jarring in Paris Monday. Paragraph 5 on page 3 describes what many of your advisors feel is the nub of the current Arab-Israeli impasse.2

In Jarring’s view—which many of your advisors share—the main roadblock is Israel’s inability to state its view of where boundaries [Page 503] should be. Israel cannot do this until the Cabinet makes a decision. Eshkol has delayed forcing that decision until the Arabs enter direct negotiations. The Arabs will not surrender that trump card-symbolizing recognition of Israel-until they believe the Israeli government has committed itself to withdrawal.

Many of your advisors feel that we can’t hope for progress on any front until we tackle Israel on this issue. For instance, they feel that any response to the Soviet initiative—desirable as a response may be—will be academic until we can bring Israel along behind a counterproposal. This is why we recommended as the centerpiece of your B’nai B’rith speech: “… put their views on the table—begin talking the substance of peace.”

The Israelis would argue vigorously that they are ready to put their views on the table only when they are convinced Nasser is ready to talk real peace. And they don’t think he is. While no one has any illusions about Nasser, Jarring believes the UAR is ready to end belligerency. We’re not sure, but we think there’s enough in the UAR position to be worth probing.

Where we disagree with Israel is that they’re holding out for a complete Arab cave-in right from the start—open borders, full recognition, reconciliation. We see the road to that goal made up of a series of stepping stones, and we see a settlement not as “instant peace” but as a framework within which attitudes can change. We think Israel is holding out for too much and losing sight of substantial gains within its grasp—permanent boundaries and passage through the Canal.

Therefore, many of your advisors—while agreeing we must treat the Soviet proposal seriously—would hate to see us pin too much hope on it by itself. They believe we must concentrate primarily on moving the Israelis to make their commitment to withdraw clear by stating their position on boundaries. If you were to go ahead with Phantoms, they would consider this a fair return.

W. W. Rostow 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 94, 9/12-18/68. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Telegram 20891 from Paris, September 16, was attached. The telegram reported on a conversation that Ball and Sisco had with Jarring in Paris that day. They found Jarring somber over the prospects for a Middle East settlement, but determined to make a major effort with the Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly. He emphasized the need for Israel to define what it meant by secure and recognized borders or to publicly accept and agree to implement Resolution 242. Paragraph 5 of the telegram detailed Jarring’s conviction that the crux of the problem lay in promoting an agreement between Israel and the UAR, not between Israel and Jordan as the Israelis seemed to believe. Jarring did not feel that Jordan was strong enough to reach an agreement with Israel that could stand unless there was a prior agreement between Israel and the UAR. In his view, agreement between Israel and the UAR was dependent on Israeli willingness to define what the Israelis meant by secure and recognized boundaries. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.