256. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • A Near East Peace Settlement


  • The Secretary
  • Rodger P. Davies, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • H.E. Yitzhak Rabin, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Shlomo Argov, Minister of Israel

The Secretary said that we would shortly enter on intensive discussion with other powers in New York on the Near East problems and he hoped that we could keep closely in touch with Israel. It was important that we know what the Israeli position is on the Security Council resolution and on such questions as boundaries, Jerusalem, procedures, etc. It was important also that we know whether Israel considers the problem as one to be solved in its entirety as a package or whether it might be broken down into parts which might then be negotiated. The Palestine problem made a large and complex package but it might be possible or desirable to break it up and deal with the components in different contexts. The Secretary thought we also ought to consider whether the best approach to settlement was to aim for an Egyptian settlement first leaving the more difficult Jordanian problem aside.

Ambassador Rabin said it was important to distinguish between the parliamentary situation in the United Nations and the real life situation on the ground. The Government of Israel is convinced that in the course of Nasser’s stay in the Soviet Union an agreement was reached on a UAR-Soviet strategy. Both governments are interested primarily in restoring the status quo ante June 5, 1967 with only minor modifications. Neither power was interested in a real peace. The Egyptian position of rejecting reconciliation and of a termination of state of belligerency with continued isolation of Israel in the Near East could provide the seeds for the next war.

Ambassador Rabin said the present Soviet strategy is to gain time to strengthen the UAR militarily and to seek a settlement which would leave the Arab-Israel problem extant. During Nasser’s second visit to Russia an agreement had been reached to provide 100 additional new [Page 505] aircraft, 550 new tanks and an additional 100 Soviet pilots for the Egyptian Air Force. The UAR has agreed to tailor its policy to Soviet objectives. The UAR now supports guerrilla warfare as a means of supporting Soviet-UAR political aims in the area. The Soviet strategy to return the situation to pre-June 1967 includes, first, bringing all parties to accept the UK resolution and, second, through Jarring or through international consultation to fix a date for withdrawal of Israeli forces to the June 4 lines. As next phase, the states involved would deposit documents recognizing such things as the right of nations to national existence and a termination of the state of belligerency. Makeshift measures for transit through the Straits of Tiran, a UNEF force in Sinai and at Sharm ash-Shaykh, a phased withdrawal to permit Egyptian forces to take over and clear the Suez Canal would also be included.

The Soviets also proposed that the Security Council issue a guarantee for the boundaries. As the Israelis understand it, such problems as refugees, Jerusalem and Israeli use of Suez Canal would be put aside for later Security Council action.

The Secretary said this was a Soviet presentation of an Arab plan. Ambassador Rabin replied this is not an Arab plan but rather a Soviet plan which has been coordinated with Nasser. There is “no peace in it.” It is significant that the Soviets propose to leave the refugee problem for consideration after Israel withdraws completely from occupied territories. The refugee problem is the Palestine problem and the Soviets and the UAR desire to keep the refugees as such in order to continue to threaten the existence of Israel.

There is no question, said the Ambassador, of the background of hate that exists against Israel, nor is there a question that this will be eliminated by an agreement, but it cannot start to be eroded without a peace agreement and “open boundaries.” Peace must involve recognition and contacts to reduce hatreds.

The Secretary said that he was struck by the Soviet reference to “multilateral documents” as a means of registering agreement. Would this be acceptable if the document were signed by all the parties to the recent conflict. Ambassador Rabin replied that Israel was not dealing with a coalition but with neighbors, with each of which it had distinct and special problems. The Soviet plan, he said, avoids a contractual arrangement between the parties.

The Secretary asked whether Israel is prepared to make a public and categoric declaration that it is prepared to withdraw from occupied territories to secure and recognized boundaries in a context of peace. Ambassador Rabin said that Mr. Eban is in a much better position to answer this question, but that personally he did not find difficulty with such a statement. The problem was that of the line of withdrawal. Dayan had told Ball and Sisco that the Security Council [Page 506] Resolution could be interpreted as calling for withdrawal to the June 4 line. Ball and Sisco had argued that this was not so but Dayan was not convinced.

The Secretary said that the U.S.G. is not in favor of substantial changes from the former armistice lines but feels that discussions between the parties should lead to a definition of boundaries that each side would find acceptable.

Ambassador Rabin stressed that to Israel there was a major difference between “elimination of war” (termination of belligerency) and peace. Peace did not equate with an end to the state of war. The Soviets have agreed to help the UAR regain its territory without entering into a state of peace. The Secretary said that Arab concern that Israel would not budge from occupied territories might lead them to seek solutions other than that provided by the Jarring Mission. He said the U.S.G. has no reason whatsoever to believe the USSR wants to see the destruction of Israel.

Ambassador Rabin agreed but said that a condition less than peace would permit the Soviets to continue to exploit Arab-Israel tensions. The Secretary replied that the Soviets would find that the Arabs are not easy to control. Ambassador Rabin said that, nevertheless, by exploiting Arab animosity, the Soviets were deriving more and more concessions from them.

The Secretary said it was very important that the Israelis get into the territorial questions. Wasn’t it possible for Israel to indicate to the UAR that its territory could be returned almost completely? The Ambassador replied that Sharm ash-Shaykh was a critical issue. Twice it had brought war. In addition, Israel must avoid the situation where one side by moving troops and making threats could force Israel into war. The Secretary asked whether a four-power force at Sharm ash-Shaykh might be reasonable assurance for Israel. Ambassador Rabin replied that great powers have their own global interests which could lead them to compromise on matters of vital interest to Israel. He said Israel had too long relied on vague assurances, assurances on territorial integrity, and even more specific ones. When the chips were down, Israel discovered it could only rely on itself. It is better to rely on specific capabilities than on guarantees that might be interpreted differently in critical periods.

The Secretary replied that Israel had been told that if it went it alone, it would be alone and Israel had attacked without consultation. Israel had not relied on the guarantees and it is unfair now to charge that they were worthless. In addition, Israel had told us it would not resort to war.

Ambassador Rabin asked whether the Strait would be open now if there had been no war. The Secretary replied that Israel had not given [Page 507] the time necessary to test other solutions. If Israel had waited through Wednesday, the answer might well have been “yes.” However, Israel had made its own judgment on what it would do.

Israel was in a strange position, Ambassador Rabin said. It was the only country not part of an alliance system which was surrounded by enemies daily threatening it with destruction. At the same time, however, Israel was asked continually to demonstrate that it wanted peace.

Ambassador Rabin said Israel was concerned with Soviet-Arab reaction to the lack of U.S. response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the delay in providing the Phantom aircraft, and the delay in rejecting the Soviet proposal for a Near East settlement. These developments were interpreted as signs of U.S. weakness and tend to stiffen the UAR position and erode U.S. policy as expressed to Israel and generally understood. Sisco and Battle had told him that the U.S.G. was considering proposals which are clearly incompatible with stated U.S. policy.

The Secretary replied that the Soviet proposal was a “mixed bag” with some good elements among the bad. We could not reject out of hand an approach by a major power which avowed an attempt to cooperate in bringing peace to the area. The President’s position on the Phantom was as given in January.

The Ambassador replied that the approach was a stratagem designed to bring about a break between U.S. and Israeli policy.

Reverting to the Secretary’s question as to seeking agreement first with the UAR, the Ambassador said that the basic difference between Jordan and Egypt was that Hussein is now ready even for a peace treaty; the UAR seeks to avoid peace. The extent to which the King is capable of entering a separate peace is doubtful as is the question of his authority within Jordan. Peace, therefore, is the principal point of difference between the UAR and Jordan.

The Secretary asked whether there would not be considerable advantage to King Hussein if the UAR could move first toward settlement. The Ambassador replied that neither the UAR nor the Soviets are interested in the kind of peace that Israel wants. The Secretary replied that if this were indeed the case, then it is up to Israel to expose their positions. One way to do this would be for Israel to come forward with a reasonable plan for peace. The Ambassador said that Israel had tried this in contacts with both states, and it had not worked. The Secretary questioned whether the “nuts and bolts” of a settlement had indeed been tackled.

The Secretary said it was going to be necessary for the U.S.G. to become more specific in interpreting the President’s Five Points and the Security Council Resolution. It would be of value to us to know what Israel’s views are with respect to these matters. He hoped that [Page 508] when Eban met with him he would be prepared to be more specific on Israel’s views. This would be extremely important before we talk to other governments, as we must.

Ambassador Rabin said that the first purpose of any effort must be to demonstrate that peace is attainable. The Secretary asked what this meant. Doesn’t peace rest on a multitude of things that must be spelled out in detail? Ambassador Rabin replied that it was useless to spell these out in detail when the other side did not want peace. The Secretary thought that this was the whole purpose of the exercise in which we had been engaged over the past months: to move the situation in the direction of peace. Israel had not been specific on the underpinnings of peace either in talks with Jarring or in what was imparted to the Arabs. It was not enough to chant “Peace.” Both in Hanoi and in Washington peace was the cry. Yet peace would not be attainable until we got down to the specifics of what must underlie it.

Ambassador Rabin questioned whether any UAR leader had stated that Egypt desires peace. The Secretary responded that this was a difficult thing for a leader to do publicly when the enemy sat on a considerable piece of his territory. For over seven years he had been assuring Arab governments that Israel had no territorial ambitions. What could he say now?

Ambassador Rabin replied that before the war Israel sought peace on the basis of the ADL’s. Israel had not wanted war; it had been forced on her. Now, the situation had changed. Israel’s security must be uppermost, and peace was the only alternative to measures necessary to insure Israel’s security.

The Secretary asked that Mr. Eban be informed that he would desire to resume with him the discussion on the NPT and on Israel’s missile program which, apparently, Deputy Prime Minister Allon had not wished to get into.

The Ambassador left the enclosed Aide-Memoire reflecting the Foreign Minister’s views on the Soviet proposals with the Secretary.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68–11/68. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Davies on September 19.
  2. The Israeli aide-memoire, dated September 18, is ibid.; it is summarized in Document 257.