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

SUBJECT

  • Secretary Rusk’s Talk with Ambassador Rabin

The Secretary had a vigorous talk with Rabin last night. He said it’s up to Israel to make its position clear—to move beyond generalities and get into specifics. When Rabin said this is impossible until Israel knows whether the Arabs want peace, the Secretary replied that this must be possible because it is the whole purpose of the exercise. The only way to find out what the Arabs want is to test them with specific proposals.

Rabin left the attached Aide-Memoire.2 It says, in essence, that Israel wants real peace—not just the end of belligerency. To Rabin “real peace” means open boundaries and full recognition. But the Aide-Memoire does not go that far; it speaks of permanent boundaries, agreed security arrangements, and the other issues in the UN Resolution.

The Aide-Memoire argues that the Soviet proposal is “totally and drastically opposed” to Israel’s policy and ours, because it aims only at withdrawal and not at permanent peace. The Israelis somehow know the full details of the Soviet proposition. They urge us to reject it out of hand. Rabin argued that the US response to the Czech crisis, failure to make the decision on Phantoms, and indication that it might even consider the Soviet plan have all created a Soviet and Arab impression that the US is weak and is about to back down.

The Secretary did not say how we planned to respond to the Soviet plan. He told Rabin only that the Soviet proposition was a mixed bag—one that we could not reject 100% out of hand.

This was a fairly tough conversation and highlights our main problem in moving toward peace. We don’t really disagree with the Israelis that the Soviet proposal is generally unacceptable. We do disagree with their definition of “peace.” They seem to be holding out for a complete Arab “change of heart” whereas we have thought more of the step-by-step evolution of peace through a series of practical arrangements. We’ve thought of a settlement as a framework within which peace [Page 510] could evolve. The Israelis seem unwilling to launch that process until they are assured that the Arabs have caved, but the Secretary is right in saying there will be no progress until they do.

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68. Secret. A handwritten notation indicates that the memorandum was received at 1:50 p.m.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 256.