321. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Shlomo Argov, Minister, Israeli Embassy
  • Harold H. Saunders

During lunch at his invitation—“to tell you my tale of woe”—Shlomo made a middle-sized speech covering the following points to make clear his (and, he said, Ambassador Rabin’s) reaction to the November 12 Rabin-Argov talk with Under Secretary Katzenbach:2

1.
Either the Israelis have been “living in a fool’s paradise” or the US has changed its position. He believes it’s the latter. He and Rabin agree (once Shlomo “explained the term”) that we’re practicing “salami tactics” on them. First we knocked them off direct negotiations. Then we got them to “accept the resolution.” Then made them use the word “withdraw” (Comment: Joe Sisco will be pleased at his success!). Now we’re pushing them to accept “June 4 lines.”
2.
The Israelis aren’t going to take this demarche seriously because we “speak out of both sides of our mouths” and the various positions we’ve stated are inconsistent with each other. For example:
  • —One American says Jerusalem is “the key question.” Another says it can be set aside for the time being, “implying Israel has a case.”
  • —One American says there’s no such thing as “instant peace.” Another says Israel can withdraw when it gets a peace treaty because there will be peace then.
3.
The US has undercut Israel’s bargaining position without offering anything in return. The US has “made concessions” to the Arabs without getting anything in return.
4.
The US is playing fast and loose with Israel’s security without taking Israel into its confidence. Worst of all, the US “will not talk to us” about its view of what the Soviets are up to in the Middle East. Israel physically faces Russians across the Canal; they’re “the real menace to Israel—physically breathing down our necks.” Yet the US won’t even tell the Israelis exactly what we think Soviet objectives are. What’s more, “we’ve watched how you worked this deal with Vietnam and we’re inclined to think there’s some sort of stratospheric deal with the Russians, maybe including the Middle East. That just won’t work with us.”
5.
Above all, if the US wants Israel to take it seriously, it will have to make clear what it means by peace. “To put it bluntly, we don’t have any confidence that you’ve thought through the relationship that should exist after a settlement. Given your ‘salami tactics’, we think you’ll ask us to compromise next—now that you’ve asked us to compromise on territories—on Israeli ships through the Canal (you’ll say Israeli cargoes in foreign bottoms are OK); then you’ll say we don’t need a ‘peace treaty’; then you’ll tell us we’re unrealistic in the way we define peace.”

Trying to respond in roughly parallel sequence to this extended oration, I made the following points:

1.

Our policy has not changed. We’ve talked consistently about territorial integrity (May 23 and June 19, 1967); about withdrawal (June 19); about Jordan getting the West Bank back (November 1967 to Hussein and Eban); about the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory by force (November 22); about boundary changes only as they’re agreed in “honest negotiation” as parts of a “just compromise” not dominated by “the weight of conquest” (September 10, 1968). I said we had heard Israelis describe the Dayan plan, the Allon plan, the corridor-to-Sharm-el-Sheikh plan and the keep-all-of-Jerusalem plan. Each time we have heard one of these, we have said repeatedly and at all levels that none of these is good enough to produce peace. As a matter of principle, our position has been clear. What we are doing now is not to tell anybody where to draw his boundaries; we are saying very simply that it is a fact that there will be no peace if Israel tries to hold onto large chunks of territory.

I could not accept his charge of “salami tactics” for one very simple reason—our policy has not changed. If anything has changed, it has been a step-by-step Israeli perception of our position. We never agreed on direct negotiation (June 19: “exclude no method;” Shlomo acknowledged that.). We never agreed to their border schemes, but they never took us seriously; they just turned off their hearing aids. What has happened in the last 4-5 months is that the tactical situation has reached a crucial point where we could no longer afford to let the Israeli Government go on deluding itself that it had a blank check from the US.

This is especially important if negotiations with Jordan are coming to a head. Everything Mr. Katzenbach had said about our territorial position on the Israel-UAR border applies in principle to the Israel-Jordan border, and if Israel plans to offer Jordan the Allon plan, we don’t want anyone—especially the Israeli Government—to think the US will support that. We want Israel to know-as we told Allon here—that that’s a non-starter.

2.
On inconsistency, there’s nothing inconsistent in saying that Jerusalem is the “key issue” and in saying it’s so difficult that it may [Page 640] have to be negotiated apart from the rest of the territorial settlement.
3.
We haven’t undercut Israel’s bargaining position. Israel’s main bargaining counter is occupation. We haven’t proposed to anyone that Israel withdraw except to a condition of peace. But when two parties are trying to start negotiating, their positions have to be somewhere in the same ballpark—close enough so that it at least seems remotely possible to bridge the gap between them. What we’ve urged Israel to do is to drop the absolutely impossible and untenable elements in its position to test whether the Egyptians will come to meet a half-reasonable position. If they don’t then we’ll at least know who stands where. But with Israel’s position not even in the ball park, there was no way to put Egypt to the test.
4.
We have taken Israel into our confidence. But frankly, we don’t feel Israel has listened very attentively or taken our views seriously.
5.
They were asking a fair question in asking us our definition of peace. I thought we had done this but felt it worthwhile to take another stab at doing it more precisely.

HS
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, Israel, 10/1/68-1/20/69. Secret; Nodis. Prepared by Harold Saunders. Copies were sent to Walt Rostow, John Walsh, Philip Heymann, Rodger Davies, and Roy Atherton.
  2. See Document 320.