326. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

6153. Israel-Arab settlement.

Begin summary: Eban told Ambassador Nov. 18 that Under Secretary Katzenbach-Amb Rabin Nov 12 conversation and other talks connected therewith were most remarkable episode in negative sense, in US-Israel relations. Absurd for Israel and US to get into a dispute which was not real, which concerned a third party which was not interested in reaching agreement. Fact that US had expressed views to UAR and USSR weakened Israel negotiating position. US formulation totally unacceptable to Israel and conflicts with President’s Sept. 10 speech. Previous US statements had been broad and provided flexibility for interpretation, which Israel had thought intended. Proposal had been made in Israeli Cabinet to withdraw or at least not repeat GOI acceptance SC resolution. International presence at Sharm el-Sheikh would not be viable, and UN would have no power to keep it there. Private poll of refugees would place individual desires above national sovereignty and not acceptable to Israel. Contractual agreement which US talked of seriously with GOI was referred to contemptuously as mere piece of paper in talk with UAR. US alleged GOI policy had changed but this not so. It was US views which had changed. Eban hoped to hear US policy remained as previously delineated by President. Ambassador noted US policy remains as determined by President and recent conversations not in conflict therewith. Keystone remains agreement between parties and form of compact less important than [Page 645] substance. US involved because extremely concerned over future of Jarring Mission. If our moves did not achieve forward movement toward settlement, they might at least smoke out Arab views. US had talked only for itself and had not given away Israeli positions or made negotiations more difficult. US supported idea that some presence needed at Sharm el-Sheikh but not Israeli. Re refugees, US view was that not many would opt to return and it no derogation of Israeli position to agree to accept return of few. End summary.

Fon Min Eban asked Amb to call at Foreign Ministry late afternoon Nov. 18. DirGen Rafael, Asst Dir Gen Bitan and Elizur present. Amb accompanied by DCM. Eban began by saying Nov. 12 conversation between Under Secy Katzenbach and Amb Rabin, amplified by other conversations such as that between Buffum and Tekoah and others constituted a most remarkable episode in our relations in a negative sense. What the US had told Israel was not recognizable in terms of our previous relations. Eban was puzzled why whole exercise necessary. UAR was no closer to peace than US was to putting man on moon (immediately corrected himself and noted latter might be taking place soon). It was rather absurd for US and Israel to be in dispute about something which was not real while the other party concerned was not even interested. If Israel and the UAR had been close to negotiations, he might have understood US intervention. It was a serious matter that US views had been put to UAR and USSR since this had weakened the negotiating position of Israel. He could not understand reasons for our having done this.
Eban continued that US formulation was totally unacceptable to Israel. It appeared US had proposed or submitted to UAR certain principles which should apply to a settlement. One was that the SC resolution was not self-implementing. Israel agreed with this, and it had almost been accepted by UAR which has stopped calling for withdrawal as first step.
US proposal called for total Israel withdrawal from UAR territory. This certainly conflicts with President Johnson’s speech of Sept 10 in which President said US was not the one to say where others should draw lines but that it was clear there should be no return to June 4. Israel had no difficulty in accepting President’s two points, including idea that territory should not be gained simply by weight of conquest, but what Katzenbach said was completely different. In all other US statements, June 4 had been spoken of negatively as something to which we should not return, but Katzenbach had now said that this is what should be returned to, with minor adjustments. This was completely at variance with previous US pronouncements.
Gravity of situation, Eban continued, was that Israel had placed great faith in President’s pronouncements and would like to be able to [Page 646] continue to do so. If they were broad statements which provided flexibility for interpretation in previous US pronouncements, Israel had assumed this had been intended by US. On this basis, Israel had announced its acceptance of SC resolution in US identical words. Israel had done this because it accepted the Nov. 15, 1967 statement by American UN representative that neither 1948 nor 1967 lines were boundaries and boundaries had to be agreed to by parties concerned. If US meant Israel had to return to June 4 line, this could not be accepted. There had been a proposal in Israeli Cabinet to withdraw acceptance of resolution or at least not to repeat they accept. If US position had remained a formula giving Israel room to maneuver this would have removed one element of Israel’s consternation.
Eban said he was astonished by another matter. US had said to UAR Suez Canal should be opened to ships of all flags. This had no meaning unless Israel were specified by name. UAR always says Canal open to ships of all flags but nevertheless rejects Israeli ships.
US proposal for solution of refugee problem, Eban said, was a private poll. However, individual desires of refugees were the only criterion. Sovereignty of state was overriding.
US had proposed international presence at Sharm el-Sheikh, said Eban, which would not be removable except by UNSC or UNGA. Israel had said many times Sharm el-Sheikh was crux of problem with UAR. Israel could not have a war over Tiran Strait every few years. Had had experience with international presence. There was no ability in UN to remain at Sharm el-Sheikh 24 hours after Egypt asked for removal. U Thant said last year UNEF had no alternative but to leave since they could always be driven out by Egyptian military forces. What states would have their troops remain over objections of sovereignty? Next year UAR and USSR will gain majority in SC for their views. Of 15 SC members, only 4 with whom Israel can even talk. There will be authentic majority for Soviets and Arabs in GA and will certainly be majority for giving priority to national sovereignty. Israel had told US frankly Israeli presence at Sharm el-Sheikh only real guarantee that there would be no renewal of blockade. Israel knew of no assurance contrary to its belief that any international forces could be physically removed by the Egyptians or by a majority vote in the UN in favor of Egypt.
Eban continued that he was even more astonished by the extraordinary formulation of US views on the necessity for Egypt to sign “something in writing.” Never had the idea of a contractual agreement been more contemptuously expressed. Israel had given up on the idea of a formal peace treaty and had agreed that something like USSR-Japan agreement might be suitable.
UAR position was that they would sign a copy of UN resolution and so would Israel. Israel’s position was that it is essential there must be a contract between the parties. While Israel had said it could accept something other than a classic treaty, US proposal was complete acceptance of Arab and Soviet view.
Eban said when Katzenbach statements compared with those of President Johnson and US Security Council representatives, there was a depletion of US position. He wanted to ask now the status of President’s Sept. 10 pronouncement. In discussions in Washington it had been intimated that Israel’s position had changed. Certainly US statements as compared with those previously made by President and in SC indicated a change on part US. Eban hoped Amb could assure him this not so and recent statements were only paraphrase of previous policy.
It was not true Israel’s policy had changed, Eban said. Israel had not wanted to bind itself to territorial changes before negotiations. He could not understand why it was considered more moderate to formulate and transmit positions in advance of negotiations. He had thought Ambassador Ball agreed when he had said that one should not start negotiations with the most flexible position but with the hardest. Therefore Israel had told UAR through Jarring that security and navigation concerns would govern its positions. Israel had no encyclopedic interest in Sinai but was functionally concerned with security and navigation. Israel had not said anything about Suez (though it wanted freedom of transit of Canal) since this was not linked to territorial settlement. Nobody had showed Israel how anything other than Israeli presence at Sharm el-Sheikh would provide security. It was not true that Israel had now said this for the first time. Eban had made this position clear to the Secretary and to Ball and Sisco. Eban had told Secretary in Sept Israeli presence needed at Sharm el-Sheikh and this had been Eban’s position in last talk with Secretary. It certainly undermined Israeli negotiating position for great power to tell UAR in advance they could wash out Israel. US should let Egypt try to persuade Israel or Israel to persuade Egypt how to dispose of this vital interest. GOI thought it had been approaching US views in its last document. It had hinted to UAR they would have to assure Israel on security and Sharm el-Sheikh. This not unprecedented. After war, countries try to maintain interest. This was true of USSR and US after WWII. US had also said it needed to maintain forces in and administration over certain places which it had occupied.
Eban then turned to Jordan. Said he did not know whether anyone had told Jordan Israel should return to the boundaries of June 4. If so, this would be even more difficult. Jordan seemed interested enough to continue talks through Jarring. Israeli position would be utterly [Page 648] undermined if someone intervened against it. If US wanted to do something, it should urge Jordan to be forthcoming.2
Eban concluded his presentation by saying he could not remember many occasions which had been so disconcerting. In all frankness and friendship he had to say he regretted the whole exchange. He hoped the US would not talk with Israel’s enemies before talking with Israel on matters of such vital concern.
Amb replied he not aware any US conversation with Jordan similar to that with UAR. He thought Eban read too much into US talk with Riad. US policy still remains as enunciated by President June 19 and Sept. 10. Keystone of our view is insistence on necessity for agreement between parties. Form of contract is minor compared with substantive content of agreement. On major points he did not think US position differed from that of Israel. US not asking Israel to go back to June 4. We had proposed some time ago that Israel offer to return to the former border with special regimes for Sharm el-Sheikh and Gaza. Israel had not gone along with that proposal. Its statement to Jarring did not mention withdrawal but did hint that Israel would give up Sinai.
Amb continued that US had felt it must be involved because we were extremely concerned that Jarring negotiations were getting virtually nowhere. We had stayed out of the negotiations except for general statements of policy to which US still adhered. We had thought that if we talked with UAR and USSR we could smoke them out even if we did not achieve actual movement toward a settlement. He did not think US had given away Israel’s position or had made negotiations more difficult. We were working for peace and peace was in Israel’s interests. Our insistence on agreement meant insistence on negotiations. We do have a definite difference of opinion on Sharm el-Sheikh. We envisaged support for arrangements for Israel’s freedom of navigation through Tiran Strait, but do not support these arrangements being made by Israel. If votes can be gotten in UN to put a force in it may be possible to make that force permanent and not subject to Egypt’s veto.
Eban broke in that UAR could give a green light now to a UN force and then a red light later whenever it suited its fancy. Amb noted Secretary had made clear to Riad (and Amb thought Riad had accepted this point) that if UAR had agreed last year to what it now says it would agree to on Tiran Strait, there would have been no war last year. In any event, US had not repeated Israeli positions to UAR but its own, but he did not think these positions so different. Appreciate Eban’s concern in tight negotiating position. On other hand, if Eban right that Egyptians are not interested in settlement at all, it would make no difference anyway. Safeguard for Israel’s position was still necessity for agreement between parties. US was not introducing solution of its own.
On refugee question, Amb said there had never been agreement as to number of refugees who would want to come back to Israel. There were many reasons why refugees had left Israel, including unwillingness to live under Israeli state, and giving them choice would not erase reasons why they had left to begin with. Eban said there was difference between making this proposal to Israel and making it to Arabs. We were setting right of individual against right of sovereign state. Amb replied we did not think it disservice, but rather service to Israel to have some kind of census reflecting desires of refugees regarding return.
Amb went on to say important thing at this stage in Jarring Mission was that something had to be introduced into equation and this is what US had tried to do. Eban replied it meaningful that Riad packed up and went home few days after hearing US presentation. He continued that US had not talked with Israel about signing “some piece of paper” but about a permanent contractual arrangement binding on both parties for peace. Amb replied US had not talked to UAR either merely about piece of paper. Rafael interjected what affair was it of US to talk to other side about things which Israel and Egypt should talk about. Amb retorted US had sovereign right to talk with anyone about its position on matters of concern to it.
Eban continued that US formulation to Egypt made far less demands to UAR than on Israel. Amb said President’s statements are policy and views expressed to UAR reflect that policy.
Bitan said Riad’s reaction to proposal that Egypt sign a document of which Israel was signatory indicated Riad also had something else in mind other than a contractual undertaking between UAR and Israel. This showed Riad did not understand US proposal in same way Israel had done. Eban said what US ought to do was not protect UAR from proposals which Israel had made but to urge UAR to answer. What had actually happened was UAR had received impression from US that if they went on recalcitrantly long enough US position would get closer to that of UAR.
Rafael said he would review what had happened. US (in persons Ball and Sisco) had come to Israel and said throw out some bait to UAR on procedural matters. Israel had done so. Then US had come again to Israel and said throw out more bait. Fon Minister had done so. Then, instead of waiting for UAR to respond, US had proceeded to throw out more bait of its own, while other side had not moved an inch. On Nov 7 UAR had stated its position precisely: Israel must liquidate aggression and withdraw. In face of these concepts of enemy, US had carried Israel further along road with UAR and USSR. Eban said US spoke, on question of peace, only in terms of end of belligerency and said nothing about the just and lasting peace which Israel felt it required.
Amb replied there should be no misunderstanding on this point. We did not see a possibility in the first instance of full peace and diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab states. We felt condition of non-belligerency and stability necessary which could develop over time into real peace. Peace was in interest of both Israel and US and US was not undermining Israel’s interest in trying to work for peace.
Eban said if US had come to Israel and consulted about proposed approach to UAR he thought he could have persuaded US differently. He would not have asked US to follow Israel’s policy but would have asked that US stick to its previous policy statements. Amb noted we had also sought consultation in advance with Israel on paper to be given Riad through Jarring, but in spite of repeated requests had seen paper only one and one-half hours before delivery. Eban said he frankly had wondered if US had wanted to be in position of being involved with Israeli paper. Noted he had given Secretary full account in advance and had followed US suggested wording.
Eban noted Sisco and others had said it would be tragic if there were divergences between Israel and US. He thought this not necessarily so. It only natural Israel should have more strengthened positions than US. He found it not tragic but disconcerting when policies formulated at highest levels, with which Israel could live, were suddenly reformulated. He would like to be able to inform his government that US policy remained as enunciated by President Johnson and US representatives in highest international councils.3 Noted he was disappointed [Page 651] by Riad’s last reply. Riad could have replied to Israel’s question on Suez Canal, nature of peace, etc. but had refused bilateral negotiations, negotiations under Jarring auspices, and now even refuses to negotiate by messages exchanged through Jarring.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Amman, Cairo, and USUN.
  2. In a separate telegram, Barbour reported that Eban expanded on his concern about negotiations with Jordan. Eban said that Israel had put forward territorial terms to Jordan, which Eban felt would command international support. Israel’s proposals included the demilitarization of the West Bank with only certain unpopulated areas to remain as Israeli territory while the remainder of the occupied territory and all of the affected population would revert to Jordan. Eban noted that his government was concerned that the progress made in negotiations with Jordan would be undermined if the United States were to state to Jordan, as it had to the UAR, that it supported the Arab demand for a return to the June 4 boundaries. (Telegram 6152 from Tel Aviv, November 19; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68–11/68)
  3. Under Secretary Rostow called in Ambassador Rabin on November 19 to reassure Israel that there had been no change in the U.S. position concerning a peace settlement in the Middle East. Rostow reiterated that the United States would not support any settlement that fell short of a secure peace for which the Arab states took responsibility. He added that U.S. policy also remained as stated by President Johnson to Prime Minister Eshkol when he said that the further Israel went from the armistice lines the further it would be from peace. (Telegram 275224 to Tel Aviv, November 21; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)