342. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • The Prospects for a Peaceful Settlement of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

PARTICIPANTS

  • Prime Minister Abdullah Yafi
  • Governor William W. Scranton2

Governor Scranton asked Prime Minister Abdullah Yafi for his views on the Middle East situation. Yafi went into a detailed expose of the history of the Arab-Israeli crisis from 1948. He characterized Israel as a racist, expansionist and aggressive state in the heart of the Arab homeland. Yafi emphasized that the Arabs were in a state of legitimate self defense. From 1948 on, he said, the Arabs have been the victims of aggression on three separate occasions.

Governor Scranton inquired what form any future peaceful settlement might take. Would it be based, for example, on demarcation lines readily agreed to by both sides and Arab recognition of Israel? Prime Minister Yafi replied that the question of Arab recognition of the state of Israel was absolutely impossible for many reasons, to include the radical political pressures emanating from Arab youth today. Yafi characterized the views of the new Arab generation on the question of Palestine as being more fanatic than the views shared by the present Arab leadership. Insofar as demarcation lines were concerned, they could be agreed upon as long as Israel was not given any bonuses (in territorial terms) for her acts of aggression.

Governor Scranton asked the Prime Minister for his views on the Jarring Mission and whether or not Yafi thought there was any better alternative for reaching a peaceful settlement. Governor Scranton commented that President-elect Richard Nixon was very much interested in the Middle East situation and he was fully aware of the expectations surrounding his advent to the American presidency. The Governor [Page 678] wondered whether or not the Arabs were waiting to see what the Nixon Administration would do before they went any further on the Jarring Mission. Yafi said the Arabs have placed much hope in the New American Administration. Concerning a settlement, he said he sees no other means than the Jarring Mission and the November 22, 1967 UN Resolution as the basis of a peaceful settlement. He strongly supported execution of the UN Resolution, and said the Arabs had accepted the resolution in full but that the Israelis had considered it as sort of a “battle order” which they treated in a routine manner. What was needed was to carry out the principles of the resolution and establish a timetable.

Governor Scranton asked Prime Minister Yafi exactly what he meant by a timetable. Yafi said before any timetable could be established, Israel would have to accept the resolution as a whole. This would lead to specific stages of execution, to include, in part: Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories; freedom of navigation for Israeli vessels through the Suez Canal; arrangements for the return of the Palestinian refugees either to their former homes in Israel or to other parts of the Arab world, etc.

Governor Scranton asked the Prime Minister exactly how any settlement, within the framework of the UN Resolution would be executed. Would it mean the establishment of demilitarized zones and the installation of an international police force, for example?

Yafi said he did not agree with the establishment of an international police force along the Arab-Israeli border. He stated the presence of such an international force has not and would not, in the future, deter any further aggression, which, he claimed, would come only from the Israeli side. However, he stressed that the United Nations should be used as the instrument for enforcing any settlement, and that the UN must, with this objective in mind, be “reinforced” by the Great Powers in order that it may play an active and productive role in maintaining peace in the area.

Governor Scranton commented that Prime Minister Yafi’s frank remarks about the impossibility of the Arabs living with the State of Israel led him to ask whether the Arabs would ever accept the very existence of the state of Israel, and consequently, if there was any real hope for peace. Prime Minister Yafi replied that what the Arabs were opposed to was the racist, expansionist, zionist state of Israel which could not be tolerated. Governor Scranton said if this was the case, and the Arabs were not bent on the extinction of the state of Israel, then there would be some hope for a real settlement. He stated the United States had been opposed to Israeli expansionism and that this was also the position of President-elect Nixon. To limit Israeli expansion would, however, require some assurances from Arab states as well. Yafi stated that there could be no definitive peace between the Arabs and Israelis, [Page 679] and that, frankly speaking, only a comprehensive “truce” could be concluded between the two sides because the major issues dividing them were irreconcilable.

Governor Scranton said most Americans support the existence of the state of Israel, but also that most Americans were opposed to Israeli expansionism at the expense of the Arab states. However, the Governor continued, most Americans also believe that the Arab position is the elimination of the state of Israel. Prime Minister Yafi explained that this was not the case and that what the Arabs were opposed to was Israel aggression and expansionism.

In the long term, Yafi stated, the Israelis will not be able to maintain their present policies and remain in the Arab world. If history is any proof, Israel’s destiny will not be unlike that of other foreign entities which implanted themselves on the Arab world like the Crusader Kingdoms and the French and British mandates. These entities, Yafi said, were unable to maintain their positions in the Middle East on any permanent basis.

Yafi made it clear that in his opinion the US should not pressure the Arab states to go further than implementation of the November 22 UN Resolution. He said any pressures in this regard would be unproductive.

Governor Scranton remarked that one thing which concerned him was the exaggerated expectations on the part of the Arabs that if the US exerts enough pressure over Israel, Israel will do whatever the US wants. Scranton said this is definitely not the case. However, he added, US pressure would seem to be necessary to contain Israeli expansionism. In any case, he emphasized, there are limits to US influence over Israel. Yafi said that he understood this very well but, unfortunately, the Arab masses believe otherwise. In conclusion, Prime Minister Yafi told Governor Scranton that what the Arabs were asking for is positive pressure from the US and not, what he termed, negative pressure.

As examples of such “negative pressure”, he referred to the US-Israeli Phantom jet sale negotiations and US abstention on the UN Resolution on Jerusalem. Yafi said it was unfortunate that the US adopted these positions while Israel was defying international public opinion and UN resolutions by continuing her occupation of Arab territories. For these reasons, he repeated, the Arabs considered themselves to be in a state of legitimate self defense.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Edward P. Djerejian and approved by Ambassador Porter. The memorandum is Enclosure 1 to Airgram A-1505 from Beirut, December 13.
  2. Former Governor of Pennsylvania Scranton visited Lebanon on December 5 as part of a six-nation fact-finding tour of the Middle East undertaken on behalf of President-elect Nixon. His other stops included Iran December 2-5, the UAR December 6-7, Saudi Arabia December 7-8, Jordan December 8, and Israel December 9-11.