112. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1
DIPLOMATIC OPTIONS—ARAB-ISRAELI IMPASSE
Introductory note: A previous paper deals with how the U.S. should respond to Soviet pilots in the UAR, particularly in considering its response to Israel’s further aircraft requests.2 At the same time recent political developments, including the Soviet initiative, make it necessary to reappraise overall U.S. strategy toward the Arab-Israeli impasse. [Page 370] Diplomatic options were included in a general way in the previous paper, but that viewed the problem mainly as one of U.S. response to the USSR. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the diplomatic options. [The State discussion papers under this memo recommend one course of action. The purpose of this memo is to suggest a wider framework of options.]
I. The Situation
A. Soviet assumption of a greater role in the defense of Egypt—whatever its ultimate degree—has changed the political-military balance. The U.S. (and Israeli) assumption has been that the USSR might rather press Nasser toward a more reasonable negotiating position than risk greater Soviet military commitment. What now seems clear is that the USSR would rather risk that commitment than press the Arabs to give up territory in a settlement. What is not clear is how concrete the USSR will press Nasser to be on measures to enforce a settlement if he gets his territory back and the Palestinians get a fair settlement.
B. Nasser has posed the issue sharply to the U.S. in his appeal to President Nixon:3 Does the U.S. support enlargement of Israel’s boundaries and denial of restitution to the Palestinians? Right or wrong, he has now put the issue so that the Arabs must read provision of further U.S. aid to Israel as an affirmative answer to that question. In other words, it will become increasingly costly to negotiate from the strength of Israel’s occupation of Arab territory without at the same time making clear that we do not believe Israel should keep any of that territory in a peace settlement. Nasser has put himself in a position to say that he has offered to make peace with a Jewish state in Palestine but the U.S. in return is not prepared to press Israel to withdraw. As the issue is now posed, if the U.S. confronts the USSR it will be over Israel’s enlarged boundaries, not over Israel’s survival. It is in the Soviet interest to have the issue posed this way: If the U.S. confronts the USSR, it loses in the Arab world; if the U.S. tries to shift the issue, it makes a negotiating concession.
C. Israel has posed the issue equally sharply: Will the U.S. back down in the face of a Soviet threat by refusing to provide Israel with the arms it needs? Israel is attempting to bargain for enlargement of its borders. It has therefore refused to say that it is prepared to withdraw from occupied territories as part of a settlement. Israel has repudiated the U.S. suggestion that it move a step at a time toward negotiation by accepting the principle of withdrawal if the Arabs accept some concrete obligations involved in making peace. The Israeli position is that Nasser will not [Page 371] make peace and that any sign of flexibility by Israel or the U.S. will be read as backing down in the face of a Soviet threat.
D. The advent of the Palestinians as a quasi-independent force with a veto over Jordanian—and perhaps Lebanese—policy raises the question whether the Palestinian movement can be dealt with still just as a refugee problem. To date, the U.S. has assumed that their movement could be defused by (a) providing a generous refugee settlement and (b) leaving it to King Hussein to provide the Palestinians with whatever degree of autonomy after Israel withdraws from the West Bank. So far, it has been unthinkable to consider a settlement directly between Israel and the Palestinians (perhaps with U.S. involvement) because (a) this would mean writing off King Hussein and (b) the Palestinian movement is still so fragmented that it is difficult to know who might speak for it in a negotiation. But now if the Palestinians hold the upper hand in Jordan, we have to consider whether to try some sort of negotiation on this front as a possible means of circumventing Nasser.
E. The major power talks have not worked, and the option of a direct U.S. effort with Nasser is re-opened. Nasser has said that he does not wish to discuss the terms of a settlement directly with the U.S. But the USSR has not pressed Nasser to change his position materially, and Nasser knows the U.S. alone—if anyone—has the influence to move Israel. Since Nasser has made an open appeal direct to President Nixon, it is at least an issue to be considered whether the U.S. should now go straight to Nasser to try to reach an understanding.
F. In the perspective of a year, the position of governments friendly to the U.S. has worsened. Specifically: The Libyan coup last September. The fedayeen position in Lebanon in October; King Hussein’s compromise with the fedayeen in February;4 the plot against Faisal last fall. In each case, radical forces have capitalized on the moderate regime’s relationship with the U.S. and the U.S. position on Israel to the disadvantage of the regime.
II. Summary of State Suggestion
For the sake of convenience, the course of action described in the following paper for the purpose of discussion consists of the following steps:
A. In response to Nasser’s peace appeal propose to him that the UAR and Israel:
1. subscribe formally and publicly to restoration of the ceasefire;[Page 372]
2. begin discussions under Jarring, according to whatever procedures he recommends on the basis of statements by both sides that they accept the UN Resolution (242) and agree that the purpose of the discussions is the establishment of peace between them, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the withdrawal of forces in accordance with the resolution;
3. tell Nasser that, if he accepts this proposition, we will undertake to obtain Israeli acceptance and meanwhile will continue to defer a decision on additional aircraft for Israel, limiting ourselves for now to replacement of Israeli losses.
B. Tell Israel in advance that:
1. We are going to make such an approach to Nasser.
2. If Nasser is responsive, we would expect a flexible and positive response from Israel. Failing that, we would have to reconsider our position of standing firm on our October and December documents and not negotiating more detailed proposals in the Two and Four Power talks.
3. We expect Israel to refrain from resuming deep penetration raids.
4. As an interim measure, we are prepared immediately to amend present contracts to provide replacement for present and projected aircraft losses through 1970, thus assuring continuation of deliveries when those already contracted are completed (perhaps 8 Phantoms and 18–20 Skyhawks).
C. The tactical alternative within this option—not mentioned in the State paper—would be to try to pin down an Israeli position before going to Nasser.
III. The Range of Diplomatic Options
A. Proceed within the framework established by the diplomatic moves of 1969—Four Power and US–USSR talks and U.S. documents—to try to re-establish the cease-fire and launch negotiations under Jarring.
Option 1: Major-power effort. Move in the Four Power and U.S.-Soviet talks to fill in the gaps in our proposals on Sharm al-Shaikh, Gaza, DMZ’s and UN forces which are now left for the parties to negotiate.
—Further Soviet military involvement in the UAR has sharply increased the dangers in the present situation, and it is important to work out directly with the USSR just exactly what the Soviets will settle for politically in limiting their military involvement.
—The U.S. must at least clarify its position on these points anyway to the extent of leaving no doubt that we expect the Israelis to retain [Page 373] possession. While such a move could look like a concession to Soviet pressure, it is a move that we must make to base our position on the right issue—protecting Israel’s survival not conquests—whatever we do.
—This would look too much like giving in to Soviet pressure without a compensating move from the Soviets on issues of interest to us.
—The Soviets have shown little apparent inclination to press the Egyptians to make concessions, so we should regard the experiment to enlist their help as having been unsuccessful and deal directly with Nasser ourselves.
Option 2: Bilateral. Go directly to Israel and the UAR, trying to persuade them to begin negotiations on the basis of the U.S. October 28 document.5 In some respects the arguments are simply the obverse of those above but the refinements are these:
—The major-power talks have not produced results, so the U.S. should go directly to the parties.
—The October 28 formulation represents as balanced a set of principles as are likely to be put together as a prelude to negotiation. Apart from wording, they combine the essentials for getting a negotiation started—an Israeli commitment to withdraw and Arab agreement to specific obligations for enforcing the peace.
—The Israelis have already rejected this document, so tactically this would make it unnecessarily difficult to bring them along.
—The U.S. documents have aroused enough suspicion on both sides that it would be well to drop them.
Comment: The broad arguments for and against both of these options include those that have been repeated for the past year on whether the U.S. should try to work out with other major powers semi-detailed guidelines for Jarring. Even though the second option above is a partial break with this approach, the October 28 document is still the product of it and therefore subject to many of its disadvantages, even though the bilateral approach might overcome some of them.
B. Step aside from the 1969 tack and try to re-establish the cease-fire launch negotiations by some simpler formula.[Page 374]
Option 3: UAR-Israel. Try to persuade Israel and the UAR to re-establish the cease-fire and to start negotiating indirectly on the basis of a simple commitment by both sides that the purpose of the negotiation is to establish a state of peace with Israel, based on recognizing Israel’s existence and Israeli withdrawal. Ambassador Jarring tried—and nearly succeeded in spring, 1968—to launch talks on the basis of a simple formula like this. [This is the State suggestion described in II above. State factors in the arms decision.]
—Some initiative is required to contain the dangers created by recent Soviet moves. Taking this new tack would permit the U.S. to make a move that does not require us to make concessions in the context of the U.S.-Soviet discussions of the past year. It would also get away from many of the suspicions.
—Nasser’s May Day appeal to President Nixon has provided an opening for a direct response.
—While this would require the Israelis to state their willingness to withdraw if there is peace and start talking without an open Arab commitment to direct negotiation, it would preserve a negotiating process, on which Israel insists.
—This seems unlikely to work unless it is possible to clarify precisely beforehand that the Israelis will not try to bargain for major territorial changes and that Nasser is willing to coexist peacefully with a Jewish state and control the Palestinians. This approach does not really clarify the calculated ambiguity on that point in the UN resolution. Unless the U.S. is willing to come down hard on those points, the effort is a half-measure hardly worth the effort.
—If the U.S. is going to do anything, it should go all the way and attempt to work out an Israel-UAR agreement without leaving this to a vague negotiating process that is bound to fail.
Option 4: Jordan-Israel. Try again to launch a Jordan-Israel negotiation, this time seeking a way to involve the Palestinians and thereby perhaps free Hussein of Nasser’s restraint.
—This course has been rejected previously mainly because it was judged, apparently correctly, that Hussein could not negotiate a settlement on his own if Nasser disagreed. Now, however, the increased strength of the Palestinians at least raises the question whether there is an opportunity for an Israeli settlement with the Palestinians using Hussein as a figurehead.[Page 375]
—If this were a possibility (and the Israelis would have to take the lead), it might offer a way of circumventing Nasser and the Soviets. Nasser would have difficulty opposing a settlement to which a substantial group of Palestinians agreed.
—The Palestinian movement must be taken into account if a settlement is to be realistic.
—The Palestinian movement is not sufficiently coherent yet to present a united negotiating front. It may in time, but that time is not yet.
—Any premature move in the direction of the Palestinians risks building them up without assurance that they can produce a unified position or that such a position will be sufficiently moderate and constructive that the Israelis can live with it.
C. By-pass Jarring and make a unilateral effort at a settlement.
Option 5: Work out bilaterally with Nasser the arrangements for enforcing a peace settlement that he would agree to provided the U.S. could force Israel to withdraw then press this on Israel along with a pledge of long-term economic and military assistance and perhaps a U.S. security guarantee.
—Only action this decisive, if any, is likely to produce a political settlement. The alternative is accepting the deterioration in U.S.-Arab relations and the U.S.-Soviet confrontation that are likely if present trends take their course.
—Continued U.S. support for Israel can be sustained only if there is a political settlement based on virtually complete withdrawal. The present course of events is likely to lead to an Israeli-Soviet clash. The U.S. does not have an interest in a confrontation with the USSR over Israel’s right to hold occupied Arab territory. Therefore, unless Israel withdraws, any U.S. Administration is unlikely to find domestic political support for confronting the USSR in present circumstances. The result will be an even more humiliating back-down in the face of dramatic Soviet pressure than would be the case if the U.S. made changes in its position now.
—Nasser has opened the door to this kind of effort in his peace appeal to President Nixon.
—The U.S. is unlikely to be able to bring enough pressure to bear on Israel to make Israel withdraw to virtually pre-war borders. Whether this is desirable or not, it just will not work.[Page 376]
—Nasser is unlikely to agree to any terms in advance of an Israeli commitment to withdraw with sufficient precision to permit us even to make a good case to the Israelis.
—The threat of such a squeeze would create a national crisis in Israel which could well lead to a decision for early pre-emptive military action of some sort on grounds that success is more likely before the Soviets are completely entrenched.
—Going to Nasser would look like U.S. capitulation.
Option 6: Have a complete sorting out with Israel of the extent of U.S. support against the Arabs and against the USSR, making clear that U.S. support is contingent on withdrawal. On the basis of an Israeli commitment to withdraw attempt to work out an Israel-UAR agreement with Nasser.
—A commitment of substantial U.S. support for the future coupled with a clear understanding of its limits is the only way we could begin to persuade Israel to cut back its present demands.
—Unless the U.S. begins thinking in these terms, it will be drawn into a confrontation with the USSR by Israel on the issue of protecting Israel’s conquests.
—Israel is expecting massive economic and military support from the U.S. It is fairer to both Israel and the U.S. to reach an understanding now than to let Israel proceed on what could prove false expectations.
—A substantial U.S. commitment to Israel in the context of withdrawal and peace would be tolerable to the Arabs.
—The Israelis will not withdraw under any circumstances. The U.S. will be faced with the choice between backing down and sharply cutting back its aid. This would be domestically unsupportable, especially in the present atmosphere.
—The U.S. cannot in good conscience squeeze the Israelis until it has confidence in Nasser’s willingness to make peace and live up to his commitments.
—Putting this choice to the Israelis would create a national crisis that could well result in a pre-emptive attack of some sort.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–044, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group Soviet Pilots in Egypt 5/8/70. Secret; Nodis. All brackets are in the original.↩
- The paper, “Reassessment of Current Arab-Israel Situation and Possible US Courses of Action,” undated, as well as the other papers for the May 8 Review Group meeting, are ibid.↩
- See Document 115.↩
- On February 12, King Hussein reached an agreement with guerrilla representatives to rescind security measures that the Palestinian commandos viewed as curbs on their military strikes against Israel. (New York Times, February 14, 1970, p. 5, and February 15, 1970, p. 19)↩
- See Document 58.↩