143. Editorial Note

Late on August 5, 1970, strong disagreement emerged between the United States and Israel over the operating text of the cease-fire agree [Page 491] ment. The Israelis took exception to the fact that Gunnar Jarring, in his letter to UN Secretary General U Thant announcing the acceptance by the parties of the U.S. initiative, adhered strictly to the original text Secretary of State William Rogers proposed on June 19 (see Document 129), ignoring Israel’s own letter of acceptance provided by Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin to Rogers on August 4 (see Document 140) and announced by Prime Minister Golda Meir to the Israeli Knesset the same day. Although the differences were minor, Rabin’s letter contained statements not included in the original text, including the need for discussions to take place “in order to achieve an agreed and binding contractual peace agreement between the parties,” as well as Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Meir asked for a private meeting with Ambassador to Israel Walworth Barbour on the evening of August 5 to discuss the discrepancies. Following the meeting Barbour sent a report of his conversation with the Prime Minister to the Department of State:

“She noted that language of Israeli reply as presented in Rabin’s letter to Secretary and repeated in her speech to Knesset had been negotiated with her Cabinet colleagues with extreme difficulty and that the wording contained therein which constituted additions to the text of the original US proposal was extremely important to one or more of the remaining colleagues in her government. She said categorically that Israeli endorsement of the original three paragraphs in US statement would result in further departures from the government, including perhaps that of herself and that for that reason US statement as such not acceptable. She had no difficulty with the first paragaph nor the language on the ceasefire but the additions to the second paragaph describing the purposes of the contemplated discussions were absolutely essential . . . My strenuous and I hope forceful argument that this language is all included in the US initiative ‘in accordance with Resolution 242’ fell on deaf ears.” (Telegram 4175 from Tel Aviv, August 5; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1155, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, U.S. Peace Initiative For the Middle East Vol. II)

The following day, August 6, when the text of the agreement still had not been changed to meet Israeli requests, Meir instructed Rabin to deliver the following statement to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco:

“I have just spoken to the Prime Minister. She has instructed me to say that she is dismayed over the latest development. She is shocked at the behaviour of the United States placing before Israel a fait accompli. The issue of the initiative has been completely overshadowed by the manner you have acted. The Prime Minister has told me to tell you that the conduct of the US Government is an insult to Israel—its Govern [Page 492] ment and people. You have taken upon yourselves to place words in the mouth of the Government of Israel which we have never agreed to say. This attitude bears the mark of dictation—not consultation. Your whole approach has the gravest implications as to the relations between our two governments. Your conduct seriously questions how we can embark on the process of negotiation. My government will be meeting either tomorrow evening or Sunday and I have been called to Jerusalem for urgent consultations. End Statement.” (Israel State Archive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6854/8)

Sisco replied that he would report the message to his superiors immediately, but felt that Meir’s characterization of the actions, intent, and motivations of the U.S. Government was “unjustified.” He hoped that after the passage of some time “a more considered and a more balanced judgement in terms of what our actions have been over the weeks will be reached.” (Ibid.) Still, Meir remained upset over the text of the cease-fire agreement and telephoned Sisco at the State Department on the evening of August 6 to discuss the matter. No record of the conversation has been found. But Rabin, who listened in on the telephone call in Sisco’s office, recounted the conversation in his memoirs:

“Golda said that the United States had practically forged Israel’s signature. No more and no less. Sisco was astounded: ‘What do you mean ‘forged’?

“‘You notified Jarring that we had accepted the initiative before we accepted it!’ the prime minister barked. ‘That’s what I mean by ‘forged.’ I reached an agreement with Barbour, and the United States now denies that agreement. You can’t formulate answers on our behalf. We have our reservations about the text of Jarring’s letter . . .’

Sisco was astonished by Golda’s complaint: ‘You received the text of our initiative weeks ago. One page, one paper—that’s the whole initiative. Did you accept it or didn’t you?’

“Golda could not understand his exasperation. ‘What do you mean did we accept the initiative? Do we have to accept your formulation? We have a formulation of our own!’” (Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, pages 180–181)

Rabin described the “tragic” telephone conversation between Meir and Sisco as “a dialogue of the deaf.” Sisco, he wrote, “did not understand what the Israeli formulation was. Golda did not understand why Sisco was getting tough.” Rabin telephoned Meir afer the “abortive conversation,” at which time she instructed him to seek an immediate meeting with Henry Kissinger to discuss redrafting the text of the cease-fire agreement. “I can’t go back to the cabinet with a formulation unlike the one it adopted,” she told Rabin. (Ibid.)

Acting on his instructions, Rabin and Minister Shlomo Argov met with Kissinger at the White House at 10 p.m. on August 6. According to a [Page 493] memorandum of conversation, Rabin opened by saying that Prime Minister Meir had personally asked him to come and see Kissinger and that she was concerned that “we were approaching one of the most critical moments in United States-Israeli relations as the result of some misunderstanding and that a serious problem existed.” Meir believed that the Israeli response to the U.S. peace initiative was clear in regard to what was meant by its acceptance. Israel had accepted all of the basic principles set forth in the text of the report which Jarring was to deliver to the Secretary-General and provided Kissinger with the text that they wanted forwarded. Kissinger stated that while he had not been following all the details closely he was under the impression from the cables that “all was in order,” and added that “it was hard to explain why they objected to the Jarring report when there was no substantive difference.”Kissinger said that “he just did not understand the differences” and then asked Ambassador Rabin and Minister Argov to sit down with his secretary and dictate the “specific operational instances” in which the texts differed. (Memorandum of conversation, August 6; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 654, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—Recent Actions Keep File Intact)

While Kissinger waited for the Israelis to compose their response, he placed a telephone call to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Alfred L. Atherton. A portion of the transcript of their conversation follows:

“K: Do you know about this Israeli blow up? . . .

“A: It came to a head this afternoon. It came in a phone call from Israel this afternoon.

“K: I have them [Rabin and Argov] in a separate room. I have asked them to tell me the difference between the two versions. They claim that the Jarring message wasn’t to be surfaced.

“A: That’s not plausible. Their reply was understood in the same light as from Riad and the Jordanians.

“K: They said their government will disintegrate if they do.

“A: That’s what Meir said.

“K: Do I get the President in?

“A: We are trying to get up some gimmicks which Jarring and U Thant can use . . .

“K: What happens now if the Egyptians accept tomorrow morning and the Isrealis don’t? . . .

“A: If they get wind of the waffling it may blow up.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, August 6, 10:30 p.m.; ibid., Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 6, Chronological File)

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Kissinger returned to his meeting with the Israelis, but after 15 minutes of consulting, Rabin and Argov informed Kissinger that they did not want to put the differences down on paper because it might in some way “bind them.” Rabin stressed that the problem was with the Cabinet. “The Cabinet has assumed that since there was no reaction when their substitute text was submitted that it was accepted.” Argov interjected that if the Jarring text were made public tomorrow the Prime Minster would have to stand up in the Knesset and reject it. “In essence,” Argov said, “the Prime Minister wants to be safeguarded by her substitute statement.” Kissinger replied that “the best Israel could achieve would be a statement of its interpretation, but the U.S. would not accept its interpretation.” Kissinger ended the meeting by saying that “this seemed to be a lesser case than others they had made in the last couple of days and lived with.” (Memorandum of conversation, August 6; ibid., Box 654, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—Recent Actions Keep File Intact)

Following his meeting with the Israelis, Kissinger called Sisco to discuss the consequences of the disagreement with the Israelis:

“K: What’s going to happen?

“S: I don’t know. Give me a couple of hours. I will think of something or another formula. I want you, the Secy. and the President to know where we stand. I will try in the morning. But I will be here. Let’s not give up. It’s too close.

“K: What can I tell Rabin?

“S: I didn’t want to talk to Golda. They put her on to calling me because they gave up with her and they thought I could convince her. They went out of this office with their tails between their legs.

“K: I told them—do you want me to talk to the President? They said yes. I said, I want to know, then, what’s wrong with the statement except that you don’t like it . . .

“S: If the President calls me tomorrow morning and asks me to explain the problem, I am not sure I can explain it easily. When two bright people like Joseph Sisco and Henry [Kissinger] cannot explain the problem, maybe there’s no problem.

“K: We have to convince Golda Meir.

“S: I failed. “(Transcript of a telephone conversation, August 6, 11:30 p.m.; ibid., Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 6, Chronological File)

The next morning, Kissinger informed Nixon over the telephone of the previous day’s events, explaining that while the Egyptians had accepted the cease-fire, the Israeli position had come “unstuck” again. He added: “It’s some shell game between Rabin and Sisco with both trying to sneak texts past each other. It has to do with Jarring’s presen [Page 495] tation to the Secretary General. Israel feels that the text we gave Jarring constricts their negotiating position. Anyway, both sides were not making their differences explicit, hoping to sneak versions by each other.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, August 7, 8:35 a.m.; ibid.)