182. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


Palestine Options


At the next sub-tab are:

—A long State Department background paper2 on the Palestinian problem—the principal options and the broad issues they raise for U.S. policy and interests. It does not make recommendations. Its purpose is to lay out the problem that has been overshadowing peace efforts for two decades and has achieved a new prominence since June 1967, and, as such, to serve as a basis for discussion of U.S. policy.

—A short State Department paper [on top]3 drawing from the longer one certain working hypothesis and recommendations for policy.

These papers in addition to the earlier Saunders memo4 comprise a first effort to put out on the table in a policy context the problem of satisfying Palestinian aspirations in the course of moving toward a Jordan-Israel settlement—which in this context can be read as the final partition of Palestine. After going back and forth over the issues, one finds it helpful to begin putting on paper some general policy guidelines for testing in discussion. What follows is an effort to put the judgments in the shorter State paper into perspective for discussion.

A Prefatory Note: The Broader Policy Context

Elements of an Arab-Israeli settlement as the United States has officially viewed them are embodied in Secretary Rogers’ speech of December 9, 1969,5 and in the document on an Israel-Jordan settlement [Page 624] submitted in the Four Power meeting of December 23.6 With regard to the Palestinians, those formulations go only so far as to note the grievances of the Palestinians and to promise their resolution in a refugee settlement.

Much of the present discussion essentially contests the validity of that approach toward the Palestinians as being comprehensive enough. It raises the question of going beyond that stance and formulating a more definitive posture in light of the rising tide of Palestinian nationalism. In so doing, some key issues of the Palestinian problem must be borne in mind. Detailed in the longer State paper and in the Saunders memo, they are briefly as follows:

—We do not have a clear picture of who really speaks for the 2.6 million Palestinians. Do the fedayeen reflect the sentiments of the majority of Palestinians or do they speak only for themselves? How real is the gap between the thinking of West Bank notables and the fedayeen?

—We do not have a clear picture of what the Palestinians really want, both with regard to the degree of political freedom they would desire [what kind of entity] and with regard to their intentions in exercising that freedom [do they want to destroy Israel].

—The U.S. must consider what would happen to King Hussein. It would seem that any discussion of trying to meet legitimate Palestinian aspirations beyond what is already envisaged would have implications for the future of the Hashemite dynasty. How would U.S. interests be affected?

—What can realistically be expected of the Israelis? Even in the refugee context, they are adamant against an influx of Palestinians which might threaten their internal security. Beyond that, the Allon Plan7 for a settlement is an Israeli military strategy which, although it would provide greater local autonomy for West Bank Palestinians, would make any Palestinian entity essentially a captive of Israel. How would U.S. interests be affected vis-à-vis Israel were we to move beyond our present position on the Palestinian question?

—Finally, given the hostility surrounding the newly emerging Palestinian movement, does the U.S. want to get involved in endorsing this kind of resistance? Would this set a bad precedent for U.S. policy elsewhere? Would it be as helpful to moderate Arab governments as they have been suggesting? On the other hand, can we escape this new phenomenon in the Arab world by sticking to our present policy which could be read as ignoring Palestinian political aspirations?8

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A Tentative Base for Policy

The most practical way to deal with the issues raised in the longer State paper is to try to develop some working hypotheses from its discussion. This is what the shorter State paper attempts to do. Since the shorter State paper jumbles judgments together, the most economical procedure—followed below—is to state a generalization with the State Department position noted beneath it followed by comment.

You might use the following for talking points at the SRG meeting:9

1. A first generalization that seems to emerge from the two papers is this: There is increasing evidence that the problem of the Palestinians is no longer just a problem of refugee compensation and resettlement. It is also a problem of providing a means for the Palestinians to play a greater political role (a) in the process of a settlement between Israel and Jordan and (b) in a governmental structure thereafter, with the likely possibility being the West Bank.

State’s shorter paper (page 1, paragraph #2) says: “There appears to be a growing need to meet a Palestinian desire for some sort of identifiable political personality. Such a personality could be created in the form of a semi-autonomous unit, i.e. the West Bank and Gaza linked to the East Bank and under the overall direction of the central government in Amman.”

The Issues

Does everyone agree that the Palestinians can no longer be treated as a refugee problem?

There are two contradictory tendencies in the papers that have been written:

—On the one hand, the case is made that nothing short of a seat at the peace table and a semi-autonomous political unit alone can hope to meet Palestinian aspirations. It is said that they will not be content again to be treated just as refugees.

—On the other hand, the case is made that their aspirations can be met only part way. Hussein can serve as their spokesman and they can live under the direction of Amman.

A devil’s advocate might say it seems possible that once we start avowedly seeking a distinct political role for the Palestinians, we will turn loose something that cannot be stopped. Consider these questions:

—Going beyond our present position and getting into devising a proper political role for the Palestinians could take years. Do we want [Page 626] to delay a final Palestine settlement for that if there is a chance of something sooner?

—Are we turning loose forces that will spell an end to the Hashemite monarchy?

—Is it possible that there is nothing wrong with our present position except that we have not made the most of it? Perhaps a dramatic offer on a refugee settlement with appropriate political gloss could revitalize chances of making our present political position tenable. Then we could leave the political problem to Hussein.

The other side of the question is whether it is now possible to stop what has already been turned loose.

—Is it fair to say that Hussein cannot deliver Jordan to a peace settlement without Palestinian participation?

—If Hussein’s days are numbered, should not the U.S. come to terms early with the Palestinian nationalists?

One possible conclusion is: The main U.S. interest is in a Palestine settlement. The U.S. interest, therefore, dictates the minimum moves necessary to assure Palestinian support for a settlement. At this point—knowing as little as we do about Palestinian intentions—it seems premature to talk about a separate Palestinian state. However, the U.S. is far from having done all that might be done to meet Palestinian concerns, even within this present limited policy constraints. The question is how far the U.S. can go within limits imposed by other U.S. interests.

2. A second generalization one might state is: Palestinian political aspirations might be met by recognizing several different forms of Palestinian entity. It is too soon for the U.S. to endorse or reject any.

State’s short paper (page 1, paragraph #1) concludes: “The concept of a separate and distinct Palestinian state is unrealistic to consider except in the context of a peace settlement and unless a part of Jerusalem is included. Even then, since such a state would presumably have to be limited to the West Bank and Gaza, it would probably not be economically viable without the injection of large-scale outside financial assistance. Its political viability is also doubtful, since a large number of Palestinians would remain outside its borders and it would tend to be dominated by a larger and more powerful Israel.” State, therefore, concludes that a semi-autonomous unit on the West Bank under Amman is the best way to articulate Palestinian nationalism.10

The issue is whether U.S. interests would be served by the existence of some separate Palestinian entity as contrasted to a Palestinian prov [Page 627] ince under Hussein. The State Department paper would limit the U.S. now to working with Hussein. Do we want to cross that bridge now?

On the one hand, the most desirable government in Jordan from the viewpoint of U.S. interests is the one that has the best chance of delivering Jordan to a peace agreement with Israel and enforcing it over time. This so far has been the main argument for continuing to work through Hussein. The U.S. does not to date have convincing evidence of Palestinian leadership that is (a) acceptable to most Palestinians or (b) willing to make and enforce peace with Israel.11

On the other hand, there is reason for not putting all our bets on Hussein. Both Israelis and Arabs have said that there will be no Arab-Israeli settlement until the Palestinians and Israelis come to terms with each other. If they did in a way the Palestinian leadership seemed prepared to enforce, it is difficult to argue that the U.S. would not find an interest in such a settlement regardless of its implications for the Hashemite monarchy.

One possible conclusion is: The U.S. interest is less in the Palestinian or non-Palestinian complexion of the political unit to Israel’s east than it is that its leadership effectively control it and commit itself to peace with Israel. Therefore, while we may wish to work through Hussein for the time being, it seems premature to dismiss the idea of a separate Palestinian state either on the West Bank or in all of Jordan. It might be more sensible, in fact, for the U.S. to think in terms of how an orderly evolution to Palestinian domination of Jordan could take place.

3. A third generalization is: If a separate Palestinian entity were to be established, the U.S. interest in its boundaries would depend to a large extent on the nature of its leadership.

State’s papers come out against any separate entity and therefore do not express a preference for a particular entity. State at most thinks in terms of a semi-autonomous West Bank under Hussein.

The issue is that to think in terms of any Palestinian entity is to think in terms of at least partitioning Jordan and at most supplanting Jordan with Palestine.

If there were responsible Palestinian leadership, it would make more economic sense to have both banks together. To be economically viable in the near term both East and West banks must at least have access to each other’s markets and to substantial earnings from tourism in Jerusalem as well—which would require Israeli cooperation. This could be accomplished by federation. The sharing of revenues might be difficult under any arrangement that created more distinct political entities.

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If Palestinian leadership were less responsible, there might be some value in preserving a bedouin East Bank as an insulator between the Palestinians and Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Also, two weaker units might be more inclined to fall into Israel’s economic orbit and under Israel’s protective military umbrella. This, of course, would depend on Palestinian willingness (perhaps unlikely) to settle for such an arrangement. Additionally, Israeli pre-eminence might create more problems than now exist.

One possible conclusion is that it is too soon to close the door on the idea that Jordan may one day become Palestine. The nature of the Palestinian leadership is the key to what will serve U.S. interests.

What seems desirable now are (a) reformulation of these guidelines in light of SRG discussion and (b) a scenario describing exactly how the U.S. might go about increasing attention to the Palestinians without closing the door on any future options.


The Real Choice for the U.S.

The overriding issue, therefore, would seem to boil down to what degree the Palestinians might be given a political role. The choice is between two broad attitudes which the U.S. could assume:

Choice 1: Identifying the Palestinians as a relevant political voice [which we have not done before], but operative only through the established governments of Israel and Jordan. Any promise of self-determination would be worked out within that context. In this approach, we would press Hussein to go as far as he felt he could with the Palestinians.

This is the course recommended by the State Department. The United States could pursue a course which would attempt to enhance the Palestinian role within the existing framework of Israel and Jordan governments. The departure from pre-existing policy would be that the U.S. would publicly identify as favoring enhanced Palestinian representation in peace negotiations, albeit within the present Jarring context. Apart from that, such a policy would really amount to encouragement of talk both in Israel and in Jordan of folding the Palestinians more directly into the peace efforts and of thinking about some measure of self-determination for them after a settlement. Flowing from that are State’s recommendations on tactics and on a possible semi-autonomous unit for the Palestinians under Jordanian control.

Choice 2: Identifying the Palestinians as a distinct and relevant political voice, perhaps operative through their own representation in negotiations—or perhaps through Israel and Jordan—but nevertheless deserving a separate political entity in the final outcome. In this ap [Page 629] proach, we would stake out a position of our own in favor of a Palestine entity and force Hussein toward it simply by stating it.

This alternative is one step beyond Choice 1. The U.S. could pursue a course designed to identify the Palestinians as a separate group which could speak for itself and could be granted some separate entity. This would involve actions—contacts with Palestinians, public endorsement of a separate state—meant to catalyze Palestinian political organization. The departure from present policy is that we would in effect be recognizing a new political entity. Instead of gently prodding Hussein and the Israelis to include the Palestinians, we would be forcing them.

These two postures must be viewed in their broadest sense. They seem to reflect what would be the difference in the U.S. setting in motion various actions: those that would confine the Palestinian political problem to the present context—prodding Hussein and the Israelis to produce a more realistic Palestinian voice—and those that would not confine the problem to the present governmental structure but would aim for a distinct Palestinian voice and entity—such as unilateral U.S. contacts or statements vis-à-vis the fedayeen.

Picking Choice 1 above would not preclude moving to Choice 2 later, but choosing Choice 2 now would prevent us from returning to Choice 1 later. Operational proposals for the pursuit of both are elaborated in the following section.

Current Operational Proposals

Choice 1—Enhance a Palestinian Role Within Existing Framework

This is the State Department framework with which I (Saunders) generally agree except that no State Department proposal yet suggests a broad enough range of action within this framework to make a realistic course of action.

1. Press Hussein to a course that would involve some Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. This would probably involve Hussein’s commitment to some more precise arrangements for self-determination for the Palestinians after a settlement—such as State’s view of a semi-autonomous unit. Coupled with it might be a fairly dynamic program for shifting UNRWA functions to combined Jordanian-Palestinian control. [The Under Secretaries Committee should—but has not yet—addressed this last point.]

2. Press the Israelis—as the other proprietor of Palestinians—into bringing the West Bankers, as potential Palestinian leadership, into the settlement process. [State did not include this.]

3. In general, look for ways in which the peace initiative could be viewed as taking into account the legitimate concerns of the Palestinians. State would include the U.S. establishing its own contacts with the Palestinians, looking for ways to bring them into the peace negotiations [Page 630] and becoming specific—in connection with discussion of self-determination on the West Bank—on the need for a Jordanian-Palestinian political status in Arab Jerusalem. [This last point seems inconsistent with the State approach in that it would seem to promise more to the Palestinians than can be delivered.]


—On balance, this would be the best way of trying to do something for the Palestinians without wrecking the established governments. Both Israel and Jordan have talked about bringing the Palestinians closer to the settlement process and about some future political voice for them. We would not have to commit ourselves to a Palestinian entity or to one Palestinian group but would rely on the long-established and better known relations between Israel and its Palestinian population and Jordan and its Palestinian population.

—We would not have to confront the issue of creating a new political entity nor put ourselves in a position where we might be compromising Jordan and Hussein. We do have a heavy commitment to King Hussein. Writing him off would have some effect in Saudi Arabia.

—Encouraging the Israelis to engage the West Bank leaders would capitalize both on their interest in doing something for them and on the relations that have built up between occupier and occupied. Additionally, they have often been viewed as the natural nucleus of some form of West Bank Palestinian leadership.


—The militant fedayeen would not be satisfied unless Hussein went a long way to reflect their sentiments. If he did, Israel would object, and Hussein might jeopardize his own control.

—The U.S. should not engage in any unilateral actions involving the fedayeen if we are intent on keeping Israel-Jordan context alive. Such action would amount to Choice 2 with all the implications of letting the Palestinians establish an independent relationship with us. It would undercut Hussein’s efforts. If our strategy is to devote our energies to promoting the Israelis and Jordanians to take the problem more seriously, them we should avoid direct contact.

—Jerusalem is too sensitive and should be set aside. If there is anything that will lose the Israelis, it is the issue of Jerusalem. To raise that issue now would be to lose any momentum we might have toward bringing the Palestinians into a settlement.

Choice 2—Encourage the Palestinians to Come Forward as a Legitimate Party to the Dispute

The long and short of this strategy would be that by creating the political opportunity, we might stimulate political responsibility on the [Page 631] part of the Palestinians which has been so noticeably diffuse over the years. There are very few advocates of this course in the government—many outside.

1. Make a U.S. statement that the Palestinians must have a role in the settlement process and then wait to see what Palestinian actions that provokes. [Unlike Choice 1, our public declaration would make clear that the Palestinians would have their own voice.]

2. Broaden official contacts with Palestinian organizations.

3. Broaden Jarring’s mandate to include contacts with Palestinians.


—This would project the U.S. image as responsive to the Palestinians without explicitly committing the U.S. to one solution or another, although internally we would have made the decision to look for a separate Palestinian political force. It would place some of the burden on the Palestinians and might promote political jockeying within the fedayeen movement leading towards the formulation of a representative group to talk with us.

—It would permit us to learn more about the Palestinian movement directly. This is the only way of finding out what they represent and what they will really settle for. It could also win some Palestinian cooperation with U.S. positions.

—It would probably improve our image with some of the Arab states.

—It would give us the option of favoring the moderate Palestinians as the potential leadership.


—The U.S. has almost done this in Ambassador Yost’s speech to the General Assembly.12 There is not much advantage in more talk until we see Palestinian leadership coalescing.

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—If the U.S. were to take any of these actions, it might be difficult to back off if we decided we could not work with the leadership that emerged. If we entered an official relationship with them, not only would we undercut whatever hopes we had for Israel and Jordan coming to terms with them but also might find ourselves in the position of in-fighting between the groups and of being denounced if we did not produce what the militants were looking for.

—Any official contact, therefore, would play into their hands before the U.S. is clear about the ultimate objectives of the Palestinian fedayeen and before we can have any confidence that their success is in U.S. interests.

—If the U.S. wants to set limits to the Palestinian role and to try to relate it to Hussein for as long as is reasonable, the last thing we want to do is to task an agent beyond our control with relating them to the settlement.

—The Israelis would choke.

—Working with a national liberation movement would have precedents elsewhere.

—This might mean the end of Hussein. We would have to make some serious judgments on where our interests lie, unless we could insure that any contact we would have with the fedayeen was only for informational purposes.

—Broadening the Jarring mandate might disrupt the tenuous base on which it already rests. Israel might withdraw even further.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–049, Senior Review Group Meetings, Senior Review Group—Middle East 11–13–70. Secret. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Attached but not printed is the undated paper, “The Palestinian Problem: Options in an Arab-Israeli Settlement.”
  3. Attached but not printed is the November 9 paper, “Palestinians: Working Hypotheses and Recommendations for Action.”
  4. The memorandum, “Analytical Summary: Palestinian Options,” November 6, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–049, Senior Review Group Meetings, Senior Review Group—Middle East 11–13–70.
  5. See Document 73.
  6. See Document 78.
  7. See footnote 8, Document 4.
  8. A handwritten note under this paragraph reads: “HAK comments: 1. Isn’t this the end of Jordan? 2. The most anti-Israeli element.”
  9. An unknown hand circled “talking points.”
  10. Kissinger highlighted this paragraph and wrote in the right margin: “Part of Jerusalem.”
  11. A handwritten note next to this sentence reads: “HAK comment: and on what terms?”
  12. On October 29, Yost addressed a plenary session of the UN General Assembly during the debate on the Arab-Israeli dispute and said: “During this debate we have heard quite a bit of discussion of the question of the Palestine Arabs. The United States agrees with the conclusion of several speakers that if any peace is going to come to the Middle East it has to take into account the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Palestinians. We do not have, however, any preconceived ideas about what form Palestinian participation in a settlement would take. It is not now clear what peaceful goals Palestinians set for themselves, who speaks for them, what their relationship is to established Arab governments, or if there is any consensus on the Palestinian role in a peaceful settlement. The answers to these questions need to be clarified. We think this is primarily a matter for the Palestinians themselves to work out in conjunction with established Arab governments.” The entire address is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, November 23, 1970, pp. 656–661.