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

4626. For Secretary from Sisco.

1. My second session with Prime Minister Meir,2 which lasted two and one-half hours, and at which she was joined by Allon, Dayan, Eban, Rabin, et al, also went reasonably well in that they said neither yes nor no to any of the ideas I put forward to reconcile presently existing differences on key elements of interim settlement. Israelis listened without interruption to my detailed presentation and at the end posed a number of questions for clarification, with caveat that they might have further questions later, and that failure to express any reservations re specific ideas I floated did not imply consent but merely they wished to reflect.

2. Atmosphere once again was entirely businesslike, unemotional and friendly. My impression is that we have given them serious food for thought, that they recognize it as such, and that they will proceed with great caution to avoid giving impression of knee jerk negative reaction. Many of our ideas I put forward will in my judgement appeal to some within the Israeli establishment and contribute to their internal debate on this issue. They are now going into a deep skull session and Prime Minister has asked me to meet with her again late Wednesday afternoon.3 She personally wants to actively head up their negotiating team.

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3. As an aid to their discussion, I am forwarding to her an “oral discussion minute” which tries to express in precise language the “ideas” I presented at our meeting. You are fully familiar with how I intend to express these. It is in my judgment encouraging that she is ready to look at and weigh these ideas in precise form, without commitment on either side. It was clear from what she said at the meeting that she would find this useful since we were discussing a considerable number of ideas which will require both subtle and precise formulations. There are also first glimmers—and only glimmers—of preparation of the public through the press for some flexibility on their part, but not so much that they cannot pull back at any moment. She has cancelled tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting so that she can discuss the ideas in the first instance with the inner group which was at our meeting.

4. She is very clear that no proposal is being made on our side and it is an “oral discussion minute” that she is receiving. She understands that all that I have been saying is strictly on an ad referendum basis. She understands also that at this stage what we are trying to do is to have a look at the kind of ideas that might have some chance of meeting Israeli and Sadat’s principal needs. I made clear that it does not mean that even if we come to a mutual judgment regarding the ideas I expressed that we would necessarily put all of them forward to the Egyptians in the next stage and give away all the concessions that she would feel she had made in order to make this possible. I get the impression that she is trying to find a way to meet us at least part way within the presently approved Knesset position rather than provoke a new crisis in the Cabinet. She of course reiterated in the meeting that their April paper4 is “our bible.” Allon interjected with a smile, “Yes but it is likely to become an Old Testament.” I took this to mean that some of the ideas expressed would carry the GOI beyond where they are at the present time. I am under no illusions about how difficult it will be for them to move from their present common denominator position. However, I shall continue my effort to get the Prime Minister to agree to explore and come to an understanding with us on the positions we feel we could reasonably put to Sadat, under the ground rule that the outcome [Page 894] of the negotiating process, if an interim agreement is arrived at, would be ad referendum to the constitutional processes in Israel. I have also been doing a little work on Allon because I suspect—though I am not sure—that he is a little jealous of the leading role played by Dayan on an interim settlement.

5. My presentation was made in three parts: (A) Discussion of the kind of bilateral consultations, intelligence exchange and military and economic assistance arrangements as well as international positions we might consider if an interim settlement achieved and to reassure Israel against the contingency of violations, (reported more fully in subsequent telegram); (B) Description of the concepts underlying our approach to an interim agreement with emphasis on avoiding military disadvantage to Israel and on the need to make an interim agreement as irrevocable a process towards an overall settlement as possible; (C) A point by point elaboration of the UAR-Israel positions and our own tentative ideas re elements of an interim settlement. It was clear from questions put to me by the Ministers present—and Mrs. Meir made this quite explicit—that stickiest issue for Israel is likely to boil down to the question of a UAR military presence of any kind east of the Canal. Prime Minister Meir said “For us there are two cardinal points: no fighting, no Egyptian troops across the Canal.” I have the feeling that our formulation on the ceasefire could do the trick since they openly acknowledged the problems that Sadat has not to appear to be buying a new indefinite armistice arrangement. Surprisingly, they did not seem unduly shocked by the idea that, in final stage of interim agreement, they might be expected to pull back to the vicinity or east of the key Sinai passes. They did not make major point of their right to use the Canal during the interim agreement and seemed taken with the idea of Israeli and UAR representatives participating in an augmented UNTSO supervisory arrangement. Finally I have the impression they are somewhat intrigued with our concept of a two stage withdrawal, whereby second and major stage would depend on Sadat’s performance in the first stage in normalizing conditions in the Canal area and getting Canal back into operation.

6. All of these impressions must necessarily remain tentative until we hear their considered reaction at the next session. I expect hard bargaining, including on the question of aircraft commitments which the Israelis raised again today.

7. Before the above meeting took place, I asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister alone to discuss the question of press leaks. I found her most sympathetic and understanding and terribly distressed, as we were, over a Maariv article that could not have been written without some backgrounding on the part of Israelis present at our first meeting. I am trying to put as complete a clamp on the contact with the press as [Page 895] is possible. We are saying absolutely nothing here beyond the agreed communiqués issued at the end of each meeting. After we concluded our detailed meeting today she called in her Ministers and laid down the law about leaks.

8. I have surfaced with her the idea of our trying to arrange secret talks between the UAR and Israel after an interim settlement is achieved. I did this in order to show her that there would be a new situation created after an interim settlement is achieved with fresh opportunities to try to get Jarring unstuck from the present mud he is in and to find other ways as well to get on with discussions on an overall settlement. I will also at the appropriate time raise the possibility with her of secret talks in New York or elsewhere in September as a way to get things moving more rapidly on an interim settlement. I do not want to do this until I have had their reaction to our ideas and have been able to assess it.

9. Here are the ideas in brief which were discussed: I will send you text of “oral discussion minute” in later telegram.5

(A) Relation of interim to an overall settlement. I expressed understanding of the Israeli view that Israeli withdrawal on an interim agreement cannot be tied, as Sadat wishes, to total Israeli withdrawal to the June 5 line as part of the overall settlement. I explained that as a minimum what Sadat needs is a link between an interim agreement and ongoing diplomatic efforts under Jarring’s auspices towards an overall agreement in accordance with SC Resolution of November 1967. I stressed that an interim agreement would create a completely new situation, that Jarring would have to take this into account, and he would have to see whether some new tack was possible. I also said to Prime Minister Meir that if an interim agreement was achieved, we would be prepared to give thought to trying to get some secret talks going between the UAR and Israel. I gave this as an illustration of possibilities created by a favorable atmosphere resulting from an interim agreement. Her eyes lit up.

(B) Ceasefire. I indicated we understood and appreciated why a six month ceasefire, even on a renewable basis, would be considered a short time fuse for them. I also put to rest the idea of a permanent ceasefire, pointing out no government would take on such a self denying ordinance jeopardizing its sovereignty. After all, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 certainly proved that legal eschewment of war is not the route. I [Page 896] suggested the possibility that the ceasefire might be expressed in an “open ended” or “indefinite” not “permanent” way along side two other but separate provisions in any agreement: . . .

(A) An 18 month “mutual review” clause of the entire agreement, including the stage of negotiations under Jarring’s auspices;

(B) A clause reserving the right of each to exercise their right of self defense if a violation of the agreement occurred. The formula would get around the problem which worried them that the UAR could at any given point, after Israeli withdrawal, point to lack of progress in negotiations under Jarring and use this as a pretext to break the agreement.

(C) Use of the Canal. While both Egypt and Israel have agreed that the UAR should clear, open and operate the Canal, Israel wants to be able to use the Canal as part of the interim agreement whereas Sadat would not have them use it until an overall settlement is achieved. I came up with several ways to meet this difference which they are chewing on: (A) UAR acknowledge in principle Israel’s right to use the Canal, but Israel agree voluntarily not to exercise the right until a final peace agreement is achieved; (B) UAR simply make an explicit commitment in principle that Israel can use the Canal once an overall settlement is reached; and (C) Israel’s merchant vessels and peace time cargoes transiting the Canal as part of an interim arrangement, but its war vessels unable to do so until a final peace agreement.

(D) Zone of withdrawal; nature of supervisory mechanism; Egyptian presence east of the Canal. These three critical issues are so closely linked they were handled together. The idea they are giving serious thought to, after I surfaced it with them bit by bit, boiled down to this two stage proposal: Stage I, Israel would withdraw 10 kilometers from the Canal, in the meantime (6 months) the Canal would be cleared and readied for operation; UNTSO would assure that the Bar Lev Line was maintained during this initial period only and only Egyptian civilians would be permitted east of the Canal. Stage II—after this six month test on the ground, Israel would withdraw to a line “in the vicinity” of the 3 key passes (30–50 kilometers from the Canal); an augmented UNTSO operation with UAR and Israeli liaison representatives included, would be responsible for establishment of posts on the key passes which would leave them in the hands of neither the UAR nor Israel; Egypt would be permitted to occupy the vacated zone up to 10 kilometers with no more than 750 men with rifles.

10. I know that this has been somewhat of a lengthy report but I was sure that you would want all of the relevant details.

11. I spend tomorrow with the Israeli military getting a detailed briefing on the military balance.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1164, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, August 1–16, 1971. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Cedar Plus.
  2. In the first session, which lasted three hours on the morning of July 30, Sisco told Meir that the United States “attaches importance to achieving interim settlement along Suez Canal by end of year,” and that it wanted to avoid a breakdown of the cease-fire as a result of the impasse over the issue. He also outlined Sadat’s attitudes on key elements of an interim settlement—although Meir questioned the Egyptian President’s “readiness or ability to assume more flexible position” regarding it—and stressed that successfully working toward such an agreement would “strengthen the forces for peace inside Egypt.” She agreed to “explore ideas” with Sisco on a “noncommittal basis” to see whether Israeli differences with Egypt could be reconciled. Finally, the Assistant Secretary tried to reassure Meir on the question of aircraft deliveries, stating that the United States did not link aircraft deliveries with progress on the interim settlement. (Telegram 4587 from Tel Aviv, July 31; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR)
  3. At their third meeting on August 4, Meir pressed Sisco on further aircraft deliveries from the United States, given the Soviet-Egyptian Treaty of Friendship and the “strengthening” Soviet presence in Egypt. She complained that the United States was not providing “adequate information” on what Egyptian officials were telling their U.S. counterparts and asked that the United States “refrain from putting forward proposals of its own.” She explained that ideas that Sisco had aired in Cairo, namely, certain cease-fire limitations and the notion that Egypt could keep forces east of the Suez Canal, were “contrary to fundamentals of Israeli position.” The extent of withdrawal suggested by the United States for the second stage of a two-stage withdrawal process was “fantastic,” Meir contended, adding that Israel could not change its position and “current talks could not be reported as reflecting Israeli agreement.” Sisco responded that the United States was not hiding anything in its talks with Egyptian officials and that his ideas regarding the interim agreement reflected what Sadat had told him and others. (Telegram 4725 from Tel Aviv, August 6; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1164, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, August 1–16, 1971)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 224.
  5. The “Oral Discussion Minute” covered the ideas on the interim agreement that Sisco and Meir discussed on August 2 and was transmitted in telegram 4655 from Tel Aviv, August 3. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1164, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, August 1–16, 1971)