30. Telegram From the Embassy in Jordan to the Department of State1
2474. Department pass USUN, USINT Cairo, Tel Aviv. Ref: Am-man 2464.2 Subj: Direct Israeli-Jordanian Peace Negotiations.
Summary: Zaid Rifai, on May 27, told us that King Hussein would be willing to send a Jordanian emissary to conduct direct negotiations with the Israelis independently of UAR, provided that Israel assured Jordan it was willing in principle to withdraw from most Jordanian territories, including Arab Jerusalem. Rifai claimed that Nasser would, if necessary, give public blessing to Jordanian initiative. Rifai also indicated he probably would be Jordanian negotiator. Rifai said King still believed that Israeli leaders at bottom wanted a real peace, their harsh public statements notwithstanding, and would be willing to make the few concessions necessary for settlement with Jordan. If not, US should compel them. Rifai said Jordanians did not expect Israeli invasion of Irbid Heights. End summary.
1. During May 27 conversation with Embassy officer reported reftel, Zaid Rifai, the King’s private secretary and confidant, declared that King Hussein would be willing to send an emissary to conduct direct, face-to-face negotiations with the Israelis independently of UAR. Rifai then went on to develop the theme that Nasser was completely dependent on Hussein to resolve the Palestinian and Jerusalem elements of a general settlement. In fact, he said, Nasser was more sticky as regards Jerusalem than was Hussein himself, adding that Muslims generally, whether in Turkey or Indonesia, held a stricter position as regards Jerusalem than did the Jordanians. Nasser could do almost anything except risk being accused of selling the Arab birthright in Jerusalem or giving up on the refugees. Although Nasser was critically dependent on Hussein, the reverse was not true.
2. When EmbOff questioned whether Nasser could be trusted not to undercut Hussein, Zaid Rifai claimed that Jordanians could secure a public blessing from Nasser in addition to the private go-ahead he had long ago given. Rifai said that concern about Nasser’s attitude had never been critically important to Hussein, even in late June of 1967 when he had wanted to enter negotiations. The real problem then, as now, was the absence of satisfactory Israeli assurances that withdrawal [Page 102] from quote most unquote Jordanian territories, including Arab Jerusalem, was acceptable in principle. Only with such assurances or, alternatively, a USG commitment that it would compel the Israelis to negotiate a settlement within such a framework, could Hussein step forward (reftel). When EmbOff commented that Israel might not be attracted to negotiations in which a major party, the UAR, was absent, Rifai said that Israel should be willing to take some chances for sake of peace.
3. He then added that Jordanians had been discouraged by the recent hard Israeli line pursued by PriMin Meir. She was worse than Eshkol. Nevertheless, he said Hussein sensed that at bottom most Israelis wanted a real peace, faced with the prospect of unending war with the Arabs—a prospect becoming more likely every day—the Israelis would make quote the few concessions unquote that Hussein needed. It was this assumption that continued to sustain the King’s hopes.
4. Warming to this theme, Rifai said he personally was confident that the underlying common sense would deter the Israelis from a military move against Jordan that would foreclose for all time the prospects of a settlement. He said most top Jordanians, with few exceptions, did not rpt not expect the often predicted Israeli invasion of the Irbid Heights this summer. Although they were prepared for it. If the unlikely occurred, however, Rifai said the Jordanians would put up a much stiffer fight than the Israelis expected. It was possible, Rifai admitted, that the Israelis could badly hurt Jordan by means short of invasion, but, again, he felt Israelis would not want to destroy for all time chances of a settlement. He said he could promise that Jordan would hit back effectively, destroying Eilat and the Israeli factories below the Dead Sea, and shelling Beisan and Tiberias. He said he was now rpt now able to take more initiatives and quote Israelis now know we are here unquote.
5. Comment: Foregoing comments were generated after Zaid Rifai had relayed King’s views that Israeli-Jordanian aspects of settlement were much more important than UAR-Israeli angles, and US–USSR discussions should not ignore this fact. While Rifai has taken similar line about direct GOJ–GOI negotiations in past, on this occasion he strongly implied that active consideration currently was being given to idea, and reinforced this impression by frequently referring to himself as the probable Jordanian negotiator. In our opinion, Rifai is reflecting the King’s very considerable faith that the big power discussions are going to produce a break-through. Interestingly, the same day, the British DCM asked us whether we thought the King’s optimism about [Page 103] the big power talks had reached the point where he might consider risking a confrontation with the fedayeen.