323. Telegram From the Embassy in Jordan to the Department of State1

5622. Subject: Jordan-Israeli Peace Negotiations. Ref: Tel Aviv 8090.2

Summary: Gap between Hussein and Israeli positions on peace terms so great that prospects look slim.3 Yet Hussein would try direct negotiations if he saw reasonable prospect and he could go first, given independent, nationalist line to which he is committed. Internally, he is strong enough to have negotiating latitude but attitude of Arab moderates, especially Faisal, would be constraint. Outside, especially US, help essential with both Israel and Arabs. Durability of agreement should not be problem; GOJ stability such that any successor regime to Hussein almost surely will continue same conservative, nationalist policy. Indications of Israeli flexibility are hopeful, but Israelis unrealistic in appraising Hussein incentive to negotiate. Critical issue is Jerusalem, and Hussein has little incentive to accept mutilated West Bank while abandoning claim to Jerusalem, would probably prefer continue indefinitely as champion of Arab cause rather than formalize humiliating deal. If, however, Israelis have real incentive to compromise with Jordan, secret exploratory discussion probably possible, if judged worthwhile even with slim prospect of success. Would require Israeli signals of greater flexibility, particularly on Jerusalem; would have to deal with both Jerusalem and West Bank as inseparable package; and U.S. would have to accept some public onus (and real responsibility) for “imposing” settlement. End summary.

1. Gap between Israeli and Jordanian asking price for settlement is so great and incentives on both sides to compromise so modest that prospects for successful negotiations slim. Nevertheless, Tel Aviv reftel raises points that require consideration. Unlike complex Israeli politics, Jordan position depends almost entirely on one man and Hussein plays his cards very close to the chest; we have little basis for stating his views other than public record. This much said, we think Hussein could and would negotiate, but only if he saw reasonable prospect of [Page 1088] settlement satisfactory to him, which he does not now see. As he told Rouleau of Le Monde recently,4 direct negotiation is not problem; problem is what there is to negotiate about. Hussein is realist enough to recognize that overwhelming Israeli preponderance of power ensures Israel can dictate terms of settlement. Hard line coming out of Jerusalem till now, particularly on Jerusalem (assuming no softer line is being signalled privately) offers him no inducement to a negotiation which would, in effect, be capitulation to terms neither his inter-Arab relations nor his own convictions could tolerate.

2. Assuming adequate incentive to do so, Hussein could go first. Since September, 1970, he has increasingly followed line independent of other Arabs, hewing to tough line on Jordan national interests. It has been so successful he is deeply committed and very confident his line is right. He would not let Egyptian or radical Arab criticism steer him from profitable negotiation. In fact, he would probably get personal satisfaction from being leader and key figure and not averse to scoring over Egyptians. While he would be somewhat constrained by reaction of local Palestinians, he has sufficient internal stability and support from army and East Bankers to give him considerable latitude. Bigger constraint would be reaction of Arab moderates and, crucially, of Faisal (recent Hussein-Faisal conversation, Amman 5564,5 underlines difficulties). Any deal would have to be sufficiently respectable, cosmetically and factually, for him to defend it effectively to these constituencies. Faisal’s political and economic support, hints of possible Kuwaiti thaw, Syrian border opening, and general warming of Arab climate are assets he will not jeopardize lightly. If he were to go first, he would need assurance of real help from USG and other friends, not only with Israelis but among moderate Arabs.

3. Jordanians are following with moderate interest Dayan-Allon debate on West Bank future but show little inclination to discuss it seriously. They recognize it is primarily a domestic debate and, in any event, they see little in it that would provide a basis for serious negotiation. At same time, they have never liked interim Canal initiative, feeling that it would leave them with little leverage and diminish chances of satisfactory Jordan-Israel negotiation. Thus if Israelis showed any signs of real flexibility on issues with Jordan, Hussein would have incentive to preempt negotiating initiative from Egyptians. If Israelis themselves visibly more interested in West Bank/Jerusalem than Canal settlement, this too might encourage Hussein to negotiate.

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4. Issue of Hussein’s durability and of what comes after him does not seem to us so great a problem. Most regimes in world pose same problems in more serious form. Certainly, Egypt does. Even were Hussein to go, succession issue would be decided within small group at top with army holding decisive hand. Army, the potential rivals within leadership group, the powerful and conservative East Bank clans and tribes, and the local establishment are all sufficiently like-minded and cohesive that successor regime will almost certainly be army-based, East Bank dominated, conservative and nationalist, and will continue Hussein policies and commitments. More important, it will probably have power and stability to do so. We would judge Jordanian regime to have less succession problem, more durability of policy, than almost any Arab regime in area. Indeed, Hussein might raise same issue re hardening of Israeli line over past several years. Since Israel will retain de facto power to modify and harden any settlement agreed to (e.g. through continued military/security control of West Bank) what assurance can he have that Israeli right wing, at a future time, may not force GOI to renege.

5. What is interesting about Israeli situation as portrayed reftel is not specifics of Israeli internal dialogue which, framed within domestic preoccupations, still offers Hussein choice between little and nothing—even the little is on the wrong, i.e. West Bank end of bargain. Interest lies in hints of Israeli flexibility and apparent incentive to negotiate, even though issues are tougher than Egypt-Israeli issue. As reftel points out, however, Israelis lack appreciation of Hussein’s limited incentive to negotiate. To East Bankers (and Arabs such as Faisal) Jerusalem, not West Bank, is big issue. West Bank settlement is viewed by many East Bankers as primarily means to get some of Palestinians here off their necks and back across river. For Hussein, return of maximum Palestine population and minimum territory, with mutilated sovereignty and with onus of being Hashemite who sold out Arab claim to Jerusalem is worst of all worlds, a bargain conceivable only in wishful perspective of Israeli domestic politics. At best, West Bankers are, for Hussein, politically a mixed blessing. Even as an economic asset their value is limited and Hussein is not man to put economic ahead of political considerations. As things are going now, with durable and substantial backing from USG and Saudis, with Arab trend apparently vindicating his policy, and with internal situation in good shape, Hussein probably more inclined to go along indefinitely with existing de facto détente and favorable evolution in economic relation to West Bank and Israel. He is better off for present as resolute, if unsuccessful, defender of Arab claims, than stirring up political trouble for himself to no purpose or accepting humiliation of settling on present Israeli terms.

6. Nevertheless it may be that with diminishing Egyptian (and especially Soviet) threat on Canal front Israelis are more interested in set[Page 1090]tlement on Jordan side, where they perceive vital interests to be served, than on Canal (where limited withdrawal might be easier but serves lesser Israeli interests). There may also be, in Israeli views and pressures reflected reftel, enough flexibility to warrant renewed exploration on Jordanian side. To do so, however, it would be necessary to accept several conditions.

A) Initial probes would have to be secret. Hussein would be very disinclined to stir up public trouble for himself over an initiative with so little prospect of success.

B) There would have to be some Israeli signals of greater flexibility, particularly on Jerusalem. Hussein has already given a number of public signals of his own—flexibility about Jerusalem, about direct negotiations, about interest in a real and substantive peace which would provide example and perhaps bridge toward real Arab-Israeli comity over time. Mrs. Meir has unfailingly taken an uncompromising stand, particularly on Jerusalem.

C) Contrary to past tactical thinking, negotiation would have to engage both Jerusalem and West Bank issues at same time, with Jerusalem as controlling factor. Extent to which Israelis could give Hussein a respectable and defensible (particularly with Faisal) Jerusalem settlement would be decisive. We doubt that any meaningful discussion of West Bank compromise possible without Jerusalem concessions as bait.

D) Given yawning gap between two sides, we would have to decide that exploratory initiative is worthwhile even given high probability of ultimate failure. Thus exploration would have to be publicly invisible, noncommittal and open-ended, accepting that we do not see end of road but betting that, once exploration begins, both sides will find more incentive and more flexibility than so far demonstrated.

E) Hussein will have a hard time accepting even best bargain we might hope Israelis could give. We may well find that he needs appearance (and even reality) of a settlement imposed from outside—and that means primarily by Americans and imposed on both repeat both sides—as defense against Arab critics. Are we prepared to accept that role and take heat; even, if necessary, to impose some real pressure on Hussein and Israelis?

7. Basic question, obviously, is negotiability of Jerusalem and on this we find reftel para 8 thought provoking. Everything we have seen indicates Mrs. Meir dictum that nothing is negotiable on Jerusalem is an absolute and is universally shared even by Israel moderates. But reftel suggests that definition of what is Jerusalem and what is negotiable may be open to discussion. We have no idea what Hussein reaction might be. Clearly, however, there are three distinct areas—historical holy precincts, including walled city; balance of former (modern Arab Jerusalem); and modern western Jerusalem. Dayan himself [Page 1091] argues that Jews should be able to live in Arab (West Bank) areas even after settlement; thus Israeli “facts” in East Jerusalem are by same argument not conclusive. Israeli signal that within limits of unified city and administration, formal sovereignty over modern Arab city or some portion, and special ordinance re Muslim Holy Places and access thereto are discussable would probably provide sufficient incentive at least to initiate dialogue. How far dialogue could be sustained could only be revealed by course of events; yet there may be more room for ingenuous compromise than we have supposed. Cosmetics are important and there are ways for Israelis to help Hussein save face if face is less important to them than real peace.

8. Whether, as reftel suggests, this is a momentarily favorable conjunction or more durable trend, we inclined to agree that outside push would be necessary to move either party toward initiating dialogue; and while prospects for success are slim, climate is for moment probably more favorable than at any time in recent years. With Soviet threat on Egyptian side at least diminished, and Palestinian problem (solvable only in Jordanian context) persistent and perhaps growing, it may be worth at least considering an initiative on Jordan-Israel front as complement or as alternative to renewed Canal initiative, it might even, by rousing Egyptian fear of being left out, ease path to Canal negotiation.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 617, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. VIII. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Beirut, Cairo, Jidda, Jerusalem, Kuwait, Tel Aviv, and USUN.
  2. Telegram 8090 from Tel Aviv, December 8, reported the Embassy’s analysis of the Israeli public’s attitude toward a settlement with Jordan. (Ibid., Box 1169, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Files, December 1–31, 1972)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 319.
  4. Eric Rouleau’s interview with Hussein was published in the November 4 edition of Le Monde. (New York Times, December 4, 1972, p. 1)
  5. Not found.