8. Paper Prepared by the Interdepartmental Group for Near East and South Asia1

NSCIG/NEA 692A (Revised)

Further Studies on Middle East Policy

In two previous NSC meetings2 several principal options were considered:

A. Leaving the matter of a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute exclusively to the parties and to Jarring; this option was rejected.

B. Adopting a more active policy to achieve a general settlement using some combination of the following: (1) intensive US diplomatic efforts with the parties and Jarring; (2) possible US–USSR discussions to develop some new principles of a settlement which Jarring would be asked to try out on the parties; and (3) four-power discussions at the UN Permanent Representatives level.

C. Anticipating that a general settlement involving Israel, Jordan, and the UAR is not likely now and concentrating our efforts for the mo[Page 31]ment on certain high-priority objectives short of a general settlement; a separate paper exploring this option is to be submitted later.3

In order to prepare further for the exploratory four-power discussions in New York, the President’s talks in Europe and the eventual choice of policy, this paper presents:

—the elements of an overall settlement the US could support;

—alternative means of guaranteeing such a settlement;

—two possible approaches for injecting our views of a settlement into dialogue between the parties;

—the relation between Two Power and Four Power talks;

—the special question of dealing with Israel;

—objectives in the President’s European talks.

Elements of Overall Settlement

We have been considering possible basic elements of an overall settlement intended to establish a permanent peace based on a binding agreement. The details of any feasible settlement will have to be worked out in the course of discussions. Whatever the eventual details, we see certain major principles as governing a settlement:

—The parties must somehow participate in the negotiation of terms. We do not believe face-to-face negotiations are essential at the outset, although we doubt the Israelis will agree to a settlement unless the Arabs sit down with them at some point (presumably under Jarring’s auspices).

—The objective of negotiations is a binding agreement. We do not believe a peace treaty per se is required; the essential purpose could be met by signature of a common document by both sides, which could then be endorsed by the Security Council. But we doubt that any form of settlement is feasible, or desirable, unless it contains an element of contract which the Arabs have hitherto firmly resisted.

—There must be withdrawal of forces to secure and recognized boundaries. We believe if a settlement is to be achieved this will mean that Israel will be required to withdraw its troops to the international boundary with Egypt, and there must be a special arrangement for Gaza; in the case of Jordan, it means Israeli evacuation of the West Bank except for (a) the minor border rectifications that the two parties may agree upon, and (b) Jerusalem which is a special problem.

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—Certain critical areas will have to be demilitarized. We doubt that Israel will agree to substantial withdrawal from the occupied territories under arrangements which would permit their military occupation by the other side.

—Jordan will have to have a role—and more than just a religious role—in Jerusalem. But a settlement is unlikely unless the city remains united. Israel will probably resist giving up any authority in the city, but we do not believe the Arabs could accept any settlement which excluded the Jordanians entirely from Arab Jerusalem.

—No overall settlement is conceivable without some arrangement on the refugees. A refugee settlement is essential both for symbolic and humanitarian reasons and to provide an alternative to the fedayeen approach to recapture lost territory. Any refugee settlement must include a choice of “repatriation” as well as compensation, although we doubt that many of the refugees would opt to return to Israel. Israel will probably resist but might ultimately accede to token repatriation although it would require a veto over the number of refugees it accepts. In any event, solution of the refugee problem will take a long time; the parties will have to agree to a mechanism which can work on this key issue for an extended period.

—Free navigation (in Suez as well as the Gulf of Aqaba) must include ships of all flags. Israel will not accept less.

—Agreement on all elements of a settlement will be required before implementation of any part of the settlement can begin.

International Guarantees

The feasibility of a settlement plan will depend in large part on the guarantees of the settlement and of Israel’s security, and the degree to which Israel considers them sufficient. Consideration of possible alternative forms of guarantees proceeds from the premise that a settlement plan will have to involve the participation of non-Middle Eastern countries in its implementation and that guarantees of an international character will be required. International assurances could be reflected in Security Council endorsement of an agreed settlement, making the settlement terms binding upon all members as Security Council decisions. Additionally, the Four Powers could declare their support of a Council resolution endorsing the settlement terms and committing the Four Powers to consult, in the event of a breach or violation of the settlement terms, on appropriate Four Power action either within or outside the Security Council.

Collective international assurances alone, however, will not be convincing to Israel. The only type of assurance it would have faith in would be a unilateral guarantee from the United States. But it would not be in our interest to offer a firm, formal guarantee of Israel’s secu[Page 33]rity. We should avoid any open-ended and uncontrollable commitment because it would subordinate the United States to Israeli concepts of defense and security, and because it would polarize the area between us and the USSR.

Short of a formal security guarantee, it is possible that some type of US assurance could be worked out that would go at least part-way in meeting Israel’s problem, and still be acceptable in terms of our own national interests and Congressional concerns. We might, for example, make a unilateral public statement in conjunction with a Security Council endorsement or a Four Power collective declaration on a settlement plan, not going beyond the sense or specific terms of the collective assurance but noting that we would not necessarily consider ourselves precluded from taking action consistent with the intent of that assurance merely because of the failure of all the other parties to act thereunder. Alternatively, a “sense of the Congress” resolution could underline our national obligation under a collective international assurance.

Apart from a specific guarantee, and in the absence of any arms limitation agreement with the USSR, we could give Israel a firm commitment to provide it the military equipment we believe needed to maintain a reasonable balance in the area. Such a commitment could be helpful in getting Israel to accept elements of an overall settlement.

Two Possible Approaches

Jarring is awaiting some further guidance from the major powers, and they are presently considering ways to assist him, including a Four Power procedural suggestion to him that he renew his discussions with the parties and direct further inquiries to them regarding substantive positions in order to elicit as comprehensive a response as possible. Such a move will only help Jarring keep afloat for a relatively brief time, and he can be expected to renew his discussions with the parties at a reasonably early date. However, if as is likely there will be no significant narrowing of the gap at an early date between the Arabs and the Israelis, pressures will build up for more direct involvement in the substantive settlement by the major powers.

Meanwhile the growing strength and importance of the Palestinian fedayeen make their attitude toward a settlement increasingly relevant. How long, in other words, will the assumption remain valid that Arab governments can speak for the Palestinians who are not a party to the negotiations but whose interests are deeply involved? It is uncertain, for example, how long King Hussein can maintain the necessary flexibility to enter into a settlement in the face of fedayeen opposition. The role of the fedayeen underscores both the urgency and the difficulty of achieving a settlement.

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We have weighed two general approaches:

A. Development and Submission by the United States of an Overall Arab-Israeli Settlement Plan.

Although the elements of a settlement sketched out above might be the basis for a reasonable compromise, it is not recommended that the United States put forward any blueprint at this time. The gap between the two parties is still too great, and it would be premature for us alone or in concert with others to inject any far-reaching substantive plan into the negotiations. The parties would declare various parts of it unacceptable, and Israel would resist the entire concept of a plan drawn up by third parties. The concessions required of Israel would be substantial and seeking to achieve its concurrence, or at least acquiescence, at this stage is likely to result in an early crisis between us. We would be expected to produce Israel on such a plan, and this is unlikely at this point. Its feasibility in the long run will depend on whether we and the USSR are prepared to influence the UAR and Israel to this end and whether the principal parties can be moved in this direction. Our consideration of possible elements of a settlement plan is useful largely for internal purposes and to give us a clearer picture as to what might be feasible near the end of the road. It is intended as a yardstick to measure substantive proposals which the USSR and France can be expected to make in the weeks ahead and as a guide for the substantive views we may wish to express on various elements of a Security Council resolution.

B. Step-by-Step Approach.

Another approach would be a step-by-step injection of specific substantive views by the US on key parts of the settlement as discussions proceed between the parties under Jarring’s auspices, possibly between ourselves and the USSR, and perhaps within the Four Power framework.

At the heart of the present impasse are two fundamental questions: (a) whether the UAR is prepared to conclude a binding agreement for a permanent peace in the Middle East; and (b) whether Israel is prepared to withdraw from Arab territories occupied in the 1967 war. It would therefore appear logical to attack first the two issues of withdrawal and permanent peace based on agreement between the parties.

There are several possible steps which might be considered, after the President’s trip to Europe, and when we will have a clearer view of the attitude of the other three major powers as elucidated in the exploratory discussions being pursued by Ambassador Yost in New York. The following diplomatic steps would be designed to help move the parties closer and to facilitate Jarring’s efforts. They involve a complicated but not infeasible complex of negotiations. It would be appro[Page 35]priate for decisions to be taken on one or more of the following courses of action shortly after the President’s return from Europe.

First, on the occasion of the Eban visit4 to explore with him and to encourage Israel to take two important steps with respect to the UAR part of the settlement:

(a) To submit to Jarring a new document on implementation of the November 1967 Security Council Resolution and on the UAR aspect of the settlement. This document should indicate an Israeli willingness to consider withdrawal of its forces from the present cease-fire lines to the former international boundaries between the mandated territory of Palestine and Egypt conditioned on achievement of a satisfactory agreement on all other elements of the Security Council Resolution, including a binding agreement to a permanent peace signed by the UAR. Such a document would not reduce Israel’s leverage since it does not contemplate any Israeli withdrawal in the absence of a commitment by the UAR to a binding peace.

Such an Israeli statement is not likely to meet Nasser’s demands for total withdrawal, but it would help keep Jarring in play, would improve the Israeli position abroad, would put us in a position to support it as a step forward, and buy more time for Israel to pursue its private contacts to achieve peace with Jordan. It could eventually lead to a process narrowing the gap between the UAR and Israel. A US discussion with Israel at this critical juncture is also important because a strain in our relations has developed in recent weeks. The strain results from our recent support in the Security Council of the strong condemnation of Israel5 and our dissociation from Israel on the territorial aspect of the UAR settlement. In this latter connection, Secretary Rusk on November 2 informed UAR Foreign Minister Riad that, within the context of a binding peace agreement, we favor withdrawal of Israeli forces from the UAR to the international boundary line.6 Israel believes this undermined its negotiating position.

(b) To renew and intensify its secret contacts with the Jordanians, keeping Jarring and the United States informed of their progress. In order to facilitate such talks, we should encourage Israel to announce an easing of its policy regarding displaced persons by allowing as many of the 350,000 who desire to return to their West Bank camps and villages. We should also encourage Israel to offer Jordan, in return for a binding commitment to peace signed by the GOJ and as part of a satis[Page 36]factory agreement on all elements of Resolution 242, specific territorial terms which could be accepted by King Hussein—i.e., no unilateral concessions of territory, reciprocity with respect to territorial changes involved in adjusting the West Bank boundary, no Israeli garrisons or settlements on the West Bank and a reasonable compromise on Jerusalem which would give Jordan a meaningful rather than a purely symbolic role in the Arab sector of the city. While such terms could in the first instance be conveyed through the direct Israeli-Jordanian channel, Israel should be urged to use the Jarring channel more substantively than in the past if and when Jordan indicates a desire to do so. Hussein would welcome reaffirmation by the new Administration of the views expressed by the Johnson Administration regarding a Jordanian settlement. It would be psychologically advantageous to do this at an early date, even before any visit of Hussein to this country.

Second, we will wish to decide after the President’s European trip whether to renew the US–USSR dialogue. If the decision is affirmative, we could submit to the Soviets an American document containing concrete proposals for settlement of the Israeli-UAR part of the overall settlement. Because we would be expected by the Soviets to produce Israeli concurrence, there should be a prior review of such a document with Israel. These proposals might also be presented to the UK and France for their review in order to keep them in the picture. They would also be discussed by us at an appropriate stage with the UAR and Jordan. Jarring and the UN should be kept in the center of the public stage as much as possible. If sufficient common ground between the US–USSR is achieved, the proposals would be presented to Jarring to try out on the parties.

Relation Between Two Power and Four Power Talks

If we should decide to give primacy to the bilateral discussions between ourselves and the Soviet Union, it raises the question of the relation of such discussions to possible Four Power meetings. The posture we adopted in our response to the French note provides a reasonable guide. While concentrating our principal efforts on the US–USSR dialogue, it will prove necessary and desirable to keep the French and the British abreast of these discussions. In the first place, the Soviets can be expected to reveal much of the contents of any discussions between us to the French whose position is likely to be closer to the Soviets than to ours. Secondly, the French themselves will be persistent in injecting themselves in the substance. This should prove manageable if we maintain the posture that any formal Four Power meetings, particularly on substance, must be preceded by individual consultations whose purpose would be to develop common ground. It is likely to be necessary therefore for the United States to take a very firm stand with the French and resist frequent and premature Four Power meetings on the sub[Page 37]stance before individual consultations have developed areas of common understanding.

The US–USSR dialogue would reflect the political realities of the situation in terms of power in the area and potential to influence the parties. The Soviets will try to apply pressure on us to induce Israel to be more forthcoming on withdrawal; we in turn will want to put the pressure on the USSR to move the UAR closer to a firm commitment to a permanent peace based on agreement between the parties.

While the probability of success is not very great, the deteriorating situation in the area requires such effort. The knowledge that such efforts are being made is of psychological importance in the area, regardless of the bleak prospects for success. The next several months are particularly important for increased diplomatic efforts. As a minimum, further explorations and testing of the Soviets will help determine more precisely whether they and the UAR are genuinely interested in arriving at some form of accommodation. At present, it appears that any accommodation which they would be prepared to accept would fall short of the binding peace settlement which Israel desires, and short even of the major principles we believe must govern a settlement. We may have to make a judgment at some point as to whether an accommodation which would be something more than the old Armistice arrangements and something less than the full-scale peace which Israel wants would represent a significant improvement over an indefinite prolongation of the stalemate. This would be a complex judgment to make, and we would have to take into account the fact that the Middle East is a dynamic situation which will not stand still. Our present assessment is that without progress towards a settlement, or at least evidence of major efforts being made towards this end, the situation will continue to deteriorate with the increased risk of a general renewal of hostilities. On the other hand, an inadequate settlement might not only fail to preserve peace but would render Israel more vulnerable, through loss of the military advantage of the occupied territories, if hostilities should recur.

How Much Leverage Do We Have with the Israelis?

Whatever the reasonableness—in our eyes—of an overall settlement such as we have in mind, we must face the fundamental truth that we will have very serious difficulty in “selling” it to Israel. We may count it as certain that any plan we could support as reasonable for both Israel and the Arabs will be viewed by Israel as jeopardizing its security.

As we discuss a settlement with others, then, there will be increasing strains in US-Israeli relations. Theoretically, we have a number of important levers with Israel: (a) its realization that in an ultimate [Page 38]sense Israel’s national survival depends on the fundamental US concern for its security; (b) Israel’s dependence on the United States for critical items of military hardware; and (c) the importance to Israel’s economy of an unrestricted flow of private capital donations and loans from the United States. It is relevant to ask what effective, as opposed to theoretical, leverage do we have? Israel realizes that the United States alone or in concert with the other major powers would not use force to impose a settlement on it. Moreover, in addition to the domestic political factors involved, there is the more fundamental dilemma that United States pressure on Israel to make concessions on the key issue of territory will be viewed by Israel as a weakening of its capacity to safeguard its own security against a hostile Arab world. It would not be in our interests to contribute to a significant weakening of Israel’s defensive capabilities, either through the relinquishment of territory or by withholding US arms, in circumstances where the UAR has been unwilling to make a credible commitment on peace. We and the Israelis are likely to differ on whether certain territorial concessions would jeopardize Israeli security.

An additional factor limiting our effective leverage is the relative fragility of the Israeli Government coalition. The Government might well find itself unable to take a given course of action without bringing about its own collapse. In fact, we may find that no reasonable solution can be accepted by Israel before its November elections determine its leadership. This analysis is not intended to indicate that our leverage on Israel is not substantial; but rather that it is more limited than would appear on the surface.

Explorations of the President During European Trip

President Nixon will have an opportunity during his European trip to discuss the Middle East fully with the NATO countries and in particular the UK, France, and Italy, all of whom have a special interest. In general, since we are not presently in a position to produce Israel on the specific key elements of a settlement, the President’s discussions should be primarily exploratory.

With the United Kingdom, whose policy is ambivalent, the President will have an opportunity to impress on Wilson the importance we attach to its position and the need to maintain a common front. The United Kingdom is more anxious to open the Suez Canal than we are. Secondly, since resuming relations with the UAR, it has been carefully nurturing and seeking to improve its relations in the Arab world. Third, the United Kingdom will be very tempted to accept a limited accommodation even though it falls far short of the binding peace which Israel insists upon. Maintaining a common position with the United Kingdom will be difficult. If the President indicates our intention to maintain a special close relationship with the United Kingdom in our [Page 39]consultations on Middle East matters, this should help somewhat to keep the United Kingdom with us on substance.7

De Gaulle will be more difficult. The persistent thread that has run through France’s policy on the Middle East since May 1967 has been its near obsession with seeking a great power solution to the region’s problems and with proving to the world that France is one of the great powers concerned. De Gaulle has consistently feared that the US and the USSR, rather than the Big Four, will develop the principal elements of a settlement and encourage the parties through Jarring to make peace. We face therefore a very delicate tactical situation in the future as we consider both the two power and four power approach. It appears that the most feasible procedure may be to give primacy to the US–USSR dialogue, while at the same time continuing side talks with the UK and France. Willingness to commit ourselves to the Four Power structure as the principal center for discussion is not likely to have a decisive influence on the substantive position of the French.

The French favor an imposed settlement, but do not seem to accept the responsibilities and the implications of such an approach. Recent pronouncements by De Gaulle in support of the Arabs, in addition to the arms embargo, have destroyed in Israel’s eyes any position of impartiality which the French may have enjoyed in earlier days. The French position on substance indicates a little more flexibility on the question of borders than in the past. Foreign Minister Debre said on January 31 that evacuation of the occupied territories, although the first step necessary towards settlement, should be to safe and recognized frontiers. This seems to imply rectification, delineation, and guarantees of the frontiers before Israel withdraws to them.

The President’s discussions with De Gaulle will afford an opportunity to probe the views of the French Government on the specific elements of a settlement.8 Our impression to date has been that De Gaulle is probably more interested in the way a settlement is arrived at than in the substance. He sees the area being polarized, and himself as the “depolarizer.” He does, however, have an interest in seeing to it that the comparatively moderate regimes in Jordan and Lebanon and even the UAR’s are not swept away in the increasingly revolutionary atmosphere of the Arab lands.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–135, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 17. Secret; Exdis. In a February 20 memorandum sent separately to Kissinger, Sisco explained that this paper incorporated revisions that had been agreed upon at the Review Group meeting on February 18. (Ibid.) No minutes of the Review Group meeting have been found.
  2. See Documents 4 and 5.
  3. Not found.
  4. Eban visited the United States in March. See Documents 13 and 14.
  5. UN Security Council Resolution 262, adopted unanimously on December 31, 1968, condemned Israel for its attack on the Beirut International Airport. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1968, pp. 236–237)
  6. See footnote 3, Document 1.
  7. President Nixon visited the United Kingdom February 24–26. He met with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson at the Prime Minister’s country residence Chequers on February 24. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI, Western Europe; NATO, 1969–1972, Document 310.
  8. Nixon discussed the Middle East with de Gaulle in the French President’s office in the Elysée Palace in Paris on February 28. (Memorandum of conversation; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons—The President and General DeGaulle)