17. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1
1182. Subject: Meir Visit: Israel–Jordan Settlement.
1. Summary: Israelis are convinced that Hussein now wants peace, but in five years since Six-Day War their asking price for that settlement has grown. Israelis have always wanted to make West Bank part of Israel if they could, but have seen need to sacrifice dream to make reality of secure Israel. What has been happening in recent years is that gradually dream has begun to seem more realistic. Israelis now feel they can, in long run, get recognition of all Jerusalem as sovereign Israel, cession to Israel of one-third West Bank, and open borders allowing free trade, travel and settlement: conditions which at this point are impossible for Hussein. Result is impasse which is at least quiet and, from Embassy’s perspective, is not intolerable. There is also possibility that a prior canal settlement might, by protecting Israeli rear, incline Israelis to be more forthcoming with Hussein. So, if interim settlement is real option in coming months, it is worthwhile delaying any attempts to get Jordan–Israel negotiations going. But time only increases Israeli comfort and investment in territories and further devalues Hussein’s hand for negotiations. Thus, if canal settlement cannot be had for another two or three years, and it is determined interests of U.S. strongly involved in return of West Bank to Jordan, then this Embassy believes negotiations between Israel and Jordan can be delayed only at great risk. End summary.
2. Possibility of settlement between Israel and Jordan is exasperatingly complex. There is no doubt in Israeli minds that Hussein wants peace and that peace between Israel and Jordan would be advantageous to Israel. Both parties in past have shown they have no real hangups about getting together when it is advantageous to do so. Yet parties’ positions on issues between them seem almost irreconcilable and just as far apart as they were five years ago.
3. Since 1967, with Israel in occupation of Arab land, changes have constantly been taking place on the ground and in Israeli psyche which serve to raise price of settlement on part of Israel. It is paradoxical that this point continues and probably will continue to delay a settlement on the very front where settlement would be made easiest by desire of both parties for peace.[Page 46]
4. Prior to 1967, Israelis say, they would have settled with Jordan on basis of divided Jerusalem. This would not have been a prior or desired settlement from Israeli point of view, but would have been endured because of greater good to be gained in a peace settlement. Once Arab part of city was “redeemed” in Six-Day War, however, mystique of Jerusalem as source of Jewish state was seen as more vital to Israel than any possibly transitory peace. Thus, when incorporation of entire city was possible in 1967, this was done with hardly a second thought, and it will not be undone while Israelis have power to prevent it.
5. In first flush of victory in 1967, when Israelis had surprised even themselves by their success and never again wanted to go through period like April–May 1967, all they felt was needed for Israel’s security was minor border rectifications and two narrow pincers along Jordan River, open at Jericho. When Governor Scranton talked with Israelis at end of 1968, Eban told him in great confidence that one of these pincers could be dispensed with.2 PriMin Eshkol said publicly that Israel’s demands on West Bank were modest enough to permit return to Jordan, under a settlement, of 85 percent of territory and 90 percent of people. And, except for effective demilitarization, there were no requirements that area returned had to remain open to Israel. Today, Allon Plan, seen as minimalist position in Israel, would return only some two-thirds of territory and would demand freedom of settlement and residence for Israelis.
6. It is not that Israelis have changed their minds fundamentally about West Bank since 1967. What has been going on since 1920’s is a continual struggle between Jews and Arabs for division of British Mandate less Trans Jordan. Each side has been trying to get as much as it can of this land which is roughly the territory of ancient Israel and Jews have gradually but persistently pushed Arabs back.
7. Attachment of Israelis to West Bank is not new. Jericho is more of a biblical site than Tel Aviv, and Hebron had its Jewish community until the massacre of 1929. In Jerusalem, holy and historical sites are completely intermixed and no dividing line could provide each side with what it wants. As we see it, Israeli Jews have always looked upon West Bank as part of historic image and would always have wanted to make it part of Israel if they could. What has been happening in past five years is that what used to look like only a dream which had to be sacrificed to make a reality of a secure Israel in its narrower borders has gradually begun to look like a realistic possibility.
8. One change in equation is that Israelis no longer feel themselves to be only suitor for peace. In Israeli view, Hussein sees that social and [Page 47]economic changes on West Bank are building obstacles to reunion with Jordan every day, and every day that passes will make reunion more difficult. And he is ready for real peace in usual sense of word, not some Arabic term for truce while he gets ready for next war. In short, Israelis believe Hussein is ready for peace and time works against him. A year ago Dayan said: “The most important change (in Israel’s relation to Arabs), one of historic significance, is the fact that today the need for peace is mutual, and not merely an Israeli longing, and that the need to reach a settlement in the region is today as vital for the neighboring Arab states as it is for Israel.” The conclusion Israelis are inclined to make is that in end Arabs will come around on question of territory.
9. A second factor is that value of Jordanian recognition in Israeli eyes has gone down. From Hussein’s point of view, quick settlement with Israel should enhance his bargaining position. If he is first Arab to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and thus give Israelis recognition and legitimation which they have sought so long, this ought to gain him more concessions than would otherwise be case. Return he seeks is settlement that would enable him to portray himself to his own people and to Arab world as leader who had gotten his territory and holy city back from Israelis.
10. From Israel’s point of view, however, factors that Hussein thinks should get him a better deal are not worth all that much. Israel wants peace, to be sure, but many Israelis see current situation on West Bank as closer to kind of peace they want than would be any settlement which Hussein is likely to accept. Israel has also wanted recognition and legitimation, particularly from Arabs, but its psychological need for this has gone down as its relative strength and self-confidence have gone up. Hussein’s isolation in Arab world has made recognition by him less valuable than it would have been when he was closely associated with Nasser and other leaders. So those things that look to Hussein like trump cards are accorded less importance by the Israelis.
11. A third factor in Israeli feeling that their demands are feasible is what Israelis consider reduced chances for outside, particularly U.S. pressure. It should be remembered that in April 1968 Dayan said that from military and economic points of view Israel could maintain status quo indefinitely, but “it seems to me that the key is in the hands of the U.S. that is to say, if the U.S. is prepared that we should stick to this policy of ours, i.e., as long as there is no peace we maintain the status quo, we can do it.” Today, with what Israelis consider to be de-Sovietization in large degree of Middle East conflict and U.S.-Soviet rapprochement, they think that U.S. fears of global confrontation no longer will lead to U.S. pressure. Also, U.S. has been doing nicely in Arab world and has no need to sacrifice Israel for position in Arab [Page 48]world. Israelis no longer see U.S. self-interest so intensively engaged in Middle East conflict and outside pressure is no longer a credible threat.
12. For good measure, Israelis believe that coexistence they have worked out with West Bank takes heat out of situation. As Dayan said last year: “The more layers we can add to build up a normalization of the situation, the less pressure there will be on us to solve the matter even when the solution is not to our liking.” Israelis convinced status quo on West Bank can go on for years without risk of significant violence and consequently without constituting threat to any outside power.
13. With increased Jordanian interest in peace, devaluation of what Hussein can offer Israelis in return for territory, and confidence that outside pressure is not in cards, Israelis are coming to conclusion that they can hold out for, and get, whatever they want on West Bank. Only major limitation most see is need to avoid absorbing large Arab population. Based on its desires and limited only be demographic factor, these then are Israel’s conditions as of now for a settlement with Jordan: recognition of all Jerusalem as soverign Israel (but with religious control of the Moslem holy places under Jordanian authority); cession to Israel of about one-third of the West Bank, including bank of the Jordan River except for a small opening in Jericho area; open borders allowing free travel back and forth, trade, and probably settlement and residence. They have only to be stated for it to be seen how far short they fall of being advantageous to Hussein.
14. Where does this leave the U.S. on occasion of Mrs. Meir’s visit? In the view of Embassy, while situation is far from ideal from our point of view, it is also far from being intolerable. More important, it has improved markedly over past two years. While Israel and Jordan have not made peace, they are also not on the point of war. For present, Jordan does not claim a credible military option for regaining West Bank and East Jerusalem and this is not likely in foreseeable future. In terms of short-term trilateral relations, therefore, we see no grounds for being overly concerned or any need for massive investment of American energy or initiative in bringing about a change in the situation.
15. Also, there may be positive fallout on Jordanian front if a prior canal settlement can be obtained. Israelis would worry about any settlement with Jordan that resulted in a withdrawal of Israeli forces or in any way weakened their position on Jordan River, as long as the other Arabs, but especially Egypt, remain committed even theoretically to war to regain the territories. Israel does not have such confidence in Hussein’s staying power as to be willing to risk any of its security on him.
16. On other hand, if a settlement, even an interim settlement on the Suez Canal, is reached with Egypt, that might, in Israeli eyes, make [Page 49]it possible to be more forthcoming with Jordan, even though their terms would still fall far short of what Hussein would minimally need to justify the settlement for himself. Israel therefore believes that a settlement with Jordan would be more realistic after an agreement of some kind with Egypt. To some extent, however, this is rationalization rather than reason, because Israelis also are getting more and more comfortable in their position on West Bank and feel under little pressure, if any, to work for a solution with Jordan.
17. Process on West Bank (and in Gaza) of integration into economy and social structure of Israel is proceeding at such a rate that it will within a few years foreclose possibility of kind of solution that has been under consideration up to now. If Jordan has any hope of getting back a major part of West Bank or a role in Jerusalem, that hope is on wane. Most likely outcome, in our view, is that Israel will become more and more the determinant as to future of the West Bank and Gaza, and rest of world, including Jordan, will have less and less to say about it. Strictly from point of view of our relations with Israel, which is limited responsibility of this Embassy, we see no great threat to American interests in that prospect. Case against this must be made by those responsible for a wider view of our relations with Arab world, and for our overall strategic position.
18. If it is believed that working out of present trends as we see them will seriously disadvantage United States, then time is not on our side. Cards which Hussein has are real ones, even if Israelis do not regard them highly. If we wait too long for a prior agreement with Egypt to take place, effect of “facts” created by Israel on West Bank and in Gaza may outweigh advantage of prior agreement with Egypt. If there is a prospect that real progress may be made on interim sttlement in, say, next two or three months, and especially if action on Jordanian front would inhibit that progress, then clearly that much of a wait is worthwhile. If, however, it should appear that it may be another two or three years before agreement can be had on canal, and if it is determined that interests of U.S. are strongly involved in a return of West Bank, or large part of it, to Jordan, then this Embassy believes that negotiations between Israel and Jordan could be allowed to wait only at great risk.