318. Backchannel Message From the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (Walters) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Meeting with PLO representatives took place on evening of 3 Nov at home of [less than 1 line not declassified]. King Hassan made introductions and after pleasantries left before any discussion started.2 Present for PLO was Khalid al Hassan (described by Moroccans as number two to Arafat) and Majid Abu Shawar (phonetic), Political Commissar of Al Asifa (military wing of Al Fatah) and Secretary of Revolutionary Council of PLO.

Khalid asked that I speak first and I did. I said I hoped that meeting could be fruitful. Detailed U.S. position as you instructed me.3 Said U.S. took positive attitude towards legitimate aspirations of Palestinian people. U.S. did not have master plan but believed that we must use recent tragedy to find just and realistic solution for this problem. President and Secretary Kissinger are embarked on search for such solution and HAK is undertaking a long trip to speak to Arab leaders and I would do my best to convey to Secretary their views. I made point that in context of general settlement U.S. was more than eager to contribute to the well-being of Palestinian people, if they so desired and in way they might desire.

I said I must speak frankly on three matters. We could have no part in any idea of destroying Israel, we regarded the King of Jordan as a friend and could not be expected to do anything against him, and finally I hoped that no act of violence against U.S. would shut off this channel. He understood this. I told them that they were a gallant people with a history twenty times as long as ours. They were a proud people and rightly so (quotes from you to Le Duc Tho). A solution must be acceptable to all parties. No party could get everything it wanted and all sides must be prepared to understand concerns of others. Despite everything that may have stood between us in the past we must [Page 883] try and find new approaches. We must live together all of us on the small blue planet which is our common home. HAK sincerely intends to try and use the aftermath of the recent tragedy as an opportunity to promote a rapid and comprehensive settlement. I said that we and the Palestinians had faced one another too long in an adversary relationship. Let us not recite the past. Let us try to begin together a real effort to bring peace and justice to those who have suffered so much and so long (quotes from you to the North Vietnamese). The U.S. was sincerely prepared to give serious consideration to the thoughts of the Palestinian people on how we may move forward into a brighter tomorrow on a just and realistic basis.

Khalid did all of the talking. Shawar took notes. He gave me a somewhat extended history of the Palestinian problem, noted that they were smarter than other Arabs, and expressed strong commitments to democracy and desire not to have other alien ideologies foisted on them. He was clearly referring to Communism. He noted that after ’67 war there had been contacts with them from nearly all countries. He specifically mentioned General de Gaulle, Italian Prime Minister, British parliamentarians, and the Soviets. He noted that only the U.S. had not been in contact directly with them. They had been hurt by this. After the ’56 war events had pushed them towards the Soviet bloc and all U.S. attitudes had been hostile to them since then. I said that my presence here tonight was proof that this was not so.

Khalid said that the Palestinians had suffered more from Hussein and his grandfather than they had from the U.S. and the Israelis, as exemplified by the September 70 and Jerash/Ajloun incidents.4 Palestinians are against kingship in general and will never agree to being governed by Hussein or his family.

I asked him if he was telling me that the Palestinians would not live in a Hashemite governed state. He agreed this was so. Khalid said he realized the PLO goal of a Palestinian democratic state where Jews, Arabs and Christians would live in harmony is not practical now, though it could be realized by the end of the century. Pending this, something must be done in short range to satisfy the Palestinians. Coming months will be critical. Will they be pushed into Soviet bloc. Soviets are offering many scholarships and technical training but they cannot give the Palestinians land because they are not in the area. The U.S. can because it is in the area and has interests there. By land is meant a place where three million Palestinians can live and survive. Gaza and the West Bank are not sufficient for even the inhabitants who live there now.

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Khalid said that second problem besides land is Jerusalem, by which he made clear in answer to my question that he meant the recovery of the old Jordanian sector of Jerusalem, with free access to the Holy Places to be granted to all religions. In an interesting aside Khalid claimed that Israelis have not invested in those areas awarded to the Arabs in the 1947 partition. I pointed out that nevertheless the Israelis have invested in Jerusalem. In stating this Khalid seemed to be implying that they would like to go back to the 1947 partition. However unrealistic this may seem, it is interesting to note that in stating this he clearly gives recognition to an Israeli state entity. He claimed the PLO is real representative of overwhelming majority of Palestinian people. He said that until recently Communism had made few inroads into ranks of Palestinians because USSR had favored 1947 partition. Communists are gaining influence now by providing arms support and education as well as political support. Khalid said he had heard that U.S. cabinet minister had said recently that U.S. and USSR had reached agreement on what should be done in the Middle East. He said that Soviets had been offering PLO many things in last few days. This led him to believe something was going on. I said U.S.–USSR agreement covered cease fire and now Dr. Kissinger was embarked on long journey to consult leaders and see what our policy would be.

Khalid then asked three questions. 1. What about Watergate. How would it affect President. I said that the President would not be removed from office. He would serve out his term and would be determining U.S. policy. He replied, “That is good.” 2. People in the Arab East are wondering why Dr. Kissinger is coming to Rabat. They can understand why he is going to Cairo and Saudi Arabia. Is it because King Hassan is friendly with the Palestinians. I replied that Morocco was a key country. It was Arab, African and understood the West. I noted that Moroccan soldiers had fought alongside the Palestinians. I said we had esteem and respect for King Hassan. Khalid said that King Hassan is the most intelligent leader in the Arab world and what ridiculous troubles he has had from those who do not understand him. I added that Dr. Kissinger had sent me to find out what the Palestinians were thinking and that I would be reporting on this conversation to the Secretary before he arrives in Rabat. 3. He then with visible embarrassment asked me whether the U.S. had anything to do with the murder of their leaders in Beirut.5 I replied quite firmly that we had nothing to do with these murders. I gave him my word of honor as a soldier this was so. I replied that we did not resort to murder because it was morally wrong, dishonorable and did not produce results. Bullets killed only men, not [Page 885] ideas. I said I would ask him no questions about Khartoum6 but we did not resort to murder. He replied with some embarrassment that in all large groups where there has been much suffering, there are some who undertake violence on their own. I understood him to be telling me that the Khartoum murders were not sanctioned by the Fatah leadership.

Khalid asked me whether they would hear from me again. I replied that I would report our conversation to Secretary Kissinger before he left Washington, but in all honesty I doubted that I would have a chance to discuss it with him before his return from China much later in the month. He said that if he had any communication it would be routed through the King of Morocco, and I said that if we had any further communication we would send it via the same route. We agreed on the need for privacy in this exchange. He said that he could not suggest anything more at this time since we were dealing in generalities. I said that we must move quickly if we are to reach a settlement. He looked startled but agreed.

Khalid stated, “It is good that we are sitting at one table discussing how to solve the problem.” Thus far he could say that the meeting has produced two positive steps. One we have met and two we understand how to talk to one another.

Khalid proved himself a supple and amiable interlocutor, well versed in literature and history, soft-spoken and cultured. His companion who was extremely sour at outset, though often nodding agreement with what I said, began to thaw towards end of this extended two and a half hour conversation. I sought more to relax them than to inform them. King Hassan had told me prior to meeting that they had inferiority complex and that I should not take offense at anything they said. They said nothing to give offense. At end of meeting, Khalid said, “Frankly you surprised us tonight.” This leads me to believe some measure of rapport was achieved.

King Hassan telephoned twice during the meeting to see how it was going. I spoke to him after it was over and he has asked me to come by and see him tomorrow morning before I leave Rabat for The Hague. I will report on this conversation from next stop.7

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Palestinians arrived in Rabat late and only two came. [1 line not declassified] No one else was present. Conversation was in English throughout.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 425, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, Middle East/Africa, 1973. Secret; Eyes Only; Sensitive. Sent to the White House for Kissinger.
  2. On November 3, Walters reported from Rabat that King Hassan felt that the Palestinians would be in a conciliatory mood and that it would be up to them to come up with some suggestions that would help Kissinger work out a “just and realistic” formula. Walters said that he told Hassan that King Hussein was a friend of the United States, which would do nothing against him. Hassan responded that this was “noble and fair.” (Ibid.)
  3. In talking points, October 26, prepared for Walters by the NSC staff. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Palestinians, [July 1973–July 1974])
  4. In January 1971, the Jordanian army attacked Palestinian bases along the highway between Jerash and Ajloun.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 46.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 41.
  7. On November 4, Walters reported to Kissinger that he had met that morning with King Hassan, who had talked with the PLO delegation following their meeting. Khalid had called the meeting “historic” and said that everything the Palestinians had done had been to get the attention of the United States because only it could give them territory. Hassan appeared extremely pleased with the result of the meeting and expressed the hope that the dialogue would continue. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 138, Country Files, Middle East, Morocco, [March 1973–November 1974])
  8. Telegram 12744 from Beirut, November 5, reported that a series of high-level Fatah meetings in Beirut and Damascus had produced an ambiguous communiqué declaring in effect that no decision had yet been reached on participating in the peace negotiations, emphasizing that future fedayeen political strategy had to include solidarity with Syria, Egypt, and the Soviet Union, and implicitly criticizing other fedayeen organizations for publicly denouncing the cease-fire and peace conference. (Ibid., Box 1178, Harold H. Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—1973 Peace Negotiations, Nov. 1973) Kissinger wrote in his memoirs that “Walters’s meeting achieved its immediate purpose: to gain time and to prevent radical assaults on the early peace process. After it, attacks on Americans—at least by Arafat’s faction of the PLO—ceased. Otherwise the meeting yielded no lasting results.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 629)