361. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

9548. Subject: Eban Briefing re Middle East Peace Conference and Syrian POW Issue.

1. Summary. Eban told me last evening that Israel had now acceded to two U.S. requests conveyed through him; to attend peace conference opening December 18 in Geneva, and to agree with Egyptians in Kilometer 101 talks to transfer further discussion of disengagement issue to January–February sessions of Geneva peace conference. Eban said he assumed formal invitation to peace conference when it came would, through either its listing of participants or its description of conference purposes, preclude fedayeen participation. Eban said Secretary had given him “very strong assurances” that U.S. could induce Egypt and USSR to agree on maintenance of ceasefire and on non-resort to UN Security Council during interim between now and opening of peace conference. Israel meanwhile would try to keep Kilometer 101 talks alive by discussing subjects other than disengagement and would not take [Page 995]initiative of breaking off talks.2 Although he did not read me text of formal GOI reply to U.S. which he said Dinitz would convey, he indicated reply called for Syria to start adhering to Geneva Convention on POWs if Syria was interested in attending peace conference.3 He said that any such Syrian interest would create opening for U.S. to get Soviets to push for POW exchange and that Israeli public opinion would require POW exchange before Israel could negotiate with Syria. Eban added that GOI was expecting Secretary to visit Israel December 16 following visits to Arab capitals, including Damascus. End summary.

2. Eban invited me to Jerusalem evening of November 26 for briefing on latest Middle East settlement developments. Also present were Assistant DirGen MFA Evron, North American Director Elizur, DCM, and PolOff Smith.

3. Eban said Secretary had been interested in two things during their conversations last week:4 a) formal GOI decision to accept procedures for Middle East peace conference, and b) Israeli agreement to transfer question of disengagement of forces from Kilometer 101 talks to peace conference. Secretary’s proposal re peace conference involved date, venue, and levels. Eban learned that U.S. proposal had been discussed with various governments concerned and that Israeli amendments could mean undesirable delays in getting conference started. Secretary had impressed on Eban that chief thing was opening date, importance of which Israelis had not realized. Secretary had said date of opening could have positive effect on ceasefire in Middle East and on easing energy crisis. Creation of fact of conference would have important psychological effect across the board, whereas any postponement would arouse great suspicion.

4. Eban said that when all this was explained to Israeli Cabinet November 25, GOI had decided to accept proposal. GOI reply to USG was now being delivered in Washington by Israeli Ambassador. GOI reply among other things noted expectation that if Syria were to attend the conference, Syria first would have to commence observation of Geneva [Page 996]Convention concerning POWs. Eban continued only thing Israel now awaited was to learn exact terms in which formal invitation to peace conference would be couched. Eban presumed invitation would be based on Resolution 338, would state who the participants were to be, and would indicate that purpose of conference is negotiations and agreement with Israel. Even if Arafat wanted to wreck conference, Eban doubted he would be willing to come to conference purpose of which contradicted the very reason for existence of fedayeen organizations. Eban hoped list of participants in invitation would be as it had been outlined to Eban in Washington.

5. Eban turned to what he described as Secretary’s second request of Israel: agreement to transfer discussion of disengagement issue from Kilometer 101 talks to Geneva. Eban said this was more of a problem for Israel. Israelis had thought it would be good to have stabilization of ceasefire in effect before peace conference. Secretary believed this could be handled at Geneva and that U.S. could assure Israel that Egyptians and Soviets would not during interim resume fire or rush off to UN Security Council. He had told Eban that U.S. could “hold the line.”

6. Eban said he still had not received report on outcome of November 26 meeting at Kilometer 101. In November 24 meeting at Kilometer 101, it looked as though Secretary’s prediction that Israel would not be able to achieve agreement on disengagement through these talks was coming true.5 Eban noted his understanding was disengagement issue would be covered in January–February sessions of peace conference rather than at opening meeting.

7. At this point I asked Eban if his understanding was that opening meeting on December 18 would be purely formal, and he said yes. Eban added that although opening session would not bring substantive progress, choice of date would help situation, as there would not be long wait. Symbolism of opening session would in itself be very important.

8. I asked Eban if he did not consider fact of ongoing talks at Kilometer 101 was in itself a breakthrough. Eban said this was true. However, these talks were less difficult for Egyptians than peace conference because Egyptians could answer critics of Kilometer 101 meetings by pointing out that Egypt met with Israel previously on military level under terms of 1949 Armistice Agreement. Now that opportunity existed to commence actual peace conference, Israel had to seize it as it might be fleeting. As for non-substantive nature of opening session, Foreign Ministers would be present from Arab countries, Israel, U.S. and USSR, and UN Secretary General would also be present, meaning [Page 997]there would be sufficient number of general statements to last a couple of days.

9. I asked how Israel at opening session would be able to schedule next meeting of conference in January when Israelis would not know how long it would take them to form new government. Eban replied if party composition of new Israeli Government would be the same as present one, which he expected, formation should not take too long. I then asked specifically if Israel would be prepared at December 18 session to set date for next meeting. Eban said yes, and suggested Israelis in setting date could note in passing their assumption that next GOI would have same composition. Even if things turned out differently and formation of government took longer than expected, it would be wise at December 18 meeting to set date in January and then later, if necessary, request postponement of a few days.

10. I asked Eban if he was concerned about reported Soviet efforts to assist in forming Palestinian government in exile and how he related this to general picture. Eban said he was quite concerned about this Soviet activity. He said he did not know what exactly Soviets were trying to do. This development made it all the more important to Israel to receive list of participants in peace conference. In Israel’s oral exchange on subject with us, all that had been specified was that conference should begin on December 18 in Geneva commencing at Foreign Minister level with countries which took part in October war plus UN Secretary General. (He added conference at later time could be expanded to include all belligerents of 1967 and 1973 wars.) I noted U.S. was aware that Israel would not want to sit down with Arafat and others like him, and I had reported this feeling to Washington as conveyed to me by Prime Minister. Eban said that even if one set aside Jordanian positin on this issue, Israel would have great difficulty with it. It therefore was important that invitation state purposes of peace conference. Eban continued he had told Secretary that if King Hussein were to include Palestinians in his delegation, that would be another matter. These could include West Bank Arabs who are King Hussein’s citizens and who reside in what formerly was Palestine, but not people who live in Beirut.

11. Eban then turned to Secretary’s assurances that transfer of disengagement discussions to Geneva could be arranged without danger that Soviets or Egyptians would take matter to UN Security Council. Eban replied Secretary had assured him Egypt and USSR would agree to postpone further litigation over disengagement issue. Secretary had also told Eban he believed Egypt would respect ceasefire. Eban said he was glad to have “very strong” U.S. assurances that neither political nor military action would be taken between now and [Page 998]peace conference. I asked Eban if his feeling of confidence extended also to Syria, and Eban merely replied that Syrians were “a problem.”

12. I asked Eban if Egyptians had given Israel a position on disengagement in Kilometer 101 talks on take-it-or-leave-it-basis which was unacceptable to Israel, or whether Egyptians in Israeli view were trying to maneuver situation so that Israel could be accused of breaking off these talks. If so, it occurred to me there were many other topics Israel could discuss to keep talks going. Eban said that in GOI’s formal reply to us concerning opening of peace conference, GOI had specified that Israelis would not take initiative of breaking off Kilometer 101 talks and in fact would try to keep talks alive. Yariv had been instructed that, if no progress on disengagement was evident in his forum, he was to agree to transfer of this issue to Geneva. Eban said Yariv was instructed to say GOI could not accept proposal made by GOE November 24;6 he doubted Egyptians would be offering new concessions although he said he would inform me promptly if anything of substance happened at Nov 26 meeting at KM 101. Press this morning reports no progress was made.7

13. I asked Eban for his view of how Arab summit would affect climate between now and peace conf. Eban said Secretary had been aware of forthcoming Arab summit when he assured Eban Egyptians and Soviets would not disrupt ceasefire or resort to UN Security Council during interim before peace conf. At the same time, Eban said he was concerned about Egyptian public statements which were threatening and about fact Syria also issuing such statements. He felt that Israel would have to consider atmosphere and rhetoric in area before and during conf although it was better not to raise this subject before Arab summit.

14. In context of discussing importance of creating conducive atmosphere before peace conf, Eban again turned to issue of Israeli POWs in Syria. Eban saw no solution but to go on putting pressures on [Page 999]Syria in various ways, especially through Soviets. Secretary had been unable to confirm by time of Eban’s departure from U.S. whether Syria would come to peace conf or not. Secretary had talked late last week with Syrian Rep at UN, who only said he would report U.S. concern about POW issue to Damascus.8 Waldheim had told Eban that Syrian official who had made original more flexible proposal for POW exchange from which Syria had subsequently backed off had now been shunted off to Bonn. Nevertheless, if Syria really were interested in coming to peace conf, this in Eban’s opinion would create some leverage on POW issue. It was known fact that Israeli public opinion would not allow peace negotiations with Syria without POW exchange first. Any Syrian expression of interest in peace conf, Eban said, would give us excellent opportunity to speak to Soviets about need for POW exchange.

15. At end of meeting Eban said GOI was looking forward to Secretary’s arrival in Israel Dec 16, after which Secretary would go to Geneva. He added he understood Secretary would first visit Arab capitals which he did not cover on his Mid East trip and that this would include Damascus.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 611, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 13, Nov. 73–Dec. 73. Secret; Flash; Nodis; Cherokee.
  2. In telegram 3368 from Cairo, November 27, Eilts reported Egyptian perceptions that while Israeli negotiators at KM 101 could not be accused of bad faith during the discussions since November 11, implementation of the cease-fire accord had been marked by Israeli delays. (Ibid., Box 639, Country Files, Middle East, Arab Republic of Egypt, Vol. X, Nov. 73–Dec. 31, 1973)
  3. In telegram 9543 from Tel Aviv, November 27, Keating reported that in his conversation with Eban, the Foreign Minister had been most interested in the modalities of convening the Geneva peace conference. He had reiterated the Israeli Government position that it would not sit down to negotiate with Syria until the Syrians started complying with the Geneva Convention on POWs. He also reaffirmed the Israeli position against negotiations with Arafat and those “murderers in Beirut.” (Ibid., Box 611, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 13, Nov. 73–Dec. 73)
  4. See footnote 4, Document 350.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 358.
  6. At the November 22 meeting at KM 101, General Gamasy proposed an “initial and temporary disengagement and separation of forces.” (Telegram 5040 from USUN, November 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) He clarified his proposal at the November 23 meeting. (Telegram 5074 from USUN, November 24; ibid.)
  7. In telegram 5114 from USUN, November 27, Bennett reported on the November 26 KM 101 meeting during which Yaariv turned down Gamasy’s earlier disengagement proposal and said Israel could not accept Gamasy’s proposed force level for Egyptian forces on the East Bank, suggesting these be reduced to a token level. It was agreed that Yaariv would go back for more instructions and would propose lines for Israeli forces beyond the main force. Gamasy would then reconsider the question of Egyptian strength east of the canal, but he made it clear that Egypt would accept no limitations on Egyptian strength west of the canal. Bennett noted that it seemed that the Israelis were holding out the promise of considerable concessions, but were unwilling to be pinned down until the elections and/or peace talks. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1179, Harold H. Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—1973 Peace Negotiations, December 1, 1973 thru December 5, 1973 [2 of 3])
  8. See Document 350.