45. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders and William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Israeli Policy on the West Bank

You will want to be aware of the latest debate within Israel over policy toward the West Bank. It was on the agenda at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting and Hussein may be sending the President a letter on the subject. More important is the relationship of any Israeli moves to strategy for a Jordan–Israel settlement.

As you know, since June 1967 the Israelis have adopted a policy of gradually building up their presence in selected areas of the occupied territories. Until recently, Israeli policy has been to encourage settlement in the Golan Heights, to make East Jerusalem an integral part of Israel, and to establish an Israeli settlement at Rafah junction on the southwestern end of the Gaza Strip. Otherwise the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Sinai has been largely dictated by military considerations, with the exception of a civilian settlement near religiously important sites at Hebron in the West Bank. Now, however, pressure has increased to allow Israelis to buy land on the West Bank.

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Israeli Policy on Land Purchases in the West Bank

Defense Minister Dayan has long been an advocate of closer economic integration between Israel and the occupied areas, especially the West Bank. He shares with other Israelis who are very much hard-liners on territory a generally liberal view of how Israelis and Arabs should coexist within geographic Palestine. He is less worried than Prime Minister Meir or Finance Minister Sapir about the social, economic and political consequences of absorbing one million Arabs into Israeli society. Dayan, perhaps as part of his private electoral campaign, has recently publicly called for a change in Israeli policy of restricting land purchases on the West Bank. The Israeli government has already acquired a small amount of land, largely near Jerusalem, but private individuals and companies are barred from making purchases. This is the policy Dayan would like to change.

The Israeli Cabinet has now met to consider policy on land purchases and for the moment a decision has been taken to make no changes. In advance of the Cabinet meeting, Assistant Secretary Sisco informed the Israeli Ambassador here that we feel our interests would be affected if Israeli policy on land purchases were to change. He expressed concern that a new “liberal” policy allowing for individual purchases of land would be seen as creating new facts and making the occupation permanent.2For the moment the sense of urgency surrounding this issue is likely to die down, but it will doubtless arise again.

King Hussein has expressed serious concern over the possibility of a change in Israeli land purchase policy. He has received reports from West Bankers that reflect their high level of anxiety.3The King has said he intends to write to the President and Secretary Rogers in order to get US help in urging Israel to freeze its activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank. He apparently feels he was told during his February visit that we would approach the Israelis along these lines.

Israeli View of West Bank Trends

Apart from this particular issue is the broader question of what strategy to adopt toward the West Bank, especially if movement toward a Jordan–Israel settlement is to be slow.

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A broader assessment of developments on the West Bank has been provided by David Farhi, adviser to Dayan on the occupied West Bank. He was recently in Washington and spoke with a number of US officials. Farhi, like Dayan, does not believe a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is likely, and consequently thinks that the future of the West Bank will have to be worked out within the context of the Israeli occupation. He envisages a long-term outcome that could provide the Palestinians with self-government on the West Bank and would eventually lead to a loose, informal confederative relationship among Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Farhi believes that West Bankers are now better disposed toward King Hussein than was the case two years ago. This is not because they like his regime any better, but rather because it is the best available alternative to indefinite Israeli occupation, which they do not like despite some material benefits. They fear being isolated from the Arab world, as were the Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948.

While preferring to return to Jordan under some new relationship, the West Bank Palestinians do not expect any imminent settlement. Consequently they are increasingly looking for ways to improve their lot under occupation. Demands on the Israeli authorities for the provision of social services, loans, and technical advice are increasingly being made in a businesslike way, and some joint Arab-Jewish enterprises have been established. Industrialization is just beginning, while agriculture has already been vastly improved. These changes have not contributed to greater friendship between Jews and Arabs, but some of the myths have been eroded on both sides, which makes for a tolerable, if not very warm coexistence.

Comment: The Israelis have still not faced up to the political issue of what to do with the West Bank, but through a series of individual decisions, perhaps most important of which will be the relaxation of restrictions on land purchases by Israelis in the occupied areas, they are convincing others that they intend to stay indefinitely. When they also reach this conclusion, other difficult economic and political choices will confront them involving their responsibilities toward the Palestinian Arab population living under their control.

At present we have no framework for dealing with these changes other than to regret any actions that make a settlement more difficult. If the chances for a settlement are rapidly receding in the West Bank, we should soon consciously decide between two possible courses: whether to press hard for a Jordan–Israel agreement that will reestablish Jordanian sovereignty in these areas, or, alternatively, to work quietly toward a joint US–Jordan–Israel understanding of where the occupation might lead over a fairly long period of time.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 610, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 12, Mar. 73–Oct. 73. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. A report of Sisco’s conversation with Dinitz is in telegram 64462 to Tel Aviv, (April 6. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  3. In telegram 1851 from Amman, April 8, the Embassy warned that it could not emphasize too strongly the adverse political effect that any alteration in Israeli land policies would have there. Therefore, the Embassy hoped that Sisco’s démarche would be followed as soon as possible by additional U.S. representations at the highest level of the Israeli Government. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 618, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, IX, January–October 1973)