8. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Next Steps on the Arab-Israeli Problem

In the next six weeks, the President will be seeing both King Hussein (February 6) and Prime Minister Meir (March 1). You already have available in your office a book from me on our broad options and a memo2 on the desirability of reaching an understanding with State on how the next decisions on the Mid-East are to be made. The purpose of [Page 13]this memo is, in a more limited way, to outline for you the issues you and the President will face in connection with these visits and in setting our next steps on the Arab-Israeli problem.

It may sharpen the general issues for you right at the outset to know that there are two general viewpoints on how we should proceed. My purpose here is not to push one or the other but to assure that decisions can be made with full consideration of the alternatives. There are differences on the substance, style and timing of any new steps:

1. Substance of a general approach.

—The State Department approach3 continues to favor (1) concentrating on an Egypt–Israel settlement, leaving a Jordan–Israel settlement till later and (2) trying to start Egypt–Israel negotiations on an interim agreement, establishing a commitment to negotiate later on an overall settlement but not addressing any of the fundamental issues like boundaries now.

—The alternative would be (1) to deal with a Jordan–Israel agreement simultaneously with Egypt–Israel negotiations, recognizing that the US role would be quite different and (2) to address the issue of territory, at least in terms of general principles, at the outset in private talks with the Israelis, and eventually with the Egyptians. The latter point could be handled on a separate track from proximity talks, supplementing them. There are elements of both approaches that are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

2. Style.

—The State approach has normally been to begin consultations with the Israelis and Egyptians on the basis of a formal démarche and a fully developed formula from which the two sides would begin negotiations. Although that formula may be presented with expression of readiness to consult fully, this approach can have the appearance of trying to force something of our making on Israel.

The alternative is to make a more general but still substantive approach, speaking at first in terms of fundamental points but not having a fully worked out formula which we are pressing on all major issues. The initial approach would be less formal and dramatic. The purpose would be to preserve an atmosphere of collaboration, to minimize the appearance of pressure, to encourage the Israelis to develop a formula, and yet to make clear the points we feel must be addressed.

3. Timing.

—The State approach would be to launch a new initiative as soon as possible, and before Prime Minister Meir’s visit, recognizing that exten[Page 14]sive consultations would follow the initial approach and might not be completed until well after the visit.

The alternative would be to use Mrs. Meir’s visit to try to reach a general understanding that we propose to move ahead together and that we feel certain general issues need to be addressed. There could also be some understanding on timing and on what is possible during an Israeli election year. Consultations could follow and be paced in accordance with that understanding.

The purpose of this memo is, having described these broad issues, to review for you the specific political issues that relate to each of the coming visits. Issues of economic and military assistance are handled in other memos; those issues are basically in hand, and the President will be in a position to be responsive within the framework of budget decisions that have been made.

Talks with King Hussein: Jordan–Israel

The main issue for us in talking with King Hussein is whether we feel we should try to encourage movement on the Jordanian as well as on the Egyptian side in parallel fashion. The State Department recommendation will be to tell Hussein that “we think our efforts can best be directed in the first instance at least toward an attempt at getting an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel.” We will, of course, want to know how he would feel about pursuing an agreement now, but his judgment will depend in part on how actively the US intends to involve itself.

The basic choice that King Hussein will have to make and will probably want to discuss is a choice among three basic strategies:

1. He could seek a negotiated settlement, knowing that he will get less than he wants. He will tell the President that the Israelis “seem as intransigent as ever on the basic issue of withdrawal” and that they “insist on annexing the western valley of the Jordan River as well as Jerusalem.” For him, Jerusalem is the key, and other issues would be settled quickly if it were resolved. A negotiated agreement could be final; it could provide for staged implementation; or it could be “interim.”

2. If a negotiated settlement is not possible now on terms he could live with, he could try for a tacit agreement among Jordan, Israel and the United States on a long-term strategy to return the West Bank to Arab control eventually, while in the meantime providing the Palestinians residing there a measure of autonomy under Israeli occupation and promising self-determination at some point.

3. He could simply let matters drift as they are. Some of his advisers argue that this is the safest course. Without high political cost, Jordan could stand back for a time and leave it to the Israelis to cope with grad[Page 15]ually increasing interest on the West Bank for greater autonomy and economic progress. At some time in the future, the Israelis may have to loosen their hold on the West Bank and at that point Jordan could work out a new association.

We cannot be sure at this point which of these alternatives the King would prefer. A major purpose during his visit will be to learn what considerations will govern his choice of strategy. In particular, we will want his judgment on:

Whether Jordan can enter an agreement with Israel ahead of Egypt. If not, then we will not want to press Jordan at this time. On balance, however, we think the King will express a willingness to go first if the terms are good enough.

What it will take to bring Jordan and Israel close enough in their private talks to move toward agreement now. We know that the main problems are Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and Gaza, but if we were to get into this further we would need a much more precise view on where he could make concessions.

Whether, if there cannot be final agreement, Jordan sees any advantage in entering an interim agreement with Israel along the lines of the Allon plan,4 perhaps with some modifications on borders and provisions for Jordanian custody of the Holy Places in Jerusalem. The purpose of this approach would be to return the West Bank population to Hussein so that he could get on with organizing an autonomous West Bank for the Palestinians.

The main issue for us if the King wants help in making a hard try for a negotiated settlement is whether we will actively urge the Israelis toward a changed position on the West Bank and Jerusalem. Hussein may be more willing than some of his advisers to accept territorial changes on the West Bank during a transitional period provided that a part of Arab Jerusalem, including the Muslim Holy Places, were returned to his control. But only with a great deal of strain and imagination can an arrangement be worked out that both sides will feel they can live with.

The second issue we may face will arise if we and the King judge that it will not be possible to move Israel on the key issues. If this occurs, we [Page 16]might want to explore a long-term strategy for returning the West Bank to Arab control and allowing the Palestinians to choose their own political framework. If this cannot be done now by a formal settlement, it might be possible for Jordan, Israel and the US to discuss privately means by which the terms of the Israeli occupation might be modified to provide gradually increased authority for West Bank leaders. This might be a useful modification of simply letting the situation drift because it would provide a sense of direction.

The objective of such a tacitly agreed upon policy would be the emergence of moderate West Bank Palestinian leadership capable of assuming responsibility for local affairs initially and eventually able to organize the Palestinian community as it resumes control over the West Bank. Such a course would involve Israeli agreement to refrain from acts tantamount to annexing the territories, liberalized measures for allowing the free movement of people between the East and West Banks, and a gradual increase in self-government. There might also be some measures that we could take in the way of assistance to help West Bank Palestinians improve their social and economic prospects. After a period of perhaps five to ten years the West Bankers might choose what long-term association they would prefer.

We have not yet discussed this with the Israelis, and we do not know what King Hussein’s judgment would be on whether this offers a useful alternative. We do know that at least some prominent Jordanians are thinking along these lines.

Prime Minister Meir’s Visit: Egypt–Israel

The Jordan–Israel aspects of Mrs. Meir’s visit are covered above. My purpose here is to discuss the Egypt–Israel front.

The first issue is whether and how we are going to try to put our relationship with Israel on a plane where the very high level of US diplomatic, economic and military support will be reciprocated by a serious Israeli effort to move toward peace in close collaboration with the US. This is the major decision to be made and is a matter for general understanding at the highest level. We certainly do not want Mrs. Meir to go away now with no inkling that we are going to urge new steps and then be hit by a new initiative in a few weeks or months. Involved in this understanding, of course, is what can be done before the Israeli election and what must be delayed until after.

If we are to proceed, the next question is how. This involves the general question of style—how to maintain as much Israeli confidence as possible. Then it involves such practical issues as how to develop a base for Egyptian-Israeli negotiations and how to handle the mechanics of preparation for negotiations. By this latter point, I mean specifically whether the President might choose to have the State Department work [Page 17]on a formula for negotiating the first stage of withdrawal from the Canal, while you move on a separate track to discuss the general principles of an overall settlement so that we might address the big issues in a way that might keep those issues from stalling near-term progress on a first step.

On this latter point, there are some things you might inject into the process while leaving the detailed negotiating to State. Up until now, as you know, it has been impossible to make progress on an interim or full settlement of the Egyptian-Israeli conflict for two main reasons:

—Egypt will not negotiate the first stage of an agreement until she is assured of what the final stage will look like. In particular, Egypt insists that, before negotiations can begin, Israel must commit herself to full withdrawal in return for peace. Egypt has to be given a glimpse of what may eventually come out of a new peace initiative. In particular, Egypt must be convinced that it can regain sovereignty in Sinai eventually, even if there are conditions attached to this outcome. Some confidence from private conversations that we are addressing this issue seriously and realistically might help bring them into negotiations on a first-stage withdrawal.

—Israel refuses to make a prior commitment to full withdrawal, both because she intends to retain some Egyptian territory and because she does not want to give up what she considers her major bargaining asset before negotiations begin. It is a long shot, but it might reassure Israel to know through private conversation that we are prepared to work with Israel through a prolonged settlement process in an almost alliance-like relationship to preserve her security position in the Sinai, even though Egypt might have to regain sovereignty over most of the Sinai.

Whether or not there is a decision to work on two tracks as described above, there is the third question of what the substance of any new US position might be. This issue can best be described by highlighting two current viewpoints—the State Department’s and an alternative.

We do not yet have a formal recommendation from Secretary Rogers, but one can deduce from the things that have been said over recent weeks and from past style that his recommendation will contain the following elements:

—a new formula for getting proximity talks started and

—a formal approach to the Israelis, probably backed by a letter from the President putting this formula to the Prime Minister for discussion.

In greater detail, I believe the State approach will be to try to get talks going on an interim agreement while avoiding the hard issue of terri[Page 18]tory which will have to be addressed in a final agreement. They will probably propose some formula for beginning talks on an interim agreement by which both sides would agree that no outcome is precluded in advance of negotiations. The argument is for simply getting the process of negotiation started. In any course that is followed some such general formula will probably have to be used publicly because neither side will be able to handle hard final decisions politically at the outset. However, it remains true that Sadat may not be willing to enter talks unless he knows generally where he might hope to come out, and the Israelis will be very suspicious that we will push the Rogers Plan. So there are advantages in not avoiding the ultimate issues, at least in general terms.

The alternative approach would face the issue of territory at the outset in private talks with the Israelis, and eventually with the Egyptians. This could be done in the form of the same kinds of general principles that we discussed before the Moscow summit last May.5 Essentially, we might strive for an Israeli agreement not to preclude the restoration of Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai, provided that concrete security arrangements could be worked out. These could include the agreed stationing of Israeli troops at key positions for extended periods, as we discussed last spring. The advantage of concentrating on “restoration of sovereignty” would be to shift the focus from “withdrawal”, thus opening the way for return of Egyptian civil authority while preserving an Israeli security presence. State has shown some interest in this concept, but has not worked it into its essentially tactical approach to an interim settlement. The argument against this, of course, is that it would force the Israeli government to face up to a difficult decision on the eve of a national election. It should be possible, though, to handle this in a number of ways. For instance, the President and Mrs. Meir—or their representatives—might agree on a position to be taken publicly only after the Israeli election, which could permit us to take some measures now in the confidence that they would not be at odds with Israeli policy.

Conclusion

My purpose here is obviously not to seek decisions on these issues but to ask for a few moments to discuss general directions with you so that I may prepare you and the President in the best way possible for the coming visits. The substance of the above boils down to two operational questions to begin with:

[Page 19]

1. How far do you want to go in pursuing the details of a Jordan-Israel settlement during King Hussein’s visit? The answer will dictate the kind of material we prepare for you.

2. Are you interested in developing the idea of two-track talks on an Egypt-Israel settlement, concentrating State’s effort on a first-stage negotiation?

Recommendation: That you ask Dick Campbell to schedule 15–30 minutes in the coming week to discuss these issues with me.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 618, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, IX, January–October 1973. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Document 7.
  3. As outlined in Rogers’s memorandum for the President, January 30. (National Archives, RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Briefing Books, 1958–1976: Lot 74 D 416, Box 17, Visit of King Hussein of Jordan, February 1973)
  4. The Allon Plan, initially presented in July 1967 by then Israeli Minister of Labor Yigal Allon, would have returned approximately two-thirds of the West Bank to a “Jordanian-Palestinian state” while Israel retained control of the Jordan Rift Valley and mountain ridges to the west from Nablus to Hebron with Israeli military outposts along the Jordan River and the remainder of the West Bank demilitarized. The Palestinians were to have self-administration in an autonomous or semi-autonomous region, and Israel would remain in full control of a united Jerusalem with a possible Jordanian status in the Muslim quarter of the old city.
  5. Documentation on the May 1972 summit and the briefing and policy discussions preceding it is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972.
  6. Neither the “Approve” nor the “Not Now” option is initialed.