112. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1
Secretary Kissinger has asked that I pass you the following message:
“My principal judgment in the wake of the Rabat conference2 is identical with what you have already told the American people in your press conference: continued movement toward a just peace in the Middle East is essential.3 The alternative will be a deterioration of the situation over the months ahead—militarily, politically and on the oil front—that could bring a major catastrophe, not only for the Middle East but for the U.S. and the world as a whole. The strength of Arab determination to oblige Israel to begin to move toward a settlement on all fronts, and to deal with the Palestinians as part of that process, could [Page 449] not be more evident. This includes King Faisal and the other Arab oil producers as well as the negotiating parties.
“Unlike the Arab summit following the 1967 war,4 which took a position of no peace, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations, the Rabat summit was devoted to forging a United Arab Front for negotiations on peace settlement. This historic transformation of the Arab position since 1967 should not be lost sight of. On the other hand, in the 1974 context, Israel is much less ready than it was in 1967 to give up territories occupied in that war and is adamantly opposed to dealing with the PLO, which has become a major factor on the Arab side. While all the returns on Rabat are not yet in, there is no question that the decisions reached there have greatly complicated the task of engaging Israel in negotiations.
“Nevertheless, our only real option is to continue our efforts to get movement started toward an eventual overall settlement. No other country has the capability of doing this, and the Arabs and Israel are absolutely unable to negotiate without outside help.
“The tragedy is that Israel could have prevented this situation from developing had it heeded our repeated urgings of the past six months and offered Sadat or Hussein enough to make possible for them to move along together. We warned Israel it should move diplomatically before the Arab summit. As it was, Sadat and Hussein went to Rabat with no precise or meaningful offer, merely a vague promise to negotiate the surrender of some relatively minor amounts of territory in exchange for a binding long-term agreement on non-belligerency. This was impossible for them to accept and survive politically. Israel also made clear publicly and privately its refusal to move at all with Syria or the PLO, two points of great importance even to friendly Arab leaders such as Kings Faisal and Hussein. Our domestic situation also had a negative impact on Rabat. Congress’ failure to pass the aid bill and its negative views on the nuclear reactor for Egypt5 gave the impression we were reneging on our commitments to Sadat and Asad. This and the public attacks on me in the United States and elsewhere, combined with Israel’s failure to move diplomatically, raised doubts among Arab leaders about whether the U.S. was able to continue to play an effective role as peacemaker.
“With respect to specifics of the Rabat summit, the initial reports are discouraging. On the face of it, both Sadat and Hussein appear to have had to surrender their freedom to negotiate alone, and the issue of [Page 450] the Palestinians and the PLO has assumed a more central role. But initial appearances are often deceiving in the Arab world. It may be that there is still room to maneuver and get separated or phased negotiations underway behind a facade of Arab unity. It may also be that it is still possible for Jordan instead of the PLO to negotiate with Israel provided there is an assured role for the Palestinians (with PLO leadership) in any outcome and they have a voice in helping determine Jordan’s negotiation policy. The decision with Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the PLO to meet to work out the details of their negotiating relationship means that everything is not yet pinned down. Just how much flexibility Sadat and Hussein retain remains to be determined. Sadat in any event has urged me to come to Cairo.
“I believe that only by making my planned trip to the area can we determine the effects of Rabat on the prospects for negotiation. After talking with the Arabs and Israelis I will have a much clearer idea as to what possibilities exist for continuing the movement toward a peaceful settlement. Moreover, should I not go it would be interpreted by the Arabs and Israelis that the U.S. has abandoned—not merely postponed—its peacemaking efforts and there is no other recourse than force. Meanwhile, I have urged Israel in the strongest terms to dampen public reactions to Rabat and not lock itself into flexible positions.
“Unless you think otherwise, I will proceed to see Sadat, Hussein, Faisal, Asad and the Israeli leaders after the Rome Conference, probably returning to Washington late Saturday, November 9.”6
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 156, Geopolitical File, Israel, October 1974. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. A handwritten notation by Ford on the first page reads, “See note at end, GRF.” Kissinger was traveling in South Asia.↩
- The Arab League Summit Conference, held at Rabat, Morocco October 26–29, 1974, was attended by leaders from 20 Arab countries. On October 28, the conference voted unanimously for the creation of an independent Palestinian state anywhere “on Palestinian land that is liberated” from Israeli control. Additionally, the conference recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” (New York Times, October 28, 1974, p. 1) The Embassy’s preliminary appraisal of the summit is in telegram 5290 from Rabat, October 30. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)↩
- The President held a press conference on October 29; see Public Papers: Ford, 1974, pp. 481–493.↩
- The Khartoum conference, which met from August 29 to September 1, 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 434, footnote 3.↩
- See Document 92.↩
- In the margin next to this paragraph, Ford wrote “OK” and his initials.↩