138. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Max Fisher
  • Rabbi Israel Miller, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American-Jewish Organizations
  • Elmer Winter, President, American Jewish Committee
  • Dr. Arthur Hertzberg, President, American Jewish Congress
  • Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • Mrs. Charlotte Jacobson, President of the World Zionist Organization, American Section, Inc.
  • Yehudah Hellman, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major American-Jewish Organizations
  • Frank Lautenberg, General Chairman, the United Jewish Appeal
  • Lewis Cole, President of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council
  • Mrs. Rose Matzkin, President, Hadassah
  • Daniel Rose, President, National Jewish Welfare Board
  • Mordecai Waxman, President, Rabbinical Assembly
  • Herman Rosenbaum, President, National Council of Young Israel
  • Dr. Judah J. Shapiro, President, Labor Zionist Alliance
  • Seymour Graubard, National Chairman, Anti-Defamation League
  • I. L. Kenen, Chairman, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Prof. Robert Goldwin, Special Consultant to the President
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

[Mr. Fisher spoke with Secretary Kissinger privately in the Secretary’s office for a few minutes. Mr. Fisher then spoke to the group alone in the Conference Room. The Secretary then joined.]

Fisher: Henry, you’ve met most of the members of this distinguished group. I haven’t coordinated this with you, but I wonder if you could give us your impression of your trips, past and prospective.

Kissinger [To Ms. Jacobson]: I kicked you out of the King David Hotel.

Jacobson: Now I know which floor to stay on.

Kissinger: My relations with the King David Hotel are symptomatic of my relations with Israel. [Laughter] The manager of the hotel [Page 520] came to me saying, “You can’t do this to me.” I said, “What?” He said, “Move to the Hilton.” I said I had no intention of doing it; that just confirmed his suspicions. [Laughter] He said, “Now that you started at the King David, to switch would be aggression.” [Laughter] I never even dreamt of it. I’ve spent more time trying to convince him. I’ve grown attached to the King David.

I wanted to talk to you about where we stand in the negotiations. I appreciate that we’ve never had any leaks or any problems with this group, so I’ll speak very frankly.

First, before getting into detail, let’s get clear what we’re trying to do. There is one school of thought that says, let’s get the Russians in—George Ball, Nahum Goldmann. Second, some say let’s give up the step-by-step approach.

First, on the Soviets, it has to be remembered that we have no option with the Soviets except on Syrian terms. The Soviets have never taken any position other than that of the radical Arabs. If we were going to do that, we could recommend that Israel do it directly with Syria and we’d get some of the benefit. No other terms have ever been available. Under these conditions we have no overwhelming interest in doing it. And there is no advantage in doing it with the Soviets over what we could get if we did it unilaterally.

It is dangerous to start down this road.

On Geneva and the step-by-step—these are not really alternatives. We could have kept the step-by-step going indefinitely had it not been for Rabat.2 That was a tragedy. If we go to Geneva after a successful step, every progress in the Middle East will be the result of the U.S. and every Arab will know it. Israel will go to Geneva having shown great conciliatoriness. And third, the most moderate Arab will have had a success and the radicals who did Rabat will have got nothing. The Soviets and the Europeans won’t be involved.

If the step-by-step breaks down, the Soviets and the Syrians and the radicals will be vindicated. The scenario will be to bring maximum pressure on the United States. It will meet under the threat of war. The Europeans and the Japanese will press us—and Israel, of course. And the domestic situation in America will get very complicated.

The step-by-step is the only way to go to Geneva without the whole world putting pressure on Israel. And so you have to look at this process over time, not every week or every month.

[Page 521]

My impression—you can confirm this from your own sources—is that there is no difference in the strategic assessment between the U.S. and Israel.

There are people who say you can’t trust Sadat. It doesn’t make any difference. If there is an agreement now, objectively an agreement will create an intense discussion, to put it mildly, in the Arab world. Even if the worst happens and Sadat makes new demands in a year, it will be in a different situation.

Let me talk about this negotiation. In the relationship between Egypt and Israel, there is an abstract debate about should there be a quid pro quo? It stands to reason there has to be a quid pro quo. Israel is a democracy; there can be all sorts of agreements, but there have to be visible parts for the Israeli Government to show their people. Secondly, there has to be a return because it’s not in our interest that Israel be pushed. Even by the most cynical estimate of our intentions, Israel has to be difficult. It is not in our interest for Israel to be a pushover because then the process will never end. There will be constant demands. We’ve never told Israel not to put its demands.

How to construct the quid pro quo is a problem. On the last trip I didn’t ask for decision on a particular line.

It’s in all our interests, if something is agreed, that the Israelis do it with their heads held high. Because—in this country—if it could be said that Israel made a constructive move for peace, it would be very helpful. Dinitz doesn’t like me to say this, but—it has nothing to do with Israel—I would not want to have to manage a crisis now. In 1970 we moved a battalion on the autobahn, we moved a plane from a carrier into Tel Aviv, and we wanted it to be picked up. We wanted to create a crisis atmosphere to scare the Russians. Now, could we move a plane into Tel Aviv without starting an impeachment? In 1973 we did 75% of what we did in 1970 and it got out in four hours and I had to spend three weeks explaining it. We recently sent a carrier into the Indian Ocean; it wasn’t out of Manila Harbor before we had to explain where it wasn’t going. We have to get executive authority reestablished here. And with the anti-Semitic element and Israel, that makes it more difficult.

I hear some people say it’s salami tactics. But if we wanted to push Israel to the ’67 borders, we’d get lots of takers. It would solve all our problems with the Russians. The Europeans and Japanese would join us. If we were going to do it we would do it head on and get lots of short-term benefits. The Jewish Community has to understand that we’ve adopted a different strategy, that has to be complex.

On the Syrian side, as I said at the press conference today, it’s significant that Asad is now talking about a peace treaty with Israel where [Page 522] when I first came there all Israel to him was “occupied territory.”3 But we recognize the particular concern on the Golan. The Syrians are now trying to block an Egyptian agreement because he lost 15,000 men and the Egyptians seem to be doing all the gaining. The Saudis seem to be leaning toward the Syrians.

Then there are the Soviets. I hope I’ve done enough to quiet them down. They could upset the applecart. By themselves, they can’t, but they can if the Syrians and the Saudis gang up.

I think Egypt will go ahead with it in the face of Syrian and Saudi opposition. This in itself is an achievement for Israel. I’ll go on the 7–8th to Aswan, then I go to Damascus—to get that out of the way. It won’t be a pleasant visit.

One other point. Every time some Senator says something unpleasant to Israel, there is the theory that I put him up to it. If I want to say something, I’ll say it myself. Our whole strategy depends on keeping the PLO out of this. The strategy is to keep the PLO out of it as long as is humanly possible. It’s the Europeans who are obsessed with the PLO, not the U.S.—or even the Arabs, strangely enough.

Miller: On the question of keeping Israel strong in this. Every once in a while we get signals that Israel isn’t getting what it needs. Where is there a strong Israel in this?

Kissinger: First, the strategy requires a strong Israel. Second, if you look at the balance, Israel is stronger than before October. Every Minister of Defense is never satisfied with what he has. But there are no unfulfilled requests—no requests that give us any problem.

The only question is the amount of aid. I must say it wasn’t tactically brilliant to publish the figure in the budget before consulting us. Not tactically brilliant. But that runs up against the mood in the country, not the Administration.

Kenen: We hear Sadat say he’s negotiating not with Israel but with the United States. Is there a chance for an agreement between Egypt and Israel? Because otherwise an agreement could collapse.

Kissinger: He has the problem of how he’s going to explain what is essentially a separate deal with Israel. It has to be an agreement signed by Egypt and Israel, that’s clear. There will be some assurances he’ll give to us—that’s actually better, because it will involve his stake here, and the weight of his credibility with us. There will be some of both.

Question: Too often we hear of the Suez Canal, that was part of an earlier negotiation. Will we get this again? That he was supposed to do before?

[Page 523]

Kissinger: We have to separate two things. They’re putting a lot of money into rebuilding the Canal cities. So the idea of the Canal as a hostage to Israel already exists. Second, as for opening it, we can debate about how much it’s in Israel’s or our interest to have Soviet ships come in. I think he’s using it for the Arab debate, to explain how he couldn’t do it with the Israelis so close.

Jacobson: Can you comment on the arms buildup with the Saudis? Doesn’t it encourage them to build up for another war?

Kissinger: The Saudi program will be over five years, and the record of the last war shows that the Saudi army is not Israel’s biggest problem. They set a record for slow movement and the only people they fought were the Iraqis, by mistake. Last June when we tried to sell a nuclear reactor to Egypt and all hell broke loose.4 We thought that while it was being built, it would give us eight years of leverage, with safeguards that only we could insist on. Now the French are selling two reactors to Egypt, with no safeguards and no leverage. The Saudi weapons will not be sophisticated; they can’t be used because they won’t have three weeks of spare parts. There won’t be resupply in a war. We’re trying to soak up the money and prevent another embargo. Though we’re not doing it for economic reasons.

Question: You mentioned the mood of America. What is your impression of it? Is it changing? Why? Is it Arab propaganda?

Kissinger: Dinitz is upset when I say this, but I may be in a better position to pick this up than you.

Question: How?

Kissinger: In the leadership groups in this country.

Question: The Congress?

Kissinger: Yes. But in the establishment groups, there is a feeling that we could get it over with by pressing Israel. Much of the criticism you must remember, is from people who think the progress isn’t rapid enough, not that it’s too rapid. Then there is the general opposition to foreign aid. Then there is the nihilism in this country. Portugal is going Communist without opposition from the United States; the Congress is more interested in ripping up our intelligence establishment than in preventing this. We’re cutting off Turkey—when the major danger of war now in the world is in the Middle East. Asad asks me for political science tutoring once in a while; before, he thought we had overthrown Makarios—which is not true—in order to get a base in the Eastern Mediterranean. That was his theory. He thought he understood. Now he can’t figure it out. And Vietnam: To throw the country to the Communists for $300 million is inconceivable. At the press conference they [Page 524] tried to get me to link the Middle East and Vietnam; I refused. There is a malaise here.

I talked to Senator Humphrey. Israel has no better friend. He’s pro-Israel, and said it’ll be difficult to get the aid this year. A Congressman who’s a friend of Israel—whom I won’t name, because it wouldn’t be fair—said “We won’t take you seriously unless you cut it in half.” It’s unrelated to any negotiation: it’s just a general feeling.

Question: You said you would go to Aswan, then Damascus, then to Jerusalem.

Kissinger: All this is agreed with the Israelis.

Question: All this could be currying favor with the U.S. and a lot of posturing. Are a majority of the Arabs really willing to accept the existence of Israel, or is it a delaying game?

Kissinger: It depends. Jordan genuinely accepts the existence of Israel. Egypt substantially does. Syria does now verbally but not inwardly. The PLO neither verbally nor inwardly.

Miller: The Saudis?

Kissinger: Verbally, not inwardly—but that’s a big change. By the way, none of this would change if tomorrow the Arabs signed in blood.

Jacobson: Of course.

Kissinger: Rabin cites a remark I once made jokingly—that wars in the Middle East start among countries who are already at war, unlike India and Pakistan who fight their wars while they are at peace. So even with a peace treaty, Israel will still have the problem of defense.

In the 15 months or so, Syria and Saudi Arabia have moved to verbal acceptance of Israel. Egypt is in a process that must inevitably lead to acceptance of legal peace. So there is progress.

But I told Golda I’ve never promised an easy course. There will be another crisis inevitably.

Fisher: We read a lot about guarantees . . .

Kissinger: Here is an example of why some confidence is needed on the part of the Jewish Community. Two months ago a Washington Post reporter called me after a lunch with Dobrynin and she said the Soviets have offered a joint U.S.-Soviet guarantee and this was a breakthrough. Any Israeli Government would be insane to accept any kind of Soviet guarantee, even a joint one. What does it mean? That if the Syrians attacked in the Golan the Soviets would land in Haifa? It’s a constant right of intervention.

But some American guarantee may be necessary. It has to be considered as part of the final settlement. I’ve never said it can be a substitute for secure boundaries. I said the opposite. I said it at my press conference this morning.

[Page 525]

Question: I think that public opinion in the Jewish Community supports your step-by-step. Counterarguments are heard and discounted, but the general trend is supportive, with the usual obstreperousness to get more out of negotiation.

Kissinger: I wouldn’t have it otherwise! [Laughter]

Question: You said to us you would go to Geneva.

Kissinger: I won’t beat any world records to go to Geneva.

Question: I’m glad to hear it. But you once said the Soviets can always outbid us at Geneva. How do we avoid being there with six to one [against us] and the U.S. having to veto all the demands?

Kissinger: We have to go to Geneva; if we had another step we could postpone it. We could turn it into another European Security Conference, where no one remembers who proposed what to whom. I’ve educated Faisal; he doesn’t even mention Jerusalem. We can go to Geneva and say “our specialty is concrete progress. If you want theory, go to the Europeans.” We can turn the Soviets’ detailed plans into a trap for them.

Miller: In the leadership groups we don’t see that nasty word “erosion” of support.

Graubard: The ADL had a press conference today and we issued a statement about the American businessmen and groups complying with Arab boycotts. We have the material here. [Tab A]5

Kissinger: Have you given it to the Attorney General?

Graubard: Yes, and with a memorandum of law.

Kissinger: I would appreciate it.

Graubard: We took the position that we don’t object to Arab participation in investment but not if there is discrimination against anyone or against a friendly country.

Kissinger: I said something like that at the press conference, though I’m sure not as precisely, and the President tomorrow at his press conference in Miami will make a very strong statement on the same subject.6

Question: Suppose the counterpressures expand—you can’t give a guarantee that there won’t be resupply for the Saudis. The other point is this bigotry problem. We know the people hiring for this Saudi deal are making clear they won’t hire Jews.

[Page 526]

Kissinger: That problem is overt and can be handled. What I would be worried about if I were you is that over time, fewer Jews will get into positions of responsibility in international business firms.

Fisher: I want to say we’ve been supportive of your step-by-step approach.

Kissinger: That’s true.

Fisher: There are some on the far right or far left of the Jewish Community who don’t, but we—while we have some differences, and we express them . . .

Kissinger: It’s your duty.

Fisher: We don’t want you to get the impression we don’t support you.

Kissinger: Thank you. I have to go.

[The Secretary went to the Eighth Floor for the swearing-in of Elliot Richardson as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. After he returned, he conferred for 10 minutes alone with Max Fisher and Rabbi Hertzberg.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 157, Geopolitical File, Israel, February 12–28, 1975. Confidential. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s Conference Room at the Department of State. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 112.
  3. In his February 25 press conference, Kissinger commented on President Asad’s statement to Newsweek magazine that he was willing to sign a peace agreement with Israel. (New York Times, February 26, 1975, p. 12)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 112.
  5. Tab A has not been found.
  6. The President opened his February 26 press conference in Miami with a statement on discriminatory practices in the international banking community. (Public Papers: Ford, 1975, Book I, p. 289)