167. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
4044. Eyes only for Secretary Kissinger from Senator McGovern. Secretary please pass to Pat Holt, Chief of Staff Senate Foreign Relation CMTE. Subj: Senator McGovern’s Meeting With Yasir ’Arafat.
1. I wish to advise you that I and two staff aides met in Beirut for over one hour evening Mar 28 with PLO Chairman Yasir ’Arafat. Following for your personal information are salient points of our discussions.
2. ’Arafat initially gave long exposition re bases and purposes of Palestinian cause and Fedayeen movement, dwelling heavily on his people’s sufferings, etc. and pointing out that despite emotional trauma experienced by Palestinians, PLO leadership has refrained from “overbidding.” He said steps PLO leadership has taken have been “realistic” and well as “bold” and “courageous.” Traditional Palestinian leaders, he said, used to offer slogans which offended international opinion, but PLO leadership now adopts realistic positions. As example, he noted that Palestine National Council in June 1974 had decided to welcome opportunity to establish national authority over any piece of Palestinian land liberated from Israeli control.
3. ’Arafat said PLO foresees democratic secular state as “vision of future,” but it realizes this is “long-term objective” which PLO hopes to achieve through “intellectual transformation” and “political persua[Page 591]sion.” When IA asked if territories to form the basis for an independent Palestinian state in context of some overall peace settlement meant West Bank and Gaza, ’Arafat replied “yes.” He described his “vision” of democratic secular state as benefitting both Israelis and Palestinians. He believed that if Israelis do not succumb wholly to a masada complex,2 they will come to accept this concept as their “vision” also and would allow themselves to become “part of our area.” He considered this would be commensurate with Israeli interests, since he thought it unlikely that USG would continue forever to provide enormous sums to sustain Israeli intransigence.
4. Discoursing further re strength and durability of Palestinian cause, ’Arafat averred that Palestinians can sustain their struggle for 30–50 years if necessary. He said Palestinian people are not willing to remain as observers on periphery of history, and that their revolution reflects dynamism of Palestinian people. If things do not go well, he said, PLO leadership at some point would be forced to display greater extremism, with leaders emerging who would be “better than us” and perhaps “better for Palestinian people.” Current PLO proposals, contended ’Arafat, are “neither violent nor extreme, but realistic.” He added that “if Palestinians do not achieve stability, the area will not achieve stability.”
5. When IA asked what specific arrangements might cause PLO to agree to be represented at Geneva, ’Arafat said this question was less important at present time than “terms of reference” of PLO participation.
6. Asked again if he would agree to two co-equal states of Israel and Palestine, latter comprising West Bank and Gaza, which would recognize each other’s existence, ’Arafat reiterated that official Palestinian National Council position is to establish national authority over any territory that could be made available—“even one village.” He then intimated that PLO would accept territorial division based on 1967 lines, but he warned that PLO leadership has had to struggle hard to get Palestinian people to acquiesce in this arrangement. When I asked if extremists might disrupt any ME settlement based on such an arrangement, ’Arafat said it would rpt not because “this is the Palestinian consensus.” One of his interjected: “some of the theoreticians are sometimes backward from the historical process.”[Page 592]
7. I pointed out that terrorist attacks like the Mar 5 raid on Tel Aviv’s Savoy Hotel3 create political difficulties for Americans who sympathize with Palestinian aspiration. In reply, ’Arafat asked why it is that terrorism “by people who live as we do” is condemned, while UN member state which “murders our leaders in their homes” is not accused of similar or worse terrorism.
8. Asked again about PLO representation at Geneva, ’Arafat said Sadat has not raised this issue with him. Asked again if PLO would agree to go to Geneva, he said PLO would await invitation and examine “terms of reference” before deciding. In any case, ’Arafat noted, PLO is not interested in Geneva as cover for further “procrastination.”
9. I said that while I could not rpt not speak for Secretary Kissinger, it was my impression that you would be interested in meeting with ’Arafat at some point in future. I told him at least this was my impression prior to recent suspension of your step-by-step peace mission. ’Arafat nodded, and added smilingly: “Dr. Kissinger delivered a meaningful warning to the Israelis when he visited Masada following breakdown of peace talks.”
10. I called attention to enormous fear which influences Israelis and many of their American supporters. As friend of Israel and one who believes Israel should and will survive, I said I hoped Israelis would overcome their fear of reaching accommodation with Palestinians. In this connection, ’Arafat noted his UNGA speech4 had been followed by “orchestrated efforts” by Zionist leaders in US to portray his words as containing “something which was not in them”—i.e., as threat to destroy Israel.
11. ’Arafat said he had asked King Faisal night before he was assassinated5 how much he thought US had lost through suspension of your peace mission. King reportedly replied: “a great deal.”
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 194, Geopolitical File; Middle East, Peace Negotiations, Shuttle Diplomacy, Chronological File, February–April 1975. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Eyes Only.↩
- A reference to the Roman siege of the ancient fortress at Masada during the First Jewish-Roman War from 66–70 A.D. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, a group of Jewish extremists known as the Sicarii seized the fortress at the start of the war in 66 A.D. After the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., effectively ending the war, they lay siege to the last bastion of Jewish resistance at Masada. In 72 A.D., with the Romans on the brink of taking the fortress, the leaders of the Sicarii opted to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 139.↩
- A reference to Arafat’s November 13, 1974 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. A transcript of Arafat’s speech is in the New York Times, November 14, 1974, p. 22.↩
- King Faisal was assassinated on March 25, 1975, by Faisal bin Musai’id, the son of the king’s half brother.↩