103. Memorandum From William Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Full set of notes from Landrum Bolling

Attached you will find the typed versions of:

Tab A: Summary of Conversations with Arafat. (You and the President have seen.)

Tab B: Full Notes on Conversations with Arafat. (You have seen handwritten copy.)

Tab C: Reflections on the Current Status of the PLO. (This is a very good, insightful, and accurate analysis of the PLO today.)

Tab A

Summary of Conversations with Arafat 2


Yasser Arafat’s Main Points from Conversations with Landrum Bolling

September 9–10, September 11–12, 1977—Beirut

Also Present: Abu Jihad (1 session), Farouk Kaddumi (1 session), Abu Hassan, Dr. Issam Sartawi and Sabry Jiryis (both sessions)

1. Arafat and P.L.O. did not reject UN 242 or close doors to talks with Americans at meeting of Central Council in Damascus (Aug. 25, 26). Strong pressure for that course in 14-hour meeting. Arafat resisted and won. Communique3 may have been overly harsh, but essentially left situation where it had been before. Hardliners misrepresented meeting to press—particularly two “spokesmen” dominated by Syria.

[Page 499]

2. Most upsetting thing to him and Council was their perception of drastic shift in U.S. position from message they received on Aug. 3 to message of Aug. 9.4 Former, they understood, promised for P.L.O. acceptance of 242: recognition of P.L.O. and dialogue plus invitation to Geneva—all on basis of U.S. support for creation of a Palestinian state. Latter rescinded previous “offer,” promised only “dialogue” and that in relation to a U.S. peace plan that calls for a Trusteeship (Trustees to include probably Israel and Jordan) over a disarmed, vague Palestinian “entity.” This plan regarded as scheme to destroy rights of Palestinians.

3. Long, involved arguments to prove P.L.O. has, in effect, already accepted 242: 1) resolution of Palestine National Council in 1974 calling for creation of a Palestinian state on “any portion” of Palestine available to them (thus, tacit acceptance of two-state solution); 2) resolution of P.N.C. in 1977 meeting calling for P.L.O. participation in all international negotiations on Palestine problem on basis of “international legitimacy” (meaning U.N. resolutions); 3) Arafat’s public statement, made during Vance’s August trip, endorsing Egyptian paper handed to Vance—and that paper explicitly states acceptance of 242.5

4. Pressed as to why he couldn’t simply say (with reservation about inadequacy of 242 on dealing with Palestine) that P.L.O. accepts 242, he gave lengthy, tortured explanations but finally said he had to make a “painful admission”: he was suffering from “Arab blackmail.” Some Arab leaders were trying to “put all the dirt” on me; denounce him for making any concessions, while making their own concessions. They try to be “more Catholic than the Pope,” “more Palestinian than Arafat.” It was clear, though he did not say so directly, that the main pressures on these matters come from the Syrians. He admitted “Assad had tried to destroy” him—but didn’t succeed.

5. He said he and his leadership would be holding meetings in the next few days, to see if they could agree on a formulation of a statement to present to the Americans. He held up a paper, written in Arabic, at the close of our second meeting saying this was a rough, first draft of something they would be considering. He said the statement they would propose would be on a negotiating form—not a final declaration—and they would get it to me as soon as possible. He realized that time is important.

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We tentatively agreed to have a third meeting on the 13th or 14th, if they had made sufficient progress in getting as many elements as possible behind a proposed statement. Since those internal discussions were still going on on the 13th, and a Central Council session was scheduled for the 17th, I left Beirut on the 14th. Meanwhile, I received several times a day fragmentary, generally optimistic “bulletins” from my “moderate wing” friends who sat in on some (but not all) of these discussions. One of these “progress reports” said that one of the men closest to Arafat said: “If only the Americans will promise they will give their support to our claim to a state, we will give them anything they want from us.”

Two questions loom large in recalling my talks in Beirut:

1. What is President Assad trying to do? And why is he doing it? a) Destroy Arafat and establish firm control of P.L.O.? b) Prevent the creation of a Palestinian State and keep the way open for his dream of Greater Syria? c) Restore his image with Leftist and hard-line elements in the Arab world? d) Curry favor with the Russians? e) Deflect internal discontent with his leadership, corruption? What is the answer? And how can he be neutralized or brought around?

2. How can the P.L.O. (or any party, for that matter) define the nature of the Palestinian state it seeks and the relation of that state to its neighbors?

Tab B

Full notes on Conversations with Arafat 6


(Nights of September 9–10, Sept. 11–12, 1977)

(Conversations took place in Beirut at the apartment of Arafat’s secretary, Um Nasser. Present, Sept. 9: Yasser Arafat, Landrum Bolling, Dr. Issam Sartawi, Abu Jihad, Abu Hassan, Sabry Jiryis; present, Sept. 11: Arafat, Bolling, Sartawi, Abu Hassan, Jiryis, and Farouk Kaddumi, Chief of Political Department—“Shadow Foreign Minister,” leader of hard-liners in the Executive Committee of the PLO and in the Central Committee of Fatah.)

(Questions raised by Landrum Bolling, answers by Yasser Arafat. The two sessions are reported topically, drawing from my notes from [Page 501] each session, merging both discussions around the questions here recorded.)

After brief perfunctory greetings, I said that when we had last talked in Cairo on August 247 he had asked me to come back for another discussion within a couple of weeks—and here I was. He expressed appreciation and said he welcomed a chance to discuss further the overall Middle East situation and the role of the PLO in securing a just peace settlement.

I reminded him, as in previous sessions, that I was only a private citizen and could in no way presume to speak for the United States. I did say that I have some personal direct knowledge of the attitudes and predisposition of U.S. policy makers, at the highest level, and could, therefore, give some insight into current concerns of the U.S. Government on Middle East problems.

I was sure that the U.S. Government stood firm on the general outline of the basis of a peace settlement, as had been expressed by President Carter, Secretary Vance, and others. Some U.S. press reports and some critical statements by certain hard-line Arabs to the effect that Israeli and American Jewish pressures on Carter had compelled him to abandon his previously expressed attitudes on the Middle East were not true. I was sure that he was still committed to the same kind of overall peace settlement he had sketched out in the past.

I said I was also sure the U.S. continued to believe that the solution to the problem of the Palestinians was central in the making of any Middle East peace and that participation of the Palestinians in the seeking of that solution was essential. I said I was sure that the U.S. Government would soon reemphasize that conviction. I said, further, that he was well aware of the U.S. Government’s hope that the PLO could make a forthright statement accepting U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 as a basis of peace negotiations and as a preliminary requisite for direct U.S. contacts with the PLO. I said I realized that the PLO was troubled by the prior indications from the U.S. that such a commitment by the PLO would produce only a U.S. agreement to establish a direct “dialogue” with the PLO and I was aware of the fact that he was under strong pressure from certain elements in the PLO and from Syria to reject this arrangement as “too little.”

By “dialogue” I said I was sure the U.S. Government meant the opening up of a whole range of negotiating issues and processes. I emphasized that the Carter Administration was determined “not to play games,” that it would not make promises it could not deliver. The U.S. [Page 502] would not play that game. I said that the U.S. would not make some secret promise that it would guarantee admission of the PLO to the Geneva Conference, nor would it promise the PLO the creation of a Palestinian state. I realized that these were the kind of promises he wanted from the U.S. and these were the promises he was being urged by hard-liner elements to demand. Such promises, if they were given, would be meaningless at this stage. What the U.S. was offering him was the “opening of the gate” to essential PLO participation in the negotiating process and that this could transform the whole situation. To be able to travel that road of discussion and negotiation was the important thing.

I urged upon him the importance of time in coming to a conclusion and the need for a clear-cut, unambiguous statement on 242, one that would not be undercut by some contrary statement from some other spokesman for the PLO.

Q: Why the harsh tone of the Damascus communique at the end of the meeting of the Central Council of the PLO on August 25, 26, with its childish Marxist rhetoric about “American and Zionist maneuvers” and denunciation of the Americans as “imperialists”? That statement, the New York Times and other publications around the world summarized with such headlines as “PLO Closes Door to Talks with Americans.”8 How can that kind of declaration be reconciled with your previous statements to me that you want to open up official contacts with the U.S. and work with U.S. to achieve a peaceful settlement?

A: That communique was terribly, maliciously misrepresented in the world press. We did not during our meeting or in the communique reject 242 nor did we reject talks with the Americans. Our meeting lasted for 14 hours and I talked for seven and a half hours of that time. Sure, there were some of our people who wanted us to reject 242 completely. Some who argued that we will never get anything of help from the Americans, therefore we should stop trying to have contact with them. Ours is a broad, democratic movement and we have all opinions; we allow all opinions to be expressed. But I fought with all my weight against a rejection of 242—and I won. Look at the text of the communique: it does not reject 242. [We looked together at a photo-copy of a clipping from the New York Times, with the text of the communique—which he said was accurate—and at the much longer, accompanying story by James Markham, which he said was a distortion, and at the headline over the whole report: “PLO Closes Door To Talks with [Page 503] U.S.A.” which he said is absolutely false.] The communique does not call the Americans “imperialists,” that word is in Markham’s story and is based on a quotation from some minor figure in the PLO. [I admitted that I had mis-spoken in saying the communique called the Americans “imperialists.”]

Perhaps we were unwise to use the phrase “American and Zionist maneuvers.” I have been criticized by certain Arab leaders (apparently Saudi and Egyptian) for allowing that statement to go out. However, you have to understand how we had to view certain developments and certain messages we received in connection with the Vance trip to the Middle East.

On the 3rd of August we received a very hopeful message which said that if we would make a public declaration of acceptance of UN 242, then the Americans promise to do the following:

1.) Recognize the PLO;

2.) Undertake a dialogue with the PLO;

3.) Invite the PLO to the Geneva Conference—

and all of this on the supposition of U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state. That sounded very good to us. Then on the 9th of August we received another message in which all that was promised in the message of the 3rd of August was cancelled. Now we were asked to give everything and get nothing—only a promise of a dialogue and not even acceptance as the sole representatives of the Palestinians, which the Arab states and the United Nations have already accorded us. We are told that the U.S. now has a peace plan and that it contains these points:

1. The U.S. is working for a comprehensive peace.

2. The basis for the peace is contained in U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

3. There should be Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in June 1967, with minor border changes.

4. There would be an “entity” for the Palestinians, disarmed, and for a period of six to eight years under the trusteeship of the United Nations plus two other member states, with the provision that if those states are drawn from the area, Israel would be one of the trustees. (Presumably, Jordan would be the other.)

5. There would be a full and comprehensive peace treaty.

6. Jerusalem would remain an occupied area but with facilities for all religions to carry on their religious practices.

This formula would be a disaster for the Palestinians. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel—they would all like such a deal. But not the Palestinians. Not any of us—hard-liners, moderates, pro-Soviet, pro-Western—none of us. That plan was what horrified our Council in Damascus. They saw [Page 504] it as a plan for a new massacre of our rights. They said that if I make a declaration accepting 242 all I am getting is a chance to support a peace plan that in the end would destroy us. They said you are putting yourself in position to sign a Brest-Litovsk surrender treaty.9

Consider this one matter of the proposed trusteeship. If Israel and Jordan were the trustees, not only would the Israelis interfere constantly in our affairs, but King Hussein would have the time to create pressures, threaten people, bribe and corrupt those he could get to follow him so that, in the end, he would destroy our right to have an independent state. When this peace plan talks of an “entity” not a state, talks of disarming us, talks of a trusteeship with Israel and Jordan as trustees, that, as we see it, is a plan to liquidate us. That is why we spoke in the communique of “maneuvers.” I assure you that if I had not thrown my full weight into the debate, we would have got a much worse communique. I assure you it was the best statement that could be made under the circumstances. Let me point out that even the London Economist wrote that Vance had extinguished the last hope for the rights of the Palestinians through the plan he submitted to the Arab governments.

Q: The difference between your interpretation of the Damascus communique and the way it was presented in the world press points up one crucial fact: there are different voices speaking for the PLO. In the outer world we simply can’t tell who really speaks for your organization. You interpret the communique one way—not a rejection of 242—and yet the New York Times talked to some of your people and got not only this Marxist jargon about the Americans as “imperialists” but also the clear indication that you were rejecting 242 and slamming the door in the face of the Americans. How is the outside world to know where the PLO really stands on anything and who speaks for the PLO?

A: I assure you this leadership is in full control, but we operate in a democratic fashion. We are one of the only two democratic political forces in the Middle East. The Israeli Government is a “liberal democracy;” the PLO is a “true democracy.” We have a slogan in the PLO. It says: “We should have political commando military commandos.” That means that we give freedom for various individuals and various factions to undertake different initiatives, to say different things. Sartawi, for example, undertook his initiative to establish contacts with moderate Jews and with the Israeli doves. For this he was bitterly attacked from inside the PLO and by certain Arab states. He does not [Page 505] dare show his face, to this day, in Syria, Iraq, or Libya. Yet I stood by him and at the Palestine National Council we adopted, after a terrible debate, the resolution I wanted approving contact with democratic and progressive forces of the Jewish communities inside and outside Israel. That authorization still stands.

Certainly, we have our rejectionist elements in the PLO and they are free to express their views. I do not try to suppress them. But they do not control the PLO.

Q: But at times, as following that August Damascus meeting of the Central Council, the hard-liners appear to speak for the PLO and to speak differently from what you say is PLO policy. Doesn’t that inevitably lead to confusion? Especially, as recently, when such spokesmen seem to be reflecting the hardening line of the Syrians? I don’t want to be rude, but the question inevitably arises: “Does Yasser Arafat control the PLO or do the Syrians control the PLO?”

A: The Syrians control Saiqa, that is one small portion of the PLO. It is true they would like to control the entire PLO. It is true they tried to destroy me. But they did not succeed. When they organized their big move to oppose me, they got only two votes. They have to live with my leadership.

Let me make it clear that we have the full support of our people. We are fully in control. Today, for instance, some Fatah people came to me asking for more positions for Fatah in the various Palestinian union organizations. I said I would arrange it. And I will. This leadership is in full control. It is capable of taking any decision when the time is right. Yesterday in the Central Council we searched for a formula, but we could not find one. We are in a cul de sac. In the absence of an understanding of the reality of our situation there is a long hard road ahead. But, by secret communication, perhaps we can find a way. We want to find a way.

Back to the negative and false press interpretations of the Damascus Central Council meeting. These interpretations were based on taking too seriously the comments of two men, Abu Maizer and Khalid El Fahoum.10 Most of their comments were made before the meeting, their prediction that the Council would reject 242, which I have shown you it did not do. These two men are—(“Agents of the Syrians” Sartawi interjected). (“Let us say, pro-Syrian,” Kaddumi corrected.) (Laughter) They do not accurately reflect the leadership position of the PLO, but they are like U.S. Senators. Carter does not tell a U.S. Senator that he can’t say anything. We, too, try to operate on a democratic basis.

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Q: Mr. Chairman, I hear what you are saying. But someone who is called the spokesman for the PLO is not in the same position in relation to you and your leadership as a dissident U.S. Senator is in relation to the President. Let me simply say that if you allow such glaring contradictions to be expressed with regard to crucial policy matters, you should not be surprised if you are misunderstood. Let us come back to something you mentioned a moment ago, you spoke of P.N.C. approval of the contacts with moderate Jewish groups and the Israeli Peace Council. Has not your organization now forbidden any further contacts?

A: Not forbidden, only frozen. Put off. We have decided to delay further contacts until we can assess the circumstances in the light of the strong opposition of certain Arab states—Iraq, Syria and Libya. We have P.N.C. approval for these contacts and we can resume them any time we think it is appropriate and desirable.

Q: Mr. Chairman, could we look again at the question of your position on the acceptance of UN Resolution 242?

A: It is essentially a question of getting from others a declaration of a positive position toward the Palestinians and their right to have a state of their own. This is the issue. Where does the United States stand on this question? (And, okay, I agree with you, where do the Arab governments stand?) What do these terms mean: “homeland,” “national rights,” “self-determination,” “entity?” The United States should make up its mind what its policy is on this question. We wish the United States would stop worrying about what the different Arab states feel on this issue. The Arab governments have different thoughts on the subject, depending on their self-interests. The United States should determine in the light of its self-interests what policy it will support. If the United States would simply follow its own self-interests, and disregard what either the Israelis or the Arab governments say, we believe the United States would join in support of a Palestinian state. Such a state, as I told you last December, must have its own flag and its own passport. Yes, I repeat what I said then, everything else is negotiable.

Q: But what about 242—?

A: Well, as the record of the negotiations following the June War of 1967 will show, Security Council Resolution 242 was not intended to deal with the whole Middle East peace problem for it did not deal with the Palestinian question. The Egyptian representative at that time, Mahmoud Riad, asked “Are we negotiating the full problem, or are we only negotiating the limited territorial questions?” It was the Israelis who insisted that only the territorial part of the problem was being dealt with, not the problem of the Palestinians. Remember that the UN declarations about the division of Palestine into two Jewish and Arab states are still on the record, have never been rescinded by the UN, and [Page 507] the United States is a signatory to those official UN decisions. Indeed, the United States was named one of the three members of the Conciliation Commission, in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 194, to enforce those decisions.11 Tell me: Why does the United States Government now feel so strongly that it is bound by a side agreement with the Israelis, a kind of almost secret footnote to the Sinai II Agreement concerning Egypt and Israel, which Henry Kissinger signed with Israel, promising not to have contacts with the legal representatives of the Palestinians until we meet certain conditions?12 Why does the United States take so seriously that side agreement with Israel but not take seriously its previous public UN commitment to support an Arab state as well as a Jewish state in Palestine? Even the Israeli Foreign Minister Sharett once publicly stated that Israel would not oppose the creation of an Arab Palestinian state.

Why all this concern about procedures and prior conditions for starting talks between the PLO and the USA? We simply do not understand it.

Q: As a private citizen, I might be able to agree that there should be no prior conditions for talks between the USA and the PLO but the purpose of such talks would surely not be just to have a social dialogue. The purpose of talks, I must assume, is to get the Palestinians plugged into the negotiating process. All the other parties to the conflict have said they accept 242 and 338 as the basis for renewing the Geneva peace negotiations, and on that basis they have said they will go to Geneva, including the Arab confrontation states. So, why can’t the PLO say exactly what your Arab brothers have already said? Why would you want to keep yourself out of the negotiating process?

A: Mr. Bolling, let me explain to you what has happened to us since the October War, let me tell you about the pressures that have been put upon us, and of the concessions we have made—and, how, in the end, we have got nothing.

Remember we are a very sensitive and suspicious people, we Palestinians. We have had 30 years of promises and 30 years of disappointments. We have had promises from the Arab states, from the USSR, from the Western states, from the United Nations. And we get nothing. I am glad to have Kaddumi here tonight for he was with me in my talks with Sadat and other Arab leaders from 1973 on. After the October War they told us there will be a peace conference. They told us the first task is to liquidate the consequences of the war—to get back territories for [Page 508] Syria and Egypt. They urged us to be a constructive force and not cause any problems for the solutions they were trying to work out. So, in the Algiers Summit meeting,13 in the secret sessions, we yielded to their pressures and put our own interests on the shelf and accepted their strategy. However, in those secret sessions the Arab governments promised to support us in whatever program the PLO should define as its objective. We didn’t blow up the Summit Meeting.

In 1974 we called a meeting of the Palestine National Council. In preparation, it took us 500 hours of debate and lobbying to bring about agreement—and it was a genuine agreement—for the “establishment of a Palestinian state on a portion of Palestine.” That was the main point of our Ten Point program.14 That was our positive response to 242. Before the P.N.C. voted acceptance of this resolution, I took it to the heads of all the Arab governments from Morocco to Kuwait. Most of them said, “You will never get the P.N.C. to pass that Ten Point program.” Sadat, particularly, said: “If you can get those points accepted, you will get me out of a great trouble at Geneva.” Assad said the same. We did get the program passed, but nothing happened for our benefit and the Geneva Conference has still not accomplished anything.

Let me speak frankly to you about the Rabat Summit meeting. The principal issue was the Palestine problem. That conference could have blown up. But in the end everybody, including King Hussein, agreed to recognize the PLO as the legal and only representative of the Palestinians. I brought about a constructive solution to a very explosive issue by promising that when we got our state we would establish a special relationship with Jordan. Kissinger knows it very well. He told Tito he knew this.

They try to pressure me to commit to some undefined tie with Jordan, as some kind of vague “entity.” I long ago already said we would make a “special relationship” with Jordan. Here is another positive concession we have already made, and get no credit for making.

I went to the United Nations and made my speech.15 And I avoided demanding a unified, democratic secular state of Palestine in place of Israel, as had been our objective. I referred to that as a dream and said everybody had a right to dream about what the ideal would be. But I went on to plead: please accept our right to create a Palestinian state on a portion of our Palestinian patrimony. And what was the world’s response? What did the press report about me? They ignored [Page 509] all the positive things I said and accused me of preaching the destruction of Israel and the creation of the unified state.

Later on, hostile forces, inside and outside the Arab world, set me up for the massacre in Lebanon. But they did not destroy us. Morally and politically, the PLO is stronger than ever. Still we are pressured to make still more concessions when we have in various ways already demonstrated that we accept the basic formula of 242—with only the additional insistence there must be a Palestinian state. During the Vance visit I publicly stated that I accepted the Egyptian paper submitted to the Americans, and that paper accepts 242.

Q: Mr. Chairman, one simple question: If you have already, in effect, accepted 242, why can’t you just come out openly and directly and say that, with the reservation about the lack of consideration to the Palestinian problem, you do accept 242?

A: Mr. Bolling, I will speak to you very frankly: What we are suffering from right now is Arab blackmail on this issue. It is painful to admit this to you. But it is the truth. Some of the Arab states are trying to make us make all the concessions—and blame us for the concessions—so that they can use us as a justification to their people for whatever they concede. They want to shame and humiliate us.

The toughest attacker against our having contacts with Jewish moderates, for example, is an Arab head of state who denounced me brutally as a traitor to the Arab cause for allowing such contacts. And yet, as I pointed out to him, he received Mrs. Jacobsen, the head of Hadassah in America, and a hard-liner opponent of Palestinian rights, whereas our contacts have been with Jews and Israeli peace groups who are sympathetic to the rights of Palestinians. This is typical of the unfair arguments used against us.

In a session of the Arab League, Kaddumi—our so-called hard-liner—said to the Foreign Ministers: “I want to have talks with the Americans. Can’t any of you Foreign Ministers bring this about” [2½ lines not declassified]

After Dobrynin made a statement that the PLO was ready to recognize Israel, there was a great outcry throughout the Arab world.16 We were denounced as traitors to the Arab cause. Such are the things that are said and done against us that I call blackmail.

If I lose my ability and my credibility to maintain close links with my fighters, what future will there be for me and my movement? I will [Page 510] not allow this leadership to be alienated from the Palestinian people. That is my problem.

What the Arab states—some of them—are trying to do is to put all the dirt on us, the Palestinians. They will bargain with the Israelis for their interests, but put the blame on us if we make the slightest concession. I really do not know where I am going to put 2,000,000 Palestinians in diaspora when we do get our state. And we do not get much help on the subject. “Where are you going to put us?” the people ask me. I tell them three things: (1) You will have a passport at last. (Mr. Bolling, you don’t realize how important that is.) (2) You will have a place where you can be buried. (3) In the last resort, if your life is made impossible everywhere else, you will have a place of refuge where at least you can come and live in a tent on a piece of your own soil.

But, of course, many of our people have found good lives in other countries and are now indispensable to the operation of those countries. The head of one of the Gulf states who is one of our strong backers said to me: “I can’t let you take back your people when you get your state. I couldn’t run my country without them.”

Q: Mr. Chairman, let me ask you another very frank question: Do you think any of the Arab states would make a separate deal with Israel, without you?

A: That is a question, naturally, we have asked ourselves. I have gone and talked to all the leaders just in this time since the Vance trip and the announcement of plans for the Foreign Ministers talks in New York.

I told Sadat: “You, the Arab states, have put me in a completely untenable position. This is an American plan. All Arabs know it. If you agree to it, you are selling us out. We are getting nothing as Palestinians.” I protested in writing to Fahmy and he passed it on to Sadat. Sadat wrote a note on the margin and sent it back; Fahmy gave me this photo-copy. I read it to you. Here it is in Sadat’s handwriting: “We must let Arafat and the Palestinians know that we are not betraying them.”

I had a “big story” with King Khalid on this subject, a “big story.” The Saudis are now trying in every way they can to prove to us and the other Arabs that they are not going to sell us out.

I asked Sadat if he could go it alone, without us, and he said “absolutely not.” I asked Assad if he could go his own way without us, and he said he would not. The Saudis, as I said, are in big public campaign to prove they will not abandon us. The truth is the Arab governments are stuck with us and they cannot leave us if they wanted to. That, of course, is the scheme the Israelis are counting on, but it won’t work.

The truth is that the Palestinians are today an important element, an essential element for the Arab world. There is not an Arab leader [Page 511] who does not envy me my good relations with the Russians—not one of them. They are all glad I have these good relations. I played the crucial role for Assad in getting the Russians to resupply the Syrians with spare parts.

Sadat told me that if there is no real progress toward a peace by a certain date, he will pick up the phone and ask me to go to the Russians and tell them he is ready to make a deal. If the Israelis think they can stick to their plans, divide the Arabs, and threaten us with war, let them bring on a war. Nothing will so quickly unify the Arab world as another war. Within 48 hours Col. Qadhafi will send 2,000 tanks into Egypt and he will be fighting alongside Sadat. The Iraqi will watch the first day, the second day they will mobilize, the third day they will join the battle.

The Israelis think they now have such military superiority, thanks to all the sophisticated American weaponry they have received that the Arabs would not dare to risk a war. The Arabs also have a lot of sophisticated weaponry. The Libyans now have considerable quantities of missiles that can reach every target in Israel. The Iraqis are receiving MIG–23s.

But another war would be madness. We who have fought for 30 years, we know the horrors of war. We don’t want the children now growing up to be subjected to new wars. We must continue to try to find the way to a peaceful solution—and we can find one if only our national rights as a people will be respected.

Each night I had to move to break up the meeting. Arafat has enormous energy and loves to talk on and on. As he talked I grew weary of the whole tortured discussion. It seemed to me he was so boxed in by his own PLO hardliners and by the Syrians that he could not move, despite his assurances of moderation and his conciliatory tone. At 2:00 a.m. in the early morning of September 12, he invited us to sit down at the dining room table for an end of Ramadan feast. At this point Sartawi asked him if it would be possible for him to give me a written draft of a possible new statement on 242. Thereupon Arafat produced a one-page typed statement in Arabic which he handed to Sartawi and murmured something about a first draft they were looking at. He said he would be holding a number of meetings to determine an appropriate formulation which he might be able to give me within a few days. We parted with the understanding we would probably meet again within a couple of days. I agreed to delay my departure for at least two days.

Subsequently, I received intermittent reports from my “moderate wing” contacts—Dr. Sartawi, Abu Hassan, and Sabry Jiryis—about numerous meetings that were going on among various elements of PLO leadership, about Arafat’s trip to Damascus to see Assad, about Kad[Page 512]dumi’s trip to Cairo, about plans for another PLO Central Council meeting in Damascus on Saturday, September 17. I was assured that the State Department’s statement of Monday, September 12, on the Palestinians17 had been enthusiastically received by Arafat and most of the PLO leadership, that the moderates were lobbying vigorously for a forthright statement on 242, that Arafat wanted and intended to make such a statement but he was shrewdly maneuvering to get as broad a consensus as possible before making a public statement—and, of course, the statement would have to come from the Central Council. It became clear that I would have nothing definite in the way of a draft statement during the week, so, on Wednesday evening, September 14, I departed from Beirut for Israel via Cyprus. I was told that Arafat would send a messenger to deliver a draft statement to me during the week of September 18–24. I was told this would be a “negotiating draft,” not necessarily a final declaration. We shall see!

Tab C

Paper Prepared by Landrum Bolling 18

Some Reflections on the Current Status of the P.L.O. and of Various Palestinian Attitudes and Options

The Palestine Liberation Organization is once again (or still) in a state of crisis. It is wracked by internal conflicts and assailed by external pressures. It is still led by Yasser Arafat, its chairman, and the head of its major constituent organization, Fatah. It has experienced incredible vicissitudes and, somehow, has kept going. Its chairman has been denounced, intrigued against, and threatened, but, though beleaguered from within and without the P.L.O., he survives. A wily, populist politician, devout Muslim, single-minded nationalist, non-Marxist friend of both the communist Russians and the anti-communist Saudis, Arafat is a master at one art—survival. The only match for him is his hated rival, King Hussein. There is no evidence that Arafat is a great leader, a statesman of vision, or a superior administrator. At times he appears vacillating, weak, ineffective. He could be, and has been, accused of [Page 513] leading his people through one disaster after another—most conspicuously, in the civil war in Jordan and, more recently, the civil war in Lebanon. King Hussein and President Assad have tried to kill him or at least destroy his leadership. Neither has, so far, succeeded; both have had to make public reconciliations with him.

Arafat may well be the Arab leader the Russians trust most (which is not saying a great deal), and he clearly has a “special relationship” with the conservative, pro-capitalist feudal rulers of Saudi Arabia. Without their generous petro-dollar support for him, and their confidence in him as a non-Marxist, Muslim true believer, he would probably have disappeared long ago. For their own good reasons, they are likely the best supporters of his independent national state idea.

Part of Arafat’s problem relates to the “strange and wonderful” nature of the P.L.O. itself. It is a holding company of divergent and irreconcilable revolutionary movements. Its dominant component is Fatah, the fighting force Arafat played a major role in creating, which he still controls and which, by far, outweighs all other factions. Fatah is the most non-ideological element in the P.L.O. and the most genuinely Palestinian. Other elements owe primary allegiance to an ideology (some brand of Marxism) or to one or another of the Arab governments. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Hawatmeh, is a kind of new Left group, which at times has shown signs of incipient reasonableness about a peaceful settlement but then veers off into terrorism and ideological intransigence. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is led by George Habash, M.D., of Christian background, who is probably the most intransigent Marxist and anti-American ideologue. His movement has spawned a splinter group, the Popular Front/General Command, which has committed its share of terrorist acts and is, basically, pro-Syrian. Then there is Saiqa, the unabashed instrument of the Syrian government inside the P.L.O. There is also the Arab Liberation Front which is pro-Iraqi. In addition to these political factions, there are also the Palestinian professional and vocational unions which have representation, as such, within the P.L.O. though, in fact, many of their representatives are designated by Fatah. Added to all of these, among the 293 members of the Palestine National Council, the 55-member Central Council, and the 15-member Executive Committee (a kind of cabinet) are assorted “independents.” Inevitably, a great deal of Arafat’s time and energy goes into efforts to keep everybody on the reservation. And an outsider has to wonder: Why bother?

By the very structure of the P.L.O., the assorted extremist groups get representation in the various organs of the P.L.O. out of proportion to their numbers. By the free-wheeling “democratic” tradition of the P.L.O., each faction has extraordinary freedom to go its own way in set[Page 514]ting policy, committing acts of violence, and interpreting the P.L.O. to the world. It is a mad, mad situation.

Yet Arafat professes to be untroubled by all this chaos and insists that he and his inner kitchen cabinet, most of whom are members of the Central Committee of Fatah, have firm control of the P.L.O. Within that inner group, Arafat, Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir)—one of the chief military figures, Abu Wazir (Mahmoud Abbas)—the chief financial officer, Abu Hassan—chief of intelligence and security, and Abu Said (Khalid al-Hassan) are considered unshakable pro-peace moderates. To these may be added the most exposed moderates, Dr. Issam Sartawi, who organized and led the initiatives to establish contacts with Israeli and American Jewish moderates and to open some kind of dialogue with U.S. officials, and his colleague, Sabry Jiryis. They came to the United States in October 1976 (on faulty passports) and after first being encouraged in their reconciliation/exploration efforts, were ordered out of the country by Henry Kissinger. They were simultaneously attacked by the Marxists and the hardliners inside the P.L.O. and by officials in Libya, Syria and Iraq, and they are still under serious threat. They cannot be considered part of the inner circle of power, but they have direct access to Arafat and, apparently, his personal confidence and support.

The hardliner element within Arafat’s inner circle is led by Farouk Kaddumi, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee and head of what is called the Political Department—in effect, the Foreign Minister. Kaddumi is an economist by training, graduate of the American University in Cairo, leftist in his leanings, but not an out-and-out Marxist, generally pro-Soviet, generally anti-American, very much bemused by the need to maintain solidarity with the Third World. He is not a constructive influence in the P.L.O. inner circle. His chief ally is Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf), a military/security type who is said to be virtually psychopathic in his hard-lining mischief-making. He has a checkered history. Captured by King Hussein’s forces during the civil war in Jordan—and most likely tortured—he went on Radio Amman and won his freedom by the most abject apology to and praise of the King. Released, he made his way to Beirut and the remnant of the P.L.O. and has been trying ever since, by hardline acts and words, to make up for his groveling performance on the King’s radio.

Arafat, personally and several of those with greatest influence on him seem to be genuinely committed to a peaceful settlement, to a live-and-let live arrangement with Israel, to a “special relationship” with Jordan. They want to prove their acceptance of UN 242, their desire for good relations with the U.S., and their rejection of Marxism. But they suffer from all sorts of inhibitions and fears in fighting too vigorously, too openly for what they say are their real views.

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One of the complicating factors among the Palestinians, as throughout the developing Third World, is the glamour, the mythology, the radical chic of Marxism. As one of the P.L.O. moderate leaders said to me: “It takes no guts to be a hard-liner, anti-American pro-Marxist. It takes real guts to be pro-peace, pro-American and anti-Marxist.”

A bizarre aspect of the problem is the long-standing, practical though unspoken “alliance” between Israel’s hard-liners and Palestinian hard-liners. Again and again, over many years, the Palestinian extremists have said and done, almost as if on cue, those wild and irresponsible things that have triggered hard, sharp over-kill reactions from the Israeli hard-liners. Israeli words and deeds have, in turn, provided “proof” for the extremist Palestinians that their attitudes, their propaganda, and their deeds were fully justified. Rightly or wrongly, there has now grown up among some moderate West Bankers the conviction that the Israelis are deliberately fostering the growth of pro-Communist, extremist elements under the Israeli occupation in order to support the Israeli thesis that an independent Palestinian movement would be inevitably pro-Soviet and anti-American and a threat to peace and stability in the area.

In support of this odd thesis, a West Bank Christian leader cited the strange case of the relatively new mayor of Ramallah, Karim Khalaf. Known as the Don Juan of Ramallah, Khalaf is a lawyer and wealthy land-owner, a handsome fellow with a taste for high living. In the beginning years of the Israeli occupation, he was widely distrusted by the Palestinians as a stooge for the Israelis. After he decided to campaign for Mayor, the Israelis put out the report that he was the candidate of the P.L.O., although there had never been previously any indication that he cared anything about the P.L.O., or they for him. Yet, with Israel’s reports that he had the backing of the P.L.O., he won handily. Once in office, he began to show all kinds of support for communist projects, for anti-American policies, and for anti-peace moves. He encourages ineffectual, meaningless but well-publicized street demonstrations by youth groups. He blocks welfare and student scholarship projects sponsored by American private groups, and he has managed to make possible a communist information center in Ramallah, which could only function with Israeli acquiescence and then at a time when even the most moderate political activity by other groups is either strictly controlled or forbidden.

The Israelis may be absolutely not involved in any such Byzantine machinations but there are moderate, pro-peace, anti-Communist Arabs under Israel’s occupation who think they are.

What moderate West Bankers think of Arafat and the P.L.O. is perhaps not crystal clear but there are some interesting indications. Here are random comments picked up on the West Bank:

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Arafat is not a very strong or effective leader, but apparently he is the best available.

If the Israelis had ever allowed any political leadership to develop on the West Bank, there might be some alternative to the P.L.O., but they didn’t and there isn’t.

As between King Hussein and the P.L.O., there is no question but that West Bankers prefer Arafat and the P.L.O. to the King.

We of the West Bank passionately want to be rid of the Israeli occupation; supporting the P.L.O. seems the best way to express our desires.

Those who oppose the P.L.O. are either stooges for the Israelis or agents for the King.

Can alternatives to the P.L.O. yet emerge among the Palestinians?

Any occupying power can create and control collaborators from among a subject people. That is the clear lesson of history, abundantly proved by communist, fascist and Nazi dictatorships. A relatively benign occupation like that of the Israelis can certainly assure for itself a considerable measure of collaboration from among the occupied West Bankers. That is really not the question. The question is whether an effective, independent and responsible indigenous Arab leadership could come into being during, or after the end of Israeli occupation—and whether that leadership would or could be an alternative to the P.L.O.

There is no basis for a believable affirmative answer to that question. The Israelis, after almost ten years of occupation, have so limited political activity among the Palestinians as to make predictions on this point relatively meaningless.

There is, however, some evidence about the degree of support for those few political figures who have so far surfaced as possible West Bank alternatives to the P.L.O. It is not very great. Such people are mostly members of the old “notable families” who have long held wealth and a kind of tribal power and in the main, have served loyally the Hashemite royal family. These are the King’s men and their day is surely over. The West Bankers will not willingly turn to a restoration of that kind of leadership. Here and there, no doubt, are others—younger and relatively unknown—who might conceivably come to the fore if they could escape the dangers of being labeled either Israeli puppets or Hussein agents. But that isn’t easy. And then there is the special case of Aziz Shihadah, one of the few Palestinians Secretary Vance was able to talk with on his August trip to the Middle East.19 Having known Shihadah relatively well over a period of almost ten years, I set down a few observations about him:

1. He is an able, intelligent, articulate man with a practical, sensible approach to things.

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2. He is of independent spirit and has had the courage to express his views openly and publicly.

3. The most prominent Arab lawyer on the West Bank under the Israeli occupation, his success has aroused inevitable suspicion that he is a clever tool of the Israelis. I personally do not believe that; I think he is an honest and honorable man, though ambitious and very self-assured.

4. He is not a supporter of King Hussein and has expressed the most bitter contempt for him, yet he has long favored special ties between the West Bank and Jordan.

5. About the P.L.O. he has blown hot and cold over the years. He has never been one of them, though at times he has looked upon them as the only hope for the Palestinians. P.L.O. leaders have expressed to me their disapproval of him as a collaborator with the Israelis.

6. Shihadah was one of the first Palestinians I encountered who clearly favored a West Bank state of some kind, but with ties with both Jordan and Israel.

7. Shihadah has no real political base. He speaks for himself and hardly anyone else—although many will agree with much of what he says.

8. He has the ability to be a leader in a Palestinian state, but he might well have considerable difficulty in establishing his acceptability, in the light of the suspicions that surround him.

In summary, I see no current alternative to the P.L.O. for providing leadership for the West Bank. The P.L.O. has not only the endorsement of the Arab states and the United Nations as the sole representative of the Palestinians, it has established among the Palestinians under Israeli occupation an unmistakable claim to that same recognition. At the same time, there are doubts and apprehensions; fear that Arafat and his team may not be quite up to the leadership role that would be required of them if independence should come; worry that extremists attached to the P.L.O. will do more foolish and terrible things that will produce harsh consequences for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation; doubt that the Israelis will ever willingly leave the West Bank on any terms whatever.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 3, Arab-Israeli Peace Settlement 1977: Volume II [II]. Secret. Outside the System. Sent for information.
  2. Secret.
  3. The PLO issued a communiqué at the conclusion of the August 25–26 meeting summarizing the Central Council’s conclusions. See footnote 8 below.
  4. According to Quandt’s account of the Middle East peace process during the Carter administration, the message of August 3 was from the Egyptians while the message of August 9 was from the Saudis. (William B. Quandt, Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics, p. 101) See Documents 65 and 73.
  5. Presumably the draft Egyptian treaty Sadat gave to Vance on August 2; see Document 64. On August 9, a PLO spokesman in Beirut affirmed that the PLO would regard acceptance of Resolution 242 as a basis for attending the Geneva Conference rather than as a recognition of Israel’s existence. (H.D.S. Greenway, “Shift on Israel Possible, PLO Confirms,” Washington Post, August 10, 1977, p. A15)
  6. Secret. All brackets are in the original.
  7. A report on Bolling’s August 24 interview with Arafat in Cairo is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Chron File, Box 133, Quandt: 9/1–15/77.
  8. The New York Times headline for Markham’s August 27 report assessing the PLO Central Council’s meeting reads, “P.L.O. Leadership Rules out a Dialogue with the Carter Administration.” The text of the August 26 PLO statement was also included. (August 27, 1977, p. 3)
  9. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed on March 3, 1918, between Germany and the Soviet Union. It led to the Soviet Union pulling out of World War I, but is remembered by the Soviets for what they viewed as the humiliating terms forced upon them by the Germans.
  10. Abu Maizer was a PLO spokesman and Khalid el-Fahoum was the Chairman of the PLO Central Council.
  11. See footnote 2, Document 32.
  12. The agreement is in the form of a U.S.-Israeli memorandum of understanding signed on September 1, 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 227.
  13. From November 26 to 28, 1973, Arab leaders met in Algiers to discuss the cease-fire and aftermath of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
  14. See footnote 3, Document 78.
  15. See footnote 15, Document 10.
  16. Not further identified. Dobrynin reportedly informed Vance prior to Carter’s May meeting with Asad in Geneva that Arafat was prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist if Israel endorsed a Palestinian homeland. (Flora Lewis, “Carter, at meeting With Syrian, Calls for Palestinian ‘Homeland’,” New York Times, May 10, 1977, p. 1)
  17. On September 12, State Department Spokesman Hodding Carter III read to news correspondents a statement that endorsed the notion that “Palestinians must be involved in the peacemaking process. Their representatives will have to be at Geneva for the Palestinian question to be solved.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 10, 1977, p. 463)
  18. Secret.
  19. No memorandum of conversation has been found.