104. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Bolling-Arafat Talks and PLO Acceptance of 242

As the attached cable from Damascus indicates,2 the PLO, with Syrian backing, is edging toward acceptance of Resolution 242 with a reservation. The revised formulation that we have communicated through the Syrians is also attached.3

The important point to note is that now the Syrians appear to be working with us, unlike a few weeks ago, and the PLO is showing more signs of confidence. This is almost certainly due to the combination of your letter to Assad,4 which was very well received, the statement from the State Department on Palestinian representation,5 and Landrum Bolling’s two long talks with Arafat,6 which went quite well, although they ended inconclusively. (Landrum’s summary report is also attached.)7 After seeing Arafat last Tuesday,8 Bolling concluded that the Syrians were still posing problems; the next day Arafat and Assad met in Damascus; and on Sunday we received an agreed Syrian-PLO version of a reservation to 242.9 All that now remains, and this will still be difficult, is to get a positive acceptance of 242 and the right of all states in the area to live in peace. The Palestine Central Council is scheduled to meet today.

Yasir Arafat’s Main Points in Conversations with Landrum Bolling:

1. Arafat and PLO did not reject UN 242 or close doors to talks with Americans at meeting of Central Council in Damascus August 25–26.

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2. The most upsetting thing to Arafat and the Council was their perception of a drastic shift in the U.S. position from the message they received on August 3 to the message of August 9.10 The former, they understood, promised recognition of PLO and dialogue plus an invitation to Geneva, all on the basis of U.S. support for creation of a Palestinian state in return for PLO acceptance of 242. The latter rescinded the previous “offer”, and promised only dialogue, and that in relation to a U.S. peace plan that calls for a trusteeship (trustees including Israel and Jordan) over a disarmed, vague Palestinian entity. They regard this plan as a scheme to destroy rights of Palestinians.

3. Long involved arguments to prove PLO 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 two-state solution); 2) resolution of National Council meeting calling for PLO participation in all international negotiations on Palestine problem on the basis of “international legitimacy” (meaning UN 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.

4. Arafat, when pressed as to why he could not simply say (with reservation about inadequacy of 242 in dealing with Palestine) that PLO 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 him denouncing him for making any concessions, while making their own concessions. They try to be “more Catholic than the Pope, more Palestinian than Arafat.” It is clear, though he did not say so directly, that the main pressures on these matters come from the Syrians. He admitted that Assad had tried to destroy him, but had not succeeded.

5. He said his Central Council 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 the second meeting saying it was a rough, first draft of something they would be considering. He said the statement they would propose would be in a negotiating form—not a final declaration—and they would get it to Bolling as soon as possible. Arafat realized that time is important.

There was tentative agreement 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 proposal. Since these internal discussions [Page 520] were still going on through the 13th, and a Central Council meeting 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” contacts 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 Bolling’s talks in Beirut:

1. What is President Assad trying to do? And why is he doing it?

2. How can the PLO define the nature of the Palestinian state it seeks and the relation of that state to its neighbors?

  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. Carter initialed the memorandum.
  2. The cable is not attached. Presumably it was telegram 5888 from Damascus, September 18; see footnote 4, Document 101.
  3. The revised formulation is not attached. See footnote 3, Document 74.
  4. See Document 101.
  5. See footnote 17, Document 103.
  6. A record of these talks is in Tab B, Document 103.
  7. Not attached, but see Tab A, Document 103.
  8. September 13.
  9. See footnote 4, Document 101.
  10. See footnote 4, Document 103.