177. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Summary of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Begin of Israel
- The President
- The Vice President
- Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
- Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher
- Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Samuel Lewis, Ambassador to Israel
- Harold Saunders, Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State
- David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- William Quandt, National Security Council Staff
- Jody Powell, White House Staff
- Hamilton Jordan, White House Staff
- Stuart Eizenstat, White House Staff
- Robert Lipshutz, White House Staff
- Jerry Schecter, National Security Council Staff
- Prime Minister Menahem Begin
- Ambassador to the United States Simcha Dinitz
- Ambassador to the United Nations Chaim Herzog
- General Ephraim Poran, Military Assistant to Prime Minister Begin
- Attorney General Aharon Barak
- Hanan Bar-On, Minister, Embassy of Israel
- Haim Landau, Member of Israeli Delegation to the United Nations
- Shmuel Katz, Advisor to the Prime Minister
- Yehuda Avner, Advisor to the Prime Minister
- Zvi Efrat, Assistant to the Attorney General
President: I am delighted to welcome you and your colleagues here. We have seen dramatic events recently in the Middle East created by the far-sighted courage that you and President Sadat have shown. An opportunity has been created for a breakthrough to peace in the Middle East and in the world. There is a chance now for the Middle East region to be truly blessed. This places a great responsibility on your shoulders, but I know that no leader could handle that responsibility better. I look at your popularity ratings in Israel with envy. You have a great responsibility and a great capacity for flexibility. Your people will follow you. We want to offer our good offices when the negotiations begin. During [Page 862] the last few years, we have followed a course based on Resolution 242, which envisages an exchange of real peace for what the UN Resolution calls for on withdrawal and secure borders.
President Sadat’s action was dramatic and far-reaching. It was almost the ultimate concession that he could make, a guarantee of real peace. He will even agree to withdraw most of his troops from Sinai. The world is now awaiting your response. There is a great interest in what you have to say. I would like to hear your positions. Any agreement, of course, is your responsibility and that of your neighbors. We have a vital interest, but we are not responsible for the negotiations. Our good offices are available. I am thankful that you are in a strong leadership role at this time. I am confident that you can lead your people forward.
Prime Minister Begin: I was here just five months ago. You received me very graciously,2 and since then it seems like an eternity has passed in terms of the events that we have seen. I thought it would be advisable to bring you Israel’s new proposals, so that you should be the first to study them. I asked Secretary Vance to inquire if I could come, and you were gracious to respond positively. So here we are. I am gratified to have this opportunity. I had very fruitful talks with Secretary Vance in Jerusalem.3
I would first like to describe President Sadat’s visit. It was a historic event. It is hard to find any precedent for such a visit taking place when a state of war exists. It is also unprecedented for a leader of a country to be received the way we received Sadat during a state of war. I want to express my gratitude to Ambassador Lewis and to Ambassador Eilts who helped make the visit possible.
The Israeli people took President Sadat to heart. They expressed the Israeli people’s longing for peace. President Sadat’s visit to Yad Vashem was a serious moment. Only when he saw those pictures with his own eyes could he understand. He said that this was important for him. In Parliament, he made a speech and he met opposition groups and talked freely with them. He had a very interesting meeting with Mrs. Meir. He met with all the opposition groups for frank discussions and then we had private talks which were also characterized by frankness. We put our cards on the table and did not hide anything. We had some differences of opinion, but in our Sunday night private talk we agreed that our differences of opinion would not preclude negotiations. Negotiations always start from differences.[Page 863]
We made a momentous commitment to one another that there would be no more war and no more bloodshed.4 This was a most serious development. We had had a false alarm just a few weeks before his visit, and we wanted to avoid such dangers. Our Defense Ministers will meet in the next week.
Since President Sadat’s visit, we have been consulting on ways to make peace. We believe it is a propitious moment and we want peace with all of our neighbors. We regret that Jordan and Syria have not joined the negotiations. Lebanon would like to, and we have no problems with Lebanon. All we need is a signature on the basis of the present border between us. I have invited King Hussein and President Assad to talk with me. We want peace with them. I did not mention to President Sadat a separate agreement or a separate peace treaty. I asked him if he could stay to discuss issues in more depth, but he could not. My suggestion to prolong our meetings had nothing to do with trying to convince him to make a separate peace. But peacemaking can start with one peace treaty and then go on to others. We don’t need to sign all of the peace treaties on the same day. We could start with Egypt, although we would prefer to be talking to all of the parties in Geneva. President Sadat understands. We started to talk substance, and I told Sadat that the Sinai Peninsula could not be filled with soldiers. This would increase the danger of war. He said that he understood.
Sadat initially offered a 15 to 20 kilometer demilitarized zone on both sides of the border. But then he said that he understood Israel was a small country, and he would only expect something symbolic on the Israeli side of the line. But the problem was on his side of the line. I explained to him that Katyusha rockets had a range of 21.6 kilometers. The Egyptian army could not be so close to our borders. Sadat then indicated that the Egyptian army would not go beyond the Giddi passes. A week later Foreign Minister Dayan met Sadat’s adviser, Mr. Tuhami. We said that we would accept a demilitarized zone beyond the passes. The Egyptian army could stay where it is. (The Prime Minister brings out a large map of Sinai to indicate the details of his proposal.)5 Mr. Tuhami did not want to discuss the Golan Heights with us. He said that was not now the main problem. Assad does not agree to negotiate. He has taken himself out of the deliberations. Egyptian forces can stay in Sinai up to the passes. Between the passes and the international border there will be a demilitarized zone.
I am prepared to make the following proposals for a peace agreement with Israel. Israel will ultimately withdraw to the international border. The Sinai will go under Egyptian sovereignty. For a transitional [Page 864] period of three to five years, Israeli outposts will remain in a few locations along the line going from Al Arish to Ras Muhammad. The town of Al Arish will be under Egyptian control. This will be for a transitional period. When we used to speak of demilitarization, we hoped that all of Sinai would be demilitarized, but now there are some troops east of the Canal. So for a period of three to five years, Israel wants some outposts on this median line, and wants to keep intelligence collection facilities on two hills, on Jabal Libni, and on one other. This would provide early warning. We also want to keep two airfields, one near Al Arish and one near Elath. We would like to keep these. The second stage of withdrawal would be phased with diplomatic relations. Both withdrawal and diplomatic relations can go in phases. We can begin with consular relations, then go to charge d’affaires, and then when Ambassadors are exchanged, we will withdraw from our last outposts.
We are concerned also with freedom of navigation. We went to war twice over this issue. Elath and Sharm al-Shaikh have been blockaded in the past. When I spoke to Sadat, I told him about our need for free navigation. He said that he was prepared to declare the Tiran Strait an international waterway. This should be included in a peace treaty. That would be a good start. But we have to make sure that it will last, since we are both mortals. We have to think about the future. So we agreed to put in a UN force, an international force, with a provision that it cannot be removed without a unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council. This would let the US cast a veto if necessary. This would avoid the 1967 problem. We would like this arrangement to stay in effect until the year 2000. This would take us beyond one generation. So this agreement could stand for 23 or 24 years, with the exception of the brief transition line that I indicated. We were making a special contribution to the peacemaking effort. Since 1967 all Israeli governments have felt that a strip of land to Sharm al-Shaikh should be under Israeli control. Now we are prepared to give it up.
In the north, we have a problem of the area between Rafah and Al Arish. We are suggesting that Israeli settlements stay even after Egyptian sovereignty has returned. There will be Jews living in Egypt just as there are Arabs living in Israel. We will ask for security to be provided by a UN force. There should also be some small Israeli defense forces at selected points to protect our people. In no way do we think this will infringe on what President Sadat requires. We are offering a great change in our position and there are great risks, but we will take them for peace.
I will now go into our second proposal. The Syrian problem cannot be dealt with now. Egypt does not want us to go into details on the [Page 865] Syrian front now. If Assad later joins, then we can offer a plan. Now I would like to describe our proposals for Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
President: In my opinion, there is nothing in your proposals that Sadat could not accept. It seems very reasonable. Maybe you could expedite the time schedule. Perhaps I don’t understand all of the details yet.
Prime Minister: Thank you. That’s very gratifying to hear. I believe the proposals that I am presenting are fair and offer a real solution, a humane solution. From Israel’s point of view, they will be very risky. But we are prepared to take them in order to solve the human problem of the Palestinian Arabs and to make peace possible. This will also make it possible for Sadat to take credit for his trip. It will offer a solution to the Palestinian Arab issue. The proposal will offer home rule for the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. It has been accepted by the Ministerial Defense Committee but it is still subject to Cabinet approval. I have authority to present it on behalf of the Defense Committee. But the Government has not yet confirmed the proposal. (The Prime Minister then read from the proposal.6 After reading 21 articles, the Prime Minister made comments on them.) When we say that the Administration of the Military Government will be abolished and the Administrative Council will take over, we have to explain the legal problem of who will empower the Administrative Council. We may have to have the Military Governor transfer powers to the Administrative Council, but we did not write this down yet, because it is a legal problem.
Concerning security, we may have to add the idea that Israel will remain responsible for public order as well as security. The Administrative Council will be able to deal with all problems of daily life. Israel has to be able to deal with problems in the event that the PLO tries to take over. Israel must have reserved for itself the right to deal with public order.
We think that this is a fair proposal because it did not decide on sovereignty. This has been left out. We do claim sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. We think this is the right of our people but Sadat says that the Arabs also claim sovereignty. So there are two claims and we will leave the issue open. It cannot be solved for now. If we say that we demand sovereignty over the land, the Arabs will not agree. And we won’t agree if they claim sovereignty. Secretary Vance has said that it is not clear who has sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. This is an important statement. There are different claims. We should leave this issue for now and go on and take steps that will make peace [Page 866] possible. The proposal deals with human beings. There are one million Arabs in the areas under consideration. They have never been able to deal with their own problems. When Jordan was there, sometimes there were more disturbances and even some physical oppression. This was very tragic. In Gaza, Egypt ruled and never gave the residents Egyptian citizenship. The refugees were closed up in slums. Now there are 330 thousand people there. Israel can make a proposal for all million Palestinian Arabs to rule themselves. They can deal with their own problems. We won’t interfere with their daily activities. There will not be Israeli rule in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. There will be local rule with free elections to the Administrative Council. The residents will have free options on citizenship. They can be Israeli or Jordanian citizens. This gives them the freedom of choice. The stateless category in the proposal refers to the Gaza residents. In Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian Arabs are already Jordanian citizens. This will not be changed. In Jerusalem, they can keep their Jordanian citizenship. In Gaza, they are stateless. They lost their British Palestinian citizenship. They have no Egyptian citizenship. They will now all have the right to vote.
The problem of Israeli security is decisive. National security is required to make the lives of our civilians safe. If there are Arab guns on the green line, all of our civilians will be in mortal danger. If there are many guns, as there would be in a Palestinian state, all of our citizens would be in artillery range and all could be killed instantly. There is a smaller problem of security, which we call the Strella problem. The Strella is a hand-held missile which can shoot down any plane. It could be in the hands of any individual. It would cause a horrible national security problem. Israel will have to deal with security. It will therefore have to keep some military camps and some powers over internal security. If Israel did not take these measures, it might solve the Palestinian Arab problem, but it would put its own civilians’ lives in jeopardy. This proposal will give the Palestinian Arabs autonomy and give Israel security. It will make peace possible. It will remove the problems of who has claims to sovereignty. Since it is impossible to see exactly how the proposal will work, we agree to review it after five years. This will allow us to see how reality develops. Mr. President, I am very grateful to have the chance to discuss this with you.
President: I would like to raise some questions. The basis for our agreement and our negotiations with Israel and with the Arab leaders about a peace settlement has been UN Resolution 242. I understand that all Israeli governments have endorsed this. The crux of Resolution 242 and of 338 is that Israel will withdraw from occupied territories in return for secure borders and permanent peace. I realize this language has been interpreted differently by Arabs and Israelis. We have taken the Israeli view that the language does not call for total withdrawal to [Page 867] the 1967 borders. The question has been left open, however, in your presentation. I have three questions: To what degree are you willing to commit Israel to the principle of withdrawal in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria? Is it possible to withdraw except for minor adjustments? Are you talking about some adjustments in order to establish secure borders? Or are you saying that you will not accept an independent Palestinian state, as we agree? Or are you concerned now or in the future with Arab commitments to peace? I hope that Israel will not ignore that the crux of 242 involves withdrawal in exchange for peace. My second question is how immigration of Palestinian Arabs into the territories who now live elsewhere will be handled? My third question has to do with sovereignty. You have left this open. I assume that you are talking of this as an interim arrangement but how would the question of sovereignty be resolved later?
Prime Minister: On Resolution 242, I have showed you a map of the Sinai Peninsula and what I am prepared to do there. No one can say that Israel is unwilling to withdraw. I have committed Israel to withdraw from the Sinai and this poses serious risks. Sadat might one day be out of office. He could be replaced by someone else. We remember what happened in 1967 with the remilitarization of Sinai. Egypt can reach Israel’s southern border very quickly. War broke out quickly in 1967. We will retain some geographic positions for three years. But the Egyptian army will still be in the eastern part of Sinai. They have the second and third army there. But I have committed Israel to the deepest possible withdrawal. This poses risks for the future but I am prepared to do it for peace. This is a principle that is completely accepted by Israel.
On the question of the Palestinians and Judea and Samaria, this raises the question of the green line. Resolution 242 does not oblige Israel to total withdrawal. It simply talks about territories occupied in recent conflicts, not the territories and not all territories. It envisaged the establishment of secure boundaries. Israel would lose all of its security if it withdrew to the earlier border. This is not just a matter of a hostile army being on the West Bank. There were always the problems of incursions. For nineteen years, this went on. The line itself was indefensible. Such a line cannot be defended. Israeli towns such as Jerusalem, Safad, Afula, and so forth are all near the line and we would not be able to stop incursions. We have had a positive experience since Israel has been on the Jordan River. There has only been one incursion in the last two years. For us it is a question of life, our men, our women, and our children. We will leave the question of sovereignty open, undecided. But let us have security. If we withdraw to the 1967 lines, there will be permanent bloodshed. The PLO exists. There is no security in having an arrangement that will ensure permanent bloodshed and will cause [Page 868] Israel mortal danger. We propose a territorial solution for Sinai. But we can’t have one in the East. We’ll deal with Assad later. We will deal fairly with our neighbors. Israel must have security for life. Our proposal is not in contradiction with Resolution 242. The 1967 line did not constitute a secure border.
Dr. Brzezinski: Do I understand you to be saying that your security border could be on the Jordan River, but your territorial sovereign claim would extend only to the 1967 line, with this Administrative Council arrangement ruling over the area where sovereignty is unclear?
Prime Minister: That is right. There will be autonomous rule for the local population.
Dr. Brzezinski: So the sovereignty in that area would be undefined. Israeli sovereignty would only go to the 1967 line.
Prime Minister: Israeli state sovereignty will go to the 1967 line.
Dr. Brzezinski: Who will give the authority to the Administrative Council?
Prime Minister: This is a legal problem.
Dr. Brzezinski: But it is also a political problem.
Prime Minister: It is more of a legal problem.
Dr. Brzezinski: If the authority flows from the Military Governor, this would be different than if the authority were to stem from the UN or from an international agreement.
Prime Minister: I agree and this will have to be decided.
Dr. Brzezinski: Who would be able to expropriate land?
Prime Minister: We don’t want to expropriate land, but if it will happen, this Council would do it, subject to the concept of public order.
President: Who would control immigration?
Prime Minister: This Council. Going back to Resolution 242, there is no contradiction. On immigration, this is a problem that the Administrative Council could deal with, but only reasonable numbers of new immigrants could be accepted. We could only accept new immigrants up to the point where our own security would not be affected.
Secretary Vance: So this would be dealt with by the Administrative Council, subject to Israel’s view on possible security problems. The Council would not have total authority.
Prime Minister Begin: That is right.
Attorney General Barak: There is no department for immigration.
Prime Minister: Maybe this will not be a real problem. Some Palestinian Arabs will prefer to go to Kuwait. If there is such a problem, we will deal with it in a humane way. Families will be able to unite and so forth.[Page 869]
Attorney General Barak: On the question of sovereignty, the legal norm would be for the Military Governor to delegate authority to the Council in order for it to act. If authority came from the Israeli state, this would imply that we had claimed sovereignty there.
Secretary Vance: Does the Military Governor reserve the right to revoke the powers that he has delegated?
Attorney General Barak: In principle, yes.
Dr. Brzezinski: Then there is Israeli sovereignty.
Secretary Vance: At least, de facto.
Attorney General Barak: But the Military Governor is not the sovereign authority.
Secretary Vance: We will have to think about that.
Prime Minister: This is a unique proposal to deal with a unique situation. We are dealing with problems for which there is no precedent. This is sui generis.
President: There is another concern that I have not described. This is how the proposal would be described in public. If it were interpreted as ignoring withdrawal and failing to deal with the Palestinian question in all its aspects, this could be a blow to Sadat and it might even bring him down or lead him to resign. He told the Knesset his position, and he has committed himself to this position with other Arab leaders. I hope you will consider as you approach your meeting with Sadat that any public statement that you make should be in terms that are acceptable to him.
Prime Minister: My intention in bringing this to you, and then taking it to Sadat is that I would like to be able to say to Sadat that you see this as a fair basis for negotiations. This is really a step forward. If he agrees to no Palestinian state, and if the US agrees, and if Great Britain agrees, as Mr. Owen said, this can be the only solution. There is no such thing as a demilitarized state. This proposal can be the basis of good talks with Sadat. We will meet in Ismailia in the open, not in private. I want to help him, but I cannot forego the security of my people for anything. I am sorry there were some leaks about this proposal but that happens anywhere.
Dr. Brzezinski: Never here!
Prime Minister: Thank you for bringing me back to reality?
President: What do you mean by demilitarization?
Prime Minister: There should be no Arab forces.
President: What about Israeli forces?
Prime Minister: Yes, they should be there in closed camps. Otherwise, Israel will be open to attacks.
President: Can they be confined to the Jordan Valley?[Page 870]
Prime Minister: We’ll see. This is a question for military experts, but I think the hills are more important than the river. If the mountains are under the control of the PLO, we must be on the mountains to defend our people. The military can be in a number of camps. They won’t mix with civilians. Otherwise, Israel will be defenseless.
Secretary Vance: How do you see the question of your sovereignty in this area?
Prime Minister: Israel has claims. They are not being put into effect. The other side also has claims. So we will leave this unresolved. We will deal with human beings. We will solve problems. This is not a proposal just for five years, but we will review everything in five years, including perhaps sovereignty, but not necessarily. It could be a shorter or longer period.
Dr. Brzezinski: You seem to be talking about this proposal as part of a process to establish peace. From the Arab point of view, it is more palatable if you talk about it as a process and if you leave it less defined. Otherwise, it may be seen as a modified Basutoland.7 If it is part of a process, even if it is vague in outcome, then they can discuss it.
Prime Minister: I agree.
President: How long will you be here? Can we get together again?
Prime Minister: After Shabat.
President: Can we meet tomorrow at 7 p.m.?
Prime Minister: Yes. Let me give copies of the paper to you and to Secretary Vance.
Dr. Brzezinski: Why do you mention Bethlehem as the seat for the Legislative Council? Why not East Jerusalem?
Prime Minister: It cannot be East Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And it cannot be Nablus either. Bethlehem is the best. There cannot be two capitals in Jerusalem. They should have their own proper capital. Bethlehem is the center of communications. Maybe it could be Ramallah, but we must exclude Nablus.[Page 871]
- Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 66, Peace Negotiations 1977 Volume I [III]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room. Begin arrived in the United States on December 14.↩
- See Documents 52, 53, and 57.↩
- See Document 168.↩
- See Document 152.↩
- The map is not attached and has not been found.↩
- Attached below.↩
- Basutoland was under the control of Cape Colony, which was originally established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. The Cape Colony’s inability to control Basutoland led the British to make it a Crown colony in 1884. The reference in this context is presumably to the difficulties of controlling an area with a large population by a small minority of outsiders.↩
- Top Secret; Sensitive.↩