178. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Begin of Israel

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Samuel Lewis, Ambassador to Israel
  • William Quandt, National Security Council Staff
  • Hamilton Jordan, White House Staff
  • Jody Powell, White House Staff
  • Robert Lipshutz, White House Staff
  • Prime Minister Menahem Begin
  • Ambassador to the United States Simcha Dinitz
  • Attorney General Aharon Barak
  • Haim Landau, Member of Israeli Delegation to the United Nations
  • Shmuel Katz, Advisor to the Prime Minister
  • Yehuda Avner, Advisor to the Prime Minister

President: The public reaction to your visit has been very good. I talked to President Sadat yesterday2 and told him of your constructive actions. There is momentum now for peace, but if it were to falter it could be damaging to Sadat. He looks forward to seeing you next week. He is pleased with your actions for a peaceful settlement. I did not go into specifics with him. Secretary Vance and Dr. Brzezinski have had a chance to talk with you today.3 They have told me of your helpful attitude in the search for peace.

I am concerned that the public discussion of your plans for a settlement of the West Bank issue not be harmful to Sadat. I think the Sinai proposal will be well received.4 There may be a few minor matters of concern still to be solved. I would like to raise some questions tonight [Page 874] to clarify your proposals. Perhaps you would like to expand on some of your ideas first.

Prime Minister: Congratulations to you on the marriage of your nephew. We say Mazel Tov. I appreciate your view on our proposals. I don’t want to try to commit you to them, but we have a mutual interest in peace. We would like you to approve our proposals as a fair basis for negotiations. That would be good for public opinion here, in Israel, and in Egypt. Yesterday Ambassador Dinitz and I met with four Senators, Senator Jackson, Senator Javits, Senator Stone, and Senator Case. Two are Democrats and two are Republicans. They gave me a vow of secrecy. They will keep their word and they have not yet said anything about the content of my proposals. I can tell you, Mr. President, that you will have the support of the Senate for these proposals. They were received very enthusiastically. Senator Jackson used the most positive terms in describing them. I also saw Rabbi Schindler today. He is on the dovish side from our point of view. He was very enthusiastic. He will make a statement. I think the Jewish community in the United States will support my proposals. Senator Jackson is sure that the American people will support these proposals. It is very important that our proposals be termed a fair basis for negotiations.

Now I would like to add some suggestions. I had contact with my Foreign Minister last night and I would like to make two proposals on his behalf. I will give Mr. Dayan credit for these proposals, since we say that he who gives credit brings redemption.

This first proposal has to do with legislation. He suggests formation of a special committee which would have representatives of the Israeli government, the Jordanian government, and the elected Administrative Council. That committee will inspect all of the laws that are now in force and will decide on which laws to keep in effect and which to discard. We think this is a good idea. It would depend on negotiations with Jordan, but we are suggesting that a committee of all three parties review laws and regulations and develop new legislation.

The second suggestion concerns the Arab refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere. We don’t think that those elsewhere, such as in Jordan, will want to come into the West Bank and Gaza, but those in Lebanon might. In reasonable numbers, we would accept. Dayan has suggested that a committee be formed consisting again of the two governments, Israel and Jordan, and the Administrative Council to determine criteria for refugees coming into the area. The Foreign Minister suggests, if it is agreeable, that he will be the Israeli representative on the two committees. On the legislative committee, I would propose to add the Attorney General. This could be a very serious commission and we will be able to rely upon it.

[Page 875]

I have a third suggestion of my own to make. Jerusalem has not been mentioned, but we do not want to overlook the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish interests in the city. My idea, which will require further consideration, is to have international religious councils take care of the holy shrines. The Muslim shrines should have a committee consisting of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Morocco. This committee would take care of Muslim shrines, and they would have full autonomy and could guarantee free access to those shrines. They can also take care of financial problems for the upkeep of the shrines. The Muslim world will be well represented, and even Iran, which is not an Arab country, could be involved. Morocco is now a very friendly country. For the Christian holy shrines, the Vatican, and other religious authorities, including representatives of the Protestants, should be on a committee. Even the Baptists could be included!

President: I am waiting for you to name the Chairman!

Prime Minister: We would let them control the Christian shrines. For the Jews, our own Rabbis, along with sages from the Diaspora, would look after the shrines. This is my idea. If you ask the Secretary of State to find out if this would be acceptable to the Muslim countries, I think it would create good will. Let them take care of the shrines. This is an ecumenical idea.

President: Would this be patterned after the Vatican?

Prime Minister: It is not easy for me to say. If the Christians agree . . . (Prime Minister misunderstands the President’s question.)

President: I am asking whether the holy places would be under independent authority.

Prime Minister: We will have to consider. The holy shrines should have autonomy, but we will have to consider further. I think this is a constructive proposal.

Secretary Vance: Are you talking of three different groups? One group would consist of the Arab confrontation states and three other Muslim countries for the Muslim shrines. A second group would consist of the Vatican and representatives of other Christian denominations for the Christian shrines. And a Jewish group for the Jewish shrines. Would these all be separate?

Prime Minister: Right. They would be separate. Maybe they would have liaison officers to be in touch with one another. Why not?

I have another suggestion. If it is agreed upon by all, I suggest that the Administrative Council appoint two representatives to deal with each of the adjoining governments, Israel and Jordan. We would be ready to invite representatives of the Administrative Council to sessions of our Cabinet to discuss issues of common concern. That way [Page 876] they could hear our reaction. It should be the same on the other side. This would create an atmosphere of cooperation, an exchange of views. We would have free discussions. We will have liaison officers and the Administrative Council will have representatives to the governments to its east and west.

To sum up, I have thought a great deal during the day. There are great risks in what we are promising. We cannot rely completely on the promises that Sadat made concerning no more war. I am not suspicious of him.

In 1973, he did surprise us, but that was a military deception. Now he is talking to us, but he is mortal and we have to think of the future. The Sinai Peninsula will be partly demilitarized, but the second and third Egyptian armies will be on the east side of the Canal. They can move to Ashkelon within hours and there will be no Israeli army there to stop them. This will pose great risks. We don’t know who Sadat’s successor will be. I want to stress that Israel is taking serious risks in the future. We want peace, and we will do all that is humanly possible. There are even greater risks on the West Bank. The West Bank is not a proper term, since it refers to all of the territory between the river and the sea. This used to be called Cisjordan, in contrast to Transjordan. But now this mistake is commonly accepted of using the term “West Bank,” but we prefer to say Judea and Samaria.

If we should withdraw from these areas, the PLO would take over and we would be in mortal danger. We have no doubt about that. Qadhafi has said that a Palestinian state would simply be a stage before reaching the sea. It would also be a danger to Jordan. They have not forgotten Black September.5 There would be a danger to Egypt also. When I told this to President Sadat, he said “Quite right.” It would become a Soviet base. It would be just two hours from Odessa by plane. This would be an intolerable risk. We must obviously have our encampments there. There would be otherwise a perilous danger for Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the whole free world. British Foreign Secretary Owen said that the West Bank would obviously have to be demilitarized, and therefore it could not be a state. It is a contradiction in terms to talk of demilitarization and a state.

President: Would demilitarization, in Mr. Owen’s view, exclude Israeli troops also?

Prime Minister: Yes, but there is a paradox; namely, that only Israel can prevent the remilitarization of the West Bank, so we must uphold law and order there. This is the uniqueness of our proposal. It is im[Page 877]bued with good will. We are offering these people a historic change, and Sadat can take credit for this. The Palestinian Arabs for centuries have been under the Turks, then under the British, then under the Jordanians, who were very oppressive, and now for eleven years they have been under the military government of Israel. The latest rule has been the most benevolent, but it is still military government. Now that part of the great Arab people, the Palestinian Arabs, will rule themselves. Autonomy means self-rule. They will have that in all spheres. Only security will be left to us. There will be autonomy and self-rule for the Palestinian Arabs, and the Palestinian Jews will have security. I think it is fair.

President: Let me respond. I would like to clarify some points. We will continue our role as a mediator. We will respond to any requests from you and President Sadat to be helpful in the search for peace. We will also keep our own communications open with those who are not represented in Cairo.

Concerning your proposals for the area west of the Jordan, I am concerned that if they are interpreted negatively, that could have a devastating effect on Sadat and on world opinion. If they gain a positive interpretation, that could have a positive effect. There are some codewords that cause me concern. For example, I understood yesterday and tonight that there would be withdrawal of Israeli forces to outposts and encampments to maintain security. For the Arabs, including Sadat, the word “withdrawal” is very important. If you speak of withdrawal, after your negotiations with Jordan, with Egypt, and with the Palestinian Arabs, if you say you will withdraw to those outposts which are necessary for Israeli security, that would be a very positive way to express your proposal. It could be very helpful.

Concerning your proposal on self-rule, on autonomy for the region, it also could be seen as very positive. The determination of whether this appears as an empty proposal, or one full of meaning will depend on how much autonomy and self-rule is being offered. This needs to be defined. If you have a military governor, and if the population is allowed self-rule just as long as it behaves, but the military governor can restore Israeli control whenever he wants, then this has no meaning. We believe that how these proposals are cast, and how your well-constructed ideas are interpreted, will be crucial.

You said something very significant to Dr. Brzezinski yesterday. You said that Israeli sovereignty would be limited by the 1967 borders. That could be a very constructive statement. It could bring you approbation and could help create a proper attitude. If that were not your position, it could raise grave questions. You have said that sovereignty in the other areas is not yet fully defined, and that in your talks with Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Arabs, you would have to work out [Page 878] a definition of that sovereignty. This would be done on a time scale commensurate with your development of a sense of security and trust in the Arabs. But if it takes too long, there could be a negative reaction. If you are dedicated to move forward quickly, that would be very good.

Dr. Brzezinski has suggested the idea of UN forces in the area west of the Jordan and he has told me of your negative reply. I hope that the question would be kept open. I understand why you are negative, but I hope you will not reject the idea completely. There might just be token forces, but it could be crucial when you talk to Sadat. It might make the difference between an agreement with Sadat, and I hope you will keep an open mind until you see him and get his reaction.

It is clear that military questions can be resolved more easily than political ones. It will be difficult for Sadat to withstand criticisms. He has said that he will be speaking for all of the Arabs. If there is a narrow or distorted definition of your proposals for Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai and home rule for the West Bank, this could be an embarrassment for Sadat. Self-rule could perhaps be seen as equivalent to the offer of sovereignty in Sinai, but there should be no sharp difference between the two. That would be hard for Sadat to accept.

I have been gratified by your flexibility. Before your arrival I was somewhat concerned, but yesterday you said that you are suggesting steps toward a final resolution of the questions and that sovereignty would be decided after negotiations had concluded.

I would like to ask some other questions. How would power devolve to the Administrative Council? This will have momentous importance in the acceptance or rejection of the proposal. If it comes from you and Jordan together, that would give the impression that it could not easily be revoked, that it could not easily be withdrawn. It would be more significant than if power came simply from the Israeli military governor who could take it back when he sees it is justified, even if others did not feel it was justified. Whether the devolution of power were complete or only partial would also be an important question. If you reserve the right of Israel to provide security, but if the Administrative Council has all other powers, that could be quite substantial. They could have the power to expropriate land and to determine any restrictions on guidelines for immigration. That would give them quite substantial authority and would give substance to your proposals. The Arab role in Jerusalem is also important, especially to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, and to Syria. Maybe it is a bit less important to Egypt. That is my impression. But it is important how this is handled. The Arabs do not want Israeli government approval for them to be able to go to their holy places. They do not want to consider their holy places in Israeli territory. They want to be able to go to them as a matter of their right. This is why I raised the question of whether you have in mind a parallel [Page 879] to the Vatican, which would offer some autonomy to the territories that would be defined as holy places.

My other question has to do with the role of Jordan. We will use all of our influence to get Jordan involved in the questions concerning the Administrative Council. Am I right that the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza will be able to seek office in the Knesset?

Prime Minister: If they opt for Israeli citizenship.

President: Would there be any special status for Israeli settlements? If Israelis can go into the territories without restraint, can citizens of Jordan and other Arab countries go into the area and live without constraint also?

President Sadat is in a very vulnerable position and much will depend on how he can point to these proposals. It is important to place the emphasis on the positive aspects. If the interpretation becomes negative, this could be a fatal disappointment for Sadat. I appreciated your comment that you would wait to talk to Sadat before going public with your plan. It is important to get his positive, and possibly negative, reactions. We don’t want to see him put on the defensive. I am not trying to be a spokesman for him. I’ll do all that I possibly can to encourage acceptance by Sadat, but he is looking to us for help not to embarrass him. You have done an excellent job of providing proposals to help him, but negative interpretation of the details could hurt.

The proposals are a serious and good step forward. I agree with your appreciation of Sadat as a sincere man who wants peace. If you and Sadat can get agreement, Hussein will want to join the discussions, but Assad will only join much later. The PLO has been absolutely negative, and I see no role for them to play in the present peace negotiations.

Secretary Vance: Another element that will be important to Sadat is contained in your Article 21,6 the principle of review after five years. This will be important to him and his considerations. The principle now says that the situation “may be” reviewed. Would it be possible for you to say “will be” reviewed?

Prime Minister: OK. We can say “should be,” “will be,” whatever. I appreciate your remarks. After my reply, I’ll ask the Attorney General to state his views on legal issues. The Attorney General was right and was sincere when he talked about the devolution of authority and the possibility of revoking that authority. Yes, the Military Governor can give the authority and can theoretically take it away. We looked at the source of authority and saw no alternative to the Military Governor. If he does not give the authority, there would be a legal vacuum. When [Page 880] you asked about revoking authority, he gave the proper legal reply that the authority could be revoked, but it has never occurred to us to revoke authority once it is given. This is a sincere proposal, one with many risks. We only want to be able to furnish security to our people. We will not interfere with their lives. We don’t intend to give authority and then to revoke it. If there are some disturbances, this will not be a reason to revoke authority. Mr. President, I can say that we speak candidly. I will tell you that we do not intend to revoke those powers once they are given to the Administrative Council. The first step is for the Military Governor to give power, and then the people will rule themselves in complete autonomy. But legally, the source of authority also is the source for revoking that authority, but we do not intend to revoke it. If we can find another way, we will keep on thinking. Perhaps there is another way. We will consider the idea of a common devolution of authority, but I must consult with my Cabinet. We will consider all possibilities.

Concerning the UN force, Dr. Brzezinski did raise this question. We cannot accept this. Dr. Brzezinski asked about the agreement on Sinai and why the same could not be done for the West Bank. There is a decisive difference. We do not want the UN to defend Israel. At Sharm al-Shaikh, we have given up the old decision of all previous cabinets that we would need to keep a strip of land for Sharm al-Shaikh. We intended to keep sovereignty there. It would have been legal and legitimate. It would not have been wrong. Territorial changes can take place after wars. This happened in World War I, World War II, and the Far East and elsewhere. I have told the Rumanians about this and they can understand it. This is legitimate and we could have claimed territory, but we gave it up. We, a so-called hard-line government, gave it up. You can ask my wife, I am not a hard-liner, I am soft! But this government gave up the position held by three previous governments. Why? It is a propitious moment for peace and President Sadat told me that he cannot transfer sovereignty to Israel over any part of the Sinai. I believe him. I did it for the sake of peace. But we did need protection for freedom of navigation. So we developed a proposal for a Security Council decision, which would allow U.S. veto before removing any forces. We can achieve freedom of navigation by our compromise on a UN force. But in Judea and Samaria, that is a different story. This would mean that we are a protected state by foreign forces. We don’t need them and we don’t want them. There is a famous story from the Middle Ages about protected Jews. In German they are called Schutzjuden. They paid money to be protected. In the 1930s, I saw a street in Bratslava where the Jews lived right next to the King’s palace so that they could get protection from him.

[Page 881]

We do not want to be protected Jews. We are disciples of Jabotinsky.7 We don’t want to be a Schutzjuden-Staat. We want to sustain our independence and to end the persecution of Jews. People used to pity Jews. We want to live as a normal nation, and we will live in danger, like all countries, but we will not place ourselves in mortal danger. If UN forces come to Bethlehem, Jerusalem is then being protected by UN forces. A Jewish state should be an independent state. No one else should protect us. We now have Polish troops in Sinai, and we do not even have diplomatic relations with Poland. We cannot have the UN on the threshold of our homes. In the desert, it is OK, but not in Judea or Samaria.

I’ll consider using the phrase “a withdrawal of Israeli forces to cantonments,” but I will need to consult. We can talk of withdrawal into encampments. We want to make Sadat’s life easy if possible. We owe him a debt, but not too much. I want to address his Parliament, but if he denies me this right, I’ll say that there was no mutual gesture. He should give me hospitality, as I gave him. I cannot wound our people in order to help Sadat. I’ll consider our proposals to make our ideas acceptable to him and the Arabs. The idea of self-rule came from his visit. He can take credit for this. For the first time in history, the Palestinian Arabs will have self-rule.

President: There are questions of semantics. Would it be accurate to say that the Military Government will be ended in the West Bank?

Prime Minister: It will be abolished. That is a good way to say it.

Secretary Vance: I have thought about the devolution of authority. I would suggest another way. You would not have to give up anything, but if you could do this by agreement between Israel and Jordan, if you could both agree on arrangements for self-rule, and then set up the Administrative Council, each reserving to itself all claims of sovereignty. This might be better. Each of you would reserve your legal rights.

Prime Minister: This is a good suggestion. I will consider it.

Attorney General Barak: The model that I have tried to explain had authority devolving from a Military Governor. We did this to try to find a way to avoid the question of sovereignty. If it can be done in other ways, we will pursue them. I thought of a possibility of a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, with the delegation of authority coming from the peace treaty. Nothing would prejudice the question of sovereignty.

Secretary Vance: Exactly.

[Page 882]

Attorney General Barak: Israel will say that Israel gave authority to the agreement and Jordan will say that it also did. This would be another way. This would require agreement with Jordan.

Dr. Brzezinski: Short of full peace treaties, which might take a long time to negotiate, you could abolish the military government and then have a declaration by Israel and Jordan establishing a new authority over areas of uncertain sovereignty.

Prime Minister: We could have a declaration of peace before a peace treaty was signed. We will consider this. It is a profound legal problem.

President: We always go backward when lawyers get started! We have a few fine exceptions here!

I would like to talk about the issue of immigration. You haven’t said if Jews would have the right to move into the area. I know the Arabs are eager to have the right to let Arab refugees or Palestinian Arabs move in. I can see that there would be some limit on numbers, the area can only support so many, and perhaps the level could be negotiated.

Prime Minister: I think that is right.

Attorney General Barak: From the legal point of view, there is a difference between Israelis going into the territories, and Arabs coming from Jordan into the territories. These are two different matters. From our sovereignty point of view, Israelis have the right to go to the territories. It is inconceivable that we can give the same right to the others.

Secretary Vance: I can see it would be a big problem if you were talking about others than Jordan.

Prime Minister: In practice, Jordan tends to resettle refugees in the East Bank.

President: What are the problems of Jordanians moving into the territories?

Prime Minister: We have open bridges now.8 We will continue to allow people in through open bridges. There are now many visits. Israel takes some risks, but it is working well. In a settlement, a reasonable number can be accepted. But we cannot have a situation of an Arab majority. The refugees should be resettled, and we will help those under our jurisdiction, including those in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. We will solve this problem. If there is an Administrative Council, we will help them through the Department of Refugees. In the Arab countries, the refugees should be resettled. There is no other way. That’s how it is done everywhere else in the world.

[Page 883]

President: What about Palestinian Arabs in Egypt who might want to move into the Gaza area? I hope you can keep an open mind on this. There should be no prohibition. This should not be under your complete control.

Secretary Vance: It will be easier to solve this if there is a broader discussion of the refugee problem, including the international community. You could limit numbers on those who would want to go back. The Prime Minister suggested establishing a joint committee to deal with this.

Dr. Brzezinski: Another way would be to have a plan based on the absorptive capacity of the West Bank for a five-year period, and then it could be reviewed. You would not have to deal with the broader issue and could base the number on the absorptive capacity during the five-year period. This would avoid the moral and political issues.

Prime Minister: The British used the word “absorptive capacity” to keep Jews out of Palestine.

Dr. Brzezinski: That shows the importance of words.

President: When I saw Foreign Minister Dayan in New York, he suggested a multi-national group to deal with refugees.9

Prime Minister: Arab and Jewish refugees.

President: There would be other nations involved.

Prime Minister: We want to solve this problem, and with good will this can be solved in a few years.

Secretary Vance: If it is not solved, it will remain a festering problem, and will provide a breeding place for the PLO.

President: Other than security, are there any other powers that will be withheld?

Attorney General Barak: I explained the concept of public order. It is a broader concept than security. There may be things in the public order idea that go beyond security. If the Administrative Council decides to impose a customs tax between Israel and the territories . . .

President: Couldn’t that be resolved in the peace treaty with Jordan?

Attorney General Barak: It could be covered elsewhere, and you would not need then the concept of public order, but we should retain authority for the questions that are not specifically worked out in case . . .

Prime Minister: In case of emergencies.

President: Couldn’t you just prohibit customs?

[Page 884]

Attorney General Barak: We need a general concept to cover issues that we might not think about in the agreement.

Secretary Vance: We have potential problems, because the public order concept can cut across the security concept. If the police cannot handle the problem, then the security forces might move in.

Prime Minister: As I said to Dr. Brzezinski, we should give it a chance. If there is good will and cooperation, it will create favorable conditions. This is a practical proposal.

President: Do you see any special status of the Israeli settlements?

Prime Minister: No special status. We stand by our right. I have told you about Shiloh and Bethel. There are Arabs in Israel, and there are Jews in the territories. There is no problem. Of course, there are settlements, but we have a principle of symmetric justice. The residents of Israel can buy land in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and Arabs can get land in Israel. There will be reciprocity. They can come to Tel Aviv and buy land and build homes.

President: How long are you here in the United States?

Prime Minister: Until Monday night.10 I will be in Washington tomorrow, then I go to New York. On Tuesday I will see Callaghan. I will give him full information. I have been invited by Giscard to go to Paris. He asked me to come on Wednesday. But I want to see my Cabinet and get approval from them on Wednesday and then I want to go on Thursday to see Sadat, or maybe later, the next Sunday. Perhaps Giscard can send an emissary to London, but I would consider a stop in Paris. If I get approval by the Cabinet, then I will go to see Sadat.

President: I am concerned about your health.

Prime Minister: I have a doctor with me. He asks me every day how I feel, and I tell him that I feel well.

President: Do you do what your doctor tells you?

Prime Minister: Yes, but my wife is the real doctor. I have a feeling of mission. I will be all right. I suggest that if we make an agreement with Sadat, you might invite us both to the White House and we will sign our peace treaty here. We want a comprehensive agreement. It will be quite an event. A Christian President, a Jewish Prime Minister, and a Muslim leader, all working together for peace.

President: You can depend on it.

Vice President: I have one point. It is very important that the American people see the United States and Israel in harmony in this effort. Neither you nor the President can talk of the plan in detail. I am anxious that how we respond will not be seen as cool. It will be helpful [Page 885] if you could say in public that the purpose of your visit was not to negotiate or reach agreement on your plan. The point was to have a discussion of the plan between friends. The American people and the world should not think that the object was to reach agreement on the plan. Otherwise, some reporters will say that we were cool to it.

Prime Minister: I agree. The Secretary of State advised me on this. I have not talked about a plan. I have said that I have brought proposals about the peacemaking effort. I will have the opportunity to say this tomorrow on “Face The Nation.”

Dr. Brzezinski: You will see Sadat soon and it might be better not to confront him with a blueprint. It might be better to discuss your ideas as general principles, and then out of this you might develop a joint document. If you give him your document . . .

Prime Minister: You suggest that I not give him the proposals? But some of the ideas about the age of voting are very good, and it shows how serious we are. I will explain my ideas, of course . . .

Dr. Brzezinski: You might mention them orally, and then later come up with a joint declaration.

President: We found that when we met with Foreign Minister Dayan we reconfirmed our commitments and we worked out some ideas. These were then viewed as a US-Israeli plan, and the fact that it was publicly identified as such made the Arabs feel reluctant to accept it even when they agreed with most of it. If you and Sadat could take your proposals, but let them come out as a joint statement, it might produce a better effect. If the public feels that this is your proposal, and if Sadat cannot accept part of it, he might be discouraged.

Prime Minister: We can negotiate these issues. It is normal that we would bring proposals for negotiation. These are questions that interest him. I can withhold the paper, but I think it would be better to leave it with him. I will be speaking alone with him.

Dr. Brzezinski: You might begin with the general principles that are attractive to him, such as no Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 lines, the devolution of authority, etc., and then draw him out.

Prime Minister: Dr. Brzezinski, leave this to me. He may ask for the paper. I may give it. Or I might do it your way.

President: Sadat has expressed to us, perhaps in exaggerated terms, his concern that you may present him something that he might have to reject. If you do meet, and if you issue a joint statement, the whole reaction will be one of hope, but if Israel gives him a proposal, and if he has to reject part of it, he is worried about the results. He can speak for himself. He feels that he has eliminated the need for preliminary step-by-step negotiations, and has come right to the heart of the matter by accepting Israel as an entity in the Middle East. He has gone about as [Page 886] far as he can go. He has put all of his cards on the table face up. He is afraid that Israel now wants to negotiate step-by-step. Your proposals are very constructive and could provide a fair basis for negotiations. But Sadat fears that what you will bring will only be a basis for negotiations. He thinks that he has given you everything. He hopes that he will not be in a position of having to reject what you propose.

Prime Minister: I want to share some impressions with you. I spoke of your concern for Sadat’s downfall or his resignation to Foreign Minister Dayan, who knows the Arabs very well. He says that you have no basis for fearing that. Sadat has his army with him completely and that is the basis of his power. There is no reason to be concerned. He will be called names by the Syrians and the PLO and by Qadhafi, but he has complete support in the army and is popular with his people. They want peace. He has no reason to reject my ideas. He may make amendments, and may make counterproposals. In two or three months, we want to sign peace treaties. You should not exclude the possibility the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty will come first. As Ambassador Herzog said yesterday, that was what happened in 1949. Six or seven months after Egypt, Syria then signed.11 I will always say that this is just a first step toward a comprehensive settlement. We have even seen some good signs from Syria. They will not burn their bridges.

President: My statement on Sadat’s position came directly from Sadat himself. I am not predicting what will happen. I am just relaying the message.

Secretary Vance: Sadat has said that there is no question that he has the support of his people and the army now, but Sadat said that unless the momentum is maintained, and unless Israel makes a response, then all of this could change. The support could fade and he would be in drastic trouble. I agree with what Foreign Minister Dayan says, but it is a delicate situation.

Prime Minister: I understand and we will act appropriately.

Ambassador Dinitz: It is important that you not be seen as giving a cool reception to the Prime Minister’s ideas. There is one way to insure this. The Prime Minister said that it would help if you could say these ideas are a fair basis for negotiations, and that would remove any danger of the interpretation of the cool reception.

Vice President: It is important to make clear to the press that the purpose of these talks is for two friendly countries to compare their ideas and to have discussions that will help promote peace. It is not the purpose of the talks to agree to a plan or to negotiate. If that becomes [Page 887] the measure of success, it would be bad. The world should see that we are together.

Secretary Vance: You have seen the statement that we are prepared to issue. Do you have any suggestions? You have suggested that we say the President approved the proposals rather than the action.

Prime Minister: It is an excellent communique.12

Dr. Brzezinski: We could use the world “approach” rather than action.

Secretary Vance: We want to broaden the idea beyond just proposals.

Prime Minister: “Approach” is a good word. Very good.

President: I know the value of the words “Judea and Samaria,” but these are difficult for the Arabs to accept. Maybe it would be best if each party could use his own words in his own language. You could say Judea and Samaria. The Arabs could say whatever they want, and we will say “West Bank” in English.

Secretary Vance: I did this once in negotiating with the Turks.

Dr. Brzezinski: Each side would use its own words.

Prime Minister Begin: Could I have fifteen minutes alone with you now?13

President: My time is yours until tomorrow. These have been very constructive talks and I am very proud of our friendship.

  1. 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.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter spoke with Sadat from 10:49 to 10:53 a.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation has been found.
  3. No memoranda of conversation of meetings between Begin and Vance or Begin and Brzezinski have been found. Brzezinski described his meeting with Begin on the afternoon of December 17 at Blair House in Power and Principle, pp. 118–119.
  4. A reference to the Israeli proposals explained in Document 177.
  5. A reference to the Jordanian Crisis that began in September 1970. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970.
  6. See the Attachment to Document 177.
  7. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a founder and leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement, which emphasized Jewish nationalism in Palestine. He also was a founder and leader of the Irgun, an underground Jewish military organization in Palestine.
  8. See footnote 8, Document 7.
  9. See Document 124.
  10. December 19.
  11. The Egyptians signed an armistice agreement with Israel on February 24, 1949. The Syrians signed an armistice agreement with Israel on July 20, 1949.
  12. For the White House statement issued after this meeting, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 2152–2153.
  13. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter and Begin met privately in the Oval Office from 8:37 to 8:58 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation of this private discussion has been found.