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18. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Rabin

PARTICIPATION

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser
  • Mr. Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Dr. William Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Prime Minister Rabin
  • Ambassador Simcha Dinitz
  • Mr. Amos Eiran, Director General, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Mr. Chanan Bar-On, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • Mr. Eliahu Mizrachi, Personal Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Gen. Ephraim Poran, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister

President: I want to welcome you, Mr. Prime Minister. It is an honor to have a visit from an old friend. I am pleased also to see Ambassador Dinitz. We will have time today and tonight, as well as tomorrow, to talk about substantive matters. Secretary Vance has briefed me carefully on his trip, on the conversation that he had with you, and on his talks with your neighbors. We want to start to move toward specifics, in full partnership with you, in the search for progress for peace. I want to reemphasize that we see our relationship with you as a partnership, as a firm and stable friendship, and I am deeply committed to that relationship. This is a commitment of the Executive branch, the Legislative branch, and of the American people, based on long-standing policy.

As you know, I have also invited the Arab leaders to visit Washington, and I will see President Asad in Europe in May. I realize that no outside imposition of a settlement is advisable or feasible, but the United States does offer its good services to you for the purpose of trying to reach mutual understanding with your neighbors.

We want to understand your views, and then to explore with Arab leaders the prospects for a peace agreement. I hope that 1977 will be a year of re-dedication to a Middle East settlement, beginning with a delimitation of ultimate objectives and some first steps in that direction. It is important for the United States to reassert our commitment to Israel’s existence and security as a preeminent matter. There may be times when we will see good intentions on the Arab side when you do not, and I will be guided to a major extent by your views. I hope that we can help to assuage some fears, and to help toward a solution.

My first concern is whether this is a good year for a major effort, and if so, is Geneva the best forum. Also I would like your views on what dates we might aim for, and how we might resolve the question of participation at the conference, especially Palestinian representation. After this, we might move to other matters that will be dealt with in the negotiations. We will have plenty of time to talk about bilateral matters. I know, Mr. Prime Minister, that you do not want to spend time in small talk, and that we will have a candid exchange of views. Could you cover those items that I mentioned? Then we can also talk at dinner, and we will meet tomorrow to clarify some points that are not resolved here. We will have enough time to cover all issues. And Secretary Vance can give you his impressions from his talks with Arab leaders.

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Prime Minister Rabin: Thank you, Mr. President, for inviting me to the United States. This is a chance for me to discuss the problems that we face in the area. I am glad that now, unlike the visits of most Israeli Prime Ministers, we are not under the pressure of events for immediate decisions. At present, policies that have been carried out in coordination between the United States and Israel have produced a situation which allows us time to analyze options. We do not need to decide under the pressure of events.

This is also the first visit of an Israeli Prime Minister without a shopping list. I am glad that this is the case. You are a big country, and we are a small one; but, once we begin an undertaking on basic issues, we know there will be areas where we agree and where we disagree, and we will work closely to overcome our differences. I know that we will work closely together to overcome any differences, and to strengthen areas of common agreement. This has been the procedure that has brought the best results in the past.

Now I’ll talk about Israel’s position, our view, and what we hope to achieve. I don’t pretend to be objective. I am an Israeli, and I have an Israeli point of view. But to be frank, all countries’ positions are based on interests, and there is no possibility of complete objectivity. We must start with interests, and then look for areas of compromise.

We in Israel carry a history of trauma with us. We have a long memory. Every Prime Minister has to remember that a mistake in the area of security could end the existence of the state. After 2,000 years of exile, the Israeli people cannot imagine this happening. I am not a poet, but I can say that all Israeli leaders have to think of the margin of safety in everything that they do. We are dealing with a unique phenomena. A people that had been exiled, kept its faith, its traditions, its heritage, and believed and achieved their dream after the worst persecution in history. This is more than reality. We may argue on numbers of planes or about boundaries, but we are not narrow minded. We do, however, have an historic responsibility bestowed on us by the fate of our people.

The 29th Anniversary of Israel is approaching, and it will soon be the tenth anniversary of the Six-Day War. But I don’t want to look to the past. The realities of the present are that we must try to advance the cause of peace, to prevent war, and to maintain tranquility. What we have done since the last war, in cooperation with the United States, has created new hopes, a better atmosphere to start meaningful negotiations between the parties. President Johnson said it well on June 19th, 1967, when he stated that the parties to the conflict must be the parties to the peace.2 This is the basic principle for whatever must be done in [Page 135]the area. The United States can play a major role in creating an understanding of this point.

After the October War, we had to decide which course of action to take in the diplomatic arena. There were two choices: one, a sharp transition from war to peace, in which we would try to solve all problems, ending the state of war and establishing peace; second, to advance by steps—the famous theory of step-by-step diplomacy—to reach limited agreements. This would not solve the conflict as a whole, but it would end the fighting and encourage the movement in the right direction.

In fact, in the last 29 years, we have had only interim agreements, or rather interim situations. We have reached only two agreements with our Arab neighbors: one in 1949, when we negotiated and signed armistice agreements; and then nothing again until 1974 and 1975, with the disengagement agreements. Then it was decided, with the United States helping, that Egypt and Israel would take a step toward disengagement because we needed a period of tranquility. But it was not believed that a sharp transition to peace was possible, not because we did not want it, but because it was not attainable.

As a result of what has happened, we have to try now to negotiate an overall settlement. We have to try first to see to what extent it is possible to start meaningful negotiations on an overall settlement. If one talks of an overall settlement, one must speak of peace. There are three fundamental issues which must be resolved if there is to be peace: One is the nature of peace. What kind of relationship will we have with our neighbors? What does peace mean? Unless we define that goal, we cannot go forward with details of an agreement. The second issue is the boundaries of peace. And the third issue is the solution of the Palestinian issue. There can be no overall settlement without solving all three issues, in this same order of importance.

When I was Ambassador in Washington,3 it was a time of great upheaval in the United States. During that time I learned how vague the word peace could be. Now I always ask people to be specific when they talk about peace. It must be related to problems under consideration. The word itself can be misused. When we speak of peace, it means two things: One is the end to the state of war, with all its practical and legal consequences. But that is not peace in and of itself. Peace must be built on positive elements as well. Second is what I call the structure of peace, the nature of the relationship in peace with our neighbors. The essence is open borders, the flow of information, of people, of goods. Especially in this complex conflict, where so many emotional and reli[Page 136]gious factors are involved, we must be very specific about the meaning of peace. Arab societies are in convulsion. The Arabs were oppressed for many years by colonialism. And now they are beginning to discover their wealth, they are confronting the modern world, and this process is taking place not only in the Middle East but also in areas such as Africa. One of the remarkable features of societies in this phase is their instability. A piece of paper does not count for anything. We must insist on a change of realities, a change of attitudes on the part of the man in the street. If peace is not translated into such individual realities, it is not peace. Peace must include both elements, then, an end to the state of war, and building a positive concept of peace at the same time.

President: If I ask President Sadat, and he says that he will agree to open borders—tourism, visitors, trade—would you agree to let Arabs in without any constraints, on a reciprocal basis?

Prime Minister Rabin: That would be the happiest day of my life.

President: That answers it. Thank you.

Prime Minister Rabin: Jordan has just allowed a group of Israeli Arabs to go to Jordan. This is the first time in 29 years that this has occurred. We have no problem with open borders. We have an open bridges policy now, and since 1967 four million Arabs have crossed into Israel, one million in the last year and a half alone. They come from all Arab countries. Thus, when we talk of an overall settlement, this for us is the essence of what peace must include.

President: I understand.

Prime Minister Rabin: But no Arab leader seems to agree with this definition. That could change; it would be a hopeful sign if it did. The second issue is the boundaries of peace.

President: Secretary Vance might like to comment on this.

Secretary Vance: The Arabs see this as a question affecting sovereignty. They see diplomatic recognition, trade, and so forth as coming at a later stage. First, there must be an end to the state of war, then the rest could occur in time after the state of war ends. Do you believe that it is possible to get peace in stages, by steps?

Prime Minister Rabin: We agreed over one year ago, in February 1976, that we were ready to negotiate an end to the state of war.4

President: Do you have any preference as to which elements must come first, as to whether Egypt might begin to do some things first?

Prime Minister Rabin: No. It is most important to define the political goal at the outset. If we are talking of an overall settlement, then there are two elements.

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President: Must they be done simultaneously?

Secretary Vance: If there were agreement in principle that both elements of peace must be carried out eventually, could agreement be reached upon implementing these principles in stages?

Prime Minister Rabin: Is there to be agreement reached in steps, or are you speaking of the execution of an agreement?

Secretary Vance: The execution.

Prime Minister Rabin: We can have a schedule for the execution of an agreement, but only once we agree on the overall aim. If we have a basic agreement, then we can divide it into phases of execution. But the Arab countries seem to say that we should agree to end the state of war, but that the building of positive relations would only come later, with no commitments made in the agreement.

Secretary Vance: They define it that way, but there is some flexibility. And there are some differences among the different Arab countries.

Prime Minister Rabin: That’s my view also. I gave you my definition of peace. If you ask whether, once the agreement is reached, we can carry it out in phases, we are ready to do so. But we must define what we agree on first.

The second basic issue is the boundaries of peace. We have fought four major wars, and there has been no peace in between. Israel must base its policy, realistically and morally, on being able to defend itself. We have no formal alliances, no one is committed to come fight for us. We are proud of this. The Israeli people can defend themselves if given the means to do so. We have never asked for a US commitment to come to our defense. This puts the responsibility on the Israeli government to weigh very carefully the lines, even in the context of peace, to which we would withdraw. The area is very volatile. Most wars in history have begun between countries at peace with one another. The problem is that we want “defensible boundaries,” based on geographical lines that we consider to be defensible. Legally, we base our demand on the fact that our neighbors have never recognized any boundaries for Israel.

Let me review this history of the post-1948 lines. The United Nations passed a resolution on partition in 1947, and Israel accepted. The Arabs rejected the resolution. They went to war, but they did not win. After a year of fighting, negotiations began and an armistice agreement was reached. Lines were agreed upon. I was a member of the Israeli delegation at Rhodes.5 We asked there for recognition of final bound[Page 138]aries. We would have been satisfied and we were ready to sign an agreement. Egypt and then the other Arabs insisted on Article 5 of the armistice agreements, stating that the lines were only to be demarcation lines for military purposes, and that they were not to be seen as prejudicing a final peace agreement in Palestine. Legally, there have been no borders, only cease fire lines. Now other lines exist under the recent agreements.6

We are ready however, for territorial compromise, but we do not accept the principle of total withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. The location of the lines can be negotiated. The bulk of Sinai can be given back. As for Golan, even in a peace agreement, we do not want to come down from the Golan Heights. The West Bank is the most delicate issue. We just had a Labor Party convention in which there was a long argument over this issue. We concluded that for peace, we would make territorial compromises on all fronts. But it is not so easy. General Dayan put forward a reservation concerning the West Bank and a close vote was held. Out of 1,200 participants, a majority of only 51 came out for our position on territorial compromise. So it is not an easy problem. Our policy is that we will not draw lines. Once this is done, it becomes the basis for later bargaining. There have been no Cabinet decisions on final borders. But this will be an issue in the campaign. The tendency in Israeli public opinion is not to give too much, to put it mildly. But if the public could see a concrete offer, if negotiations were underway, and if we were on the verge of peace, then we would have some room for maneuver. But not for total withdrawal. Ninety percent of the Israeli public would reject that, and we are a democracy.

In Sinai, Sharm al-Shaikh is one point. We do not require sovereignty, but we require a presence and control. Two wars began over navigation there, 1956 and 1967. Our people would ask, if we returned Sharm al-Shaikh, whether there would be more wars there. So we need control, not sovereignty, and a land connection, as well as some changes in the old international boundary between Egypt and the Palestine Mandate. Those lines, after all, were changed in 1906. The British pushed the Ottoman Empire to give up part of Sinai to Egypt. Before 1906, the international boundary between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt was different.

President: You make a distinction between control and sovereignty. Could this be applied elsewhere? I’m not trying to pin you down, but it could be a crucial point.

Prime Minister Rabin: In 1973, Secretary Kissinger asked Prime Minister Meir to look at the issue in terms of security versus sover[Page 139]eignty. We said then, go ahead and explore this with the Egyptians. But we will reserve the last word until after we have heard Egypt’s response. Egypt’s response, I believe on May 25th, 1973, was that the United States was offering us sovereignty in the skies, but not on earth. We do not exclude, however, the possibility of exploring it. But I cannot commit myself.

I cannot say anything about the West Bank, but for peace, we would be prepared for a territorial compromise. But not for full withdrawal. There are sharp differences within Israel. The Labor Party platform will be a major issue in the election, and Likud will oppose the platform. It is a very sensitive issue, even inside the Labor Party. I fought for the principle of territorial compromise, and I believe in it.

President: How will Yadin address the issue?

Prime Minister Rabin: He takes the same position, but I’m not sure what his party’s position will be. He won’t get pinned down. I haven’t followed the debate in his party.

Mr. Eiran: There are hawks and doves in his party. He has to be very careful.

Prime Minister Rabin: It’s hard for him to satisfy his supporters, especially if he attacks our position.

Secretary Vance: Do you require sovereignty in the Golan Heights?

Prime Minister Rabin: We haven’t discussed this.

Secretary Vance: But you won’t come down. Do you need sovereignty, or control and security?

Prime Minister Rabin: I don’t want to commit myself. We have settlements there. We have not annexed these territories. They are still under Syrian sovereignty. We control them as administered territories, but the laws in effect are Syrian on the Golan Heights and Jordanian in the West Bank, except for Jerusalem. Their legal status has not changed. We have just added some regulations. In the West Bank, the Arabs can use Jordanian currency, and they are Jordanian citizens. Under international law, these are administered territories under Israeli control, but they are not part of our sovereign territory. We believe that their future is still to be decided in negotiations.

President: I understand your position on a reunified Jerusalem. But are there any other areas where you claim sovereignty?

Prime Minister Rabin: We may claim it, but we have not annexed any other territory. We have left it open.

President: Does this include Sinai and Gaza?

Prime Minister Rabin: There was a government decision in 1968 that Gaza should be part of the State of Israel. But not Sharm al-Shaikh.

The third issue is the Palestinian question. This must be solved if an honorable, durable settlement is to be reached. We do not ignore the [Page 140]issue any longer. It must be solved. But it is not the heart of the conflict. The heart of the conflict is the lack of the Arabs’ reconciling themselves to the existence of Israel as a viable Jewish state. The essence of peace is reconciliation, not recognition. Simply recognizing Israel as a fact is not enough. Recognition by itself has no meaning.

President: But from their point of view recognition is already a major concession. There is a difference of perspective, since you start with your right to exist as a given.

Prime Minister Rabin: I know that this is a basic difference, and that we start from different points of view. The Arabs have not swallowed the fact that we are there to stay. This is why we stress the need for real peace and for defensible borders. We have to get the Arab leaders to tell their people that the time has come for real change.

Secretary Vance: Each Arab leader that I spoke to said that in negotiations they would recognize Israel’s right to exist as a state. The Palestinians have not said this, but the others said they would.

Prime Minister Rabin: Recognition is a diplomatic act, but the essence of the question is reconciliation. They have to live with us, they have to work with us. This may not be at hand.

On the Palestinians, we believe that the solution of the Palestine issue should be based on two states in the former area of Palestine. This almost took place before 1967. East of the Jordan River, there are nearly 900,000 Palestinians from the 1948 period. They were integrated into Jordanian society, on the whole. Those now in the West Bank are Jordanians and they are not ready to give up their Jordanian citizenship. We believe in two states: Israel, as a Jewish state, although we have a non-Jewish minority of one half million which enjoys all rights. The Muslims in Israel do not have to serve in the army, but some do volunteer. East of Israel, there should be a Jordanian-Palestinian state. How the Palestinian identity is worked out within that state is not our business. It is up to them. But we want two states. It can consist of two entities, but there can only be one state.

President: Provided there is only one state, then it is up to them how it is organized?

Prime Minister Rabin: We are not asking for unacceptable things from the Arabs. Ambassador Jarring from 1967 to 1971, treated Jordan as the spokesman for the Palestinians. Jarring never went to Syria, because Syria did not accept Resolution 242, but he did talk to Egypt and to Jordan. Egypt did not question Jordan’s right to speak for the West Bank.

President: To what degree would you accept the West Bank as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian state? As an independent entity or in confederation, perhaps even with some Syrian involvement?

[Page 141]

Prime Minister Rabin: There is no room for a third state. It is bound to be extreme, small, and unstable. It would be the seed for destruction of any agreement reached. It cannot solve anything. It would foster aggression and hatred.

President: What if it were set up on the US model, two states within a federation, with Jordan controlling defense and foreign affairs, and with the West Bank state demilitarized. Would you have any problem with that as a concept?

Prime Minister Rabin: I am not talking now of boundaries, but I am ready for territorial compromise. But any agreement must be signed between governments. How they solve the problem of Palestinian self-expression is up to them, but there can be no third state.

President: You use the word state as meaning a nation with sovereignty?

Prime Minister Rabin: Yes. On the question of negotiations, these must be between governments. If Jordan wants to bring Palestinian leaders from the West Bank as part of their negotiating team, that is no problem, but any agreement must be negotiated and signed with Jordan.

President: I understand there is a difference of opinion with the Arabs on this point. Do you look with concern at the prospect of several Arab nations negotiating together? Must the negotiations be on a bilateral basis?

Prime Minister Rabin: We must have agreements between sovereign states.

President: Agreements, yes, but what about negotiations?

Prime Minister Rabin: We want to negotiate with each sovereign state. Multilateral negotiations do not work.

Secretary Vance: Would it be acceptable to have subcommittees at Geneva on a functional basis? For example, on the Palestinian question? Or would this have to be dealt with strictly in a Jordanian-Israeli context?

Prime Minister Rabin: In Jordanian-Israeli negotiations.

President: If Jordan says that they will not deal with the Palestinian issue alone, but that they would rather have Egypt and Syria there as well, would you accept if that were Jordan’s preference?

Prime Minister Rabin: No. No. If there is to be a solution, it must be reached in negotiations with a state. If there is no agreement among the Arabs that can be expressed through Jordan, that is their problem. They can coordinate however they wish, and they don’t have to ask me for permission to do that. But the best solution would be to negotiate the Palestinian problem with Jordan.

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President: I would like you to keep an open mind in the negotiating phase on this problem, if you don’t mind. I understand your position that final agreements must be bilateral in nature, but negotiations should not be allowed to break down if Jordan does not want to negotiate bilaterally. I hope you will keep an open mind on this.

Prime Minister Rabin: We can talk discreetly here. We have no problem with direct communications with Jordan, including at the highest level. There is no disagreement between us and them on the PLO. We have a perfect understanding with them. They are even more fearful of the PLO than we are. We know their real attitude and how much they appreciate our position on Jordan as the sole representative of the Palestinians. I have been called more Hashemite than King Hussein himself. In the Arab world there is now some recognition that Jordan must represent the Palestinians. It is not yet enough, but when they see that this must be the case, then they will adjust because they want to go to Geneva.

President: I would like the Secretary of State to comment on that.

Secretary Vance: If the Arabs say that they will go to Geneva, but only as a single delegation, would you go?

Prime Minister Rabin: I would recommend not to do it. A multilateral negotiation is a recipe for failure. I remember earlier experiences. We should learn from the past. In 1949, I was hopeful about peace. I sat with the Egyptians at Rhodes. The Egyptian representative was Mahmoud Riad. We talked and Egypt decided to break with the others and to start negotiations on an armistice. Then four agreements were signed, which are still the best that we have ever signed in the history of the conflict. Then we went to Lausanne, where the Arabs were represented by a multilateral delegation.7 We failed there to reach the historic achievement of ending the conflict. If there is a big public conference, it turns into a shouting match. Each Arab party lines up with the most extreme.

In December 1973, Geneva was all right because we had agreed with Egypt in advance that after the conference we would reach a disengagement agreement. Otherwise, it would have simply been a performance. Without prior agreement on how to proceed, there will be failure.

Secretary Vance: What if you assume that the only way to get the Arab parties to Geneva is in a unified delegation, but that once they get there they will talk on a bilateral basis?

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Prime Minister Rabin: This has never been done. It has never led anywhere. And I personally am not in favor of it.

President: If we added the phrase that any ultimate agreement would be on a bilateral basis, would this alleviate your concern?

Prime Minister: How would we then proceed at Geneva?

President: I was going to ask you that next.

Prime Minister Rabin: When we talk of an overall settlement, we will have to solve the question of the nature of peace, of boundaries, and of the Palestinians. I never said that the other side has to take our positions as a precondition. They can come with any position they want.

President: [to Secretary Vance] Is Syria the main party that wants a single delegation?

Secretary Vance: Yes. That is their main concern. Egypt prefers bilateral negotiations. The Syrians made it clear that if this were not agreed in advance, they might not go to Geneva.

Prime Minister Rabin: Did they explain why?

President: I’m not sure I understand why.

Secretary Vance: They gave two reasons. First, they do not want to fragment the Arab position; second, they believe this is the best way to deal with the Palestinian issue.

Prime Minister Rabin: The Syrians are the most extreme.

Secretary Vance: Yes.

Prime Minister Rabin: The Syrians took this position because of the Lebanon conflict. This is not a year when they can go to war. What they agreed to at Riyadh and Cairo8 was that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria would make a deal. Syria would accept Egypt’s diplomatic strategy for 1977 and 1978. Egypt would then give Syria a free hand in Lebanon. And Saudi Arabia would finance both of them. It was a practical arrangement. Syria ended its criticism of Sadat. Syria is now in no position to risk war. They have three divisions in Lebanon, including one armored division. They are vulnerable militarily. They need to gain one and one-half to two years, but they do not want to let Egypt have full freedom of action. This is why they favor one delegation.

President: Saudi Arabia is more inclined to play an active role in negotiations. Do you look on this with favor? Should we encourage this trend?

Prime Minister Rabin: Saudi Arabia’s role stems from the fact that the Arab countries need Saudi money. Without financial aid for Egypt, there would be a real catastrophe. Egypt’s problems stem from its large [Page 144]defense budget and from its internal economic problems. We in Israel cut subsidies without causing riots, and we made our decisions stick. Saudi Arabia can play a major role in helping bring about Arab moderation. To the extent that Saudi Arabia wants to be involved in the negotiations, we would have problems. There are others as well such as Iraq, Algeria, and Libya. They do not want agreements with us. So we would only negotiate with the confrontation states.

President: I’m not sure I agree with you on Saudi Arabia’s attitude. It is not the same as Iraq’s or Algeria’s.

Prime Minister Rabin: No, I agree. They are much more moderate.

President: The Saudis really do want an agreement. Is it in your interest that we encourage them?

Prime Minister Rabin: Saudi Arabia can be used to moderate Egyptian and Syrian positions, but they should not be directly involved in the process of negotiations. They should simply induce Egypt and Syria to show moderation.

President: [to Secretary Vance] Do the Saudis want to be at Geneva?

Secretary Vance: It is not clear. But they want to be a force for moderation. This stems from their self interest. They need to be moderate to survive. They see danger from the radicals.

Prime Minister Rabin: And rightly so. Syria did not come to Geneva in the first round. They would not accept Resolution 242. In fact, I am not aware that they have accepted it even today.

Ambassador Dinitz: A unified Arab delegation also gets Syria off the hook of having to accept Resolution 242.

President: We will have more time tonight and tomorrow.

Prime Minister Rabin: We still have bilateral issues to discuss.

President: We will have plenty of time. Tonight, could you try to outline for me an optimum sequence of events for this year?

Prime Minister Rabin: We have an Israeli saying that, even though the Middle East is known for its prophets, no one should try to be a prophet about the future of the Middle East today.

President: But you can tell me what you want to have happen so that we can espouse your position. I have enjoyed our talks, it was very enlightening, and I have learned a lot.

Prime Minister Rabin: Thank you for your time. We will meet tomorrow?

President: Yes. I look forward to it.

Secretary Vance: We can continue at lunch also. I have some follow-up questions to discuss with you.

Dr. Brzezinski: Would you insist on achieving greater clarity in the concept of peace in the context of the Geneva negotiations or prior to the negotiations?

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Prime Minister Rabin: We can go to Geneva without knowing all the details of how it will work. But the whole situation in the Middle East is not only moved by rational factors. Irrationality is even a greater force. We run the risk of building up expectations that something will be solved, and then if it fails it will create disappointments and disillusionment. Where would this lead? We must prepare for Geneva carefully. We want to know what is expected there, and what will be the alternatives if it does not work. Otherwise it would be very risky to go.

Dr. Brzezinski: But can we be more precise on peace before Geneva?

Prime Minister Rabin: We can do useful background work before Geneva, defining what is attainable. We are not there yet. The second best alternative would be to work for more limited agreements, ending the state of war. That would be better than nothing.

Dr. Brzezinski: If we can agree on peace before Geneva, then there would also have to be some agreement on boundaries.

Prime Minister Rabin: Maybe. At least on the parameters. No doubt. It is legitimate to ask that of us. I put forward the question of peace. But the Arabs can put forward the question of the parameters of boundaries. But we cannot be totally precise.

Dr. Brzezinski: But you agree that it would be useful to reduce areas of ambiguity?

Prime Minister Rabin: Yes, to reduce them, but only within limits.

President: You have to leave some ambiguity so that Geneva will still be necessary. Thank you very much.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 66, Middle East: Peace Negotiations 1977 Vol. I [I]. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room. Brackets are in the original. Rabin paid an official working visit to the United States from March 6 to 9.
  2. Johnson made this statement in his address at the State Department’s Foreign Policy Conference for Educators. (Public Papers: Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 630–634)
  3. Rabin served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from 1968 to 1973.
  4. On February 22, 1976, the Israeli Cabinet authorized the United States to approach Egypt, Syria, and Jordan about negotiating an end to the state of war. (“Israel Authorizes U.S. Move for Talks With Arabs,” New York Times, February 23, 1976, p. 4)
  5. A reference to the armistice negotiations held between Israel and its Arab neighbors on the island of Rhodes from January 12 to July 20, 1949. The Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, and Israel and Syria ended the first Arab-Israeli War.
  6. A reference to the 1974 and 1975 disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria.
  7. From April 27 to September 12, 1949, representatives from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan met in Lausanne, Switzerland, under the auspices of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine to resolve outstanding disputes from the first Arab-Israeli War.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 7.