258. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.
  • Vice President Mondale
  • Ambassador Lewis
  • Deputy Assistant to the President Aaron
  • Assistant Secretary Saunders
  • Israel
  • Deputy Prime Minister Yadin
  • Ambassador Dinitz

After an exchange of pleasantries during picture taking, the Vice President explained that he had come to Israel for two reasons:

1. He wanted to reaffirm the continuing U.S. commitment to the security of Israel—to a continuing supply of arms and economic assistance regardless of differences between us at any given moment. He wanted to put the question of fundamental trust behind us. He feels strongly that it is important to get this point across. That is the essential message of his visit.

2. He said he is also very interested in the possibilities of resuming negotiations. He fears that the present opportunity could be missed. He had come to Israel to explore privately what the U.S., Israel, and Egypt might be doing to resume the negotiations. He would welcome Yadin’s observations on an appropriate U.S. role.

Yadin responded that he wanted to speak with candor. He felt he would be expressing the basic views of the government on those points and would put forward some views as he sees them. He pointed out that this is a coalition government in Israel; his party is the second in size. He acknowledged that there is not a full consensus on ultimate aims.

He recalled that after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem Begin came to him as a member of the Security Committee and as the leader of one of the parties in the coalition to discuss his peace proposals. Yadin said that he had told Begin they seemed reasonable but that they did not seem to “tally” with the final objectives of his party for two reasons:

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1. He did not feel they matched Sadat’s overall objective or approach. He said he knew from talking to Begin that there would be limits on how far Begin could go, and he did not feel those limits would permit Begin to go far enough with Sadat.

2. He felt there were faults in a proposal for the Sinai which called for a complete pullout and one for the West Bank which left sovereignty open.

Another problem was that the plan had not been adopted by the Cabinet until after the U.S. had seen it. This was cause for some criticism in the Cabinet.

Yadin felt that from that time on “something went wrong.” There was no reaction to the plan from the other side, and there was sharp criticism from the opposition in Israel which claimed that Begin was a bad bargainer. Resentments were built which became obstacles to further progress. Then from the U.S. side, Israelis began to feel that they were “being courted to make further concessions before Egypt picked up the negotiations.” Yadin pointed out that the U.S. role is not just that of a broker. The U.S. interest in progress is just as deep as that of the parties and the U.S. is therefore playing the role of an involved party, not just the role of a broker.

Yadin said he would have expected the U.S. to put pressure on Egypt privately and publicly, telling the Egyptians to put forward a plan if they had one. Israel was asked questions. Whatever Israel did, Israel was censured. Sadat called for total Israeli withdrawal and there was never a word from the U.S.

In Yadin’s view, it became clear at that stage that the U.S. was not helping the negotiations. The U.S. is viewed by many in Israel as following a policy of “appeasement” of the Arabs.

Yadin acknowledged that perhaps the Israeli government’s reaction to reports of the Egyptian counterproposals had been premature. Those Egyptian proposals were characterized as calling for Israeli turnover of territory prior to negotiation. When there was no U.S. criticism, this encouraged the Egyptian impression that the U.S. would put pressure on Israel.

At this point in the conversation it became apparent that Yadin had organized his presentation under three headings. The first was the point just completed about the unhelpfulness of the U.S. role.

Yadin then identified his second point. He said his “second advice” is that the U.S. should encourage Egypt to pick up on the proposal for another Weizman-Gamasy meeting. He said he would be interested to hear what is to come of the meeting between Dayan and Kamel. He went on to say that there had been differences of view in the gov [Page 1166] ernment on whether to reopen the Weizman-Gamasy channel.2 Those in favor of doing everything possible to resume negotiations had prevailed. A message had gone to Gamasy. One had been received from Gamasy but it sounded as if it had been drafted by Sadat because it contained the words “for sure.”

After reiterating his advice that the U.S. should encourage Egypt to pick up the proposal for this meeting, he said he hoped that both this and the Dayan-Kamel channel3 would materialize. He repeated that Sadat should know that the U.S. favors such a meeting.

The Vice President said that he would make that point to Sadat when he saw him July 3. He said that we must get by the current situation in which each side is putting forward its maximal positions.

Yadin then went on to his “last personal advice.” (Comment: In retrospect, members of the American party felt that this was most important in Yadin’s mind, even though he came to it last.) He said that Begin has a feeling—“I see it every day”—that perhaps the U.S. feels Begin will never “be able to deliver the goods.” Begin also has a feeling that Sadat now feels it is “a hopeless case with Begin.”

Yadin continued that, in his opinion, if there is anyone who can do more than others to reach a peace agreement, Begin is the one. This may be a paradox. Begin is not of Yadin’s own party, but Yadin felt he had to say this because it is his view.

Yadin explained that, given these apparent feelings in the U.S. and Egypt, Begin had become passive or intransigent. He in effect tells Weizman and Dayan to go ahead and play the game their way.

Yadin then advised that if Begin were to get the impression from us that we feel he is the one to pick up the present opportunity, the “real power” that drove him after Sadat’s visit was the fact that he felt he had a mission, and this feeling could be revived. Now he is passive and entrenched. If he could have the feeling from the President that his mission is essential, that would be important.

Yadin cited a recent interview in Haaretz4 with former Prime Minister Rabin, in which Rabin stated the same view that it is Begin who has the best chance of putting through a peace agreement in Israel.

Yadin turned to Dinitz who agreed that Yadin had described the Israeli perception accurately.

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The Vice President said he wished he could correct that impression. First of all, Begin is the Prime Minister of Israel. We have no right to deal with anyone else in a democracy. He is the elected head of government. We would resent it in the U.S. if someone came there and tried to deal with the Secretary of State or the Vice President to the exclusion of the President. We understand the Prime Minister’s feelings. Personal relations between the President and Prime Minister Begin are good. They are both men of deep religious belief; they understand each other. In a democracy, we have a lot of people who talk and create wrong impressions.

The Vice President continued that we see Begin as a popular leader. We assume that he is a leader who can persuade his people to follow him.

Yadin said that what he meant is that Begin gets this impression not from official statements but from reports of conversations in the U.S. where American officials seem to express the view that the Begin government can not achieve peace.

The Vice President went back to Yadin’s first point on the lack of fairness in the U.S. position.

He pointed out that President Carter had pressed Sadat very hard to accept a real peace and normalization of relations with Israel as the objective. At first, Sadat had said he could never do this. Then he had said perhaps this could be done after five years. Finally he agreed to that definition and said so during his visit to Jerusalem. “It is hard to beat up a guy who has agreed to what you have asked him to do.”

We had also insisted to Sadat that there could be no agreement if he does not help find a way to protect Israeli security.

We had also pressed him with our view that Resolution 242 does not require total Israeli withdrawal. He has now said publicly that he could accept minor modifications in the border of the West Bank. He knows any agreement has to have Israeli approval.

The Vice President concluded by saying that he would talk to the President about calibrating our criticism. But he felt that there is a misconception of the American position.

Yadin simply mentioned the recent comment by President Carter in a press conference criticizing Israel’s reaction to reports of Sadat’s new counterproposals.5 He said that he was not charging the U.S. with unfairness. His point was simply that, for the purpose of negotiation, the U.S. has to deal with both sides.

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Yadin continued that in the Vice President’s Sunday6 meeting with a Cabinet group, Israel might express its concern about recent Soviet activities in South Yemen and in Africa.7 There is an impression in Israel that the U.S. is not vigorous enough in responding. Israel sees Soviet encroachment as part of a global strategy. He also mentioned that the position of the Shah in Iran is weakening dangerously. He felt that the main target is Saudi Arabia.

In that connection, Yadin said he wanted to make a point that might be farfetched from a technical point of view: He felt Israel must find ways and means to be in touch with the Saudis on the real security situation in the area. He recognized this might not be possible under normal circumstances, but the threat was such that it might justify some sort of contact.

The Vice President said that the U.S. is very concerned about what has happened in Afghanistan8 and South Yemen.

Yadin said that the two sudden collapses had come very quickly. Dinitz said that the “unrelated circumstances are too related.”

[2 paragraphs (4 lines) not declassified]

Yadin recalled Egyptian actions in Yemen in 19619 and how they had led to an unraveling situation in the end. He felt the situation in the Middle East has all the “features of a kaleidoscope.” A picture could seem fairly stable and then just one tilt caused it to change completely.

Yadin concluded by repeating, “We are very glad to have you here.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 110, 6/30/78–7/3/78 Vice President Trip to Israel: 2/78–6/21/78. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Saunders on July 5. The meeting took place in the Vice President’s suite at the King David Hotel. Mondale visited Israel from June 29 to July 3 to represent the United States in ceremonies commemorating the 30th anniversary of Israel’s creation.
  2. A reference to the Military Committee led by Weizman and Gamasy, which met last on March 31.
  3. Atherton suggested a meeting between Dayan and Kamel to both Dayan and Sadat. See Documents 249 and 253. The two met previously in January when they led the Political Committee meetings in Jerusalem, which ended when Sadat withdrew the Egyptian delegation on January 18. See Document 198.
  4. Haaretz is an Israeli daily newspaper.
  5. At a June 26 press conference, Carter described the Israeli reaction to Sadat’s counterproposals as “very disappointing.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, p. 1179)
  6. July 2.
  7. In June 1978, a pro-Soviet militia led by Abdel Fattah Ismail seized power in Southern Yemen. The militia had apparently been trained by East German and Soviet military advisers. (“South Yemen Chief Reported Slain, But Pro-Red Group Stays in Power,” New York Times, June 27, 1978, p. NJ17)
  8. On April 27, a pro-Soviet military junta seized power in Afghanistan, proclaiming the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  9. A reference to the tense relations that developed between Yemen and Egypt after the United Arab Republic dissolved in September 1961, only 3 years after Egypt, Syria, and Yemen had created the union.