4. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Peace Prospects in the Middle East


  • Israel
  • Mr. Moshe Dayan, Knesset Member and former Defense Minister
  • Ambassador Dinitz
  • U.S.
  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary Atherton
  • Mr. Walter B. Smith II, Director, NEA/IAI (notetaker)
[Page 20]

The Secretary said he was looking forward to his approaching visit to Israel.

Ambassador Dinitz observed the Israelis were also looking forward to it.

The Secretary explained he was trying to educate himself on the Arab-Israeli problem. He asked Mr. Dayan to explain the situation as he saw it from the standpoint of Israel. Mr. Dayan said that, being out of the government, he did not know the official viewpoint well. From his own standpoint Mr. Dayan said he was very optimistic. He was more optimistic than anyone else he knew in Israel. It was the prospect of not having another war that led Mr. Dayan to be optimistic. Sadat was genuinely heading for peace—perhaps not a peace agreement, but a peaceful situation. The same was true in the case of Jordan, which had stayed out of the 1973 war completely. It also was true of the Palestinians. When in the 1973 war Israeli trucks had to be taken from the West Bank and sent to the fronts, not one nail was laid on the roads in their path. Fighting between Israel and Jordan would have been at the expense of the Palestinians, as would another war.

Mr. Dayan said the Arabs wanted to see realities established. The Egyptians had reopened the Suez Canal and had repopulated the cities there.2 The Palestinians were also interested in realities. Most Palestinian refugees living in Gaza would prefer to leave the camps and put their personal funds into building their own housing. Given the opportunity to do this, they would pay no attention to the PLO policy about waiting in camps to return to Israel proper. The refugees were interested in owning their own houses, TV’s, and refrigerators.

Mr. Dayan continued that if he were asked what could be done, he would point to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Gaza. Jordan wanted to settle its refugees, who in any case were Jordanian citizens and therefore could obtain work. By definition, a refugee was a person living in a camp and having no papers and therefore no work. If the refugees in Jordan could be given decent accommodations, they would be like all the other Jordanians. If U.S. or other international funds could be made available to Hussein, not to force the refugees out of the camps but to offer help to them, the refugee problem would be largely solved. Neither Jordan nor Israel wanted a Palestinian state. The Palestinians of Jordan were all the same family. If the 1948 refugees from Israel proper who were living in Jericho until they fled to East Jordan in the 1967 war could settle with normal lives inside Jordan, there would be one large family living in both East Jordan and on the [Page 21] West Bank, and everyone would see that a division of the West Bank from Jordan would be undesirable.

The Secretary asked for Mr. Dayan’s estimate of the strength of the PLO and its leadership. Mr. Dayan said the PLO was ideologically strong. If one asked West Bankers and Gazans who their leader was they would say Arafat, not King Hussein. But if one asked the West Bankers to give back their Jordanian citizenship, they would refuse. If an Arafat government were established, and if all the world recognized it, enabling the bearer of an Arafat passport to travel anywhere, the West Bankers still would not surrender their Jordanian passports. Thus, despite Arafat’s strength as a leader, the reply of the West Bankers was different on practical matters.

Mr. Dayan said that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also did not want involvement in terrorism. Perhaps Arafat too now saw that terrorism got him nowhere. There was very little support in the occupied territories for PLO terrorism.

The Secretary asked Mr. Dayan how strong the radical wing of the PLO was. Mr. Dayan observed that everyone among the young liked to speak in radical terms, even in the U.S. But the new West Bank mayors, despite their radical credentials, went to Amman and kissed the King’s hand. Mr. Dayan would not say that the mayors were more common than their predecessors, but they were less tied to family tradition. They were part of a new generation over which the grandfathers did not rule. Nevertheless, their way of life remained conservative.

The Secretary asked if Mr. Dayan saw the Saudis as more active politically than in the past. Mr. Dayan replied the Saudis were supporting Hussein and other moderates. They were striving for goals by political rather than military means. They were close to the U.S. and had a distaste for the USSR, and they saw a better chance to get back occupied territory by U.S. pressure than through Egyptian soldiers who needed Soviet guns.

The Secretary asked for Mr. Dayan’s appraisal of Syria. Mr. Dayan replied by asking if President Asad would actually come to Washington to meet with the President. The Secretary said he did not know. Mr. Dayan commented that Asad had been doing especially well. In the Lebanese civil war Asad entered into a dispute with the Palestinians, the Egyptians, and the Soviets, but he brought about an end to the war, induced the Palestinians to accept his terms, befriended Jordan, and left Egypt with no choice but to accept the situation. The Soviets were left with nothing, while Syrian prestige rose in Lebanon. Asad was now in a good position. Mr. Atherton noted Asad had set a record for durability as a Syrian leader, having been in office since 1970.

The Secretary asked Mr. Dayan what possibilities he saw from his standpoint for a meeting of the Geneva type in 1977.

[Page 22]

Mr. Dayan said that when Israelis spoke of Geneva, they did not necessarily mean a geographic location. Geneva was the place where Israel signed documents. Negotiations were needed beforehand. The Secretary agreed, pointing out that the U.S. had repeatedly called for adequate preparation before a reconvening of Geneva. But it was important that we came to grips with a Middle East settlement this year.

Mr. Dayan agreed emphatically. He added that he could not agree that real forward movement would be possible without the Soviets. He could not see Syria or Egypt moving without the involvement of the USSR. The Soviets could torpedo peace progress, for example, through the PLO. If the Soviets saw the U.S. and Israel moving without the Palestinians, they would want to torpedo it.

Mr. Dayan said he had completely disagreed in 1973 with former Secretary Kissinger on the Soviet aspect. Mr. Dayan had thought the Soviet idea of having Soviet troops included in the UN forces was a good one. The USSR in the past had said it would guarantee Israel’s security only after total withdrawal. Israel and Egypt would not have dared violate a line close to the Canal if Soviet forces had been guarding it. Mr. Dayan did not know what international guarantees would mean without the inclusion of symbolic forces from the two super powers.

Mr. Dayan expressed the opinion there should be an attempt to launch negotiations immediately after the Israeli election. If the U.S. tried to push the Soviets out, it would not get far with Syria and there would be new problems in the area daily, for example with the PLO. The Secretary recalled that he and Mr. Dayan had discussed this question before Christmas in New York. The Secretary agreed there could be no real progress without the Soviets, who could throw spanners in the wheels if they were not included. Mr. Dayan said the U.S. could find out with Syria how essential the Soviets were.

The Secretary asked what Mr. Dayan thought the shape of a possible settlement would be, assuming that negotiations were started this year. Mr. Dayan replied he did not think the future of Jerusalem would be a problem. King Hussein did not want the city divided and did not want to push out the Jewish population. Hussein envisaged an open city with freedom of movement and the shrines under the control of the respective religions. If one set aside the issue of sovereignty and addressed the practical question of how Jordan foresaw the relationship between the Jewish and Arab populations in Jerusalem, one would find the Jordanian concept not far from the existing situation today. Hussein, of course, felt there should be a change in sovereignty.

Mr. Dayan did not believe that Israel and the Arabs could move to a final peace settlement in one step. Solving the issues of a refugee settlement and borders would take time. As for what would be practical [Page 23] now, Mr. Dayan was of the opinion that Israel might withdraw to the last 30 or 40 kilometers in Sinai, with the creation of a buffer zone under UN supervision and limited forces zones. With Syria, Israel should not withdraw from the Golan Heights but should agree to some changes there provided Syria ended the state of war and settled the 60,000 refugees from the 1967 war. If Syria developed a plan to settle Kuneitra3 with civilians, not soldiers, and agreed to UN forces in a buffer zone, Israel should pull back its troops from Kuneitra.

As for the West Bank, Mr. Dayan said he knew of no better plan than his own. He had told Allon to go ahead and try the Allon Plan4 but had expressed doubt that the Arabs would accept it. The West Bank now was too interlinked with Israel. The West Bank had no industry and its workers would want continued employment. Also, Jerusalem was closely linked with Ramallah and Bethlehem. One of the mayors of the latter two towns had told Mr. Dayan that Israel should not let these links be cut. Mr. Dayan saw nothing constructive to be gained from cutting the ties between Israel and the West Bank and felt that they should remain together with free movement between them.

Mr. Dayan said no Government of Israel would accept total withdrawal even if the Arabs said they were ready to sign peace treaties. Total withdrawal today would be too fast. What was feasible was something in between: a major withdrawal in Sinai, a little withdrawal on the Golan, and arrangements for asking the Palestinians in the territories what they wanted for their future without a removal of the Israelis there. Whatever Israel might suggest at this point in negotiations, the Arab side would not accept, and similarly, the Arab side would propose total withdrawal which Israel could not accept.

Turning to Gaza, Mr. Dayan said not everyone realized that King Hussein did not want to give Jordanian citizenship to the inhabitants of Gaza. Thus, they were a group with no papers. Right now they had employment in Israel and were content. One could not leave these people with no citizenship. If they were cut off from Israel they would have no employment.

The Secretary asked whether Mr. Dayan thought it would be possible to have an ultimate settlement that would be reached in phases. Mr. Dayan did not feel that the final destination could be agreed upon now. What Israel and the Arabs could agree on was that the kind of set[Page 24]tlement that could be reached now would not be the final one. But implementation in stages would not be workable.

The Secretary asked why Mr. Dayan saw this as impractical. Mr. Dayan replied that if Sadat died and another Nasser came to power in Egypt, there was a serious question whether he would be committed to the remaining stages. Also, when Israel approached President Johnson in 1967 concerning freedom of navigation, which had been promised in 1957 by Secretary Dulles,5 Johnson replied that he could not be committed by Dulles’ words 10 years earlier. Mr. Dayan in light of Vietnam was even more hesitant about U.S. assurances. Secretary Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize, having put pressure on South Vietnam. When North Vietnam subsequently attacked, the U.S. said it was not a U.S. problem. The U.S. might tell Israel to withdraw from the Golan and Syria might then occupy Galilee. If there were no U.S. soldiers, Israel would have to take care of its security on its own. Israel could contemplate further steps toward peace only after having acquired confidence from a period of time of living with the Arabs.

The Secretary asked if Mr. Dayan would feel differently in the event of formal guarantees. Mr. Dayan replied affirmatively, adding that no one should underestimate the importance of formal guarantees, especially where security was concerned. Nevertheless, the U.S. Sinai Field Mission6 was to be pulled out immediately in the event of war between Egypt and Israel. Mr. Dayan believed it would be difficult for the U.S. to make a commitment binding for any President, for example, to fight to keep open the Strait of Tiran.

The Secretary asked what else Israel needed beyond peace treaties in terms of economic and other relations with the neighboring countries. Mr. Dayan replied that Israel needed to see realities being created on the ground. In his opinion, Egypt’s actions in reopening the Canal and repopulating the cities there were much more important than a piece of paper.

Jordan’s decision to stay out of the 1973 war was similar. Israel would have had to disrupt the peaceful life of the West Bank to fight Jordan. The way Arabs and Jews had learned to live together in Jeru[Page 25]salem was a wonderful example. Their relationship was much better than it had been under the British mandate.

Mr. Dayan said Israel would examine each proposed arrangement in the light of what it would mean on the ground. The other important thing from Israel’s viewpoint would be to solve the problem of the refugees. As long as they were in camps there could be no peaceful solution, as human beings were involved. The refugees were saying the same thing that the Jews used to say: they want to go back home. The answer was to see them settled.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance Exdis Memcons, 1977. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Walter B. Smith (NEA) and approved in S. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. Egypt reopened the Suez Canal on June 5, 1975, after Nasser closed it in June 1967 after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
  3. Kuneitra, a Syrian town located close to the border with Israel, suffered extensive damage during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars and became a focal point during the disengagement negotiations between Israel and Syria in May 1974. See a map of Kuneitra in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Appendix B, Map 3.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 2.
  5. Three months after the 1956 Suez Crisis, the U.S. Government promised Israel, in the form of an aide-mémoire, a guarantee of freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran if Israel removed its forces from the Sinai and Gaza Strip. See Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XVII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1957, Document 78.
  6. The U.S. Sinai Support Mission supported Egyptian and Israeli surveillance stations in the Sinai Peninsula with U.S. civilian personnel operating three watch stations. It began operation in January 1976 after Israel and Egypt agreed to its creation as part of the second disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Documents 226 and 238.