49. Memorandum for the Files of a Meeting With President Carter1


  • Meeting with Jewish Leadership—July 6, 1977

The Vice President—opened the meeting making the point that he had participated in all Presidential discussions with Arab leaders and that the President had left no doubt in these meetings of his own commitment to Israel—its survival and security. The Vice President affirmed the President’s view that peace would have to be an indispensable prerequisite for a settlement with Israel’s neighbors.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance—Stated that Israel and the U.S. shared the same objective. He said that there were three core substantive issues and one procedural issue at the core of U.S. Policy. These are: 1. the nature of peace, 2. territories and borders, 3. the Palestinian question. On the Palestinian question he said the Arabs themselves are split on the nature of this entity. On the procedural question—he said the U.S. would neither negotiate with nor recognize the PLO until they have recognized Israel and “242.” Vance said he would return for another round of discussions with Arab and Israeli leaders after Begin’s visit. He still hopes for a Geneva conference in the Fall. He also said the parties would have to negotiate between themselves the terms of a peace settlement.

Vance further mentioned that there are three billion dollars worth of arms under consideration for Israel; that one hundred fifteen million has just been approved and that the monthly purchase is approximately One hundred forty million.

Dr. Brzezinski—made three basic points:

1. We will not deceive Israel nor the Jewish Community;

2. We will not betray the fundamental moral problem Israel faces; and

3. We will not compel or threaten Israel’s security.

[Page 330]

He said we are in an unusually favorable position; that the Soviet Union is out of the Middle East in a strategic sense because Israel has demonstrated that Soviet aid to the Arab countries does not pay off. Dr. Brzezinski emphasized that none of the Arab countries are inclined to play the Soviet card at this time; also, that at this period in history there is a moderate Arab leadership in power. He went on to say that if the stalemate continues there will be a decline in the hopes for peace settlement. The Arab world is in the process of militarization (he gave the example of Algeria’s sustained conflict against France, suggesting that Israel faces a parallel situation). Dr. Brzezinski said he would like to see a process set in motion such that negotiations between the Arabs and Israelis would create the pre-conditions for Israel to play a leading role in that region. He underscored that Israel and the United States are fundamentally congruent, morally and strategically.

Rabbi Schindler—spoke about the apprehensions of the Jewish community. He made the point that much of what has been said by the Administration has been equated by the Jewish community with an erosion of America’s commitment to Israel; that mere verbal promises and words from the Arab world are not reassuring to Israel or the American Jewish community. He was emphatic on the point that the Administration’s pronouncements have aroused apprehensions in Israel and raised expectations in the Arab world.

Gordon Zachs—United Jewish Appeal—He said the concern of the American Jewish community is one of perception. The perception is that there has been an important erosion in the definition of peace as articulated by The President. Since Rabin’s visit, the Government has articulated more of what it expects from the Israelis than of what it expects from the Arabs. Zachs went on to pose two questions: 1. What is the readiness of the Arab leaders to enter into a real peace settlement. 2. Has the Administration altered its definition of peace. Vance responded no to the second question and to the first, said that the reaction of the Arabs has been varied. One Arab leader, for example, has indicated that he understands the need for trade and open borders between the Israelis and Arabs. Another says that these are inevitable and a third is more intransigent.

Bernice Tannenbaum, Hadassah—Said that not one of the Arab leaders has enunciated a definition of peace even close to that of the Administration. The Administration has been silent on that issue.

The Vice President responded by again reaffirming the Administration’s commitment to peace and the security of Israel.

Dr. Brzezinski also made a comment that the Arabs may in fact anticipate a “second stage,” but if we can forge an enduring peace with self enforcing security arrangements we may be able to preclude this second stage.

[Page 331]

Richard Maass, AJC—Concerned that the Administration has prejudged the matter of borders. He referred to Dr. Brzezinski’s earlier statements on defensible lines. (previous meeting).2

The President then spoke—he said we do not intend to impose a settlement—it must be done mutually by the nations that have to live there—Israelis must feel that their sense of security will not deteriorate and this can be done through demilitarized zones, etc. Some of the Arab leaders are very eager for a settlement privately—The President said he also intends to demonstrate his confidence in Prime Minister Begin when he comes to the United States and hopes they will form a close personal friendship. He has no intention of being overly strong toward Begin.

Rabbi Schindler—complimented the President on the healing he has brought to this nation and told him he was the vessel through which 2,000 years of Jewish history was acting itself out. He said that the Jewish leaders did not come to this meeting with a spirit of difference, but that they were concerned that the President’s words would be perceived as American policy to be imposed on the Israelis. Schindler read statements from the Arab leaders re-enforcing his point that they were not prepared for peace.

Frank Wattenberg, UJA—disturbed that the American Jewish community will be used to pressure Israel into a peace settlement. The President of the Detroit Federation said we should not give the appearance of having drawn back on our promises to Israel. The Palestinian homeland concept seems to have translated into “a State” and this fills the American Jewish community with fear.

Naomi Levine, President, American Jewish Congress—Again emphasized the fear that the Administration will support a separate state and the Jewish community finds this most terrifying.

Eugene Gold, National Conference on Soviet Jewry—Raised the Scharansky issue3—Said that the Jewish community finds it absolutely pivotal. Asked for personal intervention by the President on behalf of Scharansky, and suggested that there should be direct linkage between the Scharansky case and our trade relations with the Soviet Union.

Arthur Goldberg—Two optimistic notes; 1. that the U.S. would be in a position now to use its good offices towards negotiation of a peace settlement, and 2. that all parties concerned had accepted “242.”

The President spoke—Made the point that the Arabs gain world opinion when they emphasize Administration positions that support [Page 332] their own cause—that the same kind of support is rarely forthcoming from Israel or the Jewish community. This makes Israel appear more recalcitrant—He said he would like to see the American Jewish community and Israel grab the positive aspects of peace and put the Arabs on the defensive for a change. He mentioned France as a nation that condemned Israel.

On the question of borders the President said these might well be different from defense position—The American Jewish community in Israel ought to be so insistent on positive aspects of American policy that even if the Arabs plan a war in ten years world opinion would go against them making this impossible. Continuing on the question of Arab perceptions, the President said he challenges anyone to find an Arab leader that would doubt the United States commitment to Israel. He said that we will never repeat what Secretary Kissinger and President Ford did by withholding support for Israel.4 On the Palestinian question he said that we see it as tied in to Jordan and as an independent State would be a direct threat to Israel and could be captured by any of the Arab nations. He said that Syria, Egypt and Jordan were in agreement with this position even if they were not willing to state it publicly, they had done so privately.

The President emphasized that it is important for him to maintain a position of trust with the Arabs—although politically it would be much easier for him to be forcefully pro-Israel. He asked for a public expression of consensus for those aspects of his policy the American Jewish community felt it could support. He stressed the need to place the onus for disharmony on the Arabs’ side for a change which they have so shrewdly done to the Israelis.

He stated that he has no specific solution for a peace settlement in his mind.

Secretary Vance interjected the point again that there are three billion in arms in the pipeline for Israel.

F–16—in principle, there is agreement. The questioning is how many and when.

Chariot—more difficult, a legal question.

Hydrofoil—A question of further study.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Staff Office Files, Records of the White House Office of Counsel to the President—Robert Lipshutz, Box 35, Middle East: Miscellaneous Information, 7/77–9/79 [CF, O/A 712]. No classification marking. Prepared by Joyce R. Starr. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting took place from 1:24 to 2:40 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) In his diary, Carter estimated that the meeting included “about fifty leaders in the American Jewish community, the presidents of organizations.” (White House Diary, p. 67)
  2. See Document 34.
  3. A reference to Anatoly Sharansky, a Soviet Jewish dissident who worked for human rights. Soviet authorities arrested him in March 1977 on charges of spying for the United States, and he was convicted in July 1978 to 13 years of forced labor.
  4. In the spring of 1975, Ford called for a reassessment of U.S. relations with Israel after negotiations between Egypt and Israel over a second disengagement agreement broke down. Ford and Kissinger argued that Israel had created the obstacles that broke down the negotiations in March 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 166.