8. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State1

Secto 2017. Subject: Conversation in Israel. For the President From Secretary Vance.

1. My discussions in Israel today, I think, reflect accurately the Israeli perception of their situation. Their basic concern is for Israel’s military and economic strength and, closely related, for U.S. support. They are, of course, thinking about how peace negotiations might proceed, but an important part of the discussions today was also spent in discussion of the military threat to Israel and the need for a continuing flow of U.S. military supply, including a prolonged pitch for the CBU and for cooperation in enabling Israeli industry to export its military products.

2. At the same time, the Israelis have made an effort both in their public statements and most clearly in private conversation to take the position that they are ready to resume peace negotiations at any time, even before their elections, although they recognize that realistically it is unlikely that anything can be started until the latter half of the year. In taking this position the Israelis are more conscious of the need to appear willing to negotiate, rather than because of expectations that much can be done at this time.

3. I had an hour’s private talk with Foreign Minister Allon riding from the airport near Tel Aviv to our hotel in Jerusalem Tuesday evening.2 Today, I began with a private breakfast with Prime Minister Rabin followed by larger meetings with the Foreign Minister and his staff and then, over lunch, with Rabin, Allon, Defense Minister Peres, the Chief of Staff and other officials.3 At the end of the afternoon, I met privately with Golda Meir and later with Peres.4

4. Rabin in those meetings described the peace effort as having to resolve three questions:

  • A. Establishment of peace. The problem, he said, is to determine the nature of the relationship that will exist between Israel and its [Page 53] neighbors at the end of the peace negotiations. It is important to end the state of war with all of its practical and legal implications, but that is not enough. It is essential to go beyond that to establish a structure of peace, a normalization of relations which would include open boundaries and the free flow of people, information and goods.
  • B. The boundaries of peace. Once full peace can be achieved, Israel will be ready to move back from its present military lines, but Israel cannot accept the principle of complete withdrawal from the territories occupied during the 1967 war. In private conversation, Rabin indicated that there may be ways to enhance Israel’s security that would permit greater withdrawals than are now anticipated, but at no time did he suggest that there is any significant support in Israel for withdrawal to the 1967 borders. He stressed the concept of “defensible borders” rather than dwelling on the idea of borders that define sovereign territory. This means, at least in theory, that in the negotiations it might eventually be possible to work out an Israeli security presence for a period of time in places outside the borders that divide Israeli and Arab sovereignty.
  • C. A solution to the Palestinian issue. Rabin began by acknowledging that there is a Palestinian issue, unlike some of his countrymen who in earlier times tried to brush it aside. He argued strongly that the issue must be resolved in negotiations between Israel and Jordan and in context of the present Jordanian state. That is, Israel opposes the creation of a separate Palestinian state and feels that Palestinian identity can and must be worked out in the relationship of the West Bank of Jordan and the center of the Jordanian state on the East Bank. Rabin continued to maintain that Israel cannot consider the PLO as a party to the negotiations but would not oppose the inclusion of certain Palestinian leaders—whomever the Arabs may back—in a Jordanian delegation.

5. In summing up, Rabin said that Israel is ready to consider as an objective of the negotiations either an overall settlement or to keep open the option of a series of more limited agreements. He stressed Israel’s willingness to continue to participate in the work of the Geneva Middle East peace conference, but he stressed the importance of taking a flexible view of the conference, pointing out that its work could be done in plenary sessions, in bilateral negotiations or in a number of other exchanges. He asked that I convey to Israel’s neighbors that Israel’s objective is a real peace and that Israel will be flexible in devising ways to negotiate that peace.

6. My feeling after this first day of talks is that the trip will have value in crystallizing a common understanding of the base from which the efforts to start peace negotiations will take off. I will go to Cairo tomorrow and begin the process of learning what that base is on the Arab [Page 54] side. I anticipate that the gaps between positions on the main issues will not begin to close during this trip. But by the time I return to Washington, we should begin to have a sense of what will be needed to develop a concrete course of action so that the visits of the Middle East leaders to Washington for their talks with you will help to narrow the differences on the final objective of negotiations and on how we should proceed to organize them.

7. I should say finally that the Israelis made a conscious effort to project the atmosphere of a friendly visit. They tried in their public presentations to dampen wide-spread concern about our recent decisions on the cluster bomb and the export of the Kfir fighter to Ecuador.5 In private the atmosphere was one of understanding that you have to deal with problems that have global implications. However, they did ask me to report to you their strong request for reconsideration. On the cluster bomb, they emphasized that, unlike US use in Vietnam, the Israelis would be using the bomb against military positions such as missile sites and minefields and not against population. Rabin also noted that he has a problem of dealing with Israeli public concerns about US intentions since President Ford had earlier committed himself to provide the cluster bomb, and a change in the US position raises questions for Rabin about whether the US is backing away from Israel. On the Kfir fighter they pointed out that their effort to build a defense industry which will make them more self-sufficient depends heavily on their finding an export market for the output of their industry. Looking to the future, they asked whether we could not together establish a mechanism for our revising our export decisions where US consent is required with us early in the process. Again, they asked for a reconsideration of the decision. I told them that I would, of course, report their requests but discouraged them from expecting any change in either the Kfir or cluster bomb decision.

8. At the later meeting with the other cabinet members present, I responded that although the decision had not yet been finally made by you on the concussion bomb, it was my belief that you would decide that the bomb should not be made available to the Israelis or to any other country, and they should guide themselves accordingly.6 Secondly, I indicated that with respect to the Kfir, I felt that the decision [Page 55] was consonant with our long-standing policy with respect to the introduction of advanced weapons systems into Latin America and expressed less than hope that the decision would be reversed. Tomorrow morning I will tell Allon that the decision has been made with respect to the concussion bomb, so that they will have enough advance notice to be prepared for Jody’s 12:30 press conference. They would prefer that we wait until the end of my trip but I believe I have prepared the way sufficiently so that it will not come as a rude shock.

9. Later this afternoon, I met with Shimon Peres who had some interesting suggestions to make with respect to a number of matters. Like the others that I spoke to today, he is willing to accept a return to Geneva negotiations, but prefers to think in terms of practical steps that can be taken in the immediate future to reduce tensions and provide the mutual restraint which will enable the Israelis and the Arabs to begin working together in a way heretofore rejected. In this regard, he specifically requested that we approach the Saudis to arrange for the following kinds of cooperation:

  • (a) In the Gulf of Aqaba, the Israelis and the Saudis would agree to reach a private understanding not to fortify the coast. In his words, they would both agree to keep both coasts “naked.” At the mouth of the Gulf, of course, Israel would wish to retain its control (not sovereignty) through a military presence at Sharm el-Sheikh.
  • (b) The Israelis would like to cooperate with the Saudis against radical movements anywhere in the Middle East. They believe this was in conformity with Saudi interests and that the Israelis could help with information and other forms of counter-radical action.
  • (c) The Israelis would be prepared to cooperate with the Saudis in the Sudan, Kenya and Ethopia in order to help resist the pressures from radical states against these nations.
  • (d) The Israelis would like to find ways and means to make practical arrangements on almost any subject in which the Saudis would be interested. This was to be done quietly, either directly or through us. They knew this would be in the interests of countering attempts at subversion directed against the authority of the Saudi royal family.

10. Peres then addressed the question of what to do to avoid the danger of war during the period negotiations would begin in the search for a final solution. He said that basically Israel would be for an overall settlement, but he could not see any way to do it because of the thorny issues involved. He thought it would be bad to seek an overall settlement and fail because it would have raised expectations. Therefore, before building a machinery for permanent peace, it was better to start by building dams against war and against surprises from either side. When pressed, however, he said that these could move in parallel. He spoke of creating instruments to control movements within territories. [Page 56] Once this was accomplished there could then be a reduction of forces, rather than a reduction of arms. A thinning out of forces with watch stations to prevent surprises would result in a reduction of worries by either side about the actions of their opponents. He went on to point out that this might have to be done in different ways along fronts and emphasized that in making these suggestions he didn’t mean to suggest the need to postpone negotiations, but rather to provide a way for some room on the ground between the contesting parties. Peres summed up his views by saying that much could be achieved in the Middle East in the next five to ten years, provided that the danger of war was reduced, that negotiations continue, and that the US continue to provide the necessary economic support, not only to Israel but especially to the Arabs as well.

11. I am reporting these variations of the Israeli positions to you to demonstrate the kind of thinking that they are indulging in, both in order to show some degree of flexibility as far as we are concerned but also in the expectation that we will carry this message to the Arabs. The Israelis clearly do not see a structured solution easily arrived at through a Geneva Conference. Therefore, they are casting around now for things that might be done to give the appearance of movement, while negotiations begin. The problem with moves like this is that unless they are suggested within the framework of a negotiation working toward an overall settlement, the Arabs will read them as diversionary efforts.

12. In the exchange of toasts at the end of Allon’s large dinner,7 he went out of his way to express confidence in the US and our relationship. I made a special effort in my toast to reassure the Israelis of the fundamental solidity of our relationship to help offset some of the public concern that the cumulative effect of our decisions on the Kfir and the concussion bombs foreshadowed future changes in our overall policy toward Israel.

13. At the end of the day, Allon and I held a joint press conference. Particularly in response to questions about Israel’s position toward the Palestinians, Allon formulated Israel’s basic position in the most positive possible way.

14. I delivered your letter of invitation to Prime Minister Rabin.8 It was very well received. We will work out the dates at the appropriate [Page 57] time. The Israeli leadership appreciated the fact that we have gone forward on this matter despite their domestic political situation.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 102, 2/14–21/77 Vance Trip to the Middle East: Briefing Book: Vol. II [I], 2/77. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis; Cherokee. Drafted by Saunders. Cleared by Atherton, Habib (who did not initial the telegram), and Tarnoff and approved by Vance.
  2. February 15; no memorandum of conversation has been found.
  3. No memorandum of conversation of Vance’s private breakfast meeting with Rabin has been found. For his meeting with Allon, see Document 6. For the lunch meeting, see Document 7.
  4. No memorandum of conversation has been found.
  5. For Vance’s and Rabin’s public remarks after their February 16 meeting, see Department of State Bulletin, March 14, 1977, p. 210.
  6. Carter sent a message on February 16 to Vance that he was to transmit to Rabin notifying him “that we will announce tomorrow our decision not to transfer CBU’s to Israel or to any other nation.” (Message WH7?0?7 from the White House to Jerusalem, February 16; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 9, Israel: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 2–7/77)
  7. According to the New York Times, Allon’s dinner took place on February 16 at the Israeli Parliament. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Vance opposes a Seat for P.L.O at talks Unless It Accepts Israel,” New York Times, February 17, 1977, p. 3)
  8. See footnote 2, Document 7.