80. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Israelis
  • Prime Minister Menahem Begin
  • Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan
  • Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich
  • Interior Minister Yosef Burg
  • Defense Minister Ezer Weizman
  • Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon
  • Ambassador Simcha Dinitz
  • Ephraim Evron, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Shmuel Katz, Advisor to the Prime Minister
  • General Ephraim Poran, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Attorney General Barak
  • Americans
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Philip Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Ambassador Samuel Lewis
  • Harold Saunders, Director INR
  • William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Arthur Day, Deputy Assistant Secretary
  • John Crump, Political Counselor, US Embassy
  • Hodding Carter, Assistant Secretary of State (PA)

Prime Minister Begin welcomed Secretary Vance to Israel for continuation of talks between the two countries. He asked the Secretary to begin with a report on the results of his trip. Secretary Vance expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and to report on his visit in the Arab countries. He stated that he would cover the responses of the Arab leaders to the Israeli peace proposals, which he raised as the first item of business in each country. Then he [Page 427] would cover procedural issues, and finally substantive points, with reference to the five principles previously discussed with the Prime Minister. He would then suggest some possibilities for proceeding in the future.

Concerning Prime Minister Begin’s proposal,2 the Arabs had no objections to the first and second parts. On the third part, all of the leaders objected because the PLO was not included. On the fourth point, they argued that Israel is setting conditions on borders, the Palestinian question, and Jerusalem, and this is inconsistent with the statement concerning negotiations without preconditions. They have no objection to the fifth point, but on the proposal for mixed commissions they have a variety of objections. One said that there should be no national mixed commissions, but rather there should be functional groups dealing with questions such as the Palestinians, guarantees, and military withdrawal. Another said that the Palestinian question must be resolved first and that the question of mixed commissions is premature. These were the two principal areas of disagreement. On the seventh point concerning peace treaties, all accepted the word “peace treaties” instead of “peace agreements.” The Prime Minister said that he was pleased to hear this. He asked if Syria had also accepted this. The Secretary said they had. They had, however, objected to the mixed commission idea contained in that paragraph. On the eighth point, involving chairmanship by rotation, there were a variety of objections. The Arab leaders felt that the UN or one of the co-chairmen of the conference should chair the committees. Another leader objected to the principle of rotation entirely, but accepted the UN or the co-chairmen. On paragraph nine, the Arabs only objected to the reference to diplomatic relations. On the alternatives suggested by Israel, on the first alternative relying on Rhodes procedures for talks, the Arabs would not exclude this as a possibility if the Palestinians were included, but if the Palestinians are excluded, then they would object. Concerning proximity talks, the problem was again the noninclusion of Palestinians in the framework. They did not, however, exclude bilateral conversations through an intermediary; but they do not accept mixed commissions which exclude the Palestinians. That in brief is the response of the Arabs to the Israeli proposals.

On the question of procedures, the Secretary raised the issue of how to proceed to Geneva. The first question was how to deal with the structure of delegations. We went through the four alternatives that we discussed in Washington:3 the inclusion of Palestinians in a national Arab delegation such as Jordan; inclusion of Palestinians in a unified [Page 428] Arab delegation; agreement in advance that the Palestinian issue would be on the agenda and that Palestinians would participate when the issue came to the fore; agreement in advance that the Palestinian issue would be on the agenda and that modalities for Palestinian participation would be discussed at the conference. Each of the Arab leaders indicated that the latter two alternatives were not acceptable. The discussion therefore focused on the first two alternatives—the inclusion of Palestinians in a Jordanian delegation and in a united Arab delegation. The Secretary reported the Prime Minister’s ideas on the Jordanian delegation—Israel would consider accepting Palestinians in a Jordanian delegation, and their credentials would not be examined, but no known PLO member could participate. Each Arab leader said this was unacceptable. The PLO would not agree and they could not agree either. The inclusion of the Palestinians in an Arab delegation was accepted by all but one of the leaders as the best solution. One leader believed that there should be national delegations at Geneva, plus one other delegation for Palestine headed by the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, who happens to be the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army. In that delegation there would be other individuals from Arab countries and Palestinians, including some Palestinian mayors from the West Bank, for example. When this was discussed with other Arab leaders, it was viewed as interesting, but not realistic. In brief, four Arab leaders favor a unified Arab delegation including Palestinians, and one has a reservation about that alternative. Foreign Minister Dayan asked whether the Secretary could inform the Israeli side if the objections on some points came from the front-line countries or only from Saudi Arabia. The Secretary replied that the one country opposed to a unified Arab delegation was one of the confrontation states. He also expressed his view that if the other Arab countries favor a unified Arab delegation, all of the parties on the Arab side would agree. This is a prediction, since one party still has not formally accepted the idea of a unified delegation.

On the Palestinian question, the Secretary stated that the PLO has asked to establish contact with the United States and that the US has refused because of its commitment under Sinai II. When we arrived in Egypt, the question was raised of whether we were prepared to talk with the PLO and the Secretary gave the Egyptians the answer that the PLO must accept 242 first. We would, however, understand the PLO stating a reservation to the effect that Resolution 242 does not adequately deal with the Palestinian question, because it refers only to refugees and not to a homeland. If 242 is otherwise clearly accepted, this would satisfy us. Some language was shown to us in Egypt, but it did not meet these requirements. The same question was raised in Damascus, although no language was proposed. But the Syrians did urge that we make contact with the PLO. In Amman, the same discussion [Page 429] took place. In Taif, the question was raised again, and two variations of language that the PLO might be ready to issue were presented. Again, neither was acceptable to meet our needs on this issue. The Secretary stressed that the key point was Israel’s right to exist as a state. Until this was acknowledged, we could not talk to the PLO. Whether the PLO would be forthcoming, the Secretary could not say. There were indications in each capital that a satisfactory formulation would emerge, but none as yet has been received. Prime Minister Begin asked whether we had amended any of the drafts we saw. The Secretary said that we presented our view that the PLO would have to accept Resolution 242, although we would understand their reserving their position on the refugee clause. That would meet our criteria. It is clear that Resolution 242 means that each state has a right to exist and live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. In Taif, we were asked if talking to the PLO would mean that they could go to Geneva. The Secretary replied that the question of who participates at Geneva has to be settled by the parties. He would not be able to answer that question. That is where the situation stands. Prime Minister Begin thanked the Secretary for his review of the issues.

Secretary Vance continued with a review of the reactions to the five principles that were discussed in each stop. [The Secretary read the full text of each of the principles before describing the reactions of the various parties.] On principle one, there was no disagreement. On principle two, there were also no objections. On principle three, no one objected to the first clause on the termination of the state of war. Objections were raised by two of the parties on the phrase “normal peaceful relations.” One of the parties would accept the language as written. One would accept it if the language expressed the development of peaceful relations over time. One objected to the language without suggesting any alternative. One wanted to modify the language somewhat. The Prime Minister asked if we could give details on the positions of each country. Secretary Vance replied that he thought it would not be inconsistent with what he had said to the parties to reveal their positions, provided that such information not leave this room. Jordan, he said, accepts the principle as it is now written. Saudi Arabia would suggest minor modifications. Egypt believes that it should be changed, but offered no suggestions. The same was true for Syria. The Prime Minister asked if the normalization of relations over time had come from the Egyptians. The Secretary said they had not suggested that wording, but had merely stated that they could not accept the point as it was written. The Secretary did say, however, that he thought they could accept the phrase “over time.” Nor would he rule out Syrian acceptance of that language. There is a beginning of movement on this issue, and we are seeing the effects of the American insistence on real peace.

[Page 430]

On point four, Israel had objected to the phrase “on all fronts.” We presented the point as our view, noting that Israel did not accept the principle. On point four, Sadat called for withdrawal to the 1967 lines in Sinai and Golan, and would only accept minor modifications on the West Bank. Assad’s view was the same. King Hussein called for full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with minor reciprocal modifications on the West Bank. He also raised the question of Jerusalem. Fahd supported return to the 1967 lines, with minor modifications on the West Bank. He also raised the question of Jerusalem. He and Hussein took the position that east Jerusalem should return to Arab sovereignty, there should be a unified city, with Arab sovereignty in the east and Israeli sovereignty in the west. They support open access to the holy places. On the phrasing in point four of implementation of withdrawal over a period of years, some felt that the timing should be shorter. On the final sentence, there was no objection. The Prime Minister asked if there was any question of external guarantees. The Secretary said that it was not raised in this context, but that it had been mentioned elsewhere. Dayan asked if when the Arabs spoke of east Jerusalem under Arab sovereignty, whether they meant the 1967 lines. The Secretary confirmed that they did, including all of the old city.

The Secretary then read the fifth principle. All of the Arab parties agree with the first sentence concerning the need for a Palestinian entity. They all accept the need for self-determination. Assad objected to the sentence of no militarization of the entity. He thought that such a provision would be unacceptable and that it should not be included. The Secretary argued this with President Assad, telling him that his position did not make sense, that it would have to be demilitarized, and that it was not feasible or realistic for the entity to have its own arms. Sadat emphasized that he favors a link to Jordan, and that this should be announced before Geneva. Minister Burg asked whether the question of a corridor had been raised. The Secretary said that this was not Sadat’s idea, but that he was talking rather about a political link to Jordan. Sadat agreed to the need for a Palestinian entity, but wanted a political link to Jordan before Geneva. The others all felt that such a link should not be determined before Geneva, but should result from the negotiations at Geneva. The Secretary noted that he had made it clear that Israel objected to the fifth principle in its entirety.

The Secretary added that he believed it was possible to make progress toward Geneva despite the differences. He and the President both believe that if momentum is not continued, an opportunity may be lost and a period of stagnation may begin. Then we might slip back from the present positions. The Secretary said that he believed that efforts should be intensified to narrow differences on procedure and substance and this should be done soon. He noted that he had asked each [Page 431] of the leaders to prepare, if they were willing, a draft of a peace treaty. This would be transmitted to him. He would not give it to anyone else. He asked for concrete language describing their positions on each of the issues. The Prime Minister asked if he had suggested that the drafts be provided only to him. The Secretary said that he had. Egypt would send a draft of an Egyptian-Israeli treaty to the United States; Syria and Jordan would be asked to do the same. The question was also raised in Lebanon. The Lebanese want to go to Geneva, and the Secretary told them that the Israelis do not object, and he therefore asked them also for a draft. They did not commit themselves to deliver a draft, but they took a positive attitude toward the idea. The Secretary told them that they might send in their ideas in any form, but that it was important to provide detail on the central issues. The Secretary suggested that at the time of the UN General Assembly that all of the foreign ministers should be in New York so that the Secretary could move between the parties to narrow differences. In general, there was a positive reaction to the suggestion. These would be bilateral talks with each foreign minister, although the Secretary said that he would not exclude that there might be opportunities for them to talk with one another.

Dayan asked if the idea of trusteeship had been raised. The Secretary said the idea arose in the context of self-determination. The Arabs, he said, think in terms of an international administrative regime for a transitional period. At the end, they would consider a plebiscite under international supervision. There were some suggestions on what a plebiscite would cover. One idea was that a plebiscite would select a constituent assembly to determine the future structure of the entity and its relations with its neighbors.

Prime Minister Begin expressed his gratitude to the Secretary for bringing Israel’s ideas to the attention of the Arab rulers. He noted that he was very glad that there had been one major achievement in gaining Arab acceptance of a comprehensive peace settlement embodied in peace treaties. This was “an important achievement.” Peace treaties, in his view, are very clear in international law. He expressed his pleasure that the conflict should be resolved in the ordinary way through peace treaties. Diplomatic relations are inseparable from peace treaties. A treaty should have a special chapter on diplomatic relations. The Prime Minister said that he felt Israel was on solid ground to think that diplomatic relations should be mentioned explicitly. He hoped that the Arabs will agree that diplomatic relations are part of peace treaties. A peace treaty would not be a treaty without diplomatic relations. Even in the Soviet-Japanese peace agreement, diplomatic relations were enumerated. On the problem of the PLO, Prime Minister Begin said that this has become an issue of international interest. According to the State Department spokesman, if the PLO accepts Resolutions 242 and 338, [Page 432] with their own interpretation, and if the Palestinian Charter continues in effect, this will be all right with the United States.4 This is what has been published. It is a very serious problem. To understand the Israeli position, Prime Minister Begin quoted from the Palestinian National Covenant. He emphasized those articles which negated Israel’s right to exist and which called for the expulsion of Israelis who arrived after 1917. Prime Minister Begin, after reading several articles from the Covenant, expressed his amazement that this could continue to be in force, while the PLO would merely accept Resolution 242 with its own interpretation of the Resolution. Israel could not accept such a procedure, and it was “one of the most regrettable developments from the moral point of view” that Israel’s great friend was ready to accept such an approach. The United States would be recognizing an organization that has carried out 90 attacks in 1977, killing two people and maiming 120. The victims have not been military personnel, but rather civilians. Only today, a grenade was found in a supermarket. The Prime Minister unhesitatingly called the PLO a genocidal organization which wants to destroy Israel, its people, and to destroy its civilization. If the Americans allow the Covenant to stay in force, while only asking them to accept Resolution 242 with their own interpretation, that would be “a sorrowful day” for Israel and for all free men.

The Prime Minister referred to two agreements between the United States and Israel: the Memorandum of Understanding of December 1973,5 and the Sinai II Agreement. In the 1973 agreement, paragraph seven stated that subsequent participation in the Geneva Conference would require the agreement of all the initial participants. In Begin’s view, this article could not be interpreted in more than one way. Israel would agree that Lebanon might participate, but the organization referred to as the so-called PLO will not be accepted. By mutual agreement, only all of the initial participants can change the composition of the Geneva Conference. As Prime Minister Begin had told the President, Israel can under no circumstances agree to an organization such as the PLO participating. Only Palestinian Arabs in a Jordanian delegation would be accepted. And Israel will not search their pockets for credentials. But at his press conference the Prime Minister had added that if known PLO members tried to participate, Israel’s answer would be unequivocally negative.6 This is not because Israel is intransigent, but stems from simple logic. Israel has its attitude on the PLO and [Page 433] cannot mislead its people. The PLO is excluded forever. Israel will not discuss its self destruction. The Israeli people would not understand, it would be a complete contradiction for Israel to talk to the PLO. This must be clarified and there can be no doubt about Israel’s position. In view of the US-Israeli mutual agreement, it does not even occur to Israel that the United States will not honor this agreement, since the United States has always honored its commitments. Only with Israel’s agreement can a change in the composition of the Geneva Conference take place. Let it be clear: “We will not, we cannot, give our acceptance. We can’t and we shan’t.” In September 1975, the Prime Minister noted, the language of the 1973 agreement was repeated with only a slight change. Thus the United States has twice given Israel a clear commitment. Israel has been very disturbed by the State Department’s statement. Israel is concerned on moral grounds, and in light of the possible effect on the Arabs. If the Arabs insist upon the PLO at Geneva and if the US accepts the PLO as a partner to talks, this would imply a consensus in favor of the PLO at Geneva, which would be contrary to the agreement between the US and Israel.

The Prime Minister pointed to another article in the September 1975 agreement, article four. This states that the US will oppose any change in the UN Resolutions. Any attempt to add reference to a Palestinian entity in Resolution 242 should be vetoed by the US. Resolution 242 refers simply to a just settlement of the refugee problem. Israel cannot be asked to accept Resolution 242 and then allow the PLO to amend it. Israel accepts the letter of Resolution 242. There are various interpretations, but there is only one text, and it makes no reference to the Palestinian question, a Palestinian entity, or anything else. If post facto, Israel is asked to accept Resolution 242 with changes as proposed by the PLO, this would be completely impossible and Israel would not agree. The Prime Minister asked that the Secretary bring to the knowledge of the President these two documents so that he would know the wording of the specific commitments. Secretary Vance asked to reply. He stated that the President is familiar with the commitments. The Prime Minister’s reference to Resolution 242 with the PLO’s interpretation was not an accurate statement. What the United States has talked about is Resolution 242, with a reservation by the PLO to the effect that Resolution 242 does not adequately cover the Palestinian question. A distinction must be made among three points: the USPLO contact; the PLO at Geneva; and any change in 242. On the third point, we should be clear that the United States does not support any change in Resolution 242. The French may be considering this, but we are opposed to any amendment. The Prime Minister said he was glad to hear that. On participation at Geneva, the Secretary said, participation requires the agreement of all the initial parties. The United States cannot determine who will participate at Geneva. That is up to the parties. Concerning a US dialogue [Page 434] with the PLO, the United States has stated its policy of no talks unless the PLO accepts Resolution 242. That Resolution calls for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized borders. If the PLO were to accept this, it would negate, in the Secretary’s view, their Covenant. That would meet our requirement for talking to the PLO. The Prime Minister referred to the last point. If the PLO accepts Resolution 242, that would not necessarily negate their Covenant. The State Department’s spokesman has said that the US will not ask for a change in the Covenant. This means that the Covenant can remain in force. He stated that if the PLO were to accept 242, they would not have to change the Covenant. The press spokesman noted that this was not an accurate statement. Mr. Begin said he would be glad to learn that such a statement had not been made. But the US would accept PLO recognition of 242 with a reservation or an interpretation. Secretary Vance said there was an important difference between the two. The Prime Minister said that the US spokesman had gone on to say that the PLO would not be asked to change any articles of the Covenant, and therefore one has to assume that the Covenant would remain in force and would not be negated. In March, some expected the PLO to change its Covenant, but nothing happened.7 Israel does not accept the idea that the Covenant would be negated by the PLO’s acceptance of Resolution 242. Secretary Vance stated that when he was in Taif he was asked about Resolution 242 and the Palestinian Covenant.8 He said that the United States would not insist on a change in the Covenant, because if Resolution 242 were accepted, that would constitute a change in the Covenant itself because of the reference to all states having the right to exist in peace. The Prime Minister stated that this was a very important interpretation by the representative of the United States, but it did not reflect the PLO’s position. From their point of view, accepting Resolution 242 would not negate the Palestinian Covenant. PLO acceptance of 242 would not negate that genocidal document. Mr. Katz said that the PLO’s reservations might in effect nullify their acceptance of Resolution 242 in any case. The Secretary said that if the statement of the PLO was not acceptable, the United States would not talk to them.

Prime Minister Begin said that he would like to comment on the idea of a unified Arab delegation. This had been discussed in Washington and the Israeli position was explained. Israel wants peace treaties with states, not with the Arab League or with a unified delegation. Negotiations must be state to state. Israel does not accept at all the idea of a unified Arab delegation. If peace treaties are the goal, negotia [Page 435] tions must take place between states. Otherwise, how in a general Arab delegation, with the Secretary General of the Arab League, could negotiations take place. Now there are 21 or 22 Arab states. Israel is not going to sign peace treaties with all of them. Israel’s position, he stated, is reasonable and logical. In concluding, the Prime Minister said that these first talks had been very fruitful and had clarified a number of issues. The United States had rendered a service to the cause of peace by getting Arab agreement to peace treaties. There are still obstacles, but efforts should still be made. Foreign Minister Dayan will go to the United States in September, and Israel is pleased that the President has agreed to see him. All options can be discussed. The meeting ended at 7:00 p.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 50, Middle East: 7–9/77. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place at the Prime Ministry. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See the Attachment to Document 52.
  3. See Documents 52 and 57.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 44.
  5. The U.S.-Israeli memorandum of understanding of December 20, 1973, provided that the original participants in the December 1973 Geneva Conference had to agree on any invitations to future participants to the conference. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Document 410.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 56.
  7. A reference to the March 1977 Palestinian National Council meeting in Cairo.
  8. See Document 75.