160. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • White Paper on Middle East? (C)

Secretary Vance has sent you the draft of a “White Paper” on the Egypt-Israel peace negotiations, (Tab A). We have several choices in handling this: (S)

Release the White Paper (with any appropriate revisions). The paper itself will then become the target of debate, possibly obscuring the issues in the negotiations. (S)

Release the documents. This would force attention to the issues directly, but would be viewed by some as inappropriate for a mediator. (S)

Systematic backgrounding of press. This should be done in any event, but may be adequate without actually releasing documents. The draft “White Paper” would become the basis for the backgrounding. (S)

Secretary Vance is not in favor of releasing the White Paper or the documents. The more I think about it, the more I think we could accomplish our purposes by extensive press backgrounding. (S)

RECOMMENDATION: That we not release the White Paper2 or the documents, but that we draw on them for extensive background-ing. (C)3

[Page 556]

Tab A

Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter4

Attached is a draft of white paper which was completed over the weekend. When you have had a chance to go over it, I would appreciate the chance to talk to you about it. I have reservations as to how much this really advances the debate. Perhaps it might be better simply to release the documents, which speak for themselves, and handle the questions and amplification either by on-the-record or background sessions with the press.

Cyrus Vance5


White Paper Prepared in the Department of State6


Where They Stand on December 17

On September 17, 1978, at the end of the historic meetings at Camp David, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin set for themselves a goal of concluding a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel within three months. Since October 12, difficult but productive negotiations have taken place between their delegations at Blair House in Washington with the help of the United States. While it has not been possible to meet their goal, these negotiations have produced the main elements of a treaty package. But several issues remain to be resolved. Some reflect basic differences. Others are less important. In the United States’ view, these few remaining gaps can be closed. The United States, as a friend and partner of both parties, remains committed to helping Egypt and Israel resolve these issues in a continuing negotiation.

[Page 557]The purpose of this paper is to explain what has been achieved, the role the United States has played, and the issues that remain. While much information has been made public about the negotiations, preserving the integrity of the negotiating process has required that the talks be conducted confidentially. In such a situation and when issues of a highly technical nature are involved, some confusion and misapprehension are bound to arise.

The United States has been a full partner in this process, as at Camp David, because peace in the Middle East is crucial to its national interests and to the peace and security of its friends there. We are involved in the Middle East because of our permanent historic and moral commitment to the State of Israel, because of our friendships and important interests in the Arab world, because of the strategic importance of moderate government there, and because renewed tension or warfare in the area carries the risk of confrontation between the major powers, severe global economic dislocation, and strains in relations with our friends and allies. We have been able to participate in the process and to play the role of partner because we enjoy the confidence of both sides.

Where the Treaty Package Stands

Two Framework Agreements were signed by President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, and witnessed by President Carter, on September 17: A Framework for Peace in the Middle East, and A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.7 The first sets out broad guidelines for peace between Egypt and Israel and between Israel and its other neighbors including the Palestinians, with the objective of achieving a comprehensive peace; it describes in some detail a framework for the West Bank and Gaza; it enunciates general principles governing negotiations between Egypt and Israel; and it sets out associated principles that should apply to peace treaties between Israel and each of its neighbors. In the Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, the Parties set out the broad outlines for this peace treaty.

As a result of the negotiations that began on October 12, the framework agreed upon at Camp David has been translated into a set of detailed documents which comprise a treaty package. Agreement has been reached on most of these documents. But as of December 17, neither Party is prepared to agree on all of the elements of the treaty package. Until there is agreement on the complete package, there cannot be a peace treaty.

[Page 558]The complete treaty package now before the Governments of Egypt and Israel contains the following documents:

—a Protocol concerning Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and accompanying security arrangements;

—maps delineating the line for an interim Israeli withdrawal and the security zones to be established in the Sinai and the Negev after Israel’s final withdrawal;

—a Protocol concerning the normalization of relations between the Parties under conditions of peace;

—a set of letters and interpretive notes.

In those documents, the two Parties have reached agreement on: the basic text of a peace treaty, the Annex on withdrawal and security arrangements, the maps, virtually all of the Annex on the normalization of relations, the beginning of the next round of negotiations on the West Bank and Gaza one month after ratification of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty.

There are three principle outstanding issues:

How to express the relationship between the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty and the political process in the West Bank/Gaza which both sides agreed at Camp David should be negotiated and set in motion. Egypt wants assurances that the sequence of steps leading to Palestinian autonomy will take place within a specific timeframe. Israel agrees to start negotiations promptly, but takes the position that it is impossible to determine when those negotiations can be concluded. Israel does not want implementation of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty conditioned on other negotiations. Egypt has insisted since President Sadat’s visit to Israel in November, 1977, that Egypt can make peace with Israel only in the context of progress toward peace between Israel and its other Arab neighbors.8 This issue is touched on in two proposed letters—one specifying the time period within which these negotiations would be concluded and another in which Egypt relates the exchange of ambassadors to inauguration of a Palestinian self-governing authority.

—How to define the relationship between the obligations under this Treaty and those under other international obligations. Israel wants the obligations under this Treaty to have priority over Egypt’s commitments to other Arab nations. Egypt has insisted on the right, under the UN Charter, to honor the several mutual defense pacts it has with other Arab States in the event of armed attack against them. These issues are dealt with in Article VI of the Treaty.

—Both sides agree to the principle of a review in Article IV of the Treaty and that any changes must be by mutual agreement. Egypt wants it made explicit that review is mandatory upon the request of either side and has suggested a fixed date for review. Israel agrees that review should be mandatory if either side requets a review but does not accept the mention of a review in 5 years.

[Page 559]How these issues are dealt with in the documents of the treaty package is discussed in greater detail below.

How the Negotiations Have Been Conducted

To understand where the negotiations stand as of December 17, it is important to understand several points about how the negotiations have been conducted.

First, it is essential to understand the process by which agreement is reached in a negotiation of this kind. The Egyptian and Israeli Governments sent to Washington highly qualified negotiating teams headed by Cabinet Ministers. These two teams came empowered to negotiate but not to give final approval. Each could and did frequently accept certain provisions ad referendum—that is, subject to later approval by their governments. In a few instances provisions that were agreed to by each of the negotiating teams were disapproved when referred to the home government. This is a normal and accepted part of the negotiating process. When the recommendations of the negotiators are overruled, the solution is further negotiation to settle the unresolved issues.

Second, it is important to understand the U.S. role in these negotiations. As at Camp David, we have worked separately and together with the negotiating Parties. We have served as communicators between them, helping each to understand the other’s positions. We have helped them to crystallize and write down the positions that evolved from their discussions. At the beginning of each phase in the negotiations at Blair House, we put to the Parties draft texts to be used as a basis for negotiation. These texts were not intended to be binding upon anyone; their aim was simply to give the Parties a point from which to start. In later instances, when the Parties had negotiated for some time but found themselves unable to reach agreement, we proposed drafts that we thought represented fair and reasonable compromises which would advance the negotiations without prejudicing the fundamental interests of either Party. In short, most of the documents now in the Treaty package have resulted from a combination of all of these methods and from intensive discussion of the issues after a prolonged period.

Third, it may be useful to have in mind a simple chronology of events during the period of these negotiations:

[Page 560]
October 12: Negotiations begin at Blair House.
October 20–21: Intensive sessions with President Carter.
October 22: Ministers Dayan and Weizman return to Israel to consult the Cabinet.
November 11–12: U.S. effort to present a complete text of the Treaty, of Annex III, and of a letter on the West Bank/Gaza negotiations.
November 13: Egyptian Acting Foreign Minister Boutros Ghali returned to Egypt to consult with President Sadat. Egypt did not agree to two Treaty articles and the West Bank/Gaza letter.
November 15–18: Egyptian Vice President Mubarak visited Washington.
November 21: The Israeli Cabinet approved the Treaty text and Annexes while rejecting an Egyptian draft of a West Bank/Gaza letter and not approving a U.S. draft.
November 30–December 4: Egyptian Prime Minister Khalil visited Washington.
December 8: Secretary Vance left for Egypt and Israel.

The Outstanding Issues

The differences between Egypt and Israel have been reduced to very few. Both Parties are now prepared to accept the Treaty text,9 subject to Egyptian request for two clarifications, Annex I on withdrawal and security arrangements, the maps, and Annex III with the exception of disagreement on one sentence.

Side understandings relating to Annex I had been agreed, and extensive work had been done on a letter which would deal with the West Bank/Gaza negotiations. Because of the sharply divergent positions taken by Egypt and Israel on this last issue, the United States had put forward a compromise draft calling for negotiations on the West Bank and Gaza to begin one month after the ratification of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty with a goal of concluding those negotiations and holding elections not later than the end of 1979. After extensive discussions on November 11–12,10 the Israeli negotiators accepted the U.S. proposal subject to approval by the Israeli Cabinet. The Cabinet on November 21 did not approve the U.S. draft. The Egyptians initially rejected the U.S. draft, but accepted it during Secretary Vance’s talks in Egypt December [Page 561]10–12.11 A special word is also required about one aspect of the negotiations on Annex III, dealing with normalization of relations between the two Parties. Early in the Blair House talks, agreement ad referendum was reached between the negotiators that in return for Israel’s willingness to detail a sector-by-sector timetable for accelerating its interim withdrawal in the Sinai, Egypt would agree to maintain the momentum of rapid implementation of the Treaty by agreeing to exchange ambassadors one month after the completion of Israel’s withdrawal to the interim line. Neither of these understandings had been agreed at Camp David; both were reached in an atmosphere of trying to show quick results from the signing of the Treaty. Subsequently, the Israeli Cabinet disapproved detailing the phases for an early withdrawal. The Egyptian Government then withdrew its reciprocal agreement for an early exchange of ambassadors. The issues that remain following Secretary Vance’s December 10–15 talks in Egypt and Israel are the following:

Treaty Text

Article IV of the Treaty, paragraph 4, which provises that: “The security arrangements provided for in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article may at the request of either Party be reviewed and amended by mutual agreement of the Parties.” President Sadat has agreed to accept this paragraph but wanted an interpretive note which would make clear that a review would be mandatory if requested by either Party. Egypt has proposed the following note:

“Paragraph 4 of Article IV shall be construed to mean that review provided for in that Article shall be undertaken promptly on the request of either Party, and that an amendment can be made only with the mutual agreement of the two Parties.

“It is understood that such a review will occur when the Treaty has been in force for five years.”

Article VI of the Treaty, which concerns the obligations of the Parties toward each other under this Treaty and toward third parties to whom they also have commitments. President Sadat was concerned mainly over paragraphs 2 and 5 of this Article:

Paragraph 2 states: “The Parties undertake to fulfill in good faith their obligations under this Treaty, without regard to action or inaction of any other party and independently of any instrument external to this Treaty.” President Sadat wanted clarification that this language did not contradict the fact that the Treaty is concluded in the context of a comprehensive peace in accordance with provisions of the Camp David Framework. He prepared the following interpretive note:

[Page 562]“The provisions of Paragraph 2 of Article VI of this Treaty shall not be construed in contradiction with the fact that this Treaty is concluded in the context of a comprehensive peace settlement in accordance with the provisions of the Framework for Peace in the Middle East agreed at Camp David.” Israel has not yet responded formally to this proposal.

Paragraph 5 states that in the event of conflict between the obligations under the Treaty and those stemming from other international undertakings “. . . .the obligations under the Treaty will be binding and implemented.” President Sadat was troubled that the Article might be seen as abrogating legitimate defense commitments undertaken by Egypt pursuant to the Arab League Charter. Egypt has indicated willingness to accept a U.S. legal opinion “. . . . that the obligations which Egypt assumes under the proposed Treaty text would not prevent Egypt from legally coming to the assistance of any state with which it has a collective security or mutual defense agreement in the event that state is the victim of armed attack by a third state.” It is also true that Egypt would have no duty or right to assist an Arab country in initiating an attack on Israel.

It seems to the United States that each of these problems with the Treaty text has a solution that is consistent with the agreements reached at Camp David and with the interests of each Party.

The Letters

The letter concerns the establishment of a self-governing authority on the West Bank/Gaza. President Sadat agreed that negotiations for the West Bank/Gaza agreement should begin one month after the ratification of the peace Treaty but was concerned over having no assurance that they would progress satisfactorily. Rather than a good faith target date, he wanted a firm date set for the establishment of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza; furthermore, he wanted this date to coincide with the date of Israel’s withdrawal to the interim withdrawal line in Sinai, which was the starting point, under the Camp David Framework Agreements, for beginning normal relations, including diplomatic, economic and cultural relations, and the termination of economic boycotts and barriers to the free movement of goods and people. During Secretary Vance’s recent trip to Egypt, however, President Sadat accepted the idea of a target date to be stated as “not later than the end of 1979.” No part of the implementation of Annex III, except the exchange of ambassadors, would be coupled with that date.

The letter concerning exchange of ambassadors. As described above, Egypt had earlier agreed that, in order to maintain the momentum of rapid implementation of the Treaty, ambassadors would be exchanged within one month after completion of the interim withdrawal. Egyptian negotiators regarded this as a significant concession while Israel [Page 563]would continue to occupy a substantial portion of the Sinai. Egypt has now proposed to send the following letter to President Carter: “In response to your request, I can confirm that within one month after the self-governing authority is inaugurated, which may take place in Gaza first as a step towards full implementation of the Camp David Framework, Egypt will send a resident Ambassador to Israel and will receive a resident Israeli Ambassador in Egypt.” Egypt regards the decision to exchange ambassadors as the prerogative of the President of Egypt, not an appropriate subject for inclusion in a peace Treaty. They regard the exchange of ambassadors as an element in the normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel which will in part depend—in a political though not in a legal sense—on the progress in the negotiations establishing peace between Israel and its other neighbors.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 51, Middle East: 10/78–1/79. Secret. Outside System. Sent for action. Carter initialed “C” at the top of the memorandum, indicating he saw the document.
  2. Carter underlined “not release the White Paper” and wrote “?” in the right-hand margin.
  3. Carter initialed his approval of the recommendation and wrote beneath it, “Just mark it ‘SECRET’ and let S people see it. It will be published without delay. J.”
  4. No classification marking.
  5. Vance signed “Cy” through this typed signature.
  6. Secret; Nodis. Carter wrote in the upper right-hand corner of the paper: “It’s a factual & balanced analysis. J.C.”
  7. For the text of these two documents, see Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, pp. 1523–1528.
  8. Carter underlined “other Arab neighbors” and wrote “Palestinians, W Bk/Gaza” in the right-hand margin next to it.
  9. On December 15, the Israeli Cabinet issued the following statement: “The GOI is prepared to sign without delay the draft peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, including the annexes as formulated on the 11th of November 1978 with the approval of the United States Government. Full responsibility for the fact that the peace treaty has not been signed rests entirely with the GOE.” The Cabinet rejected the three new “demands” from the Egyptians, as “inconsistent with the Camp David Framework or are not included in it and change substantially provisions of the aforementioned peace treaty.” Moreover, the GOI rejected “the attitude and the interpretation of the United States Government with regard to the Egyptian proposals.” (Telegram Tosec 140109/316098 to the Secretary’s Aircraft, December 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780518–0276) At the time, Vance was en route to Washington from Israel.
  10. See Documents 131 134.
  11. See Documents 155 and 156.