168. Telegram From the Consulate General in Jerusalem to the Department of State1

174. For the Secretary from Atherton. Subj: Meetings January 17 With Dayan and Begin.

1. In addition to morning and afternoon sessions with Israeli negotiating team January 17 (septel),2 Sam Lewis and I had tete-a-tete lunch with Dayan and Ciechanover and, at Dayan’s initiative, Sam, Herb Hansell and I met privately for hour and three-quarters at the end of day with Begin and Dayan at Prime Minister’s residence.

2. At lunch, Dayan spent considerable time probing our view of events in Iran, their significance for area situation, and reasons for Sadat’s invitation to the Shah to visit Aswan.3 I used occasion to make point that, in our view, Iranian developments only underline importance of completing Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. In response to Dayan’s question whether Sadat still wants to complete treaty, I said we believe he does and that he sees Egyptian-Israeli settlement as necessary element in dealing with overall strategic situation with Egypt playing stabilizing and moderating role in area.

3. I stressed to Dayan that the President and you continue to be committed to helping achieve Egyptian-Israeli settlement. Having said that, I emphasized the importance you attach to having some better evidence than we now have that your personal involvement in resumed Ministerial talks would have reasonable prospect of producing successful outcome. I said we realize issues relating to West Bank/Gaza side letter and ambassadorial exchange would have to be dealt with at a higher level than Hansell and me, but that you did not want to re-enter the talks only to get bogged down in haggling over Articles IV and VI legalisms. It was therefore important to be able to demonstrate that these issues could be cleared away. This could not be accomplished by simply rejecting Egyptian proposals now on the table. We needed to start from common acceptance of fact that we are where we are and look for ways to deal with those proposals which meet Israeli concerns while retaining substance of what Sadat believes he needs.

[Page 582]4. Dayan agreed fully on importance of resolving remaining treaty text issues and gave his personal opinion that this was achievable. He agreed it was important to show results from Hansell’s and my visit. To achieve this, he said, it was important to persuade Begin of the points I had made to him, so that Israeli negotiating team would be given the right instructions. In response to Lewis’ question as to whether Begin would have problems with the Cabinet even if he agreed to some variations on Sadat’s proposals, Dayan replied that, if Begin were convinced, he could carry the Cabinet. He urged that we have several sessions with Begin while in Jerusalem and arranged on the spot for an initial meeting at the end of day.

5. Dayan showed no interest in getting into details of treaty article problems but came back several times to problem of how to resolve problem of West Bank/Gaza side letter. He is clearly increasingly attracted by the idea of concentrating on getting agreement with Egypt for establishing autonomy regime in Gaza and felt that in Brussels4 Khalil was more receptive to this idea, even if no parallel results were achievable on West Bank, than he had expected. He thought Egyptian-Israeli negotiations could well lead to agreement on West Bank/Gaza autonomy regime in nine months so that Sadat would not have to send ambassador to Israel before autonomy regime was in place in Gaza. It would simply not work, however, for Sadat to make ambassadorial exchange conditional on this; Sadat would have to drop this idea, Dayan said.

6. Meeting with Begin was relaxed, serious and free of polemics. At Dayan’s suggestion, I went over much of the same ground with Begin that I had covered with Dayan at lunch. I stressed the President’s and your commitment to finish the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. Both Lewis and I made clear that your inability to respond at this time to his desire that you come to the area reflected no diminution of your commitment to help complete the negotiations. I noted other urgent foreign policy demands on your time and your desire to have a better sense of the prospects for success than was now the case. Begin listened thoughtfully to my presentation and at no time engaged in recriminations about your December visit.5

7. In his comments, Begin dwelt at some length on overall trends in the area which clearly weigh on his mind. He cited concerns that Iran would be lost to the West if Khomeini takes over there, current Palestinian National Council meeting in Damascus, talks about Syrian-Iraqi union and King Hussein’s recent statements6 and visit to Damascus.

[Page 583]8. Revolutionary changes in Iran, Begin said, had made it imperative that oil issue be resolved in Egyptian-Israeli negotiations in a way which gives Israel guaranteed supply of oil from Egypt of 2.5 million tons annually. Dayan added that, without such guarantee, Knesset would say that Israel was “committing suicide” and would not approve peace treaty involving relinquishment of Gulf of Suez oil fields. I told Begin and Dayan that we were sensitive to their heightened concerns about secure oil supply in light of Iranian developments, that I had already met with Energy Minister Modai Wednesday afternoon (septel),7 and that I would be discussing this issue also in Cairo.

9. Both Begin and Dayan expressed considerable unhappiness over recent statements by Boutros Ghali that Camp David Framework would lead to independent Palestinian state; this greatly complicated their job of selling peace treaty to Israeli public. They both also raised statement by Khalil in Khartoum, reported in yesterday’s press, that Egypt could not stand idly by if Israel attacked Syrian forces in Lebanon. Dayan said that this statement, which had been made in context of latest Israeli military retaliation against PLO in Lebanon, was in complete contradiction to assurances Khalil had given him in conversation between them in your presence in Brussels.

10. In course of conversation, Begin also made strong pitch that recent trends in area underline strategic importance to the US of a strong and stable Israel. US should be strengthening Israel, not weakening it. In this context, Begin referred to, but did not press, Israel’s request for increased US economic assistance.

11. At the end of our talk with Begin, I reemphasized our judgment that it was important in current round of talks here to deal with Egyptian proposals on treaty articles as a reality and look for ways to make them acceptable to Israel while preserving essential elements of political importance to Sadat. I said that if Israel simply took the position that the interpretations and legal opinion now on the table should be eliminated, we would get nowhere. Begin did not say he agreed, but Sam Lewis believes the fact that Begin did not argue the point may be an encouraging sign. Dayan suggested and Begin agreed that we meet with Begin again on Friday8 morning to assess progress on negotiations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840171–0492. Secret; Immediate; Exdis Distribute as Nodis. Sent for information Immediate to Cairo and Tel Aviv.
  2. In telegram 177 from Jerusalem, January 17, Atherton summarized at length the first two discussions with the Israeli team on Articles IV and VI, held from 10 a.m. to noon and from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840171–0498)
  3. The Shah of Iran and his wife, Empress Farah, arrived in Aswan on January 16. He was escorted by Sadat to a secluded hotel on an island in the Nile. (Christopher S. Wren, “Shah Lands in Upper Egypt, Looking Gaunt and Weary,” The New York Times, January 17, 1979, p. 1)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 162.
  5. See Documents 157 and 158.
  6. In a January 11 interview with The New York Times, King Hussein stated that Jordan had no interests in joining Sadat’s efforts to arrange a transition to Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hussein said that it was Egypt’s interest to understand that “the Arab world is a family, that it is not a situation where Egypt is the shepherd and the rest are a herd that can be moved in any direction without question.” (Christopher S. Wren, “Hussein Appears to Oppose Israel-Egypt Dealings,” The New York Times, January 12, 1979, p. A2)
  7. Atherton summarized his January 17 meeting with Modai in telegram 175 from Jerusalem, January 18. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790038–0040)
  8. January 19. Telegram 214 from Jerusalem, January 19, reported the meeting between the U.S. delegation and Begin. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840171–0612.