173. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Gaza First? (U)

Since Sadat first started pushing this line, I have been amazed that the Israelis have not tried to make something of it. Dayan seems tempted, but Begin is wary. My personal assessment is that this is a mediocre idea, but that it may well catch on nonetheless. (S)

Sadat sees the “Gaza first” approach as putting pressure on Hussein and moderate Palestinians to join the peace negotiations. He assumes that whatever is worked out for Gaza will be a model for the West Bank. What he does not appear to understand is the predictably negative response to a further fragmentation of the Palestinian issue into manageable (digestible?) bits. Camp David was largely rejected by other Arabs for dividing the one-third of the Palestinians under occupation from those in the diaspora. The “Gaza first” approach will be seen as dividing the one-third of those under occupation in Gaza from the remaining two-thirds in the West Bank. (S)

For the Israelis, the idea of trying to set up the “autonomy” regime in Gaza should be attractive. It avoids awkward questions concerning Jerusalem’s status; there are relatively few settlements in Gaza; and the emotional and historical ties of Israelis to Gaza are minimal. If Gaza is enough of a fig leaf for Sadat, the Israelis should be interested. Their fear, of course, is that anything they accept in Gaza will be a model for the West Bank. After all, the Camp David agreements make no provision for treating Gaza and the West Bank differently. Thus, if Israel agrees, for example, to turn over state-owned lands in Gaza to the local authorities, it will be difficult to argue against doing so in the West Bank as well. This is no doubt one of the reasons that Begin has been cautious about proceeding with Gaza first. (S)

Since Sadat seems hooked on his idea, there is probably no way of avoiding dealing with it. The question seems to be how to make something worthwhile out of a basically weak proposal. I suggest the following: (S)

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—Egypt and Israel will negotiate the modalities for elections and the powers and responsibilities for the self-governing authority in both the West Bank and Gaza.

—Egypt and Israel will state that they favor the establishment of a self-governing authority in both the West Bank and Gaza, as provided for in the Camp David frameworks, but are prepared to begin implementation in Gaza first if that proves to be easier.

—In practical terms, this would mean electing a Gaza regional council, which would presumably later merge with a comparable body in the West Bank. It is hard to know how administrative functions would be carried out—presumably a Gaza regional branch of each administrative unit would be formed.

—To the degree that Gaza can genuinely be treated as a model for the West Bank, the greater the chances that other Arabs will not condemn it merely as a “separate” Palestinian agreement designed to cover for a “separate” Egyptian-Israeli treaty. (S)

Even if the “Gaza first” approach is followed, several sticking points will arise:

—The status of present Israeli settlements and future settlement activity.

—The nature of any Egyptian presence. (Sadat wants police, and we have spoken of “liaison officers”. The Israelis oppose anything that suggests a special Egyptian responsibility for Gaza.)

—The status of public lands and control over water resources.

—Likely opposition on the part of the large refugee population which has had close ties in the past to the PLO.

In brief, if the responsibilities of the Gaza self-government are extensive, there will eventually be support for whatever is proposed. We cannot, however, expect active Gazan participation in the negotiations. Instead, we will end up doing most of the negotiating with Israel, with Sadat making occasional suggestions, and with Gazans discreetly hinting at their preferences through indirect channels. (S)

We should not place much stock in the idea that the “Gaza first” approach will lead to early agreement. Nor will Sadat and Begin work this out directly. We will be stuck with the unwelcome job of moving the negotiations forward. It will not be an easy task. In light of this, I would prefer to make the marginal extra effort to treat the West Bank and Gaza together, at least at the outset. I really believe that it is illusory to think that we are significantly simplifying our problems by trying to split off Gaza. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 75, Palestinians: 5/78–2/79. Secret. Outside the System. Sent for information.