206. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Begin

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Samuel W. Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
  • Alfred Atherton, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Herbert Hansell, Legal Adviser, State Department
  • William Quandt, NSC Staff Member
  • Jody Powell, Press Secretary to the President
  • Hamilton Jordan, Assistant to the President
  • Richard Viets, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Israel
  • Menachem Begin, Prime Minister
  • Yigael Yadin, Deputy Prime Minister
  • Yosef Burg, Minister of Interior
  • Simcha Ehrlich, Minister of Finance
  • Shmuel Tamir, Minister of Justice
  • Moshe Nissim, Minister Without Portfolio
  • Gideon Patt, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism
  • Eliezer Shostak, Minister of Health
  • Chaim Landau, Minister of Transport
  • Moshe Dayan, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Ezer Weizman, Minister of Defense
  • Yitzha Modai, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure
  • Zevulun Hammer, Minister of Education and Culture
  • Ariel Sharon, Minister of Agriculture
  • Aharon Abu-Hatzeira, Minister of Religious Affairs
  • David Levi, Minister of Immigrant Absorption
  • Israel Katz, Minister of Labor and Social Betterment
  • Mordechai Zippori, Deputy Minister of Defense
  • Yitzak Zamir, Attorney General
  • Ephraim Evron, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Dan Pattir, Press Spokesman
  • General Ephraim Poran, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Eli Rubenstein, Assistant to Director General to the Foreign Minister
  • General Avraham Tamir, Assistant Minister of Defense for National Planning
  • Jossie Chiehanover, Director General, Foreign Minister’s Office
  • Dr. Eliahu Ben-Elissar, Chef de Cabinet, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Arye Naor, Cabinet Secretary
  • Meir Rosenne, Legal Advisor
  • Schlomo Nakhdimon, Advisor to the Prime Minister for Press
  • Ilan Tehila, Military Secretary to the Minister of Defense
  • Yehuda Avner, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister

(The Prime Minister begins the meeting by introducing all of the members in his Cabinet).

President Carter: I want to thank you for your hospitality and seriousness with which you have addressed the treaty. I deeply appreciate your having met all last night in order to accommodate my time problems. It was very gracious of you. We have very close ties to Israel. We value your strength, and your democratic form of government. They are matters of deep admiration to us, and are a great benefit to the United States. I believe the benefits are mutual.

We are close to an historic achievement. This could be the first of many steps to establish even more securely peace in Israel. Israel can defend herself. But we want your security to be based on peace with [Page 723]your neighbors as well as on military power. We admire this special strength and spirit of Israel. You and Egypt are fated to be neighbors. This could be a first and major step in cementing your relations with your neighbors based on fundamental changes. Israel could be at peace with the most important Arab nation. This could be the basis for a strengthened relationship.

In the context of peace, we will be more forthcoming on economic and military issues. As cooperation grows, we can work to enhance regional stability and to meet Soviet designs of intrusion. The events in Iran and elsewhere show the effectiveness of dedicated martyrs to a radical cause. Egyptian-Israeli relations will be a restraint on radicalism. We recognize the risk that Israel is taking in withdrawing from Sinai. We know you need a secure supply of energy and oil. Egypt is prepared to transmit this oil to us and then to you, and we’ll guarantee the supply.

We will also try to minimize adverse Jordanian and Saudi reactions. We may have some influence on Syria and Iraq as well. The danger of losing this opportunity is very great. Once lost, it would be almost impossible to redeem. I consider you to have been very forthcoming. You have often been very generous. You have taken sacrifical steps in the past to save the negotiations. Camp David was good for Israel. When we are done, we will relay the results of our meeting to Sadat,2 without any public discussion. I hope you will join us in keeping down public discussion of these issues until we have communicated with Sadat.

I would like to explain the points on which the Cabinet has acted. On Article 6–2, you have deleted language from Camp David on a comprehensive peace. You have often spoken of the comprehensive peace. This is not crucial to the United States and it does not contradict Camp David, but it is very important to Sadat. He has to justify his actions. It would be a matter of generosity, with no harm to Israel, if you could leave this in. It is important to Sadat and would be very much appreciated.

The formulation on Article 6–5 should be acceptable to Sadat. On the letter, the changes in the first sentence are all right. The addition at the end of page 1 and the top of page 2 is okay. But on page 2 there is an important issue to the United States. I am a signatory of the Camp David Agreement. I am honor bound to carry out Camp David. On page 2 Israel has asked for a revision on the part dealing with Gaza and Egyptian liaison officers. This is of great concern to the United States. It [Page 724]is of great importance to us that the negotiations on the self-governing authority and on the modalities should proceed as we agreed. There must be access to the people of Gaza to help prepare the elections. We are talking of a political process. The people in Gaza should be able to freely express their views. We and the Egyptians need to be in touch with them. I have no preference on Gaza first, but the implementation of any agreement may be easier there. Raising doubts about Gaza is bad. The omission of liaison officers is bad. We need to have arrangements for the negotiating parties to work actively with the people of Gaza. I ask you to reconsider this. I hope we can instruct Foreign Minister Dayan and Secretary Vance to work out new language. I can’t send Secretary Vance to Egypt unless we have some assurances that Egypt will have access to Gaza. This is a crucial issue.

Page 3 is okay and the footnote you suggest is okay. We have not gotten any reply on the technical amendment to Article 5. We understand that the Cabinet approved it.

Prime Minister Begin: The amendment to Article 5 is acceptable.

President Carter: You said that the Cabinet agrees to staged withdrawal. I want to know about the stages so that we can resolve the question of the exchange of ambassadors. The American proposal on oil, including a guarantee from us, should be adequate. Egypt does reject Israel’s proposal to sell 2.5 million tons of oil annually to Israel. We have worked on an “evergreen” contract approach. There would be an annual renewal, and if there were any interruption, we will guarantee your supply. I suggest that you review this. We will provide an iron-clad agreement of the kind that Israel seeks.

The Cabinet’s proposals are very forthcoming. The only one from our point of view which causes problems concerns access to the inhabitants of Gaza during the negotiations and elections. I do not want my own commitments to be violated. Any access that the United States would have in Gaza should also be available for Egypt. When the early withdrawal from al-Arish was discussed, Israel said that there would be free access between al-Arish and Gaza. The Cabinet then took a contrary position. I can’t take a proposal to Egypt unless this is provided. I am not wedded to any exact words, but the spirit is crucial.

Prime Minister Begin: We considered Article 6–2. The Cabinet was forthcoming. We approved the word “contravene”. We consider this a synonym of derogate. We can say that Article 6–2 stands. In Washington, we agreed on the first part of this note. The provisions of Article VI will not be construed as contradicting Camp David. The United States and Israel agreed. In Cairo, an Egyptian proposal was made that Israeli Cabinet has now rejected. It is legitimate to accept some proposals and to reject others. The first formula was agreed to by the United States and Israel. Egypt has sought to make a very serious [Page 725]change. There is danger that it will be interpreted as meaning “in the context of a comprehensive settlement”. We stand by what the United States and Israel agreed to in Washington. On behalf of the Cabinet, it is my duty to say that this is all that we can accept.

On Article 6–5, there is no problem. We found a synonym. We do not want to add or detract. It is up to Egypt to accept the agreed U.S.-Israeli proposal. We cannot do any more about it. We have to think of Israel’s problems. We have done our best. We can’t do better.

On the bilateral letter, thank you for accepting our two amendments. The aid references may be too general, but we will deal with aid later. This is a bilateral problem and has nothing to do with Egypt. We shall have some amendments to make at the proper time. This is not now the issue.

On the letter, thank you for accepting my amendments to page 1. On page 1 there is no problem. We are glad that you have accepted the language on “as expeditiously as possible”. We are in full agreement. Thank you for accepting our footnote. It is important morally and historically. We are also glad that you included reference to the administrative council. This makes it clear that autonomy is the goal, not sovereignty or a Palestinian state. To us, this is the most vital issue after the Egyptian-Israeli treaty. It should be clear to all that a Palestinian state is out of the question. We only favor full autonomy. This is a fine concept of Judaism and Zionism. It proves our liberal approach. Israel recognizes the Arab nationality in Israel. There is no problem for us in also recognizing the rights of Palestinian Arabs as we did at Camp David. The administrative council reference applies everywhere that the self-governing authority is mentioned.

On the question of Gaza first, we had a very serious debate. We decided to leave the issue open. We could not agree to the American proposal. We cannot let Egypt deal with Gaza first, then with Judea and Samaria. We prefer to just keep to Camp David. To prove our good will, we express our agreement to deal with Egypt if Jordan does not join the negotiations. There will be no delay. We have left open for consideration the Gaza proposal. Israel has proposed substitute language that if Egypt should propose autonomy in Gaza first, Israel is prepared to consider such proposals. Secretary Vance is empowered to say this. If there is a concrete Egyptian proposal, Israel will consider it.

We cannot approve the reference to liaison officers. This is a matter of principle. Egyptian occupation of Gaza gives Egypt no rights there. Egypt cannot come to Gaza with liaison officers. We stand by Camp David. If there is a strong local police force, then there should be liaison officers of the three governments on this issue. This is an Egyptian proposal to change Camp David. The two sides are free to change if they wish. But we do not want to and we cannot do so. This is the decision of [Page 726]the Cabinet. Secretary Vance can say that after signing the peace treaty, and after the normalization of relations, anybody is free to visit anybody, we can go see the pyramids, Egyptians can go to Jerusalem, and they can visit Gaza as we can visit Luxor. This shows our complete good will. There will be no special deal for Egyptian liaison officers in Gaza.

Annex 1 provides for entry points, and there will be free entry subject to normal checks. This is agreed.

President Carter: I don’t want to pass over this. This is crucial. Your response is not adequate. Only once in the negotiations has the United States taken a position that we consider important to our own integrity. We are a signatory . . .

Prime Minister Begin: It is not written in Camp David.

President Carter: Unless there are clear assurances that the negotiating teams can have access to the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, I don’t feel that I can carry out my commitment to Camp David.

Prime Minister Begin: We will sign only what we agreed to.

President Carter: But I am asking you to agree.

Prime Minister Begin: We won’t sign if we don’t agree. We will carry out every word of Camp David. It is not written in Camp David that there should be Egyptian liaison officers in Gaza or in Judea and Samaria. There is specific language. We will be faithful to Camp David.

On the question of oil, we agree that Egypt must supply 2.5 million tons of oil at market prices. They will get the oil wells that we developed. We want access to this oil through Egypt. If Egypt doesn’t keep its agreement, then the U.S. should guarantee the oil.

President Carter: To use your words, this is not in Camp David. There will be differences from Camp David as we work for a peace treaty. I have made our position clear. Israel has the freedom not to sign an agreement and you can insist upon your position. But this is so important that I think you should designate someone to work with Secretary Vance on this. I don’t want the negotiations to break down over the negotiators having access.

Prime Minister Begin: I can bring this again to my Cabinet. I can’t do more. I can only speak about the decisions that were made today. If you wish to bring it up again, I will. On oil, there is no misunderstanding. I thought we had a complete agreement. I thought there would be an Israeli-Egyptian agreement with a U.S. guarantee. We don’t want to turn to the United States. Your Sinai II commitment3 will be honored. But we don’t want this matter of oil to hurt our relations. We don’t want Americans to complain about Israel. We haven’t used the 1975 [Page 727]commitment. We are not asking for any infringement of Egyptian sovereignty.

Minister Modai: The Prime Minister has covered our views. This is the basic situation.

Secretary Vance: Egypt has made it clear that they will not sell a fixed amount of oil to anyone. They do not enter into multi-year contracts, only the “evergreen” type. Therefore, there are two elements of the Israeli proposal which Egypt has refused. I have discussed this before with you. They won’t change their position. I have argued with them and they stick to their position. You have posed two conditions that can’t be met.

President Carter: If there are interruptions, we can guarantee the supply.

Minister Sharon: On oil, we should be thinking of this in the context of real peace. It is hard for us to accept that we have to get oil via the United States. This is not an issue between the United States and Israel. We are going toward true peace. We don’t accept any restrictions on selling oil to Israel.

There should be no liaison officers or mission in Gaza. There is a third point that worries me. We agreed that you should be a full participant, but I don’t see any situation where you would become a mediator between the Palestinian Arabs and the Government of Israel. This is impossible.

You spoke of free passage from al-Arish to Gaza. But this should be mutual. We are ready when we sign the normalization of relations. Then we can go freely to Egypt. It should be entirely mutual.

On settlements, you said nothing. But you raised a question that worries you. There should not be any misunderstanding about the future. You should take it for granted that we will settle Jews in Gaza, especially the southern part. We need a barrier between the 400,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the 40 million Arabs in Egypt. We will not stop our settlement plans in the Jordan Valley, in the Golan, or in Gaza. But we will do our best to avoid heavily populated areas. We will only settle in areas that are crucial for our security.

President Carter: I understand your position and you know ours.

Minister Tamir: We have Annex 3 which could cover oil. There should be a removal of all of the discriminatory barrier upon completion of the interim withdrawal. Your proposal is to get Egyptian oil under the cover of the United States.

President Carter: Egypt will sell oil to Israel on a competitive basis, or we will guarantee your supply. What Israel is demanding is contrary to all international law contracts. You are asking for a special relationship.

[Page 728]Prime Minister Begin: Did Egypt accept our proposal on a letter for oil or 2.5 million tons?

Secretary Vance: It was rejected.

President Carter: We also don’t approve of that approach.

Prime Minister Begin: My impression was that you agreed.

Secretary Vance: I agreed to raise it with them.

Prime Minister Begin: Then I am right. They have rejected it.

Minister Tamir: There are two aspects. I realize what you have said. We would be reintroducing the Arab boycott idea of an untouchable Israel. They won’t sell us oil directly. We have heard you, often make the point that we should not be stingy about the peace process, about the new relationship, and that we should have faith in the next steps. But this is the only tangible test that we can put to Egypt. You stressed the urgency because of the fall of Iran. Iran’s fall has hurt you, but it is a completely serious blow to our oil situation. Now we are asked to give up the oil that is under our own control. We have no oil of our own. We have a neighbor which refuses to consider us as a neighbor. In the oil market, the idea of free competitive bidding allows everyone to play tricks. It is then totally up to their discretion on whether they sell. We have to think of our security. Our whole war appartus depends on this. It is the only tangible test of the new relationship. This raises doubts of whether they really want peace.

Prime Minister Begin: Let me call attention to the timetable. We don’t have agreement on oil with Egypt. Now you will have to go to prepare for your speech. At 11:45 you will leave for the Knesset. There are now thousands of children waiting on the road to see you. I suggest that we move on now. We do not have agreement on oil, and we will have to reach an agreement. The other issues I will bring to my Cabinet.

President Carter: Will there be any further meetings?

Prime Minister Begin: At noon, we go to the Knesset. That will last one or one and one-half hours. The speaker will greet you. Then you have a lunch with the Foreign Affairs Committee. We do not participate. During that time, we will sit with Secretary Vance. If there is agreement, we will now decide that the Cabinet will meet after the Knesset speech. Our delegations will hold talks. We will either have a full Cabinet meeting or the Defense Council meeting with Secretary Vance. We should hear Minister Burg.

Minister Burg: Iran is a debacle for Israel. Another evergreen contract would hurt Israel. This is absolutely contradictory to peace.

President Carter: The American assurance takes care of the problem. We also have no answer on the accelerated withdrawal.

(The meeting ends at 11:20 a.m.)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 16, Egypt-Israel Negotiations: 3/12–31/79. Secret. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. The President’s Daily Diary records that Carter spoke with Sadat by telephone from 8:42 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., March 12. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials) No other record of this conversation has been found.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 201.