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207. Editorial Note

Following his morning meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Israeli Cabinet on March 12, 1979, President Jimmy Carter accompanied Begin to the Knesset where the two leaders addressed the assembled legislature. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance recalled in his memoirs that the “session was a stormy one with much shouting and hectoring of Begin by the Communists and some members of his own Likud party.” (Vance, Hard Choices, page 248) In the midst of the proceedings, one Likud member of the Knesset, Geula Cohen, was ejected from the chamber. In his address, Carter delivered what he termed “the speech of concern and caution and hope.” Noting the “somber responsibility of us all to exert our energies and our imaginations once again to contemplate the tragedy of failure and the legitimate exultation if we bring peace,” the President urged Israelis and Egyptians to continue to work toward achieving the peace treaty. The full text of Carter’s speech is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, pages 424–428. During speeches made by Begin and opposition leader Shimon Peres, Carter instructed Vance to meet with the Israeli Cabinet that afternoon, asking him to “concentrate” on the Israeli oil supply and Egyptian access to Gaza. (Carter, Keeping Faith, page 423) To guide the Secretary’s conversation, Carter’s handwritten notes posed two questions, upon which Vance added his own handwritten responses. First, Carter asked, “Can the negotiating nations—or their designated liaison teams (representatives)[—]have free access to the inhabitants of Gaza or the West Bank during the time of negotiations to determine the modalities of the establishment of self government—and during the elections?” In the margin next to this question, Vance wrote, “yes—but.” Second, Carter asked, “Is the sale of oil from Egypt during coming years under normal marketing procedures adequate, provided the U.S. will guarantee adequate supplies of oil to Israel under all circumstances?” Vance answered, “No.” (Notes made by President Carter during Begin’s Speech to the Knesset, March 12; Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 2, Israel, 3/79)

At 4:45 p.m. on March 12, Vance and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski met with Begin and his Cabinet. No memorandum of conversation or official record of that meeting has been found. Handwritten notes from the meeting, kept by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel W. Lewis are in the Department of State, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Principal Officers Program Files, Lot 85F104, [unfoldered Lewis spiral notebook]. Vance recalled in his memoirs that the meeting “got nowhere. Each side repeated its prior positions and we remained deadlocked. Finally, when it became clear that nothing new would emerge, we adjourned.” Begin, Vance re[Page 730]counted, “gave me a draft of a joint statement to be issued by him and Carter. I read it grimly. It tried to paper over the harsh reality that after the Camp David summit, the Blair House talks, the ministerial sessions at Camp David, my rescue mission to Cairo and Jerusalem, Begin’s visit to Washington and the president’s trip to the Middle East, we had failed to bridge the last narrow gap.” “The remaining three issues,” Vance contended, “seemed so insignificant compared to the prize that could be seized with a little flexibility and imagination.” (Vance, Hard Choices, pages 248–249)

On the evening of March 12, Vance met again with Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs Moshe Dayan at the King David Hotel. No memorandum of conversation or official record of the meeting has been found, but Vance and Dayan recorded the substance of the exchange in their respective memoirs. (Vance, Hard Choices, pages 249–250; Dayan, Breakthrough, pages 275–276) During the meeting, lasting “several hours,” Dayan “urged me [Vance] to persuade the Egyptians that we should drop the idea of Gaza first and make no mention of Egyptian liaison officers in the West Bank and Gaza letter. He stressed that the Egyptians could propose advancing elections in Gaza (“Gaza first”) at the autonomy negotiations. He also underscored that when Israel withdrew from El Arish and normal relations began, ‘any Egyptian could travel to Gaza on an Israeli visa, just as any Israeli would be able to go to Cairo on an Egyptian visa.’ I was prepared to accept Dayan’s suggestion if we could reach an agreement on the oil supplies question.” On oil, Dayan told Vance he “understood that the Egyptians could not agree at this time to sell Israel oil on a long-term basis and at a preferred price.” “When I heard this,” Vance later recalled, “I knew that we were approaching a breakthrough.” Dayan suggested to Vance that Carter invite Begin to a breakfast meeting the following morning, March 13; Vance telephoned the President who immediately agreed to the suggestion. (Vance, Hard Choices, pages 249–250)

After this, Vance and Dayan “turned to constructing the final pillars of the bridge.” Vance asked Dayan “what Israel could live with in terms of U.S. guarantees. He replied that it would be necessary for the U.S. oil guarantee to last for twenty years rather than the five we had offered. I said I felt we could move in his direction on this. Dayan said further that there must be a clause in the treaty stating that Israel had a right to buy oil directly from Egypt. He pointed out that without such a clause the Egyptian boycott would remain in effect. It would be difficult to do, but I felt we could draft language to meet his point and persuade the Egyptians to accept it. I so indicated to him, saying I would, of course, have to discuss these matters with the president but that I was hopeful.” After gaining the President’s approval for a U.S. oil guarantee to Israel for a fifteen-year period and for the revisions to [Page 731]West Bank and Gaza letter proposed by Dayan, Vance met with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Harold H. Saunders, Ambassador-at-Large Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Ambassador to Israel Samuel W. Lewis, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Michael E. Sterner, to draft the new treaty clause. “By early morning [March 13],” Vance wrote, “we had an acceptable draft, which we took to the president. He approved.” (Vance, Hard Choices, page 250)

The following morning, March 13, Vance again met with Dayan and presented him with the U.S. draft of the oil agreement; the two then adjourned to join the breakfast meeting between Carter and Begin. (Vance, Hard Choices, page 250; Dayan, Breakthrough, pages 276–277) The oil agreement was prepared as an attachment to Annex III of the treaty text, the section that addressed the normalization of Egyptian-Israeli economic relations. For Carter’s breakfast with Begin and the subsequent quadripartite meeting with Vance and Dayan, see Document 202. The final text of the agreed minutes on oil stated, “The treaty of peace and Annex III thereto provide for establishing normal economic relations between the parties. In accordance therewith, it is agreed that such relations will include normal commercial sales of oil by Egypt to Israel, and that Israel shall be fully entitled to make bids for Egyptian-origin oil not needed for Egyptian domestic oil consumption, and Egypt and its oil concessionaires will entertain bids made by Israel on the same basis and terms as apply to other bidders for oil.” (Telegram 64008 to Tel Aviv and Cairo, March 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850050–2651) A draft version of the memorandum of agreement on oil between Israel and the United States proposed by Vance, along with two alternative draft versions produced on March 16, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 8, Oil.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on March 13, the U.S. delegation left Israel for Egypt, where Carter met with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat at the Cairo airport. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) The substance of their meeting is in Document 202.