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

2427. Subject: Camp David—The Missing Palestinians. For the Secretary, Atherton and Saunders.

1. It is indeed ironic that a summit meeting which will have as its focus the future of the Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank and Gaza, will not have any bona fide Palestinian representatives present. The PLO, which a majority of Palestinians say represents them, is absent because of Israel’s refusal to deal with the organization. Hussein, who could be a surrogate under certain circumstances, has excluded himself. Sadat is not regarded as an authorized spokesman and West Bankers fear that Israeli intransigence may compel him to modify his heretofore acceptable position on the Palestinian problem in order to achieve a deal on Sinai.

2. As seen from here, Israel at Camp David will have a unique opportunity not only to cement its relationship with Egypt but to make peace with Jordan and a majority of Palestinians if it is able to rise to the occasion and make genuine concessions on settlements, withdrawal, refugee return and a Palestinian entity without endangering its security.

3. What West Bankers want. We believe that a majority of West Bankers emotionally support the views of Bassam Shaka, the Mayor of Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city: total Israeli withdrawal to 1967 lines, Palestinian self-determination and recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. After the achievement of nominal independence, many West Bankers recognize that a close association with Jordan as well as open borders with Israel would be a necessity. At the same time, all West Bankers, moderates and PLO supporters alike oppose the Begin plan lock, stock and barrel for, among other reasons, it is the plan of the occupier. Its objective is perceived as continued occupation with Palestinian participation.

4. Although nationalistic West Bankers espouse their allegiance to the PLO and proclaim their pessimism that Camp David will result in Israeli flexibility, we have detected tantalizing indications that under certain circumstances authentic West Bank leaders might be willing to take part in an interim government and participate in negotiations with [Page 66]Israel. The challenge at Camp David is to find a formula part way between the PLO’s position and the Begin plan that Hussein and reputable West Bankers can be brought to swallow.

5. What West Bankers would settle for. Given the bitterness and frustration engendered by 11 years of occupation, they would be powerfully attracted by the prospect of an end to the occupation. Bona fide moderate West Bank leaders cannot and will not act alone: the key to their participation isn’t Hussein’s participation, something that Dayan reportedly realizes. Thus, the best way for Sadat to make headway on the Palestinian problem is to insist he cannot make a separate peace in Sinai and to maintain he must have enough to persuade Hussein to take the plunge thereby also engaging moderate Palestinians in the occupied territories.

6. West Bankers would assume that Hussein would not be willing to join negotiations unless he was certain of obtaining Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and restoring an official Arab presence in Jerusalem. This would give them confidence and enable them to counter radical criticism.

7. The most sensitive burning issue is settlements. A halt to further settlements would have a great positive impact for it would demonstrate concretely the peace process can work in Palestinians’ interest. Withdrawal is also a sine qua non. Although West Bankers could reluctantly be brought to accept adjustments in the 1967 lines, this fundamental point would have to be presented in terms consistent with Resolution 242. Stress should be put on mutually acceptable modifications (perhaps lines could be extended somewhat in the north and south in order to permit adjustments elsewhere). Refugee return or family reunions with de facto Israeli controls would also be a powerful endorsement to participate, because it would allow local Palestinians to demonstrate they were acting for the benefit of expatriates as well. On sovereignty, we believe moderate West Bankers would reluctantly accept a limited form of self-determination whereby at the end of an interim period they would vote to ratify a link with Jordan. They (and we assume Hussein) would not accept Israel’s position that the question of sovereignty can be discussed at the end of the interim period thereby permitting an Israeli veto over any change in the interim regime. They remember Begin’s categoric statements about no foreign sovereignty in the West Bank and, in the absence of flexibility, the whole exercise could come to grief on this issue.

8. On security arrangements, West Bankers are pragmatic. After 11 years of living with Israelis they recognize Israel has legitimate concerns and are willing to accept an IDF presence for the interim period and perhaps beyond as long as their minimal requirements outlined above are met.

[Page 67]9. Connected to the settlements issue is the potentially explosive question of land ownership. Under Ottoman law, which was unchanged by the Jordanians, all land not built upon or cultivated is considered to be public land. Perhaps a formula could be found whereby Israelis would have the right to acquire land in the West Bank and Gaza, subject to agreement by the interim administration.

10. Presentation is all important. Any interim administration to have any hope of success must not appear to be warmed-over Begin plan2 but a transition to a “better day.” Similarly, Hussein and supporters on the West Bank should be seen to enter the negotiating process reluctantly in order to safeguard Arab interests and not primarily on behalf of the Hashemite regime. PLO reaction would obviously be important here. If Israel is willing to make concessions outlined in para 7, PLO opposition in our judgment would not be decisive concerning moderate West Banker participation.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 6, Camp David Summit—September 1978 and working papers. Secret; Immediate; Exdis Handle as Nodis.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 5.