256. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State and the White House1

Secto 4053. White House to Dr. Brzezinski for the President from the Secretary. Subject: Opening of the West Bank/Gaza Negotiations.

[Page 848]

1. (S) Entire text.

2. The West Bank/Gaza negotiations began in Beersheva Friday2 afternoon almost as planned with the one exception being the last-minute absence of Prime Minister Khalil. While the opening statements presented each side’s starting positions, the meeting was conducted in a conciliatory and businesslike atmosphere. The principal achievement is that the opening session is now behind us and with that hurdle surmounted, it will probably be easier for the parties to get down to work. The meeting concluded with agreement to meet next on June 6–7 in Alexandria with efforts between now and then to work out an agenda for that meeting, perhaps through a private meeting between Khalil and Burg in Egypt in the next few days.

3. The one development that marred the day’s events was Khalil’s decision not to come. This had been developing since Wednesday when Khalil told our Charge in Cairo that he would not attend the meeting if Burg were going to chair it. When I got to Egypt, I found Khalil firmly opposed to attending a meeting on the Palestinian issues in Israel chaired by the Minister of the Interior rather than Prime Minister or Foreign Minister. I believe he was concerned both about the reaction in the Arab world and about Burg’s lesser rank against the background of Begin’s refusal to meet with him in Washington last February.3 He suggested either a roundtable with no chairman or a meeting chaired by me. Despite our late-night and early-morning efforts to resolve the issue, Burg with Begin’s support ignored Dayan’s efforts and held to the position that Sadat and Begin had agreed that each meeting in this negotiation would be chaired by the host country. The Israelis, for their part, were upset over Boutros Ghali’s action in a meeting with Dayan in El Arish on Wednesday4 which seemed to the Israelis to reverse Sadat’s commitment to Begin in Cairo to open the border this weekend. When Burg insisted on chairing the meeting himself, Khalil sent General Kamal Ali to head the Egyptian delegation in his place. Ali stated simply that Khalil did not come “for procedural [Page 849] reasons” but would be pleased to host the next session in Egypt. Sadat telephoned Yadin to send his best wishes for the negotiation, and that probably helped smooth over the situation.

4. I have found both sides ready to get on with the negotiations. Sadat told me he thought the Ministers ought to meet every week or, at least, every two weeks in order to maintain momentum and project a picture of steady work. Khalil and Boutros Ghali, for their parts, had spent several hours working through with Sadat their proposal for working groups each developing their own terms or reference to be approved by the Ministerial group. They are thinking of four working groups to cover election modalities, powers and responsibilities of the self-governing authority, security measures, and confidence building measures (unilateral Israeli steps in the West Bank and Gaza). When I met with Burg Friday morning, I found him receptive to the idea of working groups and to the need in early sessions to sort out the issues that each group will cover. Burg volunteered his own understanding of Sadat’s need to show results and seemed quite perceptive in describing it. The disagreement will begin as soon as they start talking about the details of their agenda, but I was somewhat encouraged to find that they both seemed at least to be approaching their work in ways that should permit them to find agreement on an approach fairly early.

5. Both Ali and Burg in their opening statements expressed familiar hard positions, but in each speech there was an effort to say things that each side knows is important to the other.

6. Kamal Ali made five points:

(1) Egypt and Israel are not negotiating to determine the future of the Palestinian people. Self-determination is their God-given right. The task in the negotiations is only to establish the powers and responsibilities for the self-governing authority, the modalities for its election, and steps for the transfer of authority.

(2) The negotiations must be based on the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war as specified in the preamble to Resolution 242. This principle should be implemented in the West Bank and in Arab Jerusalem. Arab Jerusalem will become testimony to the ability of Jews and Arabs to coexist in peace.

(3) Resolution 242 in all its parts should be respected.

(4) The Geneva Convention applying to occupied territories means that Israeli settlements have no legal validity. Israeli measures to annex Jerusalem are null and void.

(5) The political rights and freedom of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza should be respected. In all of these negotiations, Ali concluded that the U.S. is expected to be a full partner.

7. Burg in his speech described the negotiations pretty much in terms of the Camp David Framework, although he spoke in terms of [Page 850] the administrative council to be set up. While recognizing the complications ahead, he wished that the elections might take place speedily. The most difficult part of his speech for the Egyptians to swallow was his statement that autonomy “does not and cannot imply sovereignty.” He went on to reject an independent Palestinian statehood. Interestingly, he changed his text from “never” to “not” in saying that Israel will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state but after citing Israel’s fear of such a state as a security threat, he turned back to a conciliatory tone of trying to solve these problems together. He concluded with the words from Ecclesiastes; “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

8. My talk with Sadat Thursday evening,5 as you would expect, included a review of the world situation. Analyzing the current state of the Arab world, he saw as the main element the efforts of Iraq to become the main Arab power. He saw Iraq’s efforts to seize the center of the Arab stage as the main explanation of the Baghdad Conference.6 He described his strategy over the coming months as trying to draw the moderate Arabs away from Iraq, and he said he would be seeking our help in doing this. He felt that the ceremonies at El Arish this weekend would play a major role in beginning to change Arab minds about the peace process. He felt that the dramatization of his getting important territory back would force the Arab world to face up to the fact that concrete benefits can be gained in this way. He felt that this would be a major factor in his gradually beginning to win moderate Arab support.

9. Sadat also feels that he now understands better how to deal with Prime Minister Begin. I would not be surprised to see him make another grand gesture towards Israel this Sunday7 in connection with the El Arish ceremonies in his effort to stimulate a forthcoming response of some kind from Begin.

10. My talk with Begin in London8 concentrated heavily at first on a number of emigration cases from the Soviet Union which he hopes we [Page 851] can do something about in our further meetings with the Soviets. We spent some time discussing the political situation in the Arab world. I then went into depth on the need to freeze settlements stressing the relationship of settlements to maintenance of momentum in the peace process as well as to help prevent further isolation of Sadat. Begin did not react strongly as usual. He said he recognizes the importance of this issue but we had also to take into account his political problems. He then told me at length about the ugly incident in the settlement near El Arish which was underway. In short, this time I got an evasive rather than a negative response on what he will do about the settlements. I did not have enough time to pin him down but I believe that he is thinking seriously about this problem, I have told Sadat about this and have asked him to raise the issue at El Arish on Sunday.

11. I also expressed in strongest terms the need for Israel to get some kind of control over Major Haddad in southern Lebanon. He said he recognized the need, again described Israel’s difficulties in curbing Haddad, but said he would speak to Weizman immediately. I plan to discuss Lebanon further at El Arish.9

12. We had a long private dinner and evening with Dayan and Sam and our wives. It was an extremely interesting discussion. Sam and I also met with Shimon Peres for about an hour. Again that conversation was useful.10

13. I return now to Egypt where I will see Khalil Saturday afternoon before going with him to dinner with Vice President Mubarak. My main focus in this meeting will be to try to set the stage for a private meeting between him and Burg and him and Dayan to try to get the working sessions of the negotiations off to a reasonable start.

14. Jim Leonard will stay behind in Israel and Egypt and will begin working quietly with the two sides and will then attend the session on June 6–7. Depending on when the following meeting is scheduled, he might return to Washington in mid-June to brief Bob Strauss for his first trip out here at the beginning of July.

15. In short, although we have had our flap over Khalil’s attendance and the preparations for serious negotiations are only now beginning to crystallize, it also was important that we be fully represented at this opening session. I believe our involvement and the statement which we made will help to persuade the Arab world and Israel that we are serious in our continued commitment to these negotiations. Both sides have told me that they wish to avoid if possible getting into a head-to-head confrontation at the outset and will seek to work quietly [Page 852] to sort out the common ground as well as to define the issues of controversy which must be bridged.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Middle East, Box 49, 5/16–31/79. Secret; Sensitive; Cherokee; Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. May 25.
  3. Boutros Ghali, in his memoir of the negotiations, explained Khalil’s absence was due to the latter’s refusal to “preside over the Egyptian delegation because the talks were at the ministerial level and he was the prime minister. He insisted that his counterpart was Begin.” (Boutros Ghali, Egypt’s Road to Jerusalem, p. 220)
  4. Meeting with Dayan at El Arish on May 23, Boutros Ghali stated that the “terms of treaty would be observed and there would be no normalization in principle for another eight months, unless Begin and Sadat agreed to make exceptions. The frontier will be closed after the El Arish turnover, no Egyptian workers will work in Israel, no Israelis will fish on Egyptian side, there will be no moving back and forth across the line, except as agreed on [an] ad hoc basis (emergencies, illnesses, etc.), the air corridor will be used only on agreement of Sadat and Begin.” Matthews reported that Dayan “agreed to this because this is what the treaty says.” (Telegram 10630 from Cairo, May 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790234–0848)
  5. May 24. Sadat summarized many of the same points he made to Vance in a brief telephone conversation with Carter from 8:40 a.m. to 8:42 a.m. on May 25. A transcript of the discussion is in the Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 1, Egypt, 11/77–11/81. Carter’s handwritten notes related to the conversation are ibid.
  6. See footnote 7, Document 91.
  7. May 27.
  8. Vance met with Begin in London on May 24. No memorandum of conversation has been found. The Embassy transmitted the text of their remarks to the press following their meeting in telegram 10261 from London, May 24; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790236–0104.
  9. See Document 257.
  10. No memorandum of conversation from either discussion has been found.