257. Telegram From the Consulate General in Jerusalem to the Department of State, Secretary of State Vance in Rome, and the Embassies in Israel, Egypt, and the People’s Republic of China1

1753. Pass White House for Brzezinski, Beijing for Ambassador Strauss from Saunders. Subject: El Arish-Beersheva Ceremonies—May 27.

1. (S) Entire text

2. Since the Secretary left directly from the Negev for Rome,2 this has not been cleared with him. Nevertheless, I want you to have a report promptly on the assumption that he will add whatever he wishes on his own talks with Begin, Sadat, and others during the day.

3. Sunday’s3 kaleidoscope events unfolded on three levels—the symbolism of the events themselves, the substance of the public speeches, and the private exchanges among the U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli principals and delegations.

4. The symbolism lay in the dramatization of the first major steps implementing the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. The actual military turnover of El Arish had taken place Friday—the day in which the West Bank/Gaza negotiations began in Beersheva, the Egyptians alone had [Page 853] celebrated the transfer from Egyptian military to civilian control on Saturday. Today’s events were really an exchange of visits—Begin to El Arish and Sadat to Beersheva—to dramatize the new relationship across the now “open border, on top of the exchange of visits was the inaugural flight in President Sadat’s aircraft with Sadat, Begin, Secretary Vance and colleagues aboard opening the new direct air corridor between Israel and Egypt.

5. One of the decisions made during the talks today was to announce that the Egyptian-Israeli border would indeed be “open.” Although Begin and Sadat had announced this during Begin’s visit to Cairo shortly after the treaty signing, the Egyptians in the past week had told the Israelis they felt it would be premature to open the border at this point.4 Thus it took another one of those decisions by Sadat to overrule his staff to produce the announcement in El Arish that the border is now proclaimed to be open. Having made that proclamation, no one is sure exactly what will happen at the border tomorrow since it is still possible that any workers who might want to cross into Israel to their jobs on the Egyptian side might be stopped until border-crossing procedures get sorted out. Indeed, news broadcasts this morning from Cairo quote Khalil as indicating that many “technical” details need to be resolved before the open borders policy can be implemented and no one expects more than a trickle at the outset. Similarly, the air corridor is now “open” and any government aircraft wishing to go back and forth will use it, but for the time being most commercial carriers will avoid it because of the probable Arab boycott.

6. Perhaps the most moving of the day’s events was also the simplest. On their way to depart El Arish, Begin and Sadat with Secretary Vance stopped in a meeting hall in El Arish for a brief ceremony with wounded war veterans from both sides. The statements by Sadat and Begin were very short and primarily on the theme of “no more war.” It was plain from the expression on their faces that, to the veterans, this was a most meaningful experience. Begin’s statement was used as the platform for proclaiming that the borders would be open, that President Sadat had invited him to visit Alexandria the first week in July, and that Israel would release a number of Ari’s prisoners in honor of the occasion.5

7. The main exchange of public statements began when the party moved by helicopter to Beersheva. There were two separate events—one at the town hall and a second at the Ben Gurion University of the [Page 854] Negev—with speeches by Israeli President Navon, the Mayor of Beersheva,6 Begin, and two by Sadat. The common themes of peace and normal relations flowed through all of the speeches. However, President Navon, who undoubtedly thought he was doing a good thing by giving his speech in excellent Arabic, used an Arabic word which Sadat heard as meaning “give”; (i.e. “giving the Sinai back to Egypt”). This caused Sadat to drop whatever prepared text he may have had and to extemporize quite simply but eloquently. His main points were that security does not lie in land but in a relationship of friendship and that peace can not come unless there is respect for the land of others. He almost explicitly said that sovereignty over the occupied lands belongs to the Arabs and that Israel is not giving back the land but simply restoring the appropriate exercise of Arab sovereignty in it. However, Monday’s Jerusalem Post reports that Navon had showed privately afterwards his actual text and the similarly sounding word in Arabic meant “returned”. The Post says Sadat and Navon got on well and the misunderstanding was put to rest. Later at an assembly at the university it was Sadat’s turn to offend. He commented that the Arabs had taken care of the Jews through their centuries of life in the Middle East. And Begin, in an otherwise temporate speech at the university, brought together in one compact paragraph virtually every negative statement he has ever made about the “so-called PLO.” President Tekoah, of the university, announced the university’s decision to establish a multi-million dollar fund for research in areas related to desert development, invited Egyptian scholars to participate and to join in the management of the fund. While claiming substantial achievements for Israel in this area, he graciously said that Israel has much to learn from Egypt and his remarks were an elevated point in the day’s proceedings. In short, all of the speakers were well-intentioned and for the most part managed not to sour the atmosphere but, one way or another, introduced enough sore points to keep the course from being completely smooth.

8. The day’s several meetings—from the Rest House at El Arish to the 1-hour inaugural flight aboard Sadat’s aircraft—seemed to all of us to enhance measurably the relationships between the two sides at all levels. From what we can tell, a good deal of useful business was done, although Secretary Vance will have to fill in some of the details in the following:

—The Secretary and Sadat were alone for a time before Begin arrived, and the Secretary intended to suggest that Sadat talk to Begin about the problems for the peace process caused by some Israeli actions, such as new settlements, the crackdown in the West Bank, and the bombings in Lebanon.

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Sadat, Begin, the Secretary were together for a time and then the Secretary left the two of them alone for almost half an hour. It was partly during this period that the two of them began mapping a political strategy for the next couple of months which includes the regularization of negotiating sessions, visits to Egypt by Burg and Dayan, and Sadat’s invitation to Begin to visit Alexandria the first week in July. The hope is that out of the Burg and Dayan visits the new negotiations can be put on a sound footing. Burg and Khalil both want to talk about the precise organization of the negotiations by working groups. While Dayan wants to stay away from talking about the new negotiations and to concentrate on consolidating the Egyptian-Israeli relationship, Khalil sees Dayan’s visit to Egypt as an opportunity to understand the political dynamics of Israeli decision making on this subject and to explore Dayan’s creativity on solutions in the autonomy negotiations.

Burg and Khalil seem to be having a good private conversation, apparently getting off to a reasonable beginning in their relationship as heads of respective delegations. Burg and Khalil sat next to each other at lunch and, while the substance of their conversation concentrated on problems of scheduling the next negotiating sessions, they did get acquainted.

—During the inaugural flight, Dayan got to talk with Sadat for about twenty minutes. This came after talks with Boutros Ghali in which Dayan was persuaded that the Egyptians genuinely wanted him to come to Cairo. Dayan clearly does not want to get himself out in front of Burg in discussing the autonomy negotiations and was clearly suspicious of Egyptian motives in pressing him to come to Cairo.

9. The plan of meetings over the next two weeks as it now appears probable has Burg going to Egypt at the end of this week, Dayan visiting Egypt at the beginning of the following week, and the next negotiating session beginning either June 7 or 10. At the first session7 in Beersheva last Friday it had been agreed that the next session would be June 6–7, but the Israelis in Sunday’s talks mentioned that the Herut Party conference will not end until the night of the 6th so some slippage will probably be necessary. On the other hand, by the end of Sunday’s talks, Burg’s visit to Cairo was being described almost as a preliminary negotiation, dealing at least with semi-substantive issues such as the responsibilities of working groups.

10. Jim Leonard will use the next few days in Israel to call on each member of the Israeli negotiating team individually and to talk with other Israelis who can give insight into Israel’s thinking on the West Bank/Gaza negotiations. Assuming the schedule remains pretty much [Page 856] as described above, he will probably stay in Israel long enough to talk with Burg after his return from Cairo. Then he will move to Cairo and go the rounds with the important Egyptian participants and then will be ready to participate in the first substantive negotiating session. We may begin to see how the negotiations will work more clearly after the Burg-Khalil talks, but by the time the first session is completed, it should be possible to begin to see how each of the issues will be tackled and to see more clearly what approach to the issues makes most sense for us.

11. The strategy we have already set for ourselves of letting Egypt and Israel take the lead in organizing these negotiations is a valid one. Although they have been slow in pulling their acts together, they now seem to be getting together with hopes of having a sense of how to proceed by the second week in June.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Middle East, Box 49, 5/16–31/79. Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Exdis Handle as Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Vance was in Rome for meetings with Italian President Pertini and Prime Minister Andreotti, as well as Pope John Paul II.
  2. Vance departed for Rome on May 27. Arriving in The Hague for a NATO Ministerial Meeting on May 29, Vance discussed with the Foreign Ministers of France, West Germany, and the United Kingdom the present state of Middle East situation, including prospects for the autonomy talks, the political situations in Egypt and Israel, and civilian and military aid programs for both countries. The memorandum of conversation for this meeting, held at the French Embassy, is in the Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, NEA Front Office Subject File 1978–1984, Lot 85D251, Box 3, 1979 Memcons—Secretary.
  3. May 27.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 256.
  5. Telegram 11583 from Tel Aviv, May 30, reported that sixteen Palestinian “security prisoners” in Israeli custody were released subsequent to Begin’s statement. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790245–0488)
  6. Eliyahu Nawi.
  7. See Document 256.