263. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Thoughts on the Next Round of Negotiations (U)

One of the first judgments that we will need to make is whether Sadat really cares much about the West Bank/Gaza negotiations. My guess at this point is that he does not. The Israelis also seem to be reaching this conclusion. Unless Sadat is prepared to insist on some degree of “linkage” between Egypt-Israel relations and the West Bank/Gaza negotiations, the Israelis will have little incentive to make any serious modifications in the “Begin Plan”.2 And without substantial changes, we cannot expect a serious agreement. (S)

If Sadat does not care, I doubt if we will be able to carry the full weight of the negotiations on our shoulders. Our relations with the Saudis may suffer if we fail to produce movement on the West Bank/Gaza, but without Sadat we will be unable to influence Begin. This would put us in the position of needing a strategy for managing the results of Arab disaffection and radicalism, but without a creditable approach to peace talks. (S)

Assuming that we do conclude that the Egyptians are serious, then we need to develop a negotiating strategy. Such a strategy could be built around the following elements:

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Timing. Refrain from putting forward a US proposal until Egypt and Israel have developed their positions. This should be done over the next couple of months. The Egyptian proposal should be considerably harder than what we expect an eventual compromise position to be. We should become increasingly involved in the substance of negotiations in October–November. Some positive results need to be shown by early next year.

US Role. The Israelis are trying to narrow our involvement in the talks and to put us on the defensive. Ambassador Strauss will need to establish his credibility with Begin from the outset.3 This may be unpleasant, since Begin has a tendency to test people by using some pretty rough tactics. Strauss cannot let himself be intimidated. On the contrary, he may need to win at least one round with Begin on some issue. I’m not a good enough politician to suggest how this can be done. Hopefully he is.

Concepts. According to the Camp David agreements, we are trying to establish a transitional regime for the West Bank/Gaza built around the idea of a freely elected self-governing authority which will replace the Israeli military government in most areas except security. At this point, we should not be talking about final borders, self-determination, a Palestinian state, or any of the other issues that are supposed to be left for a second phase of negotiations. The importance of keeping the focus on the interim character of the next agreement is that it may make it easier for all parties to accept less than their maximum demands. The key ideas should be that no party will be worse off during the transitional period than they are today; final outcomes should not be overtly prejudged; and some positive incentive must exist to move from the present situation into the transitional arrangements. A major objective of this stage is to create a representative Palestinian leadership that will be able to participate in later negotiations (hopefully at the expense of the more extreme elements in the PLO.)

Substance. The most difficult issues in the negotiations will involve land and security arrangements. I have tried to think of plausible negotiated outcomes. The best I can come up with is:

Land. Privately owned land in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza will be sold on a nondiscriminatory basis. Israel will not retain the right to expropriate private property in the West Bank/Gaza. But the Israeli [Page 868] military government will retain control of X percent of the public domain lands now under its control. In these areas, Israel can establish security installations and settlements. The remainder of the public lands will pass under the jurisdiction of the self-governing authority. In theory, Israel would not be required to give up the right to establish new settlements, but as a practical matter the scope for new settlement activity would be limited.

Water. A joint water authority will be established with equal Israeli and West Bank/Gaza representation. The situation prevailing at the time of the establishment of the self-governing authority could not be changed unless both parties agreed. In other words, the worst outcome if no agreement could be reached would be a continuation of the status quo for five more years. If new wells are to be dug, joint decisions would be required. (This would establish a measure of equity which does not now exist. If an Israeli settlement needs more water, it would probably be necessary for the Israelis to agree at the same time to allow an Arab village to dig a new well, which is presently not usually permitted.)

Security. The Israelis have undertaken to withdraw some troops and to redeploy those remaining into specified security locations. This implies some limitations on the Israeli military presence. The stages by which limitations will be set, however, are yet to be decided, and it might be possible to define the type of presence that might exist after three years without spelling out the intervening steps with great precision. It might be specified that the implementation of Israeli military redeployment will be discussed with the new self-government, along with the initial division of responsibility between local security forces and the Israelis. This is not an area where we and the Egyptians should try to be too precise. (S)


I do not honestly believe that the negotiations for a self-governing authority for the West Bank/Gaza are likely to produce positive results within the one-year target date. At some point, it may be necessary to revert to the earlier approach of trying to define the basic 242 trade-off—peace, recognition and security in exchange for Israeli withdrawal—with a staged process of implementation that might include a transitional regime of some sort. Begin, of course, will reject this approach, but Peres supports it. It has the advantage of dealing frankly with the principle of withdrawal, without which I see little likelihood of an agreement. The main advantage of the Begin Plan is that it makes Peres’ idea of territorial compromise look increasingly attractive to the Arabs. I suspect we will find that “autonomy” will be a non-starter. Either we forget about the West Bank/Gaza for a while, or we will probably have to find a way of anchoring the transitional concept to 242. Unfortunately, we did not quite succeed in doing so in the Camp David accords. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 76, Peace Negotiations: 1–10/79. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for information.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 5.
  3. Strauss was scheduled to travel to the Middle East on his first trip as the President’s Special Representative June 30–July 8. A June 28 memorandum from Aaron to Mondale that summarized the Department’s assessment of priorities for Strauss’s “get-acquainted trip,” indicated that Strauss needed to “stimulate Begin to think of some gesture for his July 10 meeting with Sadat” and should raise the issue of settlements “almost pro forma this time, so that he can say he raised the issue.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 51, Middle East: 3–6/79)