270. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State, the Consulate General in Alexandria, and the Embassy in Egypt1

14348. Cairo and Alexandria for USMEDEL. Subject: Ambassador Strauss’ Meeting With Prime Minister Begin July 2, 1979.

1. (S-entire text)

2. Ambassadors Strauss and Lewis met with Prime Minister Begin, who was accompanied by Minister Burg and Begin’s aide, Yehuda Avner, for approximately one and one-quarter hours on morning of July 2. Minister of Justice Tamir joined for final ten minutes. Following [Page 880] this session, Begin and Strauss met more formally with all members of their respective delegations in adjoining conference room for what was largely a ceremonial encounter.

3. Begin/Strauss meeting was continuation of their initial tete-a-tete on previous day.2 Main subjects covered were Israeli settlement activity in West Bank, increasing opposition to Israeli policies among certain segments of U.S. public opinion, impending meeting between Sadat and Begin in Alexandria on July 10, prospects for the impending round of autonomy talks at Alexandria on July 5–6, and the increasingly dangerous situation in Lebanon in the wake of the aerial dogfight between Israeli and Syrian planes on June 27.3

4. On settlements, Begin said that he knew with certainty that settlements are not a serious problem with Sadat, although he may raise it during our meeting. (In this connection, I heard from another source that Begin claims Sadat told him during their last meeting in Cairo that he understood Begin’s problems about settlements and only wished he would hurry and get things done as quickly as possible so as to get the issue out of the headlines.) Strauss restated the U.S. position on the settlements issue4 in response, stressing the damage that he believed it was doing to the peace process.

5. On the Alexandria meetings, Begin urged Strauss to do whatever is necessary to reach agreement on the agenda, stressing the need for a limited practical agenda which will permit the two parties to get down to concrete business. Strauss assured him that we had every interest in doing everything possible to get the talks moving on concrete issues, and that he would do his best.

6. Begin told Strauss that he anticipated Sadat would make another effort on the Jerusalem issue when they saw each other July 10. He anticipated that would be the major topic on Sadat’s mind, but he gave [Page 881] absolutely no indication that he had any receptivity to pursuing the issue with Sadat.

7. During a lengthy discussion of the reasons for the rising opposition in U.S. public opinion to certain Israeli policies, particularly those involving settlements and Lebanon, Begin expressed deep resentment about what he characterized as “deliberately hostile briefing of the press by the State Department about the air encounters with the Syrians,” and other subjects, in recent days. He said “we are very perturbed about this permanent anti-Israeli briefing pattern coming out of Washington,” and said that he had numerous reports from journalists about what was being said by State Department officials. He particularly resented the fact that the Department’s spokesman had issued a public statement branding us as aggressors before he had even received a report on the facts and on the Begin/Lewis meeting at which the Secretary’s message5 was delivered and discussed. He asked Lewis to take careful note and to make sure that Secretary Vance was informed of his concern. He insisted that the Israeli actions in the air over Lebanon were “a clear case of self-defense,” and then reiterated his position that Israeli actions in Lebanon are essential in the face of publicly proclaimed PLO intentions to continue terrorist attacks against Israel.

8. Strauss intervened in Begin’s monologue at this point to suggest as a personal idea that the Prime Minister should announce a moratorium on pre-emptive bombing for a fixed period (thirty, sixty, or ninety days), or perhaps as an open-ended commitment, and then challenge the PLO to halt its terrorist attacks in response. He stressed that this would put the Israeli policy in a much more favorable light in the United States, whether or not the PLO responded. There was lengthy discussion of this idea, with Begin showing some interest in considering it but worried about the impact if the PLO bombings within Israel continued after the moratorium had been proclaimed. He stressed his overriding responsibility to try to avoid the bloodshed of his citizens. He did not know whether he could conscientiously run the risks of such an appeal and moratorium on Israel’s part not being heeded by the Palestinian terrorists. (Note: Begin continues to be convinced that Israeli bombing of PLO bases effectively stops many terrorist attacks before they are launched.) This led to a long dissertation on the difference between “terrorists” and “liberation or freedom fighters,” with Begin stressing the despicable nature of PLO tactics in deliberately attacking innocent civilians and then “boasting about the murder of women and children.” At the end of the conversation, Begin seemed to be turning over in his mind Strauss’ idea. He assured Strauss he would give it very serious consideration.

[Page 882]

9. Comment: It was evident throughout this conversation that Ambassador Strauss and Prime Minister Begin have established an excellent personal rapport which should stand us in very good stead in the weeks and months to come.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Trips/Visits File, Box 114, 7/1–8/79 Strauss Trip to Middle East: 6/79–7/4/79. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. A record of this meeting has not been found. Strauss arrived in Israel on July 1, following a brief stopover at the Cairo airport where he held a press conference. The Embassy conveyed a transcript of Strauss’s remarks in telegram 13322 from Cairo, July 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790298–0471.
  3. See Document 267.
  4. In a July 5 press conference, Strauss laid out his view of the Israeli settlements, which Sick transmitted to Brzezinski in a July 6 memorandum. Strauss stated, “I happen to think the settlements are illegal. The Israelis say they are legal. But I don’t think the issue is whether the settlements are legal or illegal. I think that whether they are either one of those, they have proved to be an obstacle to two things: 1) progress toward peace, and, equally important almost, 2) Israel stating its case properly before the court of world opinion.” Strauss continued: “Both of those things are vital to Israel’s continued growth and viability and strength. If they’re getting something out of it on the security end, is it, in the overall security and best interest of Israel, worth the price they’re having to pay? I answer that in the negative. It’s not worth it.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 22, Israel: 3–12/79)
  5. See footnote 2, Document 267.