272. Letter From Israeli Prime Minister Begin to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

My two days2 in Alexandria were good days. Wherever I went the people received me with great warmth.

President Sadat and I had two talks in complete privacy.3 During our first meeting we discussed several practical issues as follows:

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I addressed myself first to the open borders. I cited the disparity between the number of visa applications submitted and approved; more than 200 Israeli citizens have applied for visas to visit Egypt but 20 only were granted. President Sadat said he was not aware of this and he told me he would instruct the appropriate authorities to enable all applicants to travel to Egypt. The same will apply on our part to Egyptian citizens wishing to visit Israel. I spoke, in this connection, of an immediate humanitarian problem regarding members of the Jewish community. During synagogue services on the day of my arrival individuals approached me and expressed the wish, sometimes with great emotion, to visit relatives in Israel whom they had not seen in almost two generations. President Sadat assured me that all would be allowed to pay such visits. Indeed, the first family flew into Israel from Alexandria on our press plane.

A second matter that came up for discussion was the oil question. This has been positively agreed upon. On November 26 we shall transfer the oil wells along the Suez Gulf to Egypt. On the following day Israeli tankers will take their oil cargo from those wells to Eilat. We shall pay the market price as determined in the annex4 to the letter you addressed to me, Mr. President, following the signing of the peace treaty.

I raised with President Sadat the proposition of renewing the direct railway link between Egypt and Israel as it had existed until 1948. The President received the idea positively, both for the transport of passengers and goods. We will, in due course, invite a delegation of experts representing a railway construction consortium to do a survey in our two countries.

President Sadat and I spent time reviewing the situation in the region and we were in full agreement as to the nature of the Soviet designs in the Middle East and elsewhere.

During the second meeting on the following day it was President Sadat who opened the conversation addressing himself to the main issues concerning our mutual relations and other highly important matters. Our exchange, as before, was conducted in warm amity.

The President spoke about the future of Judea and Samaria (in his language, the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip. He said that the idea of full autonomy was seen by him as a positive one. He wished to make a suggestion about what will occur after the transitional period of five years. He proposed that following the five year transitional period a [Page 886] Palestinian state be formed with an undefined link with Jordan. Understanding, so he said, Israel’s security problem he thought this could be solved by demilitarization.

I put it to him that demilitarization is feasible and proper in the context of the Sinai desert as we had agreed. I added: “Besides the fact that we trust you there is an objective factor. In a desert demilitarization is verifiable. In a populated area it is a hoax. One can keep a katyusha in every garage and in every home.”

On the matter of autonomy, President Sadat said that we may start with the Gaza Strip. When asked whether he meant that we begin with an agreement in relation to the Gaza Strip he made it clear that the agreement should be general and include, in his formulation, the West Bank. But, he explained, the introduction of the autonomy for the inhabitants could begin with the Gaza District first.

President Sadat turned to the matter of the settlements. He had mentioned the issue the previous day using the expression: “it creates difficulties” and “it is intimidating”. Now he added that he had told Dr. Burg when they met a few weeks ago: “Even if you have the right to build settlements it shouldn’t be done during the negotiations.” I recalled my letter5 to you, Mr. President, on this issue, whose contents were confirmed by the Secretary of State a number of weeks ago. About Jerusalem he said: the city will not be divided. Part of the city where the Moslem and Christian holy shrines are located will be under “Arab sovereignty with a flag”. (He did not say what flag). The “Wailing” (Western) Wall will be excluded. The city will be run by a common council.

In the course of our second talk President Sadat again mentioned an idea which he had first raised with me in private during our El Arish meeting,6 namely the construction of a water pipeline from the Nile to the Negev. He then went on to ask for an early return of Santa Katherina to Egyptian sovereignty. His wish is that this occur a day before November 18, the eve of the second anniversary of his visit to Jerusalem. Perhaps I will be able to give President Sadat a response during his forthcoming visit to Haifa.

In replying to President Sadat’s presentation I said that a Palestinian state would be a mortal danger to Israel. It would inevitably be a PLO state, bringing with it permanent bloodshed. Furthermore, it would be a peril to the free world turning in no time to a Soviet base, menacing thereby Egypt itself.

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I stressed that we have ahead of us, in fact, over six years during which time the problem of sovereignty is left open. At the end of that transition period we shall claim our right (as I have made clear time and again). But, I added, also under Israeli sovereignty the Palestinian Arabs should continue to enjoy autonomy in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.

With reference to Jerusalem I said to President Sadat that we must distinguish between any matter which carries with it material gain and those questions which relate to spiritual, historic and moral values. Therefore, I added, let us speak separately of a proposed water pipeline from the Nile to the Negev and the question of Jerusalem. President Sadat interjected saying: “I did not mean the water pipeline as a prize. I only made this suggestion because it is important.” I willingly acknowledged this remark. I read to him my letter to you, Mr. President, written in Camp David, on Jerusalem.7 I also read to President Sadat the two articles of the Israeli law concerning the Holy Places which I hereby attach.8

President Sadat spoke about Lebanon. He said he cannot agree to any kind of partition of Lebanon, referring specifically to the southern part of the country. He informed me that he was going to say this at the joint press conference we were about to hold. I told him that I agree unequivocally that the territorial integrity of Lebanon should be preserved. Israel has a grave problem of security there and what we do is a matter of the defence of our people against repeated planned attacks.

President Sadat said that he will, as he put it, “condemn the settlements” at the press conference. I asked him to state that on this issue “we differ”. This was, indeed, the term he used in his statement to the press and I, on my part, confirmed that on this issue “we agreed to differ”.

One of the most important statements President Sadat made to me was that we must continue the normalization process, that there will be “love between Egypt and Israel”, and that the peace between our countries will endure. We agreed that our colleagues should continue with the negotiations in the working groups which Ambassador Strauss helped, with his initiative, to form.

Finally, we wound up our conversation with my extending to the President an invitation to visit Haifa. He told me he would come by sea [Page 888] after Ramadan and that this would probably mean at the end of August. Haifa, I know, will accord the President of Egypt an enthusiastic reception.

I thank you, Mr. President for your attention.

Yours respectfully and sincerely,

Menachem Begin9
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 10, Israel: Prime Minister Menachem Begin, 1/79–2/80. No classification marking.
  2. July 10 and 11.
  3. During his meeting with Atherton in Alexandria on July 14, Sadat assessed the Alexandria Summit. Atherton reported, “Sadat is clearly pleased with himself and with the talks with Begin and, as he said in the end, that everything is going in the right direction.” Sadat “reassured Begin that it is his intention to ‘fortify’ their bilateral treaty, not linking its implementation to any other developments. At the same time, Sadat said he had stressed to Begin that the time had come for them to make a ‘big catch’ and come to an agreement on final arrangements for Jerusalem. His vision, he said, was to reach agreement by the end of this year on full autonomy plus Jerusalem, then implementation could start with Gaza and Jerusalem. This would win support of the Muslim world and isolate the Arab rejectionists.” (Telegram 611 from Alexandria, July 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840166–2413)
  4. See Document 241.
  5. See Document 259.
  6. May 25.
  7. Reference is to Begin’s September 17, 1978, letter to Carter, which was attached to the Camp David Accords, informing him of Jerusalem’s legal status as “one city indivisible” and the “Capital of the State of Israel,” in line with the Knesset’s June 28, 1967, passage of a law empowering the Israeli Government to apply the law of the State of Israel to any part of Eretz Israel. See Document 57.
  8. The two articles were not found attached.
  9. Begin signed “M Begin” above this typed signature.