310. Memorandum From Robert Hunter of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Representative for Middle East Peace Negotiations-Designate (Linowitz)1


  • Middle East Negotiations (U)

You take over2 at a time of deep skepticism about the possibilities for success of the talks:

—the Begin government is on the edge of paralysis and, even if it survives, is unlikely to become much stronger; at the same time, the election/government-forming process in Israel is measured in months, not weeks;

—the Shaka affair3—if he is indeed expelled—threatens a collapse of any local government on the West Bank, deep disillusionment, and serious problems for the Egyptians at the Talks; and

—although the President is committed to the process, election developments here are leading to skepticism, heightened by the shift of command in our delegation;

[Page 1011]

—in any event, the Israelis are reluctant to make the concessions needed to have a Self-Governing Authority that is more than a hollow shell. (S)

There are some major factors working in our favor, however:

—the President’s deep personal interest and proven courage on this issue;

—the self-interest of the parties in not seeing Camp David collapse;

Sadat’s continuing optimism, his developing personal relationship with Begin, and the “sea change” in Egyptian and Israeli attitudes about one another;

—the fact that there are signed documents, with Begin’s signature on them, and real debate and uncertainty in Israel about the consequences (both in the West Bank/Gaza and in relations with Egypt) of a failure of the Autonomy Talks to reach agreement on a Self-Governing Authority; and

—the political possibility of slipping the date for completion of the talks (May 24), provided they are seen to be serious and basically on track. (S)

Status of the Process (U)

The goal of the Autonomy Talks has been to get agreement on a Self-Governing Authority that would contain enough to induce residents of the West Bank and Gaza to go to the polls. If they don’t vote, in effect the process fails—or at least goes into a holding period until something else can be worked out. As noted above, the May 24 date is not immutable; and ways could be found to finesse it for a time. The pressures would mount, however—in terms of a recrudescence of Sadat’s isolation, an increasing squeeze on oil, and a delay in repairing our relations with a number of Arab states. Needless to say, President Carter’s achievements so far would be tarnished. (S)

The talks are still in a “working up” phase. Publicly, we justify this in terms of the need for the political processes in Egypt and Israel to get used to dealing with the concept of autonomy, and the need to prepare issues for political consideration. All this is true. In addition, Sadat has asked that the talks proceed at this pace. Outside observers see in this his desire to get as much land (and oil) back as possible before reaching the crunch with Israel on Autonomy. He and Khalil argue, however, that the timing really relates to: a) the developing relationship with Begin and Israel; b) continuing proof to the rejectionists that Israel is meeting each of its Sinai commitments on time, and thus can be induced to meet its West Bank/Gaza commitments (and, by implication, that Egypt is getting land back while the rejectionists are getting [Page 1012] nothing); and c) the passage of time in weakening the rejectionist front. (S)

There is a school of thought which holds that Egypt will “turn” on the Israelis as soon as the Interim Line is reached (January 25). Khalil specifically dismissed this thought at the London meeting;4 and Egypt has publicly pledged that the exchange of Ambassadors will take place on February 25, whatever is happening in the Autonomy Talks. (S)

Thus the Egyptian preference is for the real issues to be met at the political level beginning next month or early January at the latest. However, they have argued that we should take the lead in pushing Israel, against the background of the “favorable climate” Sadat has engendered. In his meeting with Mubarak,5 President Carter firmly rejected this division of responsibility, and also stressed that we cannot be out in front of Egypt on issues like settlements. (S)

Sadat’s future role is a key mystery. He has shown himself capable of dramatic action (and turning on Israel is one such possibility); he has floated ideas like a new international conference in El Arish (though no one has taken him seriously—rightly, so far); and he constantly talks about the deal he will cut with Begin. Sadat keeps focussing on Jerusalem as the lead for such a deal (Begin, meanwhile, congratulates himself on his forebearance when Sadat raises the subject). And Sadat has floated the idea of diverting Nile waters to the Sinai and Negev—at first in exchange for a deal on Jerusalem, until Begin reacted harshly to this connection. (CIA tells us that this idea would be very expensive, ignores Egypt’s own water needs, and would be politically costly). (S)

From our standpoint, the Sadat-Begin relationship is central—which is one reason someone of your political stature on our side is vital to moving the process on with these two key leaders. Ultimately, agreement has to come “top down,” rather than “bottom up.” The Israeli delegation is deliberately weak politically—a factor contributing to Dayan’s resignation.6 On the Egyptian side, Sadat will ultimately call the shots; but Khalil is now firmly on board, and increasingly demonstrates his capabilities and importance in the process. (S)

We are doing what we can to protect Sadat’s domestic position. To be sure, there is not much concern for the Palestinians on the part of the Egyptian people; but there is popular concern to see that “peace pays.” [Page 1013] Thus Bob took businessmen to Egypt to work on high pay-off projects (shirts, pumps, soy protein for bread and milk). We have stretched our aid dollars, providing Egypt with nearly one-third of PL-480 (and denominating the commitment in tons, not inflatable dollars). We have sent Doug Bennet, Irwin Miller and others to Egypt. We press the Europeans and Japanese—even those not behind Camp David—to try easing Egypt’s isolation with development aid and investment. At some point, there has to be an Egyptian payoff for peace if Sadat is to continue to be secure. (S)

Egypt’s isolation is harder to deal with. Only Oman and Sudan support Camp David-with Morocco tacitly there. Thus we have put in some effort to support all three countries (though for other reasons as well). And the President has been personally involved in trying to stop the mutual recriminations between Sadat and the Saudi leadership.7 So far, Sadat has not been wrong in his predictions about the weakness of the “steadfastness front”—as witness the collapse of Syrian-Iraqi unity efforts. The Arab Summit on November 20 may repair the front somewhat—though probably more in rhetoric than in action. A far more important date is February 25—the exchange of Ambassadors. Then, there will be intense pressure to boycott the Suez Canal and Sumed pipeline, cut travel arrangements, and end worker remittances—which together (with oil) now make Egypt slightly better off in foreign earnings than before Camp David. (S)

We are not meeting all Egypt’s aid requests, however. The President decided to lift wheat shipments from 1.5 to 1.6 million tons—400,000 short of the “minimum” requested by Sadat and Mubarak, and which they again pressed upon Bob Bergland. (The Egyptians have not been told this yet; it was held up pending some basically “good news” on the military side—but that military aid decision has now been held up at the behest of OMB). This aid relationship will clearly be important as we move forward, and your input will be vital. (One school of thought holds that Sadat wants a relationship with us equivalent to that of Israel: hence, the demand for aid and the squabble with Saudi Arabia. Whether or not that is true, we clearly can’t finance such a relationship). (S)

In Israel, the Palestinian issue is now clearly a subject for debate—and it won’t go away. The psychological momentum—however halting—is in the direction of doing something to deal with the problem. But it (and other factors) may tear the Government apart even before the tough issues at the Talks are broached at the political level. From our perspective, however, having Labor in might not be a [Page 1014] blessing. Not only is there the time needed to put a new government in place; but also “autonomy” is Begin’s concept (though he didn’t go very far with it). Labor has favored territorial readjustment, the Allon Plan,8 etc., and it will not be easy for Labor to shift gears. Because of Begin’s personal commitment to Camp David, having a strong Begin government would probably be best from the standpoint of the talks—but this may now be a pipedream. (An alternative school of thought holds that Begin’s leadership on peace is played out anyway, and that only an alternative political constellation can now move forward). (S)

The choice for Israel is fairly stark: between having five more years of effective “control” over the West Bank/Gaza—with the legitimacy of Camp David (as far as it goes)—or a breakdown of a framework for dealing with the Palestinian issue, further isolation in the world (where Israel is probably at its low point) and even more terrorism. The nature of this choice is added reason for trying to get a Self-Governing Authority more or less on time: thus preserving some “framework,” instead of seeing diplomatic anarchy again. (S)

One angle is worth exploring—though not much weight can be put on it: that this is probably Begin’s last chance to make peace for his nation, and to assure his place in Judaism’s history. (S)

We should also not rule out the possibility that Dayan will re-involve himself in the peace process (provided his health9 holds out). He played a key role in Camp David, etc., and is never without ideas. (S)

The Begin government may collapse in the near future10 (the smart money gives him only a few more weeks; yet the sizeable Labor lead in the polls will concentrate Likud and NRP minds, and creates a strong incentive for soldiering on). If the government does collapse, implementation of the Egypt-Israel treaty will most likely proceed on schedule. But it is unrealistic to expect the Autonomy Talks to make any progress (though the form and actual meetings will most likely proceed). The timetable will almost certainly slip, though we must not rule out Israeli political ingenuity (e.g. a government of national unity that could take some decisions). (S)

The aid relationship with Israel will be important. It gets $1.7 billion now (in effect, “straightlining” for the past three years, discounting the special $3 billion peace package). This means real erosion from inflation. Israel has asked for a doubling in FY 81—to $3.45 billion. It does not expect to get that (and may realistically not hope for more than an [Page 1015] inflation factor—about $500 million). This is now being considered in the regular budget process, though at some point it will be lifted out of that process. Again, your role will be vital in relating the aid package to the peace process (one novel idea is to ask for X dollars now, with a pledge of an added Y dollars in a supplemental once the Autonomy Talks are completed. Using aid as a negative bargaining lever is unlikely to work, and in military aid should be ruled out in any event). With other budgetary constraints, clearly this is a difficult subject. (S)

As indicated above, even with successful conclusion of the Talks, the real test will be whether the Palestinians resident on the West Bank/Gaza will vote. (If they do not, Sadat could claim he did his best and wash his hands—but that is a risky course; he is more likely to stretch the process out until/unless he were sure the Self-Governing Authority were at least credible). Here, the role of the PLO is important—if not vital. During recent months, two schools of thought were current in the U.S. government: a) to try resolving the question of our talking with the PLO, perhaps through a UN resolution, which would give it “legitimacy” sufficient for it to give a green light to Palestinian voters; or b) to get a Self-Governing Authority good enough to attract voters, and perhaps even to challenge the extent of PLO veto authority in the territories. There were indications over the summer of PLO movement in a direction that might have made course a) possible; but that never really had a firm base in the politics of Israel and Egypt, as Sadat worked to build his special relationship with Begin and to develop the “sea change” in Israeli-Egyptian attitudes. Sadat confirmed that in rejecting the idea of a compromise U.S. resolution (“making Begin’s arguments better than Begin,” in Bob’s words). And the USG is now committed to course b). However, it is possible we will face other UN resolutions, and other suggestions within the government to try course a). Whatever the political traffic might have borne in August, however, it will clearly not bear course a) between now and May. (S)

Camp David does provide for a Palestinian role in the Talks. This will not happen; however, some form of informal consultation might be possible. It is also possible that King Hussein could work out something with Arafat that would be a “complement” to Camp David, in terms of the future of the West Bank following the autonomy period. There have clearly been some soundings; but little progress. (S)

Hussein has still not recovered from his anger and disillusionment with us and especially Egypt over Camp David. His not seeing the President during his visit to the UN did not increase his willingness to play a constructive role, though in his conversation with Cy Vance11 he [Page 1016] did play with the idea of a complementary initiative. We could encourage an initiative along the lines of a federal or confederal relationship between the West Bank and Jordan, which Hussein has advanced in the past. The Begin government would not accept it (it has residual claims to sovereignty over the West Bank); but it is consistent with the Labor approach. The important thing is to seek progress in the Talks that will increase the incentives for Hussein to be involved in the West Bank in some way during the next few years, to avoid being frozen out by an autonomy regime in which he has no part. At the moment, this is a long-shot. (S)

In the next few months, Saudi Arabia will also be important, both in showing confidence in the possibility of some success in the talks—by keeping oil production up; and in trying to play a moderating role in Arab politics (beginning with the Arab Summit on November 20). In general, the Saudis have been reluctant to use oil in politics; with the exchange of Ambassadors—or outright failure of the Talks—it might not be able to sustain that position. (At the same time, economically Saudi Arabia probably wants to sustain at least an 8.5 million barrel a day output, and it will see its oil production decisions in the context of its total relationship with us). We should keep up our discussions with the Saudis on the peace process, while continuing efforts on Saudi military problems, Gulf security, etc. (S)

At some point, Bob had intended to go to Syria. The object was to keep Assad informed, and also to indicate the ways in which completion of Camp David could lead in the direction of a comprehensive peace. The Syrians would not receive him in the context of Camp David; it is unlikely that they would soon receive you, either, though it is something to keep in mind (the Saudis could be helpful in arranging a visit). (S)

The Talks12

State will be briefing you on the detailed issues. Suffice it to point out here the tough problems, which include:

—the status of East Jerusalem (for purposes of voting), where some sort of dual voting might be possible;

—the voting status of returnees from 1967 (as provided for in Camp David);

—the “legislative” vs. “administrative” character of the Self-Governing Authority;

[Page 1017]

—land and water (including settlements);

—the source of authority for the Self-Governing Authority; and

—both internal and external security. (C)

The issue of supervision of elections was more or less resolved in London—but that was child’s play compared to the other issues. (C)

In terms of your role, there are a number of steps, which you undoubtedly have already thought about:

—talking with Evron, Ghorbal, the other Arab Ambassadors, selected regional UN Ambassadors, and Waldheim;

—visiting Egypt and Israel soon, and establishing contact with Sadat, Khalil, Begin, Burg (and other Israeli leaders); attending an early meeting of the Talks;

—meeting with American Jewish leaders, the Hamilton Subcommittee, and the Stone Subcommittee;

—working towards meetings with non-PLO Palestinians;

—meeting with Habib on Lebanon.

Because of the interplay of issues in the Middle East, there are other issues where your involvement will be important, so that everything stays on track, including:

Lebanon. The “initiative” is being pursued in terms both of Lebanon itself, and of preventing a recurrence of violence from damaging the Autonomy Talks. (Sadat has not let the talks be affected by past Lebanese incidents, but might not be able to sustain that position). Our position rules out any dealing with the PLO (there was some opinion in the Administration to use the Lebanon initiative to resolve the larger problem of talking with the PLO). The initiative is low-key, and depends on Lebanese leadership and effectiveness with the Arabs. Yet its course will have an impact on your work;

Settlements. How we play this issue in our ongoing diplomacy is important, in addition to any effort we consider to try getting a “good-will” freeze on settlements. It is important that you be in the loop on USG approaches to Israel and public statements on this subject (as on others, such as any resumption of strikes in Lebanon);

Aid. As noted above, you are the key person to work with Cy and Zbig in helping the President relate levels of aid to Egypt and Israel to the peace process;

Arms sales. These are important with regard to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, both politically and concerning the stance these countries take towards Camp David;

UN Resolutions. As noted above, we may have to face one or more new resolutions on the PLO. (Khalil has played around with an Egyptian initiative, which Bob has tried to turn off);

[Page 1018]

Collateral peace issues. These include oil (now hopefully resolved, though the terms of the agreement have been reported to us by the two sides in different terms), Sinai observer arrangements, etc. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 62, Middle East: 8–11/79. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. On November 6, the White House announced that Linowitz would replace Strauss, who had been appointed by Carter to serve as chairman of the President’s re-election campaign, as Special Representative. Carter recalled in his memoirs that the decision to reassign Strauss was made in late October when the administration acknowledged that it would face “strong opposition in my own Democratic party and also from the Republicans.” Strauss, Carter continued, “had been doing a good job in the Middle East,” but he and his advisers “agreed that his skills could best be used in this political campaign position.” The decision to appoint Linowitz was taken in consultation with “Mondale, Vance and others,” in light of Linowitz’s demonstrated ability in negotiating the Panama Canal treaties. (Carter, Keeping Faith, pp. 491–492) Linowitz recalled that Carter offered him the position on October 30, following informal inquiries from Brzezinski and Vance. (Linowitz, Making of a Public Man, pp. 213–215) The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Linowitz’s appointment on December 4. (“Negotiator Approved,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1979, p. E5)
  3. See footnote 7, Document 309.
  4. See Document 304.
  5. See Document 293.
  6. Dayan resigned as Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs on October 21. An Embassy analysis of Dayan’s rationale for resigning, including his limited role in the autonomy negotiations, the state of Begin’s coalition government, and philosophical differences between himself and the coalition’s membership, was forwarded to the Department of State in telegram 23041 from Tel Aviv, October 26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790511–0153)
  7. See Document 305.
  8. See footnote 10, Document 64.
  9. Dayan had been diagnosed with colon cancer in June. (Dayan, Breakthrough, p. 289)
  10. See Document 313.
  11. See Document 297.
  12. Hunter sent a follow-up memorandum on the state of the autonomy talks with a list of strategy suggestions to Linowitz on November 26. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 62, Middle East: 8–11/79)