34. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • AMERICAN SIDE

    • Walter Mondale, Vice President of the United States
    • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
    • Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Council Advisor to the the President
    • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Ambassador at Large
  • ISRAELI SIDE

    • Moshe Dayan, Foreign Minister
    • Ezer Weizman, Minister of Defense
    • Aharon Barak, Member Israeli Supreme Court and Prime Minister’s Legal Advisor
    • Avraham Tamir, Director, Army Planning Branch
    • Elyakim Rubenstein (notetaker), Assistant Director General, Ministry for Foreign Affairs

SUBJECT

  • Exploration of Israeli Positions on Refugee Return, Security/Withdrawal on West Bank, Settlements, Sinai Air Bases and Authority for Interim Regime

The following is a summary of the follow-on discussions with members of the Israeli Delegation to explore further some questions raised during the President’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister [Page 123]Begin and his principal advisors the morning of September 7.2 The principal subjects discussed were: (a) refugee return to the West Bank, (b) security/withdrawal on the West Bank, (c) Israeli settlements, (d) Sinai air bases, and (e) the source of authority for an interim regime. It was agreed that a further subject to discuss was the question of sovereignty and final status of the West Bank and Gaza, but time did not permit getting into this issue.

Of particular note, Dayan made the point twice during the meeting—once in connection with West Bank security/withdrawal issues and once in connection with the settlements problem—that Egypt could not make proposals going beyond its present positions; it was therefore important to know what the U.S. would agree to support and then for the U.S. to make proposals on these issues.

Refugee Return

Secretary Vance asked what Israel had in mind, in its West Bank/Gaza home rule plan, about the number of Palestinian refugees who would be permitted to return during the interim period and how this in-migration program would be carried out. The Israelis explained that they had in mind providing for the return of West Bank and Gaza residents who had been displaced in the 1967 War. About 40,000 had already returned and they estimated that perhaps another 100,000 would have a claim to return under this program. Dayan stressed that this was an important issue for the West Bank Palestinian representatives he had been meeting with. The Israelis did not see this as a major problem; the principal criteria were that they could be absorbed economically (i.e., that no refugee camps would be created) and that individuals who would be a security problem be screened out. The details could be worked out with the Administrative Council envisaged under the self-rule plan. Israel would have a veto but as a general principle these 1967 displaced persons would be permitted to return.

Dayan emphasized that Israel made a distinction between the West Bank/Gaza residents displaced in 1967 and refugees or their descendants from the 1948 War. The “right of return” which the latter claimed meant returning to Israel proper or to Gaza. In Gaza there were already 150,000 1948 refugees and no more could be absorbed. Israel, itself, could not take back any significant numbers. Therefore, the need is to have an international body which would resolve the problem of the 1948 refugees through resettlement, largely in countries where they reside. All governments where these refugees live would participate in this body, which would also deal with the problem of Jewish refugees [Page 124]from Arab countries and their claims. The most difficult category would be the 1948 refugees in Lebanon.

Security/Withdrawal

Secretary Vance pressed Weizman and Dayan for their specific ideas on what their security requirements in the West Bank would be during the interim period. Initially, Weizman took the position that Israel would need to retain approximately its present military forces and positions in the West Bank. He enumerated the categories of Israeli security requirements as encompassing (a) a military presence in the Jordan Valley and control of entry to both the West Bank and Gaza; (b) early warning stations on the West Bank; (c) strong points on the West Bank heights overlooking the Jordan Valley; (d) control of key points on East/West access roads in the West Bank plus the building of some new roads; and (e) prepositioned depots and defense positions on the West Bank for additional forces that might have to be sent in. Weizman stressed that, even if there were peace with Egypt, Israel still had to be prepared against threats from Syria, Iraq and Jordan to the East.

Secretary Vance made the point that all of this would not take into account the essential political problem that there needed to be some reductions and redeployment (which could be characterized by the Arabs as withdrawal) of Israeli forces and a decrease in their visibility in order to give evidence of the end of the occupation. Secretaries Vance and Brown and Dr. Brzezinski pressed this point during an extended discussion. In the end, both Weizman and Dayan acknowledged the importance of agreeing on concepts which would meet the categories of Israeli security requirements listed above but would at the same time reduce the Israeli military visibility. Secretary Vance stressed Israel should have what it needs for security; at the same time, there could be withdrawal into encampments. Dayan said he hoped we could say withdrawal “out of,” rather than “into.”

The Israelis were reluctant to present to us a detailed military plan, arguing that this could be dealt with in negotiations. They did, however, suggest a number of ways in which their military visibility could be reduced: (a) the most important would be the abolition of the offices of the military government which Weizman said would remove Israeli military government officials (about 500 personnel) from about 15 municipal centers; (b) some service schools now located on the West Bank could perhaps be relocated in Israel proper; (c) if any troop concentrations were in populated areas, they could perhaps be redeployed to other points on the West Bank; (d) battalions could be converted into companies.

Dayan stressed that Israel’s objective was to take itself out of the daily lives of the local population, even including security functions [Page 125]provided the local authorities were able to prevent terrorist acts against Israel. If they could not, however, he clearly implied that Israel would have to reserve the right to intervene.

Weizman raised the additional problem that the West Bank (as well as Sinai) now provided the principal training areas for Israeli military forces. Given the present size of the Israeli defense forces, and the small area available in Israel, he did not see how their training needs could be met within the borders of Israel itself.

The Vice President asked whether, as an additional means of demonstrating the change from a military government regime, it would be possible to convert some Israeli settlements in the West Bank to military cantonments. Both Weizman and Dayan reacted negatively to this idea. Otherwise, however, by the end of the meeting they were clearly focusing on ways in which their security presence could be modified, without a significant reduction in its totality, to meet the political need to demonstrate that a new situation existed.

Settlements

Secretary Vance said that in his view the settlements in the Sinai and on the West Bank presented two different problems. On the West Bank, he believed there should be a freeze on further settlements with disposition of existing settlements to be dealt with in negotiations among the parties. As for the Sinai settlements, he did not believe Sadat would give in on his insistence that they be disbanded. Weizman said it was not possible to ignore the feeling of the Israeli people about the settlements in the Rafah area, given their memories of three Egyptian invasions. Admittedly these settlements were not a major military deterrent. They were psychologically important, however, and Israel’s experience was that it could better control areas where its own people lived. Why, he asked, could these settlements not serve to help Israelis and Arabs learn to live together?

Weizman also recalled a suggestion he had once made to Sadat that the borders of the Gaza Strip be extended to include the Yamit settlement in the Rafah area; then whatever solution was found for Gaza could apply there. This constituted a minute part of the Sinai. Weizman asked if this was a matter of principle for Sadat. Secretary Vance said it was; to Sadat, the return of Egyptian sovereignty to the international border was something on which he would not concede. Dr. Brzezinski asked if there were any possibility in the idea of a new demarcation of the international border, with Egypt getting some land in the Negev in return for redrawing the Gaza border. Weizman said this had been discussed with Sadat and was an idea to consider although it had not been approved by the Israeli Cabinet. Professor Barak noted that General Gamasy had said this idea was a non-starter for Egypt.

[Page 126]With respect to West Bank settlements, Dayan asked whether we had in mind freezing only the establishment of new settlements or also the number of people in existing settlements. Secretary Vance replied that President Carter had come to no final conclusion on this but our present thinking was that the freeze should apply to both new settlements and enlargement of existing settlements. Our concept was that there should be a freeze until a negotiated agreement was reached.

Dayan said there was a link between Israel’s right to settle in the West Bank and its willingness to agree to the return of 1967 displaced persons. Israel had proposed the latter in its self-rule plan on the assumption that Israel would also be able to settle the West Bank during the interim period. Dayan suggested that there were three points that needed to be covered in dealing with the settlements problem: (a) the relationship between freezing settlements and the return of displaced persons; (b) the settlement of refugees in Gaza through building new housing for them; and (c) to establish a plan for a fixed number of Israeli settlements in the West Bank so that the Arabs would be reassured that Israel’s settlement plans were not unlimited and would not threaten to colonize the entire West Bank. Dr. Brzezinski thought this might be resolved by providing that the principle of unanimous approval by Israel and the local Administrative Council for the return of displaced persons should also be applied to the establishment of new settlements. The Vice President asked whether it was conceivable that this problem could be resolved by Israel’s accepting the principle of a freeze on settlements, so that Sadat could claim a victory, but with some flexibility in practice for Israel, with the details to be negotiated between Israel and the local Administrative Council. Dr. Brzezinski thought a solution might be possible by agreeing that there would be a freeze on unilateral settlement activity and by making all three points raised by Dayan the subject of an agreement by the parties—i.e., a fixed five-year settlement plan (Dayan indicated Israel had in mind 15–20 new settlements in the Jordan Valley comprising 100 families each); the return of about 100,000 displaced persons; and permanent housing for refugees in Gaza.

Secretary Vance concluded this part of the discussion by saying that we would take note of what the Israelis had said and would reflect on it.

Sinai Air Bases

Picking up on the earlier discussion of Sinai settlements, Dayan said he wanted to try a “wild shot.” If the U.S. took over the air base near Yamit, could the latter be included in a zone under U.S. auspices; the U.S. base commander could have an Arab deputy for the Arab population in the zone, and an Israeli deputy for the Israelis. Weizman followed up by asking how serious was the possibility that the U.S. would [Page 127]take over this Sinai air base. Secretary Brown said we were not eager to do so. Secretary Vance said it would be politically difficult, and we would not consider this unless urged to do so by both Egypt and Israel, and unless it would advance a peace settlement. The Vice President said he understood Israel needed air space for training purposes (Weizman had earlier pointed out that the air space of Israel proper was inadequate for Israel’s present air force). The Vice President asked whether it might not help Israel’s training problem and Egypt’s political problem if such a base in Sinai were characterized as a training facility on Egyptian territory for use by Israel, Egypt and the United States. Weizman said this was a possibility.

Authority for West Bank/Gaza Interim Regime

In a brief discussion on this subject, Secretary Vance explained our view that an interim regime would have greater validity if it derived its authority from the governments involved—i.e., Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Professor Barak asked what would happen if Jordan did not join the negotiations. The Secretary said if Jordan were invited and did not join, the authority could derive from an Egyptian-Israeli agreement. Barak said this presented no problems for Israel.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 53, Middle East: Camp David Memcons, 9/78. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Atherton on September 8.
  2. See footnote 12, Document 28.