36. Memorandum of Conversation1



    • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
    • Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Council Advisor to the President
    • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Ambassador at Large
    • Harold H. Saunders, Assistant Secretary, NEA

    • Ezer Weizman, Minister of Defense
    • Moshe Dayan, Foreign Minister
    • Prof. Aharon Barak, Member Israeli Supreme Court and Prime Minister’s Legal Advisor
    • Major General Avraham Tamir, Director, Army Planning Branch
    • Mr. Elyakim Rubinstein, Assistant Director General, Ministry for Foreign Affairs


  • Meeting with Israeli Delegation

This meeting was a continuation of a meeting with the same group Thursday afternoon.2 It concentrated on the issues of sovereignty/ withdrawal in the West Bank and the question of settlements there. In the course of the conversation, there was a brief review of understandings [Page 134] on issues which had been discussed yesterday which produced some new qualifications.

Just to deal with the review of the two issues from yesterday first:

1. Devolution of Authority. Secretary Vance stated his understanding that it was generally agreed that authority for the Palestinian self-governing authority would devolve from agreement among Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Barak and Dayan indicated that they had not yet discussed this with the Prime Minister and would have to do so. Barak recalled that, in a Begin-Lewis conversation3 before Begin’s departure from Israel, the Prime Minister had suggested that authority would devolve from the Military Governor during the first two years of the transitional agreement and then, after that, from a Jordan-Israel-Egypt agreement. Both Secretary Vance and Dr. Brzezinski said they felt that the devolution from the three party agreement should come immediately and to introduce a phase of devolution from the Israeli military government would undercut the political advantage of enhancing an appearance of authority moving promptly to the West Bankers. Dayan said they would take this up with the Prime Minister.

2. Security/Withdrawal. Secretary Vance summarized his understanding that what is needed is Israeli withdrawal out of certain areas and stressed the political importance of reducing the Israeli presence. He felt there had been general agreement the previous afternoon on the principle subject to discussing details of the Israeli security presence that would remain. The main new point introduced on this subject was Barak’s question on whether the U.S. shares the Israeli view that this withdrawal would represent the full implementation of the principle of withdrawal in Resolution 242. In the exchange that followed, Secretary Vance responded that these moves would be an adequate fulfillment of the withdrawal principle during the transitional period but, since there will not be full implementation until the end of the transitional period, withdrawal in the interim period cannot be considered final implementation of the principles of 242.

The bulk of the meeting was spent on the issues of sovereignty and the Israeli settlements.

Sovereignty. Secretary Vance began by stating the U.S. view that, at the end of five years, there should be a decision on the future status and relationship of the West Bank/Gaza with its neighbors; that the Palestinians should participate in this decision; that the mechanism for decision on the final status and relationship should be negotiations among Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the West Bank/Gaza authority.

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The Israelis replied with a new formula which they had produced since the last meeting. It takes the form of a draft article which would have two parts:

1. “The Palestinian Arabs have the right to participate in the determination of their future through talks involving representatives of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

2. “The future status of the West Bank and Gaza, including the issue of sovereignty, will be discussed and decided after five years.”

Barak explained that this decision would be made with the participation of the inhabitants in a way consistent with Israel’s autonomy plan. He explained that Israel would envision an exchange of letters between the U.S. and Israel which would state that the above formulation would in no way undermine Israel’s claim to sovereignty.

For clarification, Secretary Vance asked whether the Israelis were saying that Israel would automatically assert its claim to sovereignty if, after five years, the West Bankers said they wished to federate with Jordan. The summary answer, stated by Dayan at the end of this portion of the conversation, was that Prime Minister Begin wants on the record now his position that Israel is reserving its right to assert its claim—not that Israel is today saying what it will do five years hence.

In the more detailed discussion, the Israeli position in summary embraced these two points:

—If a solution like federation is proposed which spreads Arab authority over the West Bank, Israel is likely to assert its claim to sovereignty.

—If, on the other hand, there is a solution which breaks sovereignty up into its various functional components and leaves unstated the question of who is sovereign, Israel is less likely to assert its claim to sovereignty.

Coming at the problem from a different direction, Barak said he preferred to avoid the use of such “19th Century terms” as confederation, federation, and sovereignty. The problem with “federation” is that it would ascertain Jordanian sovereignty to the West Bank and Gaza. The problem with “confederation” is that it suggests a Palestinian sovereignty. Neither is acceptable to Israel. But if there is a functional breakdown of the elements of sovereignty and no explicit decision on who is sovereign, then the issue does not need to arise.

Returning to the new formula Barak had presented, Dayan said he wished to make three points.

1. This formula now brings the question of Palestinian participation in determining their future into discussion of the sovereignty issue.

2. Israel does distinguish between the future of the Palestinian Arabs themselves and the future of the territory in the West Bank and [Page 136] Gaza. He stressed that acknowledging the right of the Palestinian Arabs to participate in the determination of their future does not mean that they would “take their territory with them.” He argued that allowing the Palestinian Arabs to make the decision on the future of the West Bank and Gaza put them in a position of deciding an important element of the Jewish future as well. Israel could not accept that.

3. He felt that deferring a decision on the status of the territories until after five years would allow for a decision on arrangements which would not be black and white. Here he was echoing Barak’s point on leaving sovereignty undefined.

Settlements. Secretary Vance began this portion of the discussion by stating our tentative view that there might be a freeze on both the number of settlements and the number of people in the settlements. The future of the settlements would be decided in negotiations among Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian authority. He acknowledged that Israel does not agree with this position and believes there should be some additions in both categories. The Secretary acknowledged that the Sinai is different because there is a recognized international boundary and there is no question of sovereignty in the Sinai. There, we believe settlements should be removed.

In response to questions from Weizman and Dayan, the Secretary reported that the idea of extending Gaza to include the Yamit settlements had been rejected and that individual Israeli buying of property in the West Bank is acceptable.

Dayan then explained with some feeling why freezing the number of settlers is “absolutely impossible.” He said that no one counts people who go in and go out of a community except in prisons. He also said that the freezing of the number of new settlements would be unacceptable to the Israeli government and that pressing this issue would have repercussions on other issues. Specifically, he said he did not see how Israel could agree to large numbers of displaced persons returning to the West Bank if Israel’s right to allow new settlers to go to the West Bank had been frozen. If the settlements are frozen, Israel would have to impose its own freeze on other issues.

Dayan then put forward Israel’s strategy for dealing with this issue. Israel would put forward a plan describing the number of settlements it proposed to install during the five-year transitional period, where they would be, and how they would acquire the land without confiscating it. By putting forward such a plan, Israel would impose on itself limitations on the settlements for five years and then would agree to the return of displaced persons and plans for settling the refugees permanently in Gaza.

Secretary Vance suggested the following formulation: there will be no new settlements or expansion of existing settlements without the ap[Page 137]proval of the four party council (Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority). Dayan did not respond but instead reiterated the point that Israel wants to change the practice of the last eleven years of not allowing displaced persons to return and felt that such a change would be an inducement to the Arabs to accept Israel’s strategy.

Secretary Vance then asked what the purpose of the new settlements would be. Dayan responded that it would be to fill the gaps between existing settlements. He said there should be some linkage among the settlements. It is difficult for a settlement to exist without two or three nearby. He acknowledged that, in theory, one could take a position that there should be no settlements at all and they should be replaced by military forces. But if settlements are going to be left on the West Bank, they must exist in clusters and cannot be isolated.

Dr. Brzezinski pressed the point that the settlements and the return of displaced persons are unequal issues. In establishing the settlements, Israel wants to perpetuate in the West Bank an Israeli presence with its own guards, schools, laws, and other systems. He felt there is an inconsistency in the Israeli position. On the one hand, the self-rule proposal is supposedly designed to arrange something that the Palestinian Arabs can call their own. On the other hand, Israel insists on maintaining armed enclaves in this Arab area. No one in the world understands Israel’s purpose. No one in the world supports Israel in this policy. He asked why Israel should complicate the process of moving toward peace by insisting on continuing its settlement policy.

Weizman interjected that he had never understood why settlements on the West Bank were called illegal. If eventually there is a confederation, there would be a sharing of this area involving Israel as well as Jordan. Moreover there had been settlements such as those around Hebron which had existed before the 1948 War. At least those first settlements must be legal.

Dr. Brzezinski stressed that there may not be a confederation if Israel creates the impression that it will use its presence to try to colonize the West Bank. He went on to argue that if Israel wants to work out an arrangement with the Arabs on the West Bank, they have to have the feeling that they control the area in some significant degree. If they feel that Israel is perpetuating and extending its control, then they do not feel that they have a place they can call their own. Dayan argued that if the approach he thought Dr. Brzezinski was implying were taken, it would be necessary to take a decision on sovereignty in the West Bank now. Dr. Brzezinski replied that this might be the ideal approach, but since we cannot do that we are trying to find a way to defer the decision until the end of five years so that we can allow the settlements to stay during that period.

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Dayan on two occasions in this part of the discussion expressed his concern that the imposition of a freeze on settlements would very quickly be extended by the Arabs to apply to east Jerusalem, and Israel could not make itself vulnerable to that.

Weizman emphasized the importance of the settlements in Israeli psychology. He said the whole of Israel had been made and defended on the basis of settlements. Secretary Brown noted that if Israel did not have the Israeli Defense Forces—as had been the case earlier in its history—Weizman would have a stronger argument. Weizman then asked Secretary Vance to confirm his understanding that the United States is saying all settlements should disappear. Secretary Vance replied, “In the Sinai, yes.”

Secretary Vance then turned to Weizman and told him that President Sadat believes there is agreement between Weizman and Gamasy on the Sinai airfields. Weizman said that is not the case. Weizman then got out a map to explain how difficult it is for Israel to substitute for the Sinai airfields, particularly the one at Etzion near Eilat. Dayan thoughtfully suggested that maybe it would be possible to reach agreement at Camp David on the airfields so that only the issue of the settlements would stand between us and agreement. However, Dayan was not sure this issue could be negotiated with Sadat. Secretary Vance said tentatively he thought it would be desirable to try to resolve the airfield problem with Sadat at Camp David, but he said he would want to think about it and talk with the President.

Weizman said he did not want to sound as if he were suggesting a tradeoff between the Sinai and the West Bank, but he thought that if Israel knew how the West Bank problem were to be solved, it would be much easier to deal with issues in the Sinai when the negotiations focus there again. Dayan thought Israel should try to reach agreement at Camp David between Sadat and Weizman on the military problems in the Sinai and then return to the issue of the settlements. He wondered if the Secretary would arrange another meeting between Weizman and Sadat.

The Secretary replied by saying that he would want to give this more thought and then suggested that the conversation return to the West Bank. He said he understood what Dayan and Weizman had said about the settlements there, told them he did not find their arguments compelling but promised to report them to the President. Dayan reminded him for the third time that any freeze on settlements would ultimately come back to apply to Israeli population of annexed portions of east Jerusalem. Alluding again to his idea of a plan for the settlements, he said that we could perhaps deal with the Arab concern by applying a freeze at such points where the Arabs feel Israel will use the settlements to limit Arab activity on the West Bank.

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Barak referred to Article 21 of the Begin Self-rule Plan4 and suggested that there be agreement in advance on the flow of immigration of displaced persons and on the number of settlements. (Note: Article 21 establishes a committee to determine the “numbers of immigration.”) Secretary Vance said he did not understand equating Israeli settlements and returning displaced persons.

Dr. Brzezinski, in concluding, enumerated the significant points on which the Egyptians had made concessions—a transitional period, Israeli security presence in the West Bank, no independent Palestinian state. He felt that asking them to allow for a continued program of expanded Israeli settlement is “overloading the circuit.” Secretary Vance said that to have everything founder on this issue would be tragic.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 53, Middle East: Camp David Memcons, 9/78. Secret. Drafted by Saunders. The meeting took place in Holly Cabin.
  2. See Document 34.
  3. The Embassy transmitted a summary of the August 26 meeting in telegram 11013 from Tel Aviv, August 26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850033–0410)
  4. On the Palestinian self-rule plan proposed by Begin in December 1977, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978. An undated paper outlining the differences between this plan and the proposed Framework for Peace in the Middle East is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 8, Camp David [Summary]: 9/6–9/78.