6. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


General Considerations

Our problem in the area is confidence; it is acute in Jordan but serious also in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt. Hussein quite frankly tells us he sees an erosion in our position, not only since Leeds2 but since 1967. The Saudis and the Egyptians are a little less openly skeptical, but they too think that we have moved off of our position or fear that we will once the Israelis and their friends in Congress begin to put on the heat.

To a large extent, the erosion of Arab confidence has been brought about by our search for ways to get around Israel’s refusal to commit itself to turn the West Bank and Gaza back to full Arab control at the end of five years. There are two problems here:

a) —The various schemes that we have thought up, while admittedly imaginative, have been too complex. At times we have not been clear even in our own minds about exactly what we meant. No wonder the Arabs were confused.

b) —The above notwithstanding, it is true that the moderate Arabs will buy, albeit reluctantly, things like a five year transition period and Israeli security arrangements on the West Bank and Gaza. But not without the assurance, in advance, that the West Bank and Gaza will be turned back to Arab sovereignty. Some ambiguity on this point might be allowable, but Sadat would at least have to be able to claim that he had gotten a commitment from the Israelis to withdrawal. If he accepts anything less (he probably won’t) he will be repudiated.

In short the Arabs want us to stop trying to find schemes for getting around Israel’s refusal to make the commitment to withdraw—schemes that in their minds leave too much uncertainty—and start trying to find ways to get the Israelis to change their position. We are now at the point where we are going to have to do that if we want to keep Sadat and the Saudis with us, and if we are to have any chance of ever getting Hussein to join the negotiations. Further devising formulas [Page 14]for circumventing the Israelis now will lose us what little confidence we still enjoy. (And furthermore won’t work with the Israelis. Begin understands quite well what we are aiming at. He won’t go along and is probably encouraged in his resistance by the knowledge that we are looking for expedients rather than taking him on directly.)

Kamel and Saud, and many other Arabs who regard themselves as our friends and feel they have a stake in Sadat’s future, fear that at Camp David we will strike a middle ground between the Egyptian and Israeli position and will try to persuade Sadat to agree to “compromise”. They obviously think we might succeed in doing so. What they in fact mean is that they fear we will try to persuade Sadat to accept something that is less than a firm Israeli commitment to withdraw after five years.

The Camp David Meetings

Broadly speaking, there are two things that we have to decide:

a) —what we want to end up with; and

b) —how we can best go about getting where we want.

What do we want to end up with?

Ideally we would like to close the Camp David meeting with agreement between Sadat and Begin on a broad framework of principles for a settlement, covering all the main elements—peace, withdrawal, security and the Palestinians—which serve as a basis for a series of continuing negotiations to hammer out the details in each of these areas.

We know in advance, however, that it is not going to be possible to get such agreement. We also know several other things; they might be called the ground rules of the game:

—We cannot allow Camp David to be seen as a failure. The blow to the President’s prestige and authority and the consequences for stability in the area would be too serious.

—Since it cannot succeed in achieving its ideal goal, we must have an acceptable fallback.

—Somebody is going to go home disappointed, probably mad, from Camp David. There will be no way to please both sides at this point (but the temptation to try will be strong and should be guarded against). Any effort to do so is likely to please the Israelis but alienate the Arabs.

—The Arabs do not really expect that at Camp David Begin will make the concessions that will be needed to achieve a Declaration on terms minimally acceptable to Sadat. They will, however, be satisfied and consider the meeting a success if it ends with the US taking a position on the issues minimally acceptable to Sadat.

If we do this, the Israelis will be unhappy and the Administration will be attacked by Israel’s supporters in Congress and various Jewish [Page 15]organizations. A certain level of displeasure on the part of the Israelis and their supporters is inevitable; it will be the price of keeping Sadat and the moderate Arabs with us. What we will need to do is find ways to minimize the repercussions.

The first step we need to take in our preparations for Camp David is to arm ourselves with texts that the President could use with Sadat. We should have a series of texts, running from the most acceptable to Sadat to one or two that we judge to be on the borderline of what Sadat can accept. Responsibility for the preparation of these texts should be put in Atherton’s hands since he has much more direct experience in negotiating the principles than any other member of the group. Arrangement should also be made for Atherton to have a serious session with the President before Camp David to brief the President on the fine points of the positions and the sensitivities of the two sides as regards the language of the Declaration.

Our other main project will be to figure out how to get with the least possible damage from here to the statement of our position acceptable to Sadat at the end of the conference.

Getting To Where We Want

We start from the given that we cannot simply lay our proposal on the table at the outset. As much as possible, our ideas must seem to emerge from a genuine process of negotiation. We should recognize however that this is an ideal which is probably attainable only in part at best.

—We can expect Sadat and Begin to meet and talk with one another, but it would be unrealistic to think that they will negotiate in the technical sense of the word.

—If we try to force them into a negotiating situation we risk heading the talks into an impasse and a breakdown. Hearing the Israeli position in all its starkness could cause Sadat to react as he did after Leeds.

Begin knows our tactic and will be armed to meet it. No matter how long we get Sadat to sit down and talk with him he will always say that not enough time was allowed for negotiation. Begin’s fuse will be long and slow. Sadat’s short.

In brief, very early in the Camp David talks we risk coming up against a contradiction between our need to have our positions emerge from the course of the talks and the need to get them out in such a way that they will have the desired impact on the Arab side. We will be faced then with the choice between:

—dropping the fig leaf of negotiations; and

—stringing out presentation of our proposals or so watering them down that we are seen by Sadat as failing to fulfill our commitments.

[Page 16]Planning a strategy to avoid being caught on the horns of this dilemma, or if unavoidable to minimize the dangers therefrom, is another (with the drafting of texts) urgent task. This will involve the development of a detailed scenario for the Camp David meetings and for the presentation of our proposals. Saunders should be given responsibility for this.

A third task will be to draft a speech for the President to give at the close of the Camp David meeting. Responsibility for this could be given to Quandt.

There would thus be three task forces, headed by Atherton, Saunders and Quandt respectively, who would be assisted by various other members of the Middle East working group to do the following:

—prepare our position on the Declaration

—prepare a detailed scenario for the Camp David talks

—prepare a draft of a speech by the President.

After Camp David

Assuming that Camp David ends with a US statement of positions minimally acceptable to Sadat, we can expect to find ourselves at odds with Israel and the negotiations therefore deadlocked because the Israelis refuse to continue them on the basis of our position. We will need to pursue the study (already begun) of ways to bring the Israelis to reconsider their positions.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 5, Preparations for Camp David Summit—August 1978. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Korn on August 14. The paper was included as part of a briefing book prepared during Camp David preparatory strategy meetings attended by Vance, Saunders, Quandt, and Atherton at Ambassador Averell Harriman’s estate near Middleburg, Virginia, beginning on August 11. The complete briefing book is ibid. For Vance’s account of the Middleburg talks, see Hard Choices, p. 218.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 3.