7. Briefing Paper Prepared in the Department of State and the National Security Council1

THE PIVOTAL ISSUE: THE SINAI/WEST BANK RELATIONSHIP

The Issue

The pivotal issue at Camp David will be the relationship that exists in the minds of both Begin and Sadat between the resumption of Sinai [Page 17]negotiations and progress on the West Bank/Gaza/Palestinian complex of questions including the fundamental territorial issue. This relationship will underlie all of the discussions, although you may find only Begin and the Israeli team interested in getting it out in the open and pinned down.

Stated very briefly, the two fronts are linked in each man’s mind in the following manner: Israel has placed top priority since last November on reaching a separate agreement with Egypt on the Sinai. Having now realized that that is not in the cards, Begin will be trying to acquire Sadat’s commitment to conclude a final Sinai agreement, or failing that a “partial” Sinai agreement, in return for the minimum change in the present Israeli position on the West Bank/Gaza. Sadat also seeks a Sinai agreement that will bring about Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory, but cannot politically afford to pursue such an agreement in the absence of a clear change in the Israeli position regarding military withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, the settlement of Israeli citizens there, and Palestinian involvement in the ultimate disposition of the territory.

Background

The two committees established after the Ismailia Summit2—military and political—rather quickly established a division of labor different from what their names might imply. The Military Committee, meeting in Egypt under Gamasy and Weizman, became the venue for discussing a Sinai agreement. The Political Committee, which met formally for only two days in Jerusalem at the Foreign Minister level but whose work continued through U.S. mediation, addressed the task of developing the framework for a comprehensive settlement and came to focus increasingly on the West Bank/Gaza/Palestinian complex of problems.

The Military Committee made substantial progress in defining the essentials of a Sinai agreement, including an Israeli offer to return all of pre-1967 Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty. The Defense Ministers were able to agree in principle on the outline of a timetable for Israeli withdrawal and on at least the rudiments of such arrangements as the establishment of buffer zones and limited armaments areas. Such potentially contentious issues as the status of Sharm el-Sheikh, which controls the Straits of Tiran, together with the land bridge to it from Israel—both of which Israeli Labor governments had insisted on retaining under Israeli authority—were agreed upon in principle.

[Page 18]Substantive discussions on the Sinai became stuck on two issues. One was the disposition of two airfields which Israel has constructed in the eastern Sinai—one in the north not far from the Gaza Strip and one in the south near Eilat. The other was the status of Israeli settlements which have been established in the northeastern Sinai between the Gaza Strip and el-Arish. The former is essentially a military question; the latter, while given a security coloration by some Israeli leaders, is primarily an issue with domestic political ramifications in Israel.

Israel has privately suggested to Egypt that these two issues be resolved through an exchange of territory. Sadat has resolutely maintained that there will be no tampering with the pre-existing international boundary. It seems clear that, were Sadat politically able to conclude a separate Sinai agreement, a deal could be struck by relying on time-phasing and other compromise solutions for resolving both the airfield and settlement issues. It is virtually certain, however, that Sadat will refuse to entertain further negotiations over outstanding Sinai issues in the absence of significant movement by Israel on the West Bank/Gaza/Palestinian question.

Efforts to pursue the goal of the Political Committee—achieving a Declaration of Principles which would provide the framework for a comprehensive agreement—have made less progress. The major barriers to agreement continue to be (a) whether and if so how the principle of Palestinian self-determination shall be applied and (b) the related issues of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and who shall exercise sovereignty over these two areas. The U.S. has remained actively involved in these efforts, and with our assistance, the parties have been discussing for the first time questions which lie at the very heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict—namely, the ultimate partition of Palestine between Jewish and Arab political entities. Neither side describes the issue in these terms today, but this is what is basically at stake for both and accounts, on the one hand, for Israel’s desire to keep the territorial boundary question open and, on the other, for the Arab desire to foreclose (except for minor modifications) what they perceive as further Israeli expansion through settlements and territorial acquisition beyond the 1949–67 Armistice Lines. In the Arab perception, acceptance of those lines as Israel’s boundaries already involves conceding two-thirds of pre-1947 Palestinian territory.

On the question of Palestinian self-determination, Egypt publicly espouses the maximum in free choice for all Palestinians wherever they reside (although privately hoping to stave off the creation of an independent state under radical leadership) while Israel would prefer that only residents of the West Bank and Gaza participate at all in the process and then only in negotiations in which Israel could exercise a [Page 19]veto. The formulation3 you used at Aswan last January holds the potential for a compromise on this issue. Language clearly derived from your statement, elaborated to provide that Palestinian representatives be a party to the negotiations, should ultimately be acceptable to both parties.

The more difficult stand-off exists on the questions of Israeli withdrawal and sovereignty. The Egyptian position on withdrawal is grounded in the legal principle (embodied in the preamble of Resolution 242) of “the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war,” although Sadat has accepted (including publicly) the need for “minor rectifications” in the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. He also recognizes that withdrawal poses security problems for Israel, and has been increasingly forthcoming in his support for time-phased withdrawal and special arrangements to solve those problems. On sovereignty, Egypt holds that it resides in and should be exercised by the Palestinians themselves. (It is useful to recall that neither Egypt nor any other Arab state ever recognized Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank prior to 1967.

The present Israeli position on these questions is a function of the longstanding conviction of Begin and his Herut Party that the West Bank is an integral part of the land of Israel, and that its separation from Israel prior to 1967 was a temporary aberration rectified by the war in that year. This finally came out in the open in February when the Israeli Cabinet refused to concede that Resolution 242 required Israeli withdrawal from any of the West Bank. On this, the Israeli position at the present time is at variance with our own and with that of all other parties involved in the discussions leading to the adoption of 242. Some members of the present Israeli Government, while not endorsing Herut ideology, nevertheless reject West Bank withdrawal purely on security grounds. Begin believes that Israel has a valid claim to sovereignty over the West Bank, although it is willing to admit that other competing claims exist. Even those Israeli political parties which reject Herut ideology are not prepared to accept minor modifications and insist on the need for “territorial compromise” (meaning more than what the Arabs would consider minor changes in the 1967 lines) for security purposes.

In April we asked Israel a set of questions designed to get it to come to grips officially with the matter of how to resolve the status of the West Bank after an interim period. Israel replied in June with answers that did not move things at all. Three weeks later the Cabinet somewhat modified its position and agreed either “to consider” any[Page 20]plan for territorial compromise presented by the Arabs or “to discuss” after an interim period the issue of sovereignty, to which it said that “a solution is possible.” As an indication of the problem before us, this was considered a major advance by many Israelis but has made little impression in Egypt, since it falls far short of what Sadat feels he needs. It appears that there is little room for further softening of the Israeli position except, perhaps, in return for a commitment by Sadat to pursue a Sinai agreement.

Both parties have accepted the need for an interim period between the beginning of the implementation of any West Bank agreement and the ultimate disposition of territory and sovereignty. This provides us with the ability to argue that irrevocable changes need not, indeed cannot, occur immediately. It does not, however, diminish Sadat’s desire to receive a commitment that those changes will indeed take place nor Begin’s difficulty in giving such a commitment.

What Each Man Wants

Conceptually, the needs of the two leaders can be expressed as follows:

Begin, in order to justify the political and personal crises he would face in agreeing in principle to withdraw from the West Bank, will want from Sadat a commitment to see the Sinai negotiations through to a final solution which includes the removal of the Egyptian military threat and normalization of relations. It remains to be seen, in fact, whether even then he could agree to an ultimate relinquishment of Israeli control (except for security strongpoints) to an Arab authority which would come to exercise many if not all the attributes of sovereignty.

Sadat, in order to justify the political crisis within the Arab world which would follow his agreement to pursue a Sinai agreement before West Bank details have been worked out, will want from Begin a commitment to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza subject to negotiation of the security and other details of a settlement, to freeze Israeli settlements, and to allow the Palestinians a meaningful voice in the eventual disposition of that territory.

Begin, in addition, wants to be assured that if he makes the necessary commitments on the West Bank there will be someone on the Arab side with whom Israel can negotiate. He understands that Sadat’s goal is to draw Hussein into the negotiations, but will want some assurance that, if that proves impossible, Sadat himself will undertake to negotiate at least the general guidelines of a settlement for the West Bank and Gaza and will negotiate a Sinai settlement even if there is no actual change in the status quo on the West Bank/Gaza.

[Page 21]In more concrete terms, Begin wants as regards the Sinai:

—A credible and public commitment to continue Sinai negotiations with a view toward reaching agreement. This could be given visibility by the reconvening of the Weizman/Gamasy talks soon after the Camp David talks end.

—Assurance that such an agreement will not entail the immediate dismantling of either the airfields or the Israeli settlements in the Sinai. (Because of Sadat’s own needs, this may have to be given in the form of a verbal side understanding to which you are witness, with the recognition that Sadat may have to deny its existence if it were to leak.)

Begin has the following additional desires as regards the West Bank, assuming he is willing to commit Israel to withdrawal at all:

—Assurance that there will be no resolution of the sovereignty issue until after the interim period, presumably of five years.

—Assurance that Israel will retain sufficient latitude in future negotiations to avoid having to confront a final solution which is prejudiced to permit only “minor modifications.”

—Assurance that Israel will be allowed some agreed form of security presence on the West Bank beyond the interim period.

—Assurance that, should King Hussein fail to enter the negotiations even if guidelines for negotiating West Bank and Gaza issues are agreed between Egypt and Israel, Sadat will either himself negotiate a West Bank/Gaza settlement or not insist on such a settlement as a precondition for concluding a Sinai agreement. (Sadat has on occasion told us he will negotiate a West Bank/Gaza final settlement if Hussein and the Palestinians won’t. Ambassador Eilts feels strongly that it would be impossible politically for Sadat to do this.)

Sadat, for his part, wants as regards the West Bank and Gaza:

—A clear and public Israeli commitment to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, couched in terms that he can say preclude other than “minor modifications.” (Ironically, language on withdrawal that is clear on the principle but vague on the extent may now be more easily acceptable to Sadat and other Arabs precisely because of the position thus far adopted by the Begin Government.)

—A freeze on further Israeli settlements.

—A clear and public commitment to resolve the issue of sovereignty after the interim period in the context of Israeli withdrawal—i.e., a commitment which he can interpret as meaning the area will devolve to Arab political authority. A reiteration of the Israeli willingness to “discuss” the sovereignty question at that time will not be sufficient.

—Language in any agreed document that assures active Palestinian participation in the process of determining the future of the West Bank and Gaza, including their consent to the terms of a final peace [Page 22]treaty. Sadat wants language which includes the code-phrases “legitimate rights” and “a solution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects.”

Sadat has the following additional desiderata as regards the Sinai, assuming he is willing to continue negotiations at all:

—Assurance that Israel agrees that such negotiations, and any agreement that may ensue, will be part of a comprehensive agreement. He may insist on a verbal understanding that final implementation of a Sinai agreement must await the successful conclusion of the steps agreed upon during an interim period on the West Bank.

—Assurance that when the implementation of a Sinai agreement has been completed, the Israeli airfields and settlements will be removed.

Handling the Dilemma at the Summit

General Considerations

Both men are coming to Camp David with the need to deal with the West Bank/Gaza and Palestinian issues very much in their minds. For Begin and his team, however, the goal is a Sinai agreement, and West Bank negotiations constitute a means to that end. Sadat, on the other hand, will want to avoid talking about the Sinai. To him this is a subject that must await basic Israeli decisions on the West Bank and Gaza. He believes he has already shown sufficient flexibility to warrant give from the Israeli side and is in no mood to make further concessions, least of all on his own territory. Moreover, Foreign Minister Kamel and other members of Sadat’s party will be ready to encourage Sadat to hold firm should he show signs of weakening.

While the relationship between the Sinai and the West Bank will inevitably surface directly at some point, the result when it does will not depend solely on the obvious issues themselves. It will also be greatly affected by our success prior to that time in (a) helping each to understand the political requirements of the other and (b) building a sense of shared strategic interest. Success in these areas early on would hopefully pave the way for a greater willingness by each to acknowledge the substantive needs of the other outlined above.

Bilateral with Begin

The task with Begin in this respect will be twofold:

—To convince him of our sympathy with Israel’s desire to conclude an agreement on the Sinai, thus normalizing its relations with its largest and potentially most dangerous Arab neighbor and going far toward removing the threat of another disastrous war, and

—To convey to him our understanding of Sadat’s reluctance to do so in the absence of something he can use in the wider Arab context.

[Page 23]You might express your esteem for the vision which both Begin and Sadat have thus far shown in confronting very difficult and complex issues. In the process, it would be important that Begin be left with no doubt that in your mind Sadat’s decision to visit Jerusalem was a watershed event in Middle Eastern history, undertaken in defiance of an Arab consensus to the contrary and at great personal and political risk. Begin should understand that you, without taking sides on the specific issues at hand, can understand why Sadat, from his perspective, believes that his act has not yet been reciprocated. It is also clear, however, that Sadat has not sufficiently recognized the importance of Begin’s proposals on the Sinai.

You might also wish to stress the conviction that Sadat is serious in his offer to support security arrangements that will relieve Israeli concerns on this score. Begin would hopefully be left with the feeling that, in your mind, the existence of the time buffer provided by an interim period, the resulting ability to think in terms of time-phasing, and the fact that all arrangements will be freely negotiated and actual withdrawal will depend on prior agreement on security, make Israel’s security concerns manageable. Most importantly, the U.S. remains committed to Israeli security, including in the context of negotiated changes in the status quo.

Bilateral with Sadat

The task with Sadat will also be twofold:

—To convince him of the negotiating assets available to him in seeking Israeli concessions on the West Bank because of Israel’s desire for a Sinai agreement, and,

—To help him understand what is realistically achievable at this time on the West Bank without destroying his faith in the constancy of U.S. positions on key issues.

Sadat will want to focus almost entirely on West Bank/Gaza/Palestinian questions. We will have to try to lay out Begin’s background, his ideological mindset and the basic support he has within his government—all without conveying the impression that we are sympathetic to the Israeli position on withdrawal from the West Bank. If Sadat asks whether our interpretation of Resolution 242, including our commitment to “minor modifications,” has changed, you can say that we continue to believe that should be the end result but a precise commitment to it is not achievable at this point.

It is important to underscore the historic importance of his Jerusalem initiative.4 In this respect, you might wish to refer to the fact that [Page 24]no previous Israeli Government has been prepared to return all of Sinai or has been as willing as this one to discuss as thoroughly the core issues of the conflict—those surrounding the Palestinian dilemma.

It would be helpful to express sympathy with Sadat’s belief that he should not be asked to discuss the Sinai further when Israel still has not made basic decisions on the West Bank. However, it is a Sinai agreement that the Israelis want most badly, and that desire provides Sadat leverage with regard to the West Bank. Although we do not expect negotiations on the details of a Sinai settlement during the Summit, it is our view that a commitment on Sadat’s part to resume Sinai negotiations would be the most effective instrument available in bringing Israel to confront the need to reconsider its West Bank position.

We could also explain to Sadat the value we see in agreements that can be implemented over a period of several years, both on the West Bank and in the Sinai, describing how we see the initialling-signing-ratification-implementation stages of a Sinai agreement being phased in relation to specific stages of agreements on the other fronts in such a way that Egypt could retain a degree of leverage over the overall process throughout.

Finally, it may be necessary at some point to note that Israel’s resistance to explicit withdrawal language in the context of general principles relates not only to the West Bank/Gaza, but to the Golan Heights where Israel will only be brought to contemplate withdrawal if Syria makes a much more convincing offer of peace than it has so far.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 66, Middle East: Negotiations: 8–11/78. Secret; Nodis. In the upper right-hand corner, Brown wrote: “9/1. HB.” According to Quandt’s account of the Camp David negotiations, Quandt, Vance, Atherton, and Saunders drafted this paper during their strategy meetings at Middleburg, Virginia, beginning on August 11. (Quandt, Camp David, pp. 212–213)
  2. For documentation on the December 1977 summit meeting between Begin and Sadat at Ismailia, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 3.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 4.