71. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Begin1

SUBJECT

  • Summary of Telephone Conversation Between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Prime Minister Menachem Begin

The President: I believe your actions in the last two days in defending the Camp David agreements before the Knesset were the most courageous I have ever seen during my political life. I know how difficult it was for you. Last night I was with a large Democratic fund [Page 264]raising group2 when the news came of the Knesset vote. I announced it to them and I pointed out to them the courage that you had shown. They gave you a standing ovation for three minutes.

The Prime Minister: Mr. President, I appreciate your calling me. We spent seventeen hours debating in the Knesset without interruption. All 120 members took part. We got a big majority. I told them I would have resigned if I had not gotten a majority in my own party. It was a very serious debate. Some of my friends left me, and the opposition supported me. You will remember that I wanted to separate the issues in the vote, but when I got back to Israel, I read the press and it was strongly against that idea so I presented the agreements and the vote on the settlements to the parliament together. I decided there should be a single vote on the agreement and on the settlements. So we had it, and we won with 85 votes against 19. I told Ambassador Lewis how difficult it was for me.

The President: I know it must have been difficult to have many of your close friends oppose you. I want to refer to one other subject. There has been an unfortunate disagreement between us on the question of the West Bank and Gaza settlements. I want to resolve it quickly. We have a difference of opinion.

The Prime Minister: I sent you a letter3 through Ambassador Lewis. Have you received it?

The President: No, I haven’t seen it yet. I also sent you a letter4 congratulating you on the Knesset vote.

The Prime Minister: Thank you for your letter. I did receive it. I have now sent you a letter5 through Ambassador Lewis. Ambassador Dinitz will also have the details and he will talk to Secretary Vance. You know that Mr. Barak took notes of our meeting. I spelled out everything in this letter.

The President: I am concerned about our misunderstanding. There was no thought of tying the West Bank and Gaza settlements to the Sinai negotiations. Nor was there any discussion of a five-year moratorium. I hope that we can get some language that is mutually acceptable.

[Page 265]The Prime Minister: When you read my letter, you will understand what happened. We took the record compiled by Professor Barak who is a very precise man. You will see our views. I read your statement on this issue in the press today. I don’t agree that there should be a freeze for more than three months. When you read my letter you will understand my position.

The President: I am determined to solve this question and we will try to minimize our differences.

The Prime Minister: I have already received an invitation from President Sadat to send a communications group to Egypt. They will go after Rosh Hashana.6 Mr. Atherton is coming here tomorrow.7

The President: I would like to see the Sinai agreement settled within days.

The Prime Minister: We can do it. We need only take an international peace treaty and copy its passages and write in what we agreed at Camp David.

The President: Do you think it would be a good idea for Weizman and Gamasy to meet privately?

The Prime Minister: Foreign Minister Dayan will be the head of our delegation. I will suggest this to Dayan, but he is the head. There are other ministers who will be included, such as Ezer, but we will consult on this. We need also to decide where to meet. I suggest that we meet first at a place where all three of us find mutually agreeable. This might be Washington. Maybe when we reach the peace treaty we should sign it in the White House. You should witness it. We will do this by mutual consultations. Our preference is to have the delegations meet under the sponsorship of the United States.

The President: We are ready to move. I will contact Sadat. The place of the meeting does not matter. Give my regards to Dayan, to Weizman, and especially to Barak. I am in love with him. He is the unsung hero of Camp David. He is a wonderful man.

[Page 266]The Prime Minister: He is now a supreme court justice, but I have asked the president of the supreme court to let him have six months of leave so that he can participate in the peace treaty negotiations. I am very grateful to you, Mr. President, for your call.

The President: I am giving a press conference this afternoon. I intend to minimize our differences on the settlements question. I am sure you will be pleased with what I say.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 8–9/78. Secret. Carter wrote on the top of the document: “OK. J.”
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, President and Mrs. Carter attended a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel from 9:42 to 11:34 p.m. on September 27, where he addressed the assembled guests. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials) In the middle of Carter’s speech, Hamilton Jordan informed him that the Israeli Knesset had voted 84–19 to remove Israeli settlements from the Sinai Peninsula. Carter paused to announce this news to the audience. (“Carter Pauses in a Speech to Announce Vote,” Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1978, p. 16)
  3. See Document 72.
  4. The text of the letter was released to the press on September 28, and is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, p. 1651.
  5. See Document 70.
  6. Rosh Hashanah began at sunset on October 1.
  7. On September 29, Atherton met with Begin to brief the Prime Minister on the meetings with Arab leaders that he and Vance had had since the conclusion of the Camp David talks. Atherton informed Begin that Carter had asked him to give the Israelis a “frank account” of those meetings and outlined three general concerns expressed by the Arab leaders. Atherton explained: “They felt Agreements not specific enough with respect to withdrawal from West Bank. With respect to Palestinian problem, they interpret Agreements as dealing primarily with inhabitants of West Bank and Gaza and as ignoring majority of Palestinians who live outside of this area. They interpret Agreements as basically an agenda for separate Egyptian-Israeli peace without sufficient assurance that a comprehensive peace will be achieved. Finally, they note that documents themselves do not mention Jerusalem.” (Telegram 2703 from Jerusalem, September 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850033–0160)