80. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Preliminary Views on the Conduct of the Egypt-Israel Negotiations in Washington

Major bilateral issues between Egypt and Israel have been resolved and, while the negotiations will take some time because of the care and detail involved, it should not be difficult for the two sides to move steadily to agreement on the precise terms of a peace treaty. In our role as participant and chairman of the talks we face no obstacles as serious as those at Camp David on this aspect, although there are a couple that have not been discussed and there will be snags where our own intervention will be important in moving issues to resolution.

The main issues we face in the talks opening October 12 are: (a) how to engage the two sides in discussion of West Bank/Gaza issues, if possible reaching further agreement on at least some issues, so as to improve the prospects for Jordanian and Palestinian participation in West Bank/Gaza negotiations; and (b) related to this, whether the Egyptians will at this stage try to reintroduce some link between implementation of their Treaty with the agreement on the West Bank/Gaza.

Organizing the Talks on Bilateral Issues

Our own approach to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, as you know, envisages a fairly short basic treaty text supplemented by two annexes that spell out (a) the withdrawal and security aspects, with an accompanying map, and (b) commitments to peace in specific terms. Even if the two sides decide to approach it differently from the point of view of a Treaty text, the basic division of work we have sketched out appears logical. This would suggest that the talks could, very soon after opening, break down into 3 working groups that would work on (a) the basic Treaty text; (b) a military annex; and (c) an annex detailing commitments to peace and normalization of relations. (The Israelis have signaled their wish to proceed first with the commitments and normalization of peace aspect; we assume they can be talked out of this since [Page 289]the talks will be in immediate trouble if either side insists on a one-sided approach.) Under this kind of format we would need to field a delegation (see below) that can keep a member present in each of these committees. We will also need, in addition to good general strength in Arab-Israel affairs, expertise in two special fields—military and legal.

We see all the real work being performed in these sub-groups, with the plenary convened for opening and closing sessions, or perhaps periodically to hear progress reports from the working committees. Our delegation members will presumably serve very informally as chairmen in the working committees but we envisage letting the two sides get on with the work in their own manner as much as possible without guidance from us so long as they are able to make progress in this manner. Our role in the negotiations on bilateral issues will be to be present so that we know what is going on, to be available for consultations, and to be alert to possible trouble spots which might require our intervention, either with the ministers here or through our ambassadors in the capitals.

Your Role

The President will open the proceedings on October 12 with a short public speech, after which the meeting will go into closed session and you will be in the chair. We suggest you use the remaining time before lunch that first day to outline our suggestions for a format for the talks and to settle on procedural matters. After a working lunch, which we suggest you host, we may wish to continue discussions in plenary for a further afternoon session before breaking up, for the following day, into working groups. The afternoon session might be the time for you to make it clear we intend to use the talks here to tackle West Bank/Gaza issues as well.

With the negotiations moving into its working group phase the next morning, there would no longer be a need for you to maintain a regular presence at the talks. Roy Atherton would take over as Chairman. We hope that you will keep time available in the first few days to engage the two ministers in discussions about West Bank/Gaza issues.

The U.S. Delegation

We recommend: Alternates:
Cyrus Vance, Chairman Morris Draper
Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., David Korn
Deputy Chairman
Harold Saunders
William Quandt
Michael Sterner
William Kirby
James Covey
[Page 290]General Richard Lawrence, Military Member
Herbert Hansell, Legal Advisor
George Sherman, Spokesman

While part of the delegation, I would not plan to spend full time with the talks. With the Egyptian-Israeli talks launched, I would plan to devote my time—in addition to tending other NEA matters—to preparing for the West Bank/Gaza talks.

Engaging the Two Sides in West Bank/Gaza Issues

The Egyptians will be all for this, although we do not know how far Sadat is prepared to go in slowing down progress on an Egypt-Israel treaty to achieve a further stage of understanding on West Bank/Gaza issues. Boutros Ghali, in his latest conversation2 with Hermann, continues to deny any formal linkage but says Egypt will be expecting a “gentleman’s agreement” with Israel that progress on West Bank/Gaza issues should be synchronized with movement toward agreement on an Egypt-Israel treaty. He warns that the pace of Egypt’s willingness to see normalization of relations put into effect will be affected if Israel is “stiff-necked” about moving further on West Bank/Gaza issues. The Israelis will be prepared to talk about the West Bank/Gaza but will be reluctant to make any further concessions prior to Jordan entering the talks.

In particular, the issue of the settlements in the West Bank looms as crucial, and may have to be isolated if we are to progress on other issues. The credibility of the Framework will be seriously vitiated in Arab eyes if Israel is allowed to continue to “create facts” on the ground, and this would also weaken Arab confidence in the U.S. role. On the other hand, it will be the hardest point for the Israelis to give ground on because to do so will strike at Begin’s ability to maintain, for his domestic political purposes, that the Camp David Framework leaves room for an essentially “Israeli solution” for the West Bank and Gaza.

Thus, with the Israelis signalling us that they want to talk immediately about normalization of relations, and the Egyptians telling us this will be linked to progress on the West Bank and Gaza, West Bank/Gaza issues will probably emerge early as the crux and potential sticking point of the talks. It will be important to make our own early assessment of Egyptian intentions, because regardless of Boutros Ghali’s intentions, it will be Sadat that ultimately decides to bring into play the sanction of delaying progress on the bilateral treaty, and we will need to tailor our approach accordingly. We believe the best approach [Page 291]would be for you to explore where we can go from here on the West Bank/Gaza with Dayan and Boutros Ghali separately to begin with. It would be a waste of time to try to set up a working group on West Bank/Gaza issues as part of Peace Treaty negotiations structure unless some progress can first be made at the ministerial level.

In effect we would use the presence of the delegations here to get the negotiations started informally on the West Bank/Gaza, our objective being to build, through successive increments of understanding between Egypt and Israel, on the basis of agreement achieved at Camp David. These talks would go in parallel with the Egypt-Israel talks on bilateral issues, would have no terminal date, and would be open at any stage for Jordan and West Bank/Gazans to join. Our strategy would be to combine as much progress as we can make on West Bank/Gaza issues with the growing reality of an Egypt-Israel peace treaty to increase the incentive for Jordan to join, or at least to encourage Palestinians to cooperate with allowing transitional arrangements to go forward.

A paper3 is attached suggesting a sequence of further stages of agreement on the West Bank/Gaza that we might seek.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 4, unlabeled folder. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Sterner on October 6. Sterner also initialed the memorandum. The initials “CV” are stamped at the bottom of the first page indicating that Vance saw the memorandum.
  2. A record of this conversation is in telegram 22407 from Cairo, October 5. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850067–1855)
  3. Attached but not printed.