Thursday, July 14, 2016

61 - Ambassador Lawson Report of Meeting with PM Sharett, September 8, 1955

At Prime Minister's request I called on him at his house in Jerusalem afternoon September 8. Purpose of meeting was to permit him comment on and ask questions on Secretary's statement. He prefaced his comment with remark that he at this time offering no official document in reply to Secretary's statement. He was merely making an oral examination of some of points. He would undoubtedly have other comment and questions to ask in future and therefore reserving right to make further comments. He emphasized fact that this not final government position. It was what he termed a "series of marginal notes". It was an effort to sit down and talk informally about various points concerned and to give expression to some reactions in specific field covered. It was neither thorough-going review nor a discussion of complete statement.
            First he commented on high standard and character of Secretary's statement saying it was eminently constructive in spirit and he pleased statement had been made. He especially impressed with basic objective involved which he interpreted to be an "emphatic effort to obtain in Middle East a state of peace and co-existence between Arabs and Israel." He thought it extremely important that Israel and Arabs live peacefully together and that Secretary's statement was effort to bring about that condition.
            He was favorably impressed with fact statement placed major emphasis on development and constructive tasks. He interpreted warning against arms race as important and encouraging. This would prevent diversion of effort from constructive tasks to destructive action. He reached conclusion from statement that United States does not propose to carry out anyone sided arming in area. He then put this in form of question whether this meant "an end to one sided arming" policy of United States and asked if I could get specific reply to this question. He was conscious of fact that there might be no reply to this question or that three replies to his question were possible namely (a) that US already committed to its arms arrangement with Iraq and would necessarily have to continue under that policy (b) US would cease sending arms to Iraq and (c) US would not extend arms aid policy to other Arab States.
            With above preliminary background he then decided to discuss some salient points in statement which he termed both constructive points and those on which he had not sufficient information to permit complete consideration which however raised some serious questions and apprehensions.
            Refugees: Under this subject he concluded that statement supported very constructive principle that solution to refugee problem is to be found in resettlement rather than repatriation. He made it clear he was not attempting to pin down Secretary to specific statement to that effect but it was clearly a reasonable deduction. Secondly he was impressed with constructive statement of willingness of US and UK to participate in loan to be used for settlement of refugee problem.
            He warned of dangers of over simplifying resettlement problem. Solution was not primarily supplying of agricultural land – at least one-third of refugees had been urban dwellers and even remaining two-thirds had not all been engaged in agriculture. Furthermore it might be thought agriculture land provided would have to be irrigated – there were many areas in Arab countries where resettlement could take place and yet irrigation would not be absolutely necessary.
            Re compensation by Israel to refugees: He referred to paragraph I of statement which implies that such compensation would be definitely applied to resettlement of refugees. He thought this excellent principle and should be strictly adhered to, and that it should be certain that compensation actually be used for resettlement purposes and not dissipated by refugees.
            He then asked specific question: To whom should compensation funds be paid? Would they be paid to individuals whose property in Israel was involved? Would they be paid to a fund?
            Economic Problems: He said that references under this subject pertained largely he assumed to Arab economic warfare against Israel. Question arose in his mind as to when compensation to refugees was to be paid. He did not mean seen in terms of date but at what stage in settlement. He talked at some length about Arab boycott and losses and inconveniences which it had caused Israel. He spoke particularly of high additional costs of imported oil which is so essential to Israel's economy. He thought it important that timing of implementation of proposed refugee compensation be in proper relation to cessation of economic warfare.
            Jewish Property in Iraq: He asked what provision would be made for payment of compensation to Jews who left property in Iraq especially property which belongs to Iraqian Jews who now citizens of Israel saying it was definite responsibility of GOI to protect their property. Therefore compensation for such property must be balanced against compensation payments Israel makes to Arab refugees. He then asked specific question "what is attitude of USG to this principle?"
            Boundaries and Security: He referred to paragraph II and said "if this security proposal were read alone I would have only greatest praise for it. But is bound up with settlement of main problems described". He said he would not go any further in commenting on this point at this time but wished to underscore Ambassador Eban's critical statement in that regard to Assistant Secretary Allen (September 6 [see DFPI 10, doc.364]) wherein he made reference to unsatisfactory linking of security guarantee with settlement of frontiers problem. On face of it (he repeated "on face of it") this contingency would seem to relegate settlement of Arab-Israel problem to dim future.
            He said boundaries section of statement is full of obscurities, urged clarification be made to Israel. He asked: What is United States idea of armistice lines? Does US contemplate peace treaty involving permanent settlement of armistice lines? Or does US contemplate simple revision of armistice lines? If the latter then in his opinion settlement of armistice lines must be made under armistice agreement and must utilize machinery set up under that agreement for such purposes. Even then he remarked they would still remain armistice lines and not permanent international frontiers.
            At this point he referred to phrase "convert armistice lines of danger into boundary lines of safety." He said what does this mean? Does it mean they are not easily defensible and that purpose now is to establish more defensible lines? Or are new armistice lines designed to satisfy certain claims. He pointed out that Jordan-Israel line was relatively difficult one to defend. On other hand straight Gaza line was much more defensible line. Yet in first instance there was little difficulty between two countries on that line whereas in second instance there had been continuous incidents and troubles. Therefore in his opinion question does. not rest on defensible character of line.
            Territorial Changes: He then asked question "what territorial changes does US have in mind?" He referred to phrase "even territory which is barren has acquired sentimental significance." He thought this obviously referred to Negev but wished to point [out] that Negev was not only "barren land" in this part of world. In fact much of Arab lands are barren but no one would suggest that Arabs abandon those lands or concede them to someone else. "Barrenness" does not justify giving up territory.
            He then referred to Elath [sic., for Eilat] saying "certainly [Eilat] is not area of sentimental value only. It has practical values. Its value as port is especially underscored at this time and Israel will never give up [Eilat]. There may be barrenness connecting [Eilat] with other parts of Israel but they can certainly not be considered of 'sentimental' view of [Eilat]'s very great practical value to Israel".
            He then referred to historical fact that Arab countries did not enjoy free connection across southern Negev "before war". First it was Ottoman empire and then mandate territory. Therefore possession of Negev by Israel does not remove right formerly enjoyed by Arabs. In fact if Arab principle of presently demanding connections between Arab States on grounds such connections were destroyed by Israel is valid such principle might be more emphatically applied where Israel stands between Egypt and Lebanon.
            Jerusalem Problem: He said I have only one question to ask under this heading "does US contemplate any initiative along this line at forthcoming UN Assembly?"
            Speaking generally he said Israel has always stood ready for mutual adjustments of boundaries but has never been ready to consider cession of territory. We shall be ready to discuss first but shall be adamant about second. He then repeated rather forcefully "there is no question of concession of land by. Israel." He followed statement by question "what category of above adjustments to boundary is involved in US thinking?" He then asked question "what procedures with regard to revision of armistice lines are contemplated?" Does US envisage Arabs agreeing either to revision of armistice lines under armistice or revision through negotiation of peace treaty? If Arabs will not agree to either procedure will question of defense pact between US and Israel be put off indefinitely?
            He said that generally boundaries question had aroused considerable apprehension in government. This apprehension was evident when Cabinet first hurriedly considered Secretary's statement and later in subsequent discussions this same concern had been very evident. He remarked whatever US can do to allay this apprehension – either by public statement or by confidential message – would be helpful.
            He then added what he termed "two footnotes": He commented that figure 900,000 refugees was inaccurate and greatly inflated.
            He picked up phrase in statement "in territory now occupied by Israel." He thought it unfortunate phrase had appeared because it was not in conformity with general sense of statement which was that "Israel is here to stay." By using phrase referred to Arabs might gain false hopes that US was not firmly of conviction Israel here to stay and at same time this phrase has raised certain resentment among Jews. He went on to enumerate certain actions and evidences which confirmed by implication that Israel was recognized as occupying and representing present territory. He said that as sovereign state, Israel had signed armistice agreement, had made treaties, had diplomatic relations with other countries, was member of UN and represented in sovereign way area now enclosed within its present boundaries. Therefore he thought that in place of this phrase there should have been simple reference to State of Israel. He thought that Secretary's statement would lose great deal of its practical value through use of this unfortunate phrase.
            Comment: Sharett obviously neither desired nor expected any attempt on my part to reply to his questions and comment. In view this and fact I had at time not received report on Eban-Allen talk I restricted my remarks to such generalizations as need for careful study, importance of keeping open mind and underscoring great opportunity statement presents to Israel. I indicated that replies to all of questions raised might require some discussion and might be delayed but we welcomed GOI close study and analysis of statement. I made no substantive comment on questions raised. When I questioned Sharett as to channel through which he anticipated working he implied he was at this stage using Eban but said he wished to discuss his reactions with me personally and two approaches would have to be "dovetailed." He remarked that report on these conversations would be sent to Eban who would perhaps get in touch with Department in week or so .inquiring as to replies to questions raised.
            Have informed British colleague of substance this message.

FRUS 1955-1957, XIV, doc.267.