Wednesday, July 20, 2016

62 - Excerpts of Sharett Report to the Cabinet on Negotiations with Eric Johnston, October 16, 1955

As you are aware, special envoy Eric Johnston visited us last week and I had a long conversation with him. Then his experts and ours met together and later he sat down with Eshkol and several haverim. Then he sat with me till late at night. The next morning he left Israel.
            He first reported on the situation between him and the Arab states and I think he gave us accurate and reliable facts. He said that generally he came to an agreement with them which is more or less equivalent to the mutual agreement between him and us, except on one point – more on this later. But the outstanding question is political: are the Arab states prepared at all to enter into this arrangement with Israel.
            Then there is the technical aspect. Politically, he is generally supported by Egypt. Egypt is not part of the [water sharing] issue, but it still is an important factor in the Arab League and the line it generally has taken is to help the United States bring the matter into completion. He received exceptional help from Nasser in this respect.
            In parenthesis I would say that this means that Nasser is interested in not cutting off his ties with the West and showing that no extreme turn had taken place in his attitude towards the West. Evidently Johnston jumped on this.
            The Kingdom of Jordan is the state most interested in the arrangement, but it is the state least capable of courageously declaring so. Syria is the most difficult and apprehensive in this respect and this is why he has concentrated his efforts in the Lebanon. On September 4th he concluded an agreement with the Lebanese President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, in which they endorsed the plan in principle. On September 7 the Lebanese Foreign Minister resigned for reasons which had nothing to do with the water plan. The Finance Minister followed suit and after that the whole Cabinet resigned. A new government has been formed, which had nothing to do with the plan. The new Prime Minister is a young man. Johnston described him and his political philosophy in popular American words which cannot be repeated here. This government, without notifying Nasser, convened a conference of three states who have an interest in the water plan – Lebanon, Syria and Jordan – and at that meeting the Lebanese government proposed an altogether new plan for solving the whole matter, which excludes Israel from being a party to it, a plan aiming at damaging Israel and its water needs very seriously. This plan seeks to rob Israel of the maximum of the Jodran water and prevent her from using any water of the Yarmuk. It proposes to take the two Jordan sources situated outside Israel – the Hasbani and the Banias – and to divert them through tunnels and canals into the Mediterranean. Part of these waters would be used in the Valley of Lebanon and the rest would just flow into the sea. In the meantime the Lebanon is receiving $27 million from the International Bank for a water plan based on the Litani River. Clearly, it will use only a small percentage of the Litani and the rest would continue to flow into the Mediterranean, only to prevent its use by Israel.
            As to the Yarmuk, they want to divert it not on the border of the demilitarized zone where we have a say, as planned, but in a higher area in the north so that the river would flow directly into the Kingdom of Jordan while we remain bereft of even one drop of its waters. The cost of this plan was estimated by its engineers at $120 million and the United States government was asked to grant it. Johnston told them they were crazy to think that they would ever get the money, and thus he put an end to all this.
            At this stage Nasser entered the arena and succeeded in killing the Lebanese plan. Only the Syrians opposed him. Nasser summoned Johnston and they had a long conversation. Nasser beseeched him not to lose his patience and not let the plan collapse since it is the only constructive plan on the agenda in the Middle East.  He asked him to wait for two or three months by the end of which he would bring all the Arab states round to support the plan. On the next day Johnston conferred with the Syrian Prime Minister, who told him that indeed they opposed his plan, but ultimately Syria will not kill it. He explained that he had been mistakenly told that with the water Syria was going to receive it would have as a condition to settle 250,000 Palestinian refugees. Since this was not the case, he needed two or three months to convince his parliament and Syrian public opinion to accept the plan.
            Johnston said that we can tell him that we have lost all patience. If this is the case, he can do nothing but submit a report to the State Department. The American government would be happy to drop the plan. I immediately asked him if he insisted that his government would indeed be happy. He retreated and said it would drop it. Clearly, this was a negotiation trick – he meant to say that we would be responsible for the failure of the plan.
            This was the political aspect. As to the technical one, if you will remember there was an item in the division of the water called “salinated waters” pertaining to 30 million cubic meters of springs flowing into the Kinneret. We agreed with Johnston and his experts that we shall let the Jordanians have these waters. According to this division, it turns out that all-in-all there are 1,064 million cubic meters of water out of which we receive 37%, Jordan gets 47% – including the salinated water – Lebanon and Syria together get 16%. Jordan returned the ball to us; they think that the salinated water should remain with us. Johnston put pressure on them and the final word was that they will take 15 million and we 15 million.
            My first reaction was of despair at the whole matter, and for two reasons. It is really fantastic: after two years it was only yesterday that the Prime Minister of Syria learned that he doesn’t have to settle 250,000 refugees in his country. Who knows what is going to happen during the next two to three months? Second, while Johnston promised to get us an additional 15 million cubic meters, we are to lose 15 million. The difference is the United States 30 million. I said to him: “You told us that you appreciated our concessions, but also that you would not ask for more; but see what happens now.” He said: “I do appreciate your concessions; I am not demanding any now. If you are not willing, then no. I will notify the State Department.”
            I said: there is the question of work on the Jordan [i.e., the B’not Yaakov canal]. We have not renewed it not because the Security Council tied our hands, but because we did not want to hamper you. Throughout all this time we abstained from our work in order to grant you a full opportunity to get the Arab states’ agreement to a regional division of water. The Security Council asked us to stop work for a short time till a technical investigation was completed. This investigation is finished and its results are positive towards us. We can now resume our work unhindered. True, it is not that simple, but this is how I presented the matter before him. I said: “I don’t think we should wait anymore.” His answer was characteristic with him: “If you are going to resume work in October, you will stop in November; you will not be able to work intensively in winter. You would, in any event, have to postpone work till spring. What does it matter if you don’t resume work now?”
            The conversation then drifted to arms matters. Here he was grave. According to information he gleaned in Egypt the deal amounts to $80 million, but this is only money-wise and does not paint the true picture, for the [Soviet] prices are nominal. The tanks sold to Egypt are priced as junk. The jets’ prices, too, are very low. His theory is that Russia has entered into this deal not in order to take root in Egypt – they do not consider it an important position. For them it is a spring-board into North Arica, black Africa, and penetration into Congo which is the richest source of uranium.
            I asked him what could be done. He did not know. He realizes that it worsens our situation. I said: “You are aware what kind of advice would start to be heard among us: that Israel too should approach the same camp. Second, a proposal would be advanced that we wage a preventive war.” He said it would be a pity, for then his plan would “go down in flames.”
            Later he had talks with Eshkol and others. At the end we concluded that we were prepared to grant him a set period. I said: “You say two to three months? We shall grant you four: November to February. It should be clear that if there is no agreement in principle by March 1, we are free, and then the question of resuming work on [dredging] the Jordan’s river-bed would be only a question of weather. Moreover, we shall demand then that you announce publicly who destroyed the negotiations.
            [- - -]
            Now what am I saying to the Americans in private talks? Yesterday I met with the four Senators who are now visiting the region. I said four things: A) The United States should have a serious quarrel with the Soviet Union. They should be told that either they take their hands off Egypt or there will be no détente in the world - this in view of the assumption that the Soviets are interested in a global détente. B) Strong pressure should be brought to bear on Egypt. Nasser should not be pitied. He should be aware that he is not the one and only possible person [who is able to lead Egypt].  C) Arms to Israel with an announcement about this. D) Signing of a defense treaty without making it conditional on a similar treaty with Egypt.
            And I tell you that if this does not become clear, if a feeling of security is not spread among our people, then inevitably either there would be an approach to Russia, or a preventive war against Egypt.