Saturday, July 23, 2016

90 - Two Reports of Meetings between FM Sharett, US Emissary Robert Anderson, and others, January 1956

(A) Herzog's Report of Meeting of January 25, 1956

            The Emissary [Anderson]: I wanted to clarify one point, On the other side only possibilities were mentioned and not the will to carry them out. The problems I raised are new and that has to be clear here.
            Sharett: I believe they approached Arab notables in Israel to find out whether, in their opinion, our desire for peace is sincere. That happened in the last few days. They did not reveal to the people who were asked that something was under consideration.
            The Emissary: It seems to me, from our discussions, that you here are moving much faster and have more definite ideas about what can be achieved. I am going to Egypt now for only two or three days. If the question of the meeting is raised during my talk with Nasser, I should not like to find myself in a position in which I would have to tell him that he must give a reply within a day or two, otherwise it would be interpreted as a mark of ill will. I would rather he said to me, “I must think about it.” I don’t want to be in a position of pressure, so that when I come back here in three days you will think I have failed.
            Sharett: I understand your position, but on the other side they must know that the President of the United States and you believe that the situation is urgent and that you must know whether it is possible or not. The problem is not a new one for them. Nasser has undoubtedly thought a great deal about it. Since the new regime came to power he has made attempts to establish direct contact, not only between Ben-Gurion and Nagib or between Nasser and me. Letters have been exchanged through various channels. And in one case a reply was received.
            There was an exchange of letters in April 1953, before the fall of Nagib. The reply came from Nasser. It was not sent directly to us, but a certain official handed it to us. (Sharett read out the Israeli letter and Nasser’s reply.) In December 1954, a British Member of Parliament, a Jew, went to Nasser on behalf of the World Jewish Congress—an institution that defends Jewish rights all over the world; for example, they are active now in Morocco. He came to me before he went to Cairo. He visited Cairo on three occasions, and after seeing Nasser he was in contact with Ali Sabri.
            At the same time there was a second contact in Paris. Nasser sent one of his men to Paris, where we had some of our people, and there was an exchange of letters. A number of Egyptian Jews were arrested in Cairo and we worked to save them from the scaffold. We did not succeed: our operation in Gaza at the beginning of 1955 had no connection with the death penalties in Cairo; it was a reply to fedayeen operations from the Gaza Strip. I approached Nasser several times through an emissary to get these operations stopped—but I received no response. If Nasser thinks that the Gaza operation was meant to start a war, he is mistaken, and he does not adequately evaluate all the damage done by the fedayeen. He must understand that we cannot endure penetrations across the border to strike at our people. We knew that these operations were organized by the Egyptian army. He must understand that our operation was not meant to bring about war or to get him removed from his position.
            Since then there has been no more direct contact between us. A Quaker named Jackson came here in August or October, and he went to Egypt to bring about an exchange of prisoners. For a time it seemed that Nasser was interested in that.
            The best thing would be if it was possible to arrange a meeting in Cairo. That would give Nasser complete confidence that he would control the talks. Either he would participate in them himself, or his representative, who could be in constant contact with him. This might appear surprising—but in Cairo it would be possible to maintain complete secrecy. If they are held in some other place— in Geneva, for instance—Nasser’s presence would be known, and he would have to explain what he was doing there. On the other hand, in Cairo a meeting could be hermetically concealed. If they want a settlement, they must want a meeting, and the best place for a meeting of this kind is Cairo.
            The Emissary: As I pointed out in my first talk, it seems unlikely that a meeting can be arranged on the highest possible level. I do not even know if I can arrange a meeting on a lower level, but I will try. I am certain that Nasser is concerned with his political problems. There is a second point: several times during our talks you referred to Nasser’s control of the press and the radio. I admit I don’t know the entire situation, but he said several times that there are forces in the press and the radio that he does not control. That no doubt refers to the press and radio in other countries.
            Sharett: Yes, but in Egypt he is the undisputed ruler.
            The Emissary: Can I say in Egypt that you promise secrecy and that I have heard that there have been contacts which have been kept secret?
            Sharett: Yes, and one more remark about the things you said about an undertaking or letter to the President about the cease-fire. We do not demand that he should publicly proclaim a cease-fire, but, on the other hand, a letter to the President will be of no value unless a military order on the subject is issued. A Government is not obliged to publish military orders. We published them because the United Nations was involved. The main thing is that he should issue an order.
            The Emissary: I do not know what the form of orders in Egypt is. But what we want to avoid is a deterioration, and therefore since there have already been attempts at a cease-fire, what is required now is a more vigorous and stringent order that will keep the peace.

SOURCE: Ben-Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders, 293-95.  Cf. Anderson’s one-page note on the meeting in USNA NEA Lot File 59D582 Box34.

(B) Sharett's Summary Report to Eban, January 26, 1956

Last night the guest [Anderson] returned to Egypt; he spent three days and nights here. We had six long conversations, five at my home. [- - -] Ben [Kermit Roosevelt] and Yaacov [Herzog] wrote down most. The guest demonstrated frankness seriousness and much power of penetration, empathy to Israel as well.
Here are the main points:
          1) Guest summarized N[asser's] attitude as rigid re territory. Without contiguity [between Egypt and Jordan] under Arab sovereignty, N doesn't see chances for a settlement.
          2) His attitude was more flexible re refugees and his demand is that they be given freedom of choice; he doesn't mind if in practice they do not return, except for a few, as long as he would not be accused of giving up their right.
          3) It became clear that N. is prepared to consider the possibility of a meeting, however most certainly not a summit now and unclear whether now at a lower level.
          4) N. reiterated that his decisive consideration is to keep his supreme position within his [ruling] group, and the group's position in Egypt and in the surrounding world. He even mentioned the danger of his assassination.
          5) N. warned and repeated warning that conversations and their contents must be kept secret. He shared this only with Zakaria [Muhi al-Din].
          6) Guest stressed in his talk with N. importance of direct contact [with Israelis] but did not ask him point-blank if he is prepared to send a high-level representative for an immediate meeting since he was not sure whether we would be prepared to a meeting lower than summit. Now that we said yes, he would posit this question.
           7) The guest stated that he doesn't see himself as mediator who forwards proposals and opinions, and not as a judge appraising the two sides' positions, but as a helper who is only assisting in creating an atmosphere enabling a meeting and as one who clears up the measure of negotiability [orig. in English] of the problems and the possibility of bringing the ends closer to each other. It is clear to him that only responsible representatives of the sides can take positions and oblige their states.
           8) The guest presented the idea that the two sides would state to the [US] President in writing their being prepared to establish complete cease-fire and punish its violators, and their intention of advancing towards a settlement of the issues. We agreed with the proposal including concretely ceasing fire and we would adhere to it even if it is not publicized. The guest took it upon himself to propose the punishing of violators but we explained that statement was not enough unless a strict order is issued to [sic. for by?] N. He explained that his intention was to establish punishment by one party instead of retaliation by the other. We agreed with this too, with a reservation re possibility of an attack by the other side which would oblige an intensive operation by us immediately and on the very spot, as in the case of Mefalsim [August 1955]. 
        9) The guest lectured in detail about N.'s explanation of his position towards the West and of his [Czech arms] deal. N. claimed it was entirely on account of Baghdad Pact in complete accordance with my own lecture to Dulles and Macmillan in Paris [in October 1955]. The Pact, said N., was a new instrument for foreign domination, especially British, over the Middle East.
         10) It was clear that, apart from a settlement with Israel, the relationship between N. and the US was a major subject in the guest's conversations with N. The measure of Russian penetration and its results seem to have had an important impact.
          11) We stated and explained that not only were we interested in peace but that we believed it was possible in view of there not being any intrinsic conflicts between Israel and Egypt.
          12) We elaborated on the great possibilities of a close alliance and mutual help between us and Egypt and other neighbors especially for implementing the economic and social revolution of N.'s plan.
          13) We decidedly rejected [Nasser's claim to territorial] contiguity [with Jordan] on the grounds of our well-known reasoning.
          14) We rejected freedom of choice [by the refugees] and noted possibility of accepting "x" thousands within a larger framework of family reunification which could serve N. in justifying his position. We explained that Arabs who are already residing in Israel's would serve a basis for absorption, but no government would take upon itself economic and security-related responsibilities for direct absorption of new Arab families. The guest mentioned this possibility as beneficial in the last concluding conversation.
          15) We set down direct meeting as an ultimate condition for any move forward since only this step would demonstrate, first, a trustworthy and real will for settlement and second, a beginning of coming to terms and establishing mutual trust. Third, the possibility of uprooting false concepts and planting new ones by presenting a chance for peace and cooperation in a new light while finding horizons on the background of which the values of today's oppositional motives would be weakened. Fourth, a possibility for a fruitful effort on our part to understand the roots of the other side's position and to propose the satisfying of his wishes by other means.
          16) We stressed that a meeting should be held with no conditions and no fixing in advance any scope or agenda. Those who would meet would agree on an agenda and would be free to decide on subjects of an all-out and final settlement or a partial and initial settlement, or just a solution to one or two problems, or only preparing the ground for negotiations by ceasing hostile acts, avoidance of hostile propaganda etc. A possibility of a non-aggression agreement as an in-between stage was mentioned s well. I termed the aim of the meeting as "to explore possibilities of understanding" [orig. in English]
          17) Following the explanation given in para (7) the guest asked at a later stage whether we had any preliminary proposals which he could throw at N. on our behalf, or as arising from our position. We warned him and suggested that he explains that if we came to a meeting it stands to reason that we would posit all kinds of proposals.
          18) We said also that even if results would not be achieved [at first] we would not see the meeting as a failure but as a stage moving forward, for each of the parties would have learned something from the other and a personal contact would have been established.
          19) We gave our word that the matter would be kept top secret in the future even if we met and departed without agreement.
          20) We stressed the decisive importance of a summit meeting but noted among possibilities my meeting with a person of equal standing, not necessarily a colleague but somebody trusted by N. without diplomatic niceties, but warned against lowering the level to unauthorized officials. During his dinner with me the guest explained that, given the [Egyptians'] nervous fear re secrecy, he was assuming that either Zakaria only would remain party to the affair, or just one person more, so this ensures no excessive lowering. However Zakaria too is afraid of speaking out without N. ['s approval] and therefore there is fear that the representative would ask for confirmation for every word and things would drag on.
          21) Later on in the conversations we let loose our imagination and divulged our preference for the meeting taking place in their capital [i.e., Cairo] since this would ensure first a frequent and immediate contact with N., and second, top secrecy, for only there it could be completely guaranteed by the party most interested in it.
          22) We warned against delaying tactics even though we gave in to guest's plea to not demand a precise date within few days for a yes or no answer. We demanded submitting the matter as most urgent for the President since he had to know in what direction things were going and what policy he should pursue right now.
          23) In spite all our hopes and goodwill we pronounced our strong doubts re N.'s sincerity re any settlement and his interest in pursuing it in view of his far-reaching military strengthening as well as his success in financing it, and his outspoken wish of becoming the sole leader of the Arab and Islamic world and Africa which is leading him to extremes.
          24) We gave a penetrating analysis of the seriousness of the danger posed [to us by N.] and the clear and immediate obligation to supply us with arms as the only means against hostile attack. We were under the impression that the guest was aware of this necessity and would report this to the President. We have not made the provision of arms a condition for the carrying of the meeting [with Egyptian representatives] but defined it as an utmost precept and a burning matter by itself. In my face-to-face meeting [with Anderson] I summed up and said: Arms are essential and a meeting is most desirable. The PM's summing up was that if the US was unable to bring about about peace, it at least had an obligation to prevent war and this could only be by providing arms.
          25) The guest did not mention the [late February 1955] Gaza operation even in one word, perhaps taking care to avoid offending us. Still, in order to do away with N.'s repeated usual claim, I explained in detail the previous developments which had led to that operation and I requested that the guest make an effort to prove to N. that this was a reaction to murderous incursions and not a plot to provoke a war for the purpose of defeating and toppling him.
          26) I recounted the history of earlier contacts and personal correspondence [via Paris] in December 1954. I also divulged an effort made recently by N. to test through Arab sources in Israel our sincerity about wanting peace and said that this proved his serious attitude towards the guest's mission. I said this to the guest with the aim of encouraging him.
          27) During all major meetings the PM was the main speaker and was most active. Among other things the problem of maintaining security along the borders, in which the guest demonstrated special interest, was thoroughly explained.
          28) The guest promised to come back to us in few days. The days [with him] have passed under extreme tension as these most serious conversations, which have demanded unlimited time, were interwoven with the [UN] Secretary-General's visit, the conversation with Lawson, the final discussions about the MFA budget, and a multitude of foreign guests and other troubles, so this is the first [free] moment for [my] reporting.

SOURCE: Sharett to Eban, January 26, 1956, DFPI 11, doc.54.