121. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Palm Beach, Florida, December 27, 1962, 10 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.13/12-2762. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Talbot and approved in the White House on January 18, 1963. A summary of this memorandum of conversation was sent to certain posts in circular telegram 1168, January 4, 1963. (Ibid., 611.84A/1-463)
Conversation with Israel Foreign Minister Meir
Foreign Minister Golda Meir of Israel
Ambassador Harman of Israel
Myer Feldman, Deputy Special Counsel to the President [middle]
Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary of State for NEA
Robert Komer, White House Staff
Initiating a 70 minute discussion, Foreign Minister Meir said she brought greetings to the President from the Prime Minister of Israel. All the people of Israel, she said, have been watching with joy what the President has been doing, especially the way in which he handled the Cuban crisis. Israel saw it not just as a Cuba-US issue but as a big problem affecting the world, and is delighted at the way it came out.
Israel, she continued, has never questioned whether it should be in the free world. Its path is clear. Thus it appreciates US actions and has gained much encouragement from American concern with its security and from American friendship and understanding. She was glad that this talk was taking place after the meeting of the General Assembly, and would like to convey to the President the Israeli feelings about their area and their neighbors.
She is not really surprised when people do not see Israel's security problems as the Israelis do, Mrs. Meir said, but she does ask that others try to understand Israeli views. Israel is not anti-Arab. From the beginning it has been Israel's desire to live at peace with the Arabs. There is an identity in the kind of developments the US and Israel would like to see in the Middle East, i.e. each wishes an area in which every country is independent, free of fear and free to concentrate on its own development. Israel is sometimes called the only democratic country in the Middle East. Israelis would like to see all the countries in the area both democratic and rapidly developing. Their region should be one of cooperation among the countries for the common good. The area is underdeveloped, but Israel believes that it has possibilities and that Arabs would not suffer from cooperating with Israel in the direction of development.
Israel is perfectly prepared to live within its present borders. It doesn't want more land; it doesn't need, for example, Jordanian sand. On Israel's borders are four Arab countries. Israel has never had real trouble with Lebanon. Cows occasionally wander over the border from Lebanon and are sent back. Girls in the Israeli army may get lost and wander across the Lebanese border, but they are very politely returned. None of the incidents are serious...
Then, Mrs. Meir went on, there is the refugee problem. She asked the President to understand that Israel wants to see this problem solved. In 1949 it had said it would take up to 100,000 refugees back. Even though there was no peace, close to 40,000 came back. There are 230,000 to 240,000 Arabs living in Israel, about 11% of the population. Not all of them are peaceful citizens. For example, as development programs go forward peoples' houses sometimes have to be moved for new roads or other facilities. Although no one likes his house to be destroyed, Jewish citizens accept it even if they don't like it. But a few months ago when a new road was to be cut through an Arab village, there was a quite different reaction. We were accused of taking something away from the Arabs. They said they would put their women and children right in front of any bulldozers brought in. This is the sort of line they always take.
The question is this: even if Israel is to accept a very small number of Arabs, for what purposes would they be coming in? In the United Nations the Arabs repeat frankly and openly for hours and hours the one refrain that Israel has no right to exist and must disappear. This is the situation. Israel knows about Arab plans to bring Arabs back to Israel and then to make an Algeria out of Israel. They would create difficulties within the country; then when the Israeli Government would do what any state would have to do under the circumstances, the Arab countries would come to the help of these returning Arab refugees.
The Government is Israel has two responsibilities, Mrs. Meir said. On the one hand it is responsible for the security and welfare of the people. But in this generation the leaders of Israel have another responsibility. Twice before in history there has been Jewish sovereignty, but both times the country was occupied and the people dispersed. This generation has tried for the third time to establish a sovereign state, and this could be the last time. The whole world remembers what happened in Europe...If something happens again so that the Jews are dispersed from Israel, this could be the last time. That is not a happy idea...
In response the President said that he appreciated Mrs. Meir's full statement. In considering the problems of the world we should think of the future and especially of the next year or two. Her last point was particularly important: the burden which the United States carries for the free world. No other country carries the same responsibility for distant countries, for Korea, South Vietnam, India and Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Our concern is in maintaining the balance of power in the interest of the free world. This is why we find ourselves involved in issues between the Somalis and Ethiopians, Indians and Pakistanis, Cambodians and Thais, and so many other disputes which are not part of what we see as the central struggle, i.e. the struggle of free peoples...
The United States, the President said, has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs. But for us to play properly the role we are called upon to play, we cannot afford the luxury of identifying Israel--or Pakistan, or certain other countries--as our exclusive friends, hewing to the line of close and intimate allies (for we feel that about Israel though it is not a formal ally) and letting other countries go. If we pulled out of the Arab Middle East and maintained our ties only with Israel this would not be in Israel's interest.
To be effective in our own interest and to help Israel, the President continued, we have to maintain our position in the Middle East generally. Our interest is best served if there is a group of sovereign countries associated with the West. We are in a position then to make clear to the Arabs that we will maintain our friendship with Israel and our security guarantees...
Those were the days. I note that although Israel's geography, politics, international standing, and leadership has changed, the attitude of the United States to the Israeli-Arab conflict remains the same, while Arabs are increasingly returning to the rejectionist position of forty years ago, now armed with Western weapons and anti-Israel media sympathy.
Yet such events as the repeated Israeli invasions of Lebanon were not unexpected, as one post-Munich cable noted [caps in original]:
AS LONG AS TERRORIST WAR IS INFLICTED ON ISRAEL, ISRAELIS, AS MUCH AS WE MAY WISH IT WERE OTHERWISE, WILL INEVITABLY WAGE COUNTER-WAR, AS WITNESS RECENT RETALIATORY RAIDS AGAINST FEDAYEEN INSTALLATIONS IN LEBANON AND SYRIA. AREA SITUATION CAN QUICKLY BECOME VERY DANGEROUS UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES. FURTHERMORE, ARAB DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS AT UN AND IN OTHER INTERNATIONAL FORUMS IN FAVOR OF PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF ARAB ISRAELI CONFLICT LOSE CREDIBILITY WHEN ARABS AT SAME TIME ARE SEEN AS PROMOTING, TACITLY OR EXPLICITLY, INDISCRIMINATE VIOLENCE.
Even with the mainstream media on their side, do "Arab diplomatic efforts" really have more credibility today?
The cable continues. Why America's "Arab Friends" continue to support Black September seems to be a puzzle to the writer:
...POINT OUT BLACK SEPTEMBER ORGANIZATION (BSO) HAS CLAIMED CREDIT NOT ONLY FOR MUNICH MASSACRE BUT ALSO FOR MURDER OF JORDANIAN PRIME MINISTER WASFI TELL IN CAIRO IN NOVEMBER 1971, ATTEMPTED MURDER OF JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.K. ZAID RIFAI IN DECEMBER 1971, HIJACKING OF SABENA JETLINER TO TEL AVIV IN MAY 1972, AND BLOWING UP OF OIL STORAGE TANKS IN TRIESTE IN AUGUST 1972. OUR INFORMATION INDICATES THAT BSO HAS CLANDESTINE LINKS WITH FATAH. YASIR ARAFAT, HEAD OF PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (THE OVERALL UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION) AND FATAH (MAIN COMPONENT OF PLO), WAS QUOTED AFTER MUNICH MASSACRE AS EMPHASIZING UNITY OF ALL FEDAYEEN ACTION, THUS LENDING CREDENCE TO INDICATIONS OF LINKAGE OF BSO TO FATAH. IT IS THUS NOT CREDIBLE TO MAKE DISTINCTION, AS TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS AND CERTAIN ARAB GOVERNMENTS SOMETIMES TRY TO DO, BETWEEN "RESPECTABLE" FEDAYEEN ORGANIZATIONS AND THOSE ENGAGING IN INDISCRIMINATE TERRORISM. WE THEREFORE HOPE THAT GOVERNMENTS WILL EXPRESS PUBLICLY THEIR CONDEMNATION NOT ONLY OF BSO BUT OF FEDAYEEN TERRORISM IN GENERAL AND AT THE SAME TIME CALL PUBLICLY ON STATES HARBORING OR SUPPORTING TERRORISTS TO CEASE THIS SUPPORT. YOU SHOULD ALSO POINT OUT THAT SILENCE ON PART OF GOVERNMENTS WOULD CONTRIBUTE TO PERPETUATION OF MYTH THAT THERE IS NO CONNECTION BETWEEN "RESPECTABLE" FEDAYEEN AND THOSE PRACTICING TERRORISM.
Yes, even in the early 70s the U.S. government realized that the platitude, "There is no connection between 'respectable' fedayeen and those practicing terrorism" against their own people was a myth! A stroke of wisdom that ought to be remembered today, by Arabs and Americans alike. For as long as enough Arabs value the "dignity" of "resistance" over the courage necessary to establish a decent government with self-critical democratic values and goodwill towards its neighbors, isn't it certain such terrorism will continue?