August 5, 1992
Mordechai Kidron (1915-1997) was born in Cape Town, South Africa and settled in Palestine in 1933, joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1948. Among the roles he held during his career, Kidron served as deputy permanent representative to the UN, head of the foreign ministry’s armistice department and a political adviser to the prime minster. Intimately involved in issues regarding prisoners of war, Kidron also participated in the 1973 Geneva Middle East peace conference.
In this interview, Kidron touches on a few topics connected in time: The Yom Kippur War, the Geneva conference and the Sinai I military talks, as well as on his relationships with Golda Meir, who was emotionally invested in the return of Israeli POWs, and Abba Eban, whom he called an optimist and whose “approach… was not really altogether founded in reality.”
Israelis in the middle level bureaucracy of their foreign ministry went to the December 1973, Geneva peace conference anticipating an actual peace process. Kidron noted the Foreign Ministry’s “grandiose planning;” that is, they leased an entire hotel for a full year, expecting the conference to kick off something bigger for which they would need headquarters. In fact, “we were sure that at the end of it, we’d end up with a peace agreement with the Arabs.” For him, it was disillusioning, but very few Israelis or Egyptians had knowledge that Kissinger, Sadat, and Meir had agreed that no negotiations would go on at the conference, in part due to their collective interest in limiting the Soviet Union’s official role as a co-convenor of the conference. Kidron’s ‘expectations’ were met with ghost writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper and shoe shopping! While Kissinger promoted the idea that Geneva made the military talks possible which resulted in the first Sinai Separation of Forces Agreement in January 1974, Kidron was skeptical of Kissinger’s statement. Why? Again, lower-level members of the foreign ministry simply were not included in the secretive conference preplanning, nor would Kidron have known that the al-Gamassy -Yariv Kilometer 101 talks were the specific outlines for the January 1974 agreement. Harold Saunders who worked on Kissinger’s staff will tell us elsewhere that when he showed up at Aswan for the mid-January Kissinger-Sadat talks for negotiating the detail for the agreement, ‘I found the maps and the key negotiated points in my brief case; I only learned later that they had come from the 101 talks. Kidron would not have known that. Said Kidron, “All wars end up in meetings [for settling] housekeeping matters that are necessary to deal with when the war is over.” That is, they would’ve happened anyway. Kissinger, Sadat, and Meir had choreographed that privately before the conference.
Ken Stein, August 12, 2023
Ken Stein interview with Mordecai Kidron, Jerusalem, Israel
(5 August 1992)
KWS: Interview with Mr. Kidron, Israeli foreign ministry official., 5 PM, Wednesday, August 5th, 1992, Jerusalem, Israel.
KWS: First of all, your full name?
MK: Mordecai Reginald Kidron.
KWS: Okay, and you work for the Israeli Foreign Ministry?
MK: Yes, right from the very beginning.
KWS: Umm, from ’48 on?
MK: Well, I was in the Political Department of the Jewish Agency before that.
MK: The Jewish Agency —
MK: — Political Department in the Foreign Ministry. Can I get you something to drink by the way? My wife has suggested orange juice and iced coffee but if you would like something else, we can see what the house can provide.
KWS: Umm, something cold,
MK: Something cold?
KWS: Soda water, Coke?
KWS: Soda water or Coke?
MK: Coke we’ll do too. I’ll go get it.
KWS: Go ahead.[RECORDING BREAKS AND RESUMES.]
KWS: You came in 1933 from South Africa —
KWS: — and joined the Jewish Agency in the Political Department when?
MK: After the war. It was 1945, I think. My parents had just [unintelligible].
KWS: In what capacity in ’45?
MK: In what [unintelligible]?
KWS: Yes, sir.
MK: I started out in Tel-Aviv in the department of electricity, transport department, which, uh, was the, umm, ministry of transport of the Jewish people and we were trying to get vehicles. It was just after the war. It was very difficult to get vehicles and get parts and that sort of thing. And this department was also the transport department for the Haganah.
MK: And my, uh, my job was mainly with the Haganah staff.
KWS: Umm, during the War of Independence, you served in —
MK: During the War of Independence, I was in Jerusalem. I was, umm, uh — Just before the British left, through all the period that the British left, I was a, a member of a liaison unit of the Jewish Agency Political Department to the British. At the same time, in command of a furious unit made up Jewish officials of the Mandatory government, whose function, my function, was to armor them and to teach them how to get, seize the buildings once the British left. And after that I was, umm — I have to put things in order of time — after that, I was the head — Yes, I was the head of intelligence, Haganah intelligence, and later of the Israel Army intelligence in Jeru—, in the Jerusalem district.
KWS: And in serving in Haganah intelligence, did you come across [unintelligible] and people like that?
MK: They were not in — they were much younger than I am —
MK: — but I have known [unintelligible] ever since that period.
KWS: Were you involved in any of the discussions after the war?
MK: With whom?
KWS: With any of the surrounding Arab states?
KWS: No. Umm, where were your postings in the foreign ministry after this date, after?
MK: [Unintelligible] in London.
KWS: What years?
MK: 1949 to 1951, I was there about two-and-a-half years. For quite a considerable period of that time I was the, uh, the acting head of mission because a few months after we arrived, the head of mission died. I was sort of thrown into the deep water.
KWS: Mm-hmm. And this is at the very time when the Lausanne Conference was going on? [The Lausanne Conference of 1949 took place from April 27 to September 12.]
MK: Yes, but I was in London, not in, uh, not [unintelligible].
KWS: How did the British react as you recall to the conference itself?
MK: They were not very serious about it. They were not very serious about anything to do with the Middle East except hanging on.
KWS: What do you mean, “They were not very serious.”?
MK: They didn’t think that — I used to come along with — I’d get instructions to go talk to them about, about, about what was happening in the Lausanne Conference. [Unintelligible.] That was not their show and, umm, I don’t think they took it really very seriously. They did not think much would come out of it and [unintelligible] really nobody thought much would come out of it except the Israelis, who mentioned that we should let them go [unintelligible].
KWS: Did they have any comments to you about what [UN mediator Ralph] Bunch had accomplished at Rhodes [Armistice Negotiations]?
MK: No recollection.
KWS: Mm-hmm. Umm, and you served in London ’til ’51?
MK: Served in London until ’51, and then came back here in ’51 to ’53 where I was head of the international organizations department in the foreign ministry. Then in ’53, the, uh, autumn of ’53, I went to New York as deputy to [Abba] Eban at the United Nations. I was there for five years.
KWS: ’53 to ’58.
MK: And, uh, in ’58, I went to Thailand as ambassador and I was also [unintelligible] to Laos, Cambodia, and I looked after Malaya, and Vietnam [unintelligible]. Came back home in ’63, where I was until ’67, the head of the, uh, armistice department of the, uh —[BREAK IN RECORDING]
Woman: [Unintelligible], if you change your mind, [unintelligible].
KWS: Thank you very much. I appreciate it, but I — we just, uh, we’ve just been in Hadassah Hospital visiting a close doc— a doctor friend who’s posted there for four months and living in one of these wonderful little apartments that overlooks — You can see everything from Ein Karem to Ramot. I mean, it’s just magnificent.
Woman: Is that such a marvelous view over there?
KWS: Oh, it’s, it’s just, it’s — Mevasseret, Ramot, oh.
Woman: [Unintelligible] wonderful.
KWS: In ’67 —
MK: [Unintelligible.] Where were [unintelligible]?
KWS: In the armistice —
MK: ’63-’67, I was head of the armistice department and as such, uh, the, the liaison between the foreign ministry and the general staff of the, of the army.
KWS: When you, what do you mean by the armistice department? You mean those who were monitoring the var— the various armistices that were still around?
MK: There was a regime of armistice, armistice —
KWS: [Unintelligible] commissions.
MK: That was the, uh, the department that [unintelligible] was the responsibility of the foreign ministry. The people who manned these, umm, these armistice commissions were army officers and my deputy was also an army officer.
KWS: And what were the responsibilities, what was the responsibility of the, of that core organizational element within the foreign ministry? When you say you looked after it, did you looked after violations, you looked after —
KWS: Looked after violations that took place or —?
MK: [Laughs.] When you put it that way, it simply to say what, umm, what I did all day long [unintelligible].
KWS: [Laughs] — and for four years.
MK: [Laughs.] And for four years. Umm —
KWS: [Laughs.] I’m sorry.
MK: The, uh, armistice department was responsible to the United Nations. The army had no contact with the United Nations.
KWS: I see.
MK: We were, we were responsible to the United Nations. If the chief of staff of the United Nations took supervision of an organization and had something to talk about with the government of Israel, they would turn to me. Or if the secretary general sent to round somebody up, I have to go to New York to talk about military matters, then it would be with me. And, umm, so, in pursuit of these noble aims, I had to know the, the borders of the country like the palm of my hand and keep track of what the Mixed Armistice Commissions were doing. Although, at that time when I was there, the Mixed Armistice Commissions were reduced to Lebanon and Jordan. The Egyptian one had ceased to operate since nineteen-sixty—, since Sinai in 1967 and the Syrian, one also around about 1967.
KWS: Before the war?
MK: They more or less, they died away before the war.
KWS: And you stayed in this posting until the war, until after the war?
MK: Umm, when did I go through — I must’ve gone through — Then I went to Geneva in 1963. What year are we talking about?
KWS: ’67. June ’67.
MK: I came back to Israel in ’63, I said.
KWS: ’63-’67, you said armistice.
MK: ’58. Uh, I got my dates wrong. 1963, I came back to Israel from southeast Asia. In nineteen-sixty-umm, six. It was 1966 and the beginning of 1967, I went to Geneva. So that was the period of the armistice agreements. So, when I say that the, umm, Egyptian one died officially in 1967 with the war, but it had in fact not been operated in the mixed armistice commission for some years before that. The same thing with the Syrian one except for an odd meeting about once a year. I remember once an exchange of prisoners that I had to [unintelligible] prior to — I had to be at on the Syrian border and that was about the only meeting that the mixed armistice commission of the Syrian-Israeli that I recollect. But otherwise, any infractions of the borders, that is, the armistice demarcation lines, was my responsibility. Any breach of the armistice agreement in any way, it was our, it was our only contact with the Arabs in those days.
MK: The active, uh, commissions were, were Jordan and Lebanon where [unintelligible] but Syria and Egypt, there was no contact and interest except through the United Nations people.
KWS: And in Geneva, you did what?
MK: In Geneva, I was, uh, the permanent representative to the United Nations and all other international bodies at Geneva.
KWS: Until when?
KWS: Until when?
MK: 1966. I was there for about five years [unintelligible], about 1971. ’71, [unintelligible] ’71. And from there when I came back, I was political advisor for the foreign minister and at the same time in charge of all the [unintelligible] international organizations’, umm, connections to both New York and Geneva, and Vienna and wherever there was an international organization.
KWS: The foreign minister in ’71— the prime minister in ’71?
MK: It was, uh, Yigal Allon, Yigal Allon was — I think that it must have been Yigal Allon during the [unintelligible] of that period that I was, from ’71 or ’72, to when I went to Sweden, which was my last post.
KWS: And you were at, you were — from ’71, from ’71 until what time were?
MK: The end of 1976 or seventy — the beginning of July. End of ’76 I went to Sweden.
KWS: So, in the period from ’71 to’76, you were here in Jerusalem.
MK: I was in Jerusalem.
KWS: And you served in — you served the foreign minister?
KWS: So even when Eban was foreign minister —
MK: Oh yes, that’s right. Eban was Foreign Minister at least until about ’74.
KWS: Yeah. He was Foreign Minister certainly during the ’73 War.
MK: Yes, he was. That’s right. I was with him at the ’73 Conference after the war.
KWS: What do you remember about the war and the foreign ministry and where you were when the war started and how the foreign ministry handled what went on during the war? When the war broke, where were you?
KWS: When the war started, where were you?
MK: When the war started, I was in my flat in [unintelligible] in Jerusalem.
KWS: Mm-hmm. And then you went to the foreign ministry? You were called in or—?
MK: I suppose I must have gone there. I don’t recollect what, what I did. I remember heading down to a — I remember hearing the siren and going into, going into a — this was on Yom Kippur, of course.
KWS: Yeah, October 6th.
MK: Umm, going down to the, to the shelter and then coming out of the shelter. I don’t think — my, my impression is, from my memory of it, that the foreign ministry had little to do during the ’73 war.
KWS: Was that because of the way [Israel Prime Minister] Golda [Meir] did business? Was that because of her relationship with Eban? Was that because it was the history of the state that the prime minister did the foreign ministry affairs? What, what was it?
MK: Well, first of all [laughs], there was a war to be won and so the — obviously, the — where there was action or something doing, it was the army who was doing it. Uh, where I came in, was [that] I had built up certain amount of expertise in, in [unintelligible] of prisoners of war. I had dealt with that in Geneva.
MK: Prisoners of war, abductees, people who were, who were, who were hijacked, things like that. I dealt with that in Geneva. I also dealt with it when I was head of the Armistice Department because we had a lot of people strayed over the border whom the Syrians kept for years and years and years. And, the question of prisoners of war came up again in the ’73 war, at least after the ’73 war.
KWS: Came up. It is, was the absolute first issue that came up? [Unintelligible.]
MK: [Unintelligible.] I was intimately involved in all that.
KWS: Tell me about it if you can recollect what went on, because there is no one else who has information about it. It is not written down anywhere.
MK: Ask me a few questions. [Unintelligible.] I should tell you about it.
KWS: Well, let’s, let’s be precise. Umm, when Henry Kissinger came here on the 21st of October, umm, he came with [UN] Resolution 338 in hand.
KWS: And Golda wasn’t very pleased with the idea of having to accept a resolution fait accompli that had been agreed upon in Moscow between [Leonid] Brezhnev and, and, uh, Kissinger.
KWS: Umm, at that point, umm, Golda made it a point to them and said, “It’s absolutely essential that we have these prisoners of war lists as soon as possible, that we have an exchange of prisoners.” Umm, the Israelis and the Egyptians each violated the cease-fire. Umm, we get down to the end of October about a week later, the 29th or 30th, Egyptian Foreign Minister [Ismail] Fahmy is in, umm,
MK: [Unintelligible] Faham? Fahma?
MK: With an “H”? [Unintelligible.]
KWS: He is in Washington and while he’s in Washington, he is surprised to learn that [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat has agreed to give a prisoners of war list to the Israelis. About the 30th. How did the actual exchange of war prisoners take place?
MK: The trouble is I’ve dealt with it at so many different periods that I find it difficult to separate what I did in, in the ’73 period with the ’67 period. Or, or the previous [unintelligible], strayers across the border in —
KWS: Were they — let, let me put it this way, were they exchanged at the time when the Israelis were releasing the [Egyptian] Third Army?
KWS: The Third Army, because the Israelis had the Third Army surrounded —
KWS: — and they flew the Third Army, members of the Third Army, out from the west bank of Suez to Cyprus and they were flown from Cyprus to Cairo in order to avoid embarrassment to Sadat. Umm, I don’t know how the Israeli prisoners of war were, were exchanged. I assume they were just exchanged across the border.
MK: Yes, across the border. [Moshe] Dayan [unintelligible]. Dayan, Dayan at that time was what?
KWS: Minister of Defense.
KWS: Yes indeed.
MK: Because I went with Dayan to meet a plane carrying prisoners of war. In 1967, after ’67, what was Dayan doing, any idea?
KWS: No, he was —
MK: He had nothing to do with the army as far as I can remember.
KWS: That’s right.
MK: Nothing to do with the army. Then it must have been after the ’73 war that I went with Dayan to meet a plane carrying prisoners of war. But this was quite a time, quite a long time, after ‘73. It didn’t happen, didn’t happen immediately. Of course, I know, I remember, I had to go to, go to Geneva a few times to [unintelligible].
KWS: But the Syrians were most recalcitrant about the release. They didn’t release the list until February —
MW: That’s right.
KWS: — of ’74.
MK: That’s right. This must have been when I went with Daya—when I, when I went to meet this plane with Dayan, I think it was Syria.
KWS: And of course, the, the —
MK: The Syrian [unintelligible], that’s right, the Syrian prisoners.
KWS: The handling and treatment of the Syrian prisoners of course was a lot worse than that of —
MK: Of course, of course.
KWS: Did you recall anything about the, what the prisoners said, uh, the treatment, comparisons between the two?
MK: Well, we have photographs, you know. You must have seen those photographs?
KWS: No, I did not know that. Really?
MK: Photographs of Israeli soldiers taken by, I think, by, by, by, uh, foreign correspondents with the Israeli soldiers sitting on the ground like this —
KWS: with their hands behind their neck.
MK: — with their hands behind their neck. And the stories they told were how harsh treatments sound, a little bit cruel and beastly treatment. Generally harsh treatment, particularly at the beginning. Towards the end, when the Syrians knew that they’d have to give them back, the, uh, the treatment improved. But it’s quite right, these were prisoners of war from Syria that, uh, I remember going with Dayan to meet this plane. But to be more precise, I find it very difficult. [Unintelligible] it is about twenty years since all that happened and I am getting old and my memory is not that good.
KWS: So far so good. Tell me, umm, you were political advisor to Eban in the Foreign Ministry —
KWS: — and Eban was not kept in close touch with Golda in the negotiations because she did most of that through [Simcha] Dinitz and she did most of it herself with Henry.
MK: Mmm, I was in fact closer to Golda than even Eban because I had known her, known her for a long time.
KWS: How did she react, how did she react during the war, during the war period? I mean, how did she take all this, her demeanor, umm —?
MK: Well, I used to see her about prisoners of war. I didn’t, didn’t see her about other things. It was not my province. And she was emotionally involved in this question of prisoners of war. She would receive the, umm, the families and, umm, do things that a, a, let’s say, a strictly cold prime minister would not have done. [Unintelligible.] And to her, the idea — the, umm, the question of prisoners of war was to say, right at the top of her prior—, her priorities, uh, more so than most other subjects. I used to see her a lot about that.
KWS: Did she confide her feelings, her worries, her anxieties? [Unintelligible.]
MK: Everybody knew she was worried. Everybody knew she was anxious. Everybody knew that she knew that she, uh, she knew that she made a mistake in going to Vienna before the, uh — everybody knew that. It was a terrific mistake. That was not the most important thing that was on the, uh, on the agenda. And so, we were living, you can say, within that framework. The framework of a woman who [unintelligible], of a prime minister [unintelligible] severely troubled about what has happened. And she found out of — I’d say she found an emotional release in this close contact that she had and the commitment she had through the release, the release of the prisoners of war.
KWS: Is it, is the story true that she asked some of the families to go abroad to speak on behalf of their kept sons?
MK: I don’t think she asked them. I think [unintelligible]. I think they came to ask her if they could. They came to ask me if I thought it was a good idea. I didn’t think it was a very good idea because I did not think anything would, would happen. That’s not how prisoners of war are released. Prisoners of war are released as a matter of business, not a matter of [unintelligible] appealing to the emotions of the enemy. [Unintelligible.] I did not think it was a good idea, but she agreed.
KWS: She agreed, but why?
KWS: But why? To give the families something to do?
MK: No, not only to give them — of course, it sort might help. Her emotional commitment was very, very deep. In a way, she could be very, very tough on, uh, political matters. On this matter, she was not tough.
KWS: And yet, when she saw Nixon for the first time in early November, the first thing she said to him was, “I want those lists and I want them now and nothing else comes first.”
MK: Of course. That was her top priority.
KWS: Mmm. Do you remember any of the planning that went on in the foreign ministry for Geneva? [Unintelligible.]
MK: There was a lot of it. [Laughs.] When you, when you look back at these things, they are very, very, grandiose planning.
KWS: Grandiose planning?
MK: Grandiose planning.
MK: The foreign ministry really took this as if the, uh, the meetings that we were going to have with the Arabs were the beginning of a peace process that would last about a year. That we were sure that at the end of it, we’d end up with a peace agreement with the Arabs.
KWS: You mean peace treaties with each one.
MK: Peace treaties with each one. Eban was a particularly — Eban was an optimist. In 1967, he was an optimist. In 1973, he thought it was going to happen. Golda has different [unintelligible]. In any case what the Foreign Ministry did, we hired a building in Geneva for a year. That was the headquarters of the Israeli delegation. It was a seven or eight story hotel. That was hired. We sent a large staff of, uh, of, uh. typists, and cook people, and security people, who sat there for better of a whole year twiddling their thumbs. I eventually used that building when I had to go to Geneva in my frequents visits on this prisoner of war business [unintelligible] building as a hotel [unintelligible]. Anybody coming to Geneva on official business used that as a hotel. Giving you an idea of the grandiose ideas. It cost a fortune.
KWS: What did you do? You bought it or you leased it? You rented it?
MK: No, we rented it.
KWS: For a year?
MK: For a whole year.
KWS: Who was responsible for making that decision? That is the first I’ve heard of it.
MK: I never — I don’t know. I imagine the ultimate decision was Eban’s
KWS: You rented a hotel for a year [unintelligible]?
MK: An apartment hotel for a whole year.
KWS: In Geneva?
MK: Mm-hmm. So, you can see how utterly seriously and how off the ball the whole thing was. It was an atmosphere. We were going to Geneva to establish [unintelligible] to discuss matters with every one of the Arab States. At the end of that period, we were going to come out with, umm, a peace agreement with each one and for that we needed a proper establishment in Geneva.
KWS: ’Cause you thought the Geneva conference wasn’t just gonna be a conference, it was going to —
MK: We didn’t think, we didn’t think it was just going to be one meeting as it, as transpired, [unintelligible] one or two meetings.
KWS: It started on Friday and there was a second one on Saturday.
KWS: It started on Friday the 21st —
KWS: — and then there was a second meeting on Saturday.
MK: Uh-huh. The Friday meeting was — most of the time was spent on arguing about who should sit next to whom.
KWS: But Eban’s perception was then that this was going to be a process that was going to be drawn out in Geneva.
MK: His perception was that it was going to be a process in Geneva and was going to take a long time. Well, it could have taken any time, but the point is that we had to be prepared. Have you never heard of [unintelligible] hotel?
KWS: [Unintelligible.] That’s the first time, absolutely the very first time I’ve heard it. I mean, it, it’s an indication to me about how far afield Eban was from reality. Because he did not understand Henry Kissinger, what Kissinger was up to.
MK: Eban in general — and he won’t, uh, he won’t forgive me for saying this — umm, had an approach, which I think you are perfectly right, was not really altogether founded in reality.
KWS: [Laughs.] When you arrived in Geneva, you stayed at a hotel, at this hotel?
MK: No, they — that was for the second period, for what was happening. We stayed at a hotel on [street name in French]. The whole delegation stayed there. Umm, not at this hotel that we took as offices.
KWS: You don’t remember what the name of that one was?
MK: That was Resident something or other? I could lead you there, but I don’t remember the name.
KWS: [Laughs.] Shall we? When you arrived in Geneva?
MK: I went to Geneva a few days before the rest of the delegation to be sure that the arrangements were okay.
KWS: What did you have to do?
MK: I did not have to do anything really. I was, uh, I went to look at the hotel we were staying at and I went to look at the opera, the UN building. I was, I — Geneva was my second home, so it was pretty [unintelligible] —
KWS: Familiar to you?
MK: It was sensible to send me there a couple of days before. And, I established contact with the UN people and that’s about all. When the rest of the delegation came and we went, we presented ourselves at the UN building, it was — all of the Arab delegations were at one part of the — have you ever been to that building? You know what it looks like?
MK: There is a conference room in the middle.
MK: An anteroom where the Israelis were and another anteroom where the Arabs were and there was no contact between. The UN people were floating from one to the other. Umm, we were then, when we arrived at the place, and with great excitement from the, the press, we went into our anteroom and after about a half an hour, the UN, I think it was [unintelligible], came to me and he said there is a bit of a problem with the seating.
KWS: But this is on Friday or Thursday night?
MK: Uh, when the delegation was there [unintelligible]. At the opening of the conference.
KWS: Which would’ve been, would’ve been — Friday, Friday morning around 9:00.
MK: Yup. [Unintelligible] told me there was a problem about the seating. And that is when the whole thing — You know about the seating problem?
MK: It was eventually solved.
KWS: Do you remember who solved it?
MK: It must have been the UN people, I don’t recollect. I know there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, running up and down, everybody getting very excited.
KWS: And the conference, when the conference was gaveled to order by [UN Secretary General Kurt] Waldheim —
MK: By Waldheim?
KWS: — he gave a little speech?
KWS: And then he turned it over to, I guess it would have been, [Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei] Gromyko?
MK: Either Gromyko or Kissinger, one of the two.
KWS: Gromyko, then Kissinger. And then I guess Fahmy spoke. And then Zaid Rifai.
KWS: Zaid Rifai, the [Jordanian] prime minister.
MK: Yeah, yeah.
KWS: And then —
MK: You know more about it than I do.
KWS: I’m trying to recollect for you.
MK: All right.
KWS: I read — and I read Rifai’s speech. It was rather harsh speech, even harsher than the Egyptian foreign minister.
MK: Yeah, yeah.
KWS: And then, umm, there was some debate apparently within the Israeli delegation about whether Eban should wait to speak until the next day or should ask to respond to Fahmy that very afternoon.
MK: To the best of my recollec—, my recollection, we waited until another, for another occasion, either that afternoon —
KWS: That afternoon.
MK: And Eban spoke first, either that afternoon or the following morning.
KWS: He spoke that afternoon.
KWS: Umm, what do you remember about the journalists that were there? The cameras, the hoopla, the —?
MK: Nothing in particular. That sort of thing goes on at every international meeting so there’s no reason why —
MK: There was more excitement about this because the journalists also thought that we should round the corner.
KWS: They did?
KWS: Umm, did you have any idea that the conference was going to end so abruptly?
MK: No, but then — We thought it was going to go on much longer and all of a sudden, there was nothing for us to do. So, we went out [laughs]. I went and bought myself a pair of shoes, and, uh —
KWS: Epi Evron stayed.
MK: Epi Evron stayed.
KWS: And he ostensibly was supposed to have meetings for a couple of days with [Soviet Ambassador to Egypt] Vladimir Vinogradov. Umm, and Kissinger had by now established what was known as the political committee and the military committee.
MK: I am rather skeptical about the, umm, theory put forward by a few people, among them Eban and Epi Evron, that great things were actually done in Geneva. And that, umm, without that Geneva meeting, there would have been no S—, no, uh, meetings with the Egyptians after that.
KWS: Sinai One [January 18, 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement].
MK: [Unintelligible] or very little. I think those meetings with the Egyptians and the Syrians later would have happened anyhow.
KWS: Why do you say that?
MK: Because it was an inorganic connection between what, what was said and done in Geneva and these meetings. These meetings with the Egyptians were military meetings which — All wars end up in meetings [unintelligible] to settle, even say, housekeeping matters that are necessary to deal with when the war is over. The same way all wars end, all meetings end. There is nothing, there is nothing dramatical or romantic about any of these things.
KWS: But when wars end, the edges are, are, are unclean, the messy, umm, residues. I mean, you have prisoners of war, you have forces that are interlocked.
KWS: You have —
MK: You have to deal with these things. And so often, the military officers are going to lead.
KWS: But you didn’t think when you went to Geneva that you would [unintelligible].
MK: We thought we were going into a political thing. We didn’t, we were going into a military meeting.
KWS: Then all of a sudden, you found out —
MK: All of a sudden we found that there was no, practically nothing. I noticed being put out. Kissinger also put it out that everything — that Geneva provided the jumping off point for these, these agreements which were later made with the Egyptians and the Syrians. I have been, as I said, I have been rather skeptical about that. [Unintelligible] Eban.
KWS: But, would you — could you argue that Sadat needed it, for his own —
MK: Needed what?
KWS: Needed an umbrella like Geneva?
MK: I am skeptical. I am skeptical. I don’t think, I don’t think Geneva provided an umbrella for anything. We did not require an umbrella to make, to make peace with the Arabs. We could make peace with the Arabs any day of the week. Golda used to say, “I’ll go and speak with Nassar every, uh, tomorrow morning.” All Nassar had to do, of course, was to invite them and say. “It’s time, lady.”
KWS: Mm-hmm. Interesting. Interesting that the Israeli delegation had little idea or no idea that this was just a, a sham in terms of what it would produce.
MK: I don’t think we had any idea. We really took it pretty seriously.
KWS: Do you remember the Gromyko-Kissinger meeting, uh, the Gromyko-Eban meeting?
MK: Yes, I remember the meeting. It was the usual thing which was that, uh, that, uh, Russian foreign ministers, particularly Gromyko — we’d known, we had known Gromyko for God knows how many years — he used to say to the Israelis, “You make sure the Arabs don’t be aggressive. Don’t do that, don’t do that, and everything going to be fine.”
KWS: Nothing new?
MK: Nothing new.
KWS: Did you have —
KWS: Sure, absolutely.[RECORDING STOPS AND STARTS AGAIN.]
MK: When the conference was written up and I guess, sitting and listening to speeches. Outside the conference, the Israeli delegation, which was fairly large, did its level best to try and keep busy. I remember the only actual piece of business that I did was something that had nothing to do with me. There were correspondents of the London Times over there who got into conversation with [unintelligible]. You know who [unintelligible] is? [Unintelligible] about how the next elections were coming out. The last of the peace forces would be twice as full as they were before and they would force the government to do this and this chap wrote a story in the London Times. The story was a very foolish story. It annoyed Eban because he was a member of the governing party, of course, and he was running for election. So, uh, but he did not want to write a reply himself, write a letter to the editor of the Times. So, I said that I would write a letter, but not with my signature. I wrote the letter for his of his secretary’s signature that would allow him to [unintelligible] as possible. So, I spent half a morning composing the letter, which was published in the Times the following day under the name, under the name of his secretary.
MK: This is not all I did. Another afternoon we had absolutely nothing to do, so [Legal Affairs Adviser] Meir Rosenne and I went and bought shoes.
MK: Meir Rosenne’s idea was, “Even if your clothes are ragged, your shoes must be first class.”
KWS: [Laughs.] Lovely story.
MK: It was a feeling, a terrible feeling of being let down — that all these, uh, bubbles that we pushed into the air was, were losing air. They were bursting.
KWS: You think it was done necessarily because Eban was optimistic or because this is the foreign ministry by definition. This is your task. This is something you guys have been looking forward to.
MK: Of course. This is the foreign ministry’s job. This is the foreign ministry’s function. That’s what they’re there for.
KWS: Finally, the military was giving you guys a chance.
MK: Yes, yes. That is what we are there for. We [unintelligible]. As far as I remember, we had a couple of military officers with us. But, umm, the reality was so different from what everybody imagined was going to happen.
KWS: What was the anticipation before you left Israel amongst the Israeli public?
MK: The Israelis anticipation was one of “at last.”
KWS: Meaning, umm, but typically, you have —
MK: The, the, the feeling in the country when the delegation left — who the members of the delegation were, and so on and so forth — it was, I don’t want to use the word ecstatic. It was euphoric.
KWS: How different was it for the feelings that you felt when Sadat came to Jerusalem by comparison?
KWS: When Sadat came to Jerusalem. Was it a different kind of euphoria?
MK: This was a different sort of thing. Obviously Sadat came to Jerusalem, it was a much bigger event than going to Geneva to talk about, to talk about peace. Because here Sadat was a huge dramatic gesture and going to Geneva to talk about peace was really, uh, what we had been dreaming about and what we had been preparing ourselves for, but nevertheless this was going to be a negotiation. Everybody realized it was going to be a long negotiation. But the feeling of, the public feeling, was, uh, was euphoric.[END OF TRACK 1. BEGINNING OF TRACK 2.]
KWS: At home, how did the mood alter, change?
MK: No, no, no, no. [Unintelligible.] The talk of those that we spoke in Geneva was not doing really very much, did not alter the, uh, perception that in the ensuing months something would happen. But in the ensuing months, nothing happened.
KWS: Except Sinai One.
MK: Yes, except those, the two military, military meetings in which the foreign ministry had nothing to do by the way — which were essentially military or what they call it, something “of force” as a group?
MK: Separation of forces. So, when I tell you that I did, uh, that my function in this peacemaking thing was very, very, at best [unintelligible], That is the precise fact.
KWS: Do you recall at all in early ’74, any efforts that were made to try and reach an understanding with the Jordanians?
MK: You would say it was practically uh, uh, an article of faith in Israel, both on the left and the right, that we couldn’t make agreement with [King] Hussein. It has always been [unintelligible].
MK: And, uh, every second minister of the government has met with Hussein. The Likud used to sneer at the Labor Party for talking about the Jordanian option, but as soon as they got into power, they adopted the same option, because the [unintelligible] options and Rabin with the West Bank and the [unintelligible] Trans-Jordan area are very, very small. There is not much you can do. As Hussein is there, and he’s king, and he’s been king for a long time, the Jordanian option is [unintelligible], the next best thing. So, of course, there were contacts with Jordan. I remember once — however I don’t remember which war it was — it must have been before ‘67, yeah. Before ‘67 when I was — I was the person in charge of armistice; I was the channel through which all our messages to, to Hussein went, through the United Nations. [Laughs.] So, at one time, half the people were so crazy. I don’t want to mention the names because it is such a silly thing, but I was sending messages daily practically to the Jordanians, and one — There happened to be a governmental crisis over there. They had to [unintelligible] one government and have to put another government in, so one bright spot [unintelligible] to make sure the prime minister is the best man.
MK: As you can see, the degree of all the distant intimacy that we had. [Laughs.]
KWS: That is a good term, “distant intimacy.” Umm, you stayed at the foreign ministry ’til what year?
KWS: What did you do? What was your last posting?
MK: Ambassador to Sweden.
KWS: That was from ’77?
MK: ’77 to ’80. I was sent by [Yigal] Allon, but by the time I got there — I guess I had only been there a couple of months and the Likud came into power.
KWS: Mm-hmm. Umm, did, — who did you follow as Ambassador to Sweden?
MK: Abner Edan.
MK: Abner Edan had been [unintelligible], had been the minister at the embassy in Washington —
MK: — in, in the early seventies.
KWS: Wasn’t Epi appointed at one point an ambassador?
MK: He was appointed ambassador to Sweden [in 1968] and, uh —
KWS: He was there for a month or so?
MK: He was there for just about a month and he was shunted off to Canada. Umm —
MK: And, the same thing nearly happened to me. [Unintelligible], of course of the Epi episode —
MK: I was not moved.
KWS: Yes, that would have been tragic.
MK: That would’ve been, would’ve been too much, so — The Swedes could not, wouldn’t take it again.
KWS: [Laughs.] How, umm, how did the Swedes react to Sadat’s visit when it happened?
MK: Sadat’s visit, when?
MK: ’77. Well, the Swedes were also — the Swedes started out as great friends of Israel. After ‘67, they, umm, while remaining at least by definition friends of Israel with Israel’s interest at heart, but, uh, the emphasis shifted, [unintelligible] shifted over to the Palestinians. But they were in a quandary. They didn’t like this position of, uh, being pro-Palestinian and at the same time, professing their great support and love for Israel. It was an awful situation to be in and they didn’t, umm — I don’t think they did it very well because they aroused suspicion in Israel and at the same time, I don’t think the Palestinians, at least in the early part, really trusted them. Later, they became more openly pro-Palestinian. So, when Sadat came to, uh, Jerusalem, they were, in the same way —the public in Sweden was euphoric, the newspapers were euphoric, the, the government and the foreign office were full of, full of hopes that their dilemmas would be over.
KWS: Mmm. Mm-hmm. Yes, I could understand that. But you stayed from — up until your appointment to Sweden, you were here in Jerusalem.
MK: I was here in Jerusalem.
KWS: And when in ’77 did you go to Sweden?
KWS: When, in ’77? Certainly, before Sadat’s visit.
MK: Before Sadat’s visit? Before the elections. When were the elections?
MK: In May. I’m left wondering if it was the end of 1966 that I went there or the beginning, it may have been sixty — ’76? Mmm?
KWS: The end of ‘76.
MK: ’76. Either the end of ’76, toward the end of ’76, or the beginning of — I am trying to think of what I was wearing at the time. And what the people, who were going to meet me at the, uh, at the airport were wearing, whether it was summer clothes or winter clothes. It must have been winter. It must have been the end of ‘66.
KWS: End of ‘76.
MK: End, end of ‘76.
KWS: But up until that point, your position in the foreign ministry was advisor to the —?
MK: Advisor to the foreign minister with particular responsibility for our international organizations.
KWS: Was there any discussion in the period after the Syrian-Israeli disengagement about reconvening Geneva?
MK: I don’t recollect. In any case, there is not anything we could have done on our own and the Arabs were manifestly not interested in Geneva. Uh, the, the furthest they would go would be a military agreement, such as the armistice agreements through 1967 separated of course, by the [unintelligible] ’73. That is a particular, specifically practical [unintelligible] military agreement, but no, uh, no political deals. Therefore, they were not interested in ’73. But, uh, if we’d, if we had expressed a wish to go back to Geneva, we knew practically what the [unintelligible] response would be.
KWS: What relationship — is there any family relationship between you and the other Kidron [diplomat Abraham Kidron]?
MK: No, no.
KWS: Was he also South African?
KWS: Moshe Sasson was a, a generation after you?
MK: Yes, three quarters of a generation, half a generation. I was a contemporary with his father [Eliyahu Sasson].
KWS: His father was —?
MK: His father was a minister in the early Ma’arakh [Alignment] governments. His father was a — fairly interesting career. His father had been a member of the Arab, Arab, Arab committees in Damascus at the time of the first World War.
MK: And, uh, when he came over here, he came to Palestine, he was the, the head of the Arab department of the political, political department of the Jewish Agency.
KWS: Toward the end of the Mandate?
MK: A few years before that. And he was highly respected in the Arab world. He used to meet with, uh, meet with Arab dignitaries, Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and he had a manner, he had great intros with the Arabs. When Mapai came into power, they [unintelligible] Sephardi, a token Sephardi, and so they took him..
KWS: And Moshe, as I, as I am told, was in Cairo during the early ‘80s, Moshe Sasson.
MK: He was ambassador to Cairo.
MK: Until about two years ago. For about six or seven years.
KWS: [Eliyahu] Ben-Elissar was there
MK: Ben Elissar was the first. He was there for a year.
KWS: Uh-huh. And then Sasson and then Shamir.
MK: No, then [Shimon] Shamir and then Sasson.
KWS: No, Shamir, Shamir was —
MK: Shamir was after, yeah.
KWS: So, Moshe could give me a very good reading on, umm, the post-Sadat period in Egypt?
MK: He is very good by the way.
KWS: Is he?
MK: He is very good indeed. I have high respect for his knowledge and his, his understanding.
MK: How did you get on to me? Who told you?
KWS: Secrets. Umm, I got a list of all the, all the attenders, all the members of the delegation to Geneva. And I wanted to talk to as many people as I possibly could. So, umm, I will talk to Meir Rosenne tomorrow. Umm, I have spoken with Epi. I spoke — I’m going to have a meeting Eytan Ben Tsur. I saw him for breakfast this morning. Eytan was responsible for preparing the so-called draft treaties, which you brought with you to Geneva. Talk about optimism. Umm, and there are two or three others. So, it was a matter of getting the lists. And I’ve done the same thing on the American side, and the Egyptian side, and the Jordanian side because the documents are not yet available to me because of the thirty-year rule that exists in most countries. They will be available to me, umm, in the year 2003, but I’d like to get this book done before that.
MK: I don’t think there are so many documents. I don’t recollect.
KWS: Well, for example, there is a memorandum of understanding between Israel and the United States that was signed on the twentieth of December. You know, what would be discussed, what the procedures would be, uh, who would talk first and things like that. And there are several other documents which I am getting through the Freedom of Information Act.
MK: Have you seen Eban?
KWS: Yes, I spent five hours with him in March. His memory is selective.
MK: His memory is selective, but it is probably better than mine.
KWS: Yours is pretty good.
KWS: Yours is pretty good.
MK: No, I’m duly — This is something I have suffered from all my life. It’s just, I haven’t got much of a depth [unintelligible] —
MK: — for what happened last year or ten years ago. It fades. But that is something I’ve — ever since childhood. [Unintelligible.]
KWS: Well, thank you.[END OF RECORDING]