(28 February 1992)
Samuel W. Lewis (1930-2014) served as US Ambassador to Israel from 1977 to 1985. He arrived in Tel Aviv just as Menachem Begin took over the Prime Minister’s office from Yitzhak Rabin., Lewis was considered by Israelis and Americans alike among the most talented and skillful of fine array of American ambassadors who served in the post. Significantly, Lewis was the first ambassador to deal with a prime minister who was not of the Labor Party, provided superb guidance to the Carter and Reagan administrations about the Arab (Egyptian) Israeli negotiating process and Israel’s military engagements with Lebanon and the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in June 1981.
His recollections of sentiments and attitudes at the moment are most valuable: how ‘heady’ the Israelis were upon Sadat’s arrival in Jerusalem and how Begin and Sadat thought somehow a fast bilateral agreement might be hammered out between them; how taken aback the Carter administration was by Sadat’s one man diplomacy essentially putting ‘junking’ the idea of a comprehensive peace sought by Washington; on Begin and Sadat’s motivations NOT to leave Camp David without an agreement between them, which meant both were for their own reasons willing to jettison the political interests of the Palestinians; how the Soviet role of possibly engaging in Middle East negotiations melted completely away once Sadat travelled to Jerusalem. Greater detail about Lewis’s role as ambassador at Camp David and in monitoring Israel’s engagements in Lebanon in 1978, and 1981 forward is provided in Lewis’s extensive interview at the Association for Diplomatic Studies And Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Projecthttps://adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Lewis,%20Samuel%20W.toc.pdf, August 9, 1998
Interview with Ambassador Sam W. Lewis, Washington, D.C.
(28 February 1992)
KWS: Your conversations with Israeli leaders after you got to Israel, their understanding of [U.S. Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger and his, umm, political actions, diplomatic actions, as they unfolded during the `73 War — uh, did they think he was intentionally obstructive in allowing the resupply? Did they understand that they had to stay tight with the United States — because they didn’t have a choice? At what point did [Israel Prime Minister] Golda [Meir] subscribe to the notion that diplomacy would be the, the best outcome of this? What did Israelis tell you when you got there in May of ’77 about their recollection?
SL: I can’t be helpful on this really. I have, I have, you know, episodic conversations over the years with people about that period. But I can’t dredge them up well enough at this point to make —
KWS: Okay, then let’s, umm, let’s talk about [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and his visit to Jerusalem. Umm, there seemed to develop, at least there is an argument that developed two schools of thought, umm, in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and in the Prime Minister’s Office after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. One said that this was an Egyptian-Israeli thing. And the Americans should be involved, but not centrally engaged. And the others said that it is just an Egyptian-Israeli thing. and the Americans should only be [unintelligible] involved. Umm, one is often — this is often put as [Moshe] Dayan versus [Ezer] Weizman. What can you tell me about how the Israelis interpreted America’s role after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem?
SL: Well, in the in the immediate aftermath of the invitation, even before he came to Jerusalem, [it was] clear to us, that he was really serious about coming. It was such an astonishment to hear in Washington, the sense of disarray. That [unintelligible] surprise, but I think that the Israelis didn’t quite at the time perceive how much disarray there was. They assumed automatically as I did that the United States ought to be wildly enthusiastic about this idea.
KWS: Did you tell that to your Israeli counterparts?
SL: Sure. And I reassured them that we certainly welcomed this. I did everything possible to help facilitate it, and I got an agreement from Washington to do all sorts of logistical things to help with communications and the rest. And those agreements were given, but the initiatives were all really coming from us, out there. Because [U.S. President Jimmy] Carter and [National Security Adviser Zbigniew] Brzezinski and [Secretary of State Cyrus] Vance and everybody here [in DC] were so immersed in their game plan of getting to Geneva that they were really just taken aback by — they thought it was very dangerous also for Sadat to go. Once it had happened, publicly of course, they welcomed it, but behind the scenes, they were extremely worried about [unintelligible]. They thought it could be his downfall. And therefore, would destroy the whole possibility of negotiations. Umm, after he’d been, umm — the Israelis expected applause from the United States for this new dimension, for this new track. Several days went by before Washington managed to issue the sort of encouraging statements that they had expected immediately.
KWS: Did anyone from the state department or NSC [National Security Council] fly out specially to Jerusalem?
KWS: It was just your —
SL: It was strictly a bilateral visit. See, I wasn’t involved to run out and visit, except to go out to the airport to welcoming, to join the diplomatic corps in the Knesset for the speeches. And to tell him goodbye. Everything else was strictly a bilateral visit. The dean of the corps — I was not dean at that time, I was dean later — uh, the dean of the corps took part in a number of other activities on behalf of the corps. But I just watched it on television like everybody else in Israel. And got second-hand reports from journalists and from my friends in the government and so on.
KWS: When did, at what point did Washington begin to warm to the notion that it should play an active role?
SL: Well, why don’t I just go through the sort of the sequence for that period?
SL: Uh, apparently what happened was, uh, Carter and Brzezinski in particular were really quite put off about Sadat’s going off on his on this way, without consulting with him, and throwing their game plan out of kilter. And they were very worried about what it would do to him and to their peace process. Uh, after it ended, we got briefings right away from Sadat. Hermann Eilts (US Ambassadors to Egypt) got a pretty good read out from Sadat on what happened. He gave me a read out slightly later, but still quite promptly, and had some others from the Foreign Ministry. But it was not nearly as frank. Much more reserved because — the Israelis had a very heady feeling; they had finally achieved this breakthrough and they didn’t need the United States. They could do this without us. They had to keep up support, obviously. But I think all of them — and here I would say with the exception of Dayan — were, uh, vastly overenthusiastic about what was going to be achievable bilaterally. They really hoped, and many of them thought, that they could translate Sadat’s trip into a quick bilateral agreement. It took — now there was a policy review went on in Washington, in those days right after the visit.
And it took that review about three or four days to finish. And then guidance was, sensible guidance, was given to the press spokesman. And he began to say the right things. “Will we support this new approach?” And in that interim, things were said which were kind of lukewarm and tentative and, and the Israelis read all of this as being sour grapes. And they weren’t very far from wrong as far as I can tell. I kept saying to them, “Look, the U.S. is a big government, it’s complicated. We’ve been, we’ve been, we’ve been in agreement with you and several Egyptian, Egyptians and others, on a very elaborate strategy to get to Geneva. Now this visit is terrific, but it takes a little while to rethink where everyone goes next. Don’t, don’t over read this, this hesitation that you sense in Washington.” But it was there, and they of course caught it. Now, from that point on, say a week after the visit until Christmas Day, umm, the U.S. basically stayed back, worried, and tried to help around the edges. And left the running to the Egyptians and the Israelis. That’s clearly what at least the Israeli wanted and the Egyptians also were, were not pressing us to get too directly involved in this phase. I think Sadat did believe that his gesture of going to Jerusalem was going to be so powerful that Begin would respond, that the Israelis would respond with something comparable, [unintelligible] the Sinai, uh, without much [unintelligible] involved.
KWS: They didn’t have any guarantees about that. They didn’t know in advance.
SL: I’m convinced that, that this has been argument in Israel, Ken, as you know, and uh, I’m absolutely convinced that Dayan when he met with [Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan] Tuhami [in a secret meeting in Morocco on September 16, 1977] stayed carefully to what he knew to be his guidelines with Begin. He was, he certainly left Tuhami with an impression that in exchange for peace, Israel was ready to withdraw substantial, parts of Sinai, and that there was, he left them unsure with the sense that there was a possibility at least that it could go all the way. But, I, I, I’m absolutely persuaded that Sadat did not know he could get all of Sinai back. And that how much he could get back is very much to be negotiated when he came to Jerusalem. Umm, some of the Labor Party people contended for years, and still do, that Dayan promised it all ahead of time. So, Sadat knew he was going to get it all when he came to Jerusalem. I’m absolutely sure that’s not true. There were many things left very vague and, and nuanced in those meetings with Tuhami. Now, Tuhami could well have reported back a more absolute version of what he heard from Dayan, but I’ve talked with the people who took the notes at those meetings, and, uh, I’m convinced that Dayan was very, very careful about making any, any commitments.
KWS: The Israeli desire, always, desire for direct negotiations with the Arab and the Egyptians, the prime objective of their historic [unintelligible]. Did they react to Sadat’s visit in such a positive fashion because they had anxieties about a recent Geneva Conference? I mean, they saw this as an opportunity to get out of that mold, to get out of that mechanism.
SL: Now, I think, well, of course, umm, there were a lot of worries about the Geneva Conference formula. And perhaps that was, uh, one of the reasons that the leaders, the leadership at least, reacted, uh, with such enthusiasm. But I think it was more fundamental than that — it was, for the leaders as well as for the public. Umm, Egypt had always been the major enemy. This was where wars had come from. This was the big enemy. Here, the unbelievable had happened. The leader of Egypt was coming to Jerusalem, to make peace, and it was an emotional response to that, that vision of peace and also, I think, the Israelis all, they all had this unreal view of what peace could amount to. And they also had accepted over the years Sadat’s version of the Arab world, which was that whatever Egypt does, everybody else would obviously have to follow. And so, they figured that when he came, it wasn’t just Egypt was coming; once Egypt made peace, everybody else would of course have to fall in line.
KWS: He was Nasser’s [unintelligible].
SL: But, uh — so I don’t think it was quite that cynical as you were suggesting.
KWS: Good point. And also, therefore they would not, would not — their euphoria would have been innate. And they wouldn’t have said, “Oh good, here’s a chance to short circuit Jimmy Carter and — ”
SL: No, no. I don’t think —
KWS: It had to do with just the euphoria —
SL: No, no, it wasn’t that at all.
KWS: — the euphoria of the moment.
SL: It certainly wasn’t anti-Carter. It was pro-peace. That’s what the reaction was. And they expected Carter to be just as enthusiastic as they were. And that’s why they found this initial hesitation —
KWS: When you say “they,” who?
SL: I think journalists and officials found this hesitation on the American part of a plaudit strange. Then they began to get a little suspicious. But they just found it strange.
KWS: When did the suspicion take in?
SL: Well, the suspicion had sort have been built over the weeks ahead. Uh, in that period, there wasn’t any great suspicion — except that there were reports out of Washington; Israeli journalists were picking up things here suggesting that we were still convinced that the Geneva Conference was the right route, and indeed we were. And what Carter and his colleagues, I gather, were doing when they re-thought their policy was to go along with Sadat’s [unintelligible] that the bilateral track, but keep cautioning Sadat, “Don’t forget about the other Arabs. Don’t think you can do this all by yourself. Uh, don’t forget, get the Geneva sort of ratifying sort of device. Don’t sell out, don’t forget the Palestinian issue.” And the Israelis began to sense that over the course of December and January
But, meanwhile, they were busy trying to establish bilateral links. And, of course, Weizman was very central in this and he managed to establish the military link, the phone link with Cairo which was — and he was very proud of — and gave them a way of avoiding communicating through us. Up until that point, they had no alternative, but give me their messages to pass to [U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Herman Eilts to give to the Egyptians. Then Weizman got this direct phone link established, uh, which they used a great deal, and they had other channels as well, but they, so they quit having to rely wholly on the U.S. But we continued to be a postman for the Israelis for a long period of time. Not for everything, but for a lot of things, a lot of major messages. And, uh, it was an interesting role, because it constrained to a degree to which they could carry out their bilateral diplomacy without our leaning over their shoulder all of the time. This made them a bit annoyed. Begin was putting a lot stress on the bilateral deal with, uh, at that point, in reaching a quick deal with Sadat. And that’s why he came up then with this autonomy scheme, as a way of taking care of Sadat’s worry about the Palestinians.
KWS: Where did that autonomy scheme come from?
SL: From Begin.
KWS: But, I mean anyone around Begin?
SL: It came out of Begin’s own mind. He had been thinking about it since the ’50s. In fact, you can see traces of his interest in the autonomy idea in things that he said and wrote back twenty years earlier. There’s a long history of his interest in the model of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and the way it dealt with its minority populations. That was really the origin. And [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky had written about it in the ’30s, and I think Begin’s ideas perhaps, originally came from Jabotinsky. Uh, Begin had talked about it. And no one had ever taken him seriously until suddenly he was prime minister. However, when he got ready to, uh, during this period of late November and early December — Sadat was complaining continually, publicly to us and to the Israelis, particularly Weizman, that the Israelis were not really responding to his great gesture. They were, they weren’t forthcoming. And so Begin, trying to be forthcoming before the meeting they had agreed upon, umm, he sat down and wrote out his autonomy scheme. And he showed it to Kadishai and one or two other people. And it was top secret, and it wasn’t bedded with the Defense Ministry or the Foreign Ministry as far as I can tell. All out of Begin’s mind. Meanwhile, at the, you know, at the, uh, I think it was during the meetings in Jerusalem or it may have been in the days just after, I’ve forgotten now — they had agreed that the Egyptians would call this peace conference in Cairo. This peace conference would invite the Geneva Conference idea which was still there; was transmuted into an Egyptian hosted conference. All of the same parties would be invited.
KWS: Cairo, not Jerusalem.
SL: Cairo, Cairo. [Unintelligible] who was, uh, [unintelligible] for Begin was named to represent Israel at this conference.
KWS: It was to take place when?
SL: It opened in early December, or mid-December. And one of the issues that was central [unintelligible] an interesting piece of conference diplomacy [unintelligible]. What’s going to be the UN role? Argument between the Israelis and the Egyptians. The Egyptians wanted it like a Geneva Conference, only they wanted to have it in Cairo under their sponsorship and their control, and we went along. We weren’t [sic] going along with pretty much what the Egyptians and Israelis agreed with us during this period, making suggestions quietly here and there, but really taking very much a back seat throughout that November-December period. And uh, so, some back and forth, it was agreed that General [Ensio] Siilasvuo who was the commander of UN, uh, observer missions, forces — actually observer missions in Jerusalem — and who the Israelis liked, and respected — he would be the nominal chairman and represent the Secretary-General. He was acceptable for who he was. Uh, the other big argument was what about the PLO. And the Egyptians insisted, and the Israelis ultimately swallowed, an invitation to the PLO.
KWS: For this December —
SL: For this Cairo peace conference.
KWS: It was supposed to take place in December.
SL: It did take place.
KWS: In December of ’73?
SL: Yes, it opened. Not ’73, ’77.
SL: Of course, it opened. Now the Cairo Conference had —
SL: — had a table with flags on it —
KWS: You’re not talking about the MENA House talks [in Cairo in December 1977]?
SL: This is before the MENA House talks.
KWS: This was in MENA House, actually.
SL: That’s right, but it was the Cairo Conference. That’s what it was called.
KWS: Oh, I think that — alright now, I’m better now. This is where the PLO didn’t show up.
SL: Exactly, that’s right. Okay.
KWS: But the PLO were, was —
SL: — formally invited by the Egyptians.
KWS: And the Israelis swallowed it.
SL: The Israelis swallowed it.
SL: Because they wanted the conference. They wanted to deal with Egypt. [Unintelligible.] Fascinating, and this was the place where the PLO, one of the many screwups of the PLO history was this decision not to come. Now, why they didn’t go, I guess, may relate as much to the fact as to the fact that the Syrians wouldn’t go — and probably brought a lot of pressure on them. I don’t know, I never have wondered why they didn’t go to that conference. [Unintelligible.] The Israelis sat there at the table with that PLO flag, nobody behind it. One with the Syrian flag, and the Jordanian flag, and the Saudi flag — I’ve forgotten how many invites there were. There were quite a few. But ultimately, only Israel and Egypt and the UN were represented. So, it was, and they were represented at secondary levels. Uh, [unintelligible] he wasn’t too low ranking, but he clearly wasn’t Moshe Dayan, and he wasn’t Begin. And I’ve forgotten who the representative on the Egyptian side was. Now after that thing convened, uh, it was understood that it would formally convene, but nothing much would happen until Begin and Sadat met again. And then it would ratify an agreement which came out of their bilateral meeting. That was the game plan. Their game plan. And, uh, so there was a set of marking of time and formal speeches, and symbolism— and a lot of symbolism on having the Israeli representative in Cairo. And it was a heady time for the Israelis seeing those TV pictures. But it was all form. [Unintelligible] was there and representing Weizman was [unintelligible]. A lot of this is in [unintelligible], probably, [unintelligible] book.
KWS: Uh, but the, uh, but the substance —
SL: — was all dependent upon the next meeting between Sadat and Begin. [Unintelligible] then he cranks up this autonomy plan, and runs off to Washington, because —
KWS: Before he goes to —
SL: See, this is what was so fascinating. Uh, [unintelligible] was both anxious to do business directly, but not to the extent that Weizman was, Weizman was the great advocate of leaving the Americans out and doing this bilaterally. Not that he didn’t like the Americans, but he just thought we just messed things up whenever we got involved. And they could do business much more easily and effectively without us. He was quite frank about it. And frankly, I rather agreed with him. I didn’t argue. I kind of agreed with — I thought the more we stayed out of this bilateral thing at this stage, the better. Let them try, if they could possibly do it, it’s better, because we don’t get so entangled. And leaning on one side or the other. This was my reasoning. Now, Washington was much more nervous. They wanted to get involved. They wanted to stage manage it. But they didn’t quite know how.
KWS: Why did they want to stage manage it?
SL: Because, they were afraid that Sadat was going to give away the Palestinian cause.
KWS: Why was it so important?
SL: You have to answer that. Nobody’s been able to explain to me, satisfactorily, why Carter — it was Carter — why Carter —
KWS: Which means it was Brzezinski and —
SL: — personally so attached and had this sense of responsibility, personally for the Palestinians. I heard —
KWS: Was it the Palestinians or the —
SL: The Palestinians.
KWS: Or was it because he thought the Palestinians were part of a comprehensive solution?
SL: No, I think it was the Palestinians.
KWS: I’ve never been convinced of that. I think he was more interested in this comprehensive notion in the Palestinians, and he was sold. He was told by Brzezinski and [unintelligible] that if you want a comprehensive settlement, you have to insist on the Palestinian. So, he became a vocal advocate.
SL: That was part of it, but I don’t think that was all. Because I heard him say at Camp David to a group of us after an angry discussion, he said to us, “None of you care about the Palestinians.” He said, “I’m the only one that is concerned about the Palestinians.” And it was very passionate, and I think, very honestly. And for whatever reason, that was the reason we were so nervous about this bilateral diplomacy. [Unintelligible.] We were all suspicious about Sadat selling out. I mean, I think all of us —
KWS: When you say we, you mean the American —
SL: The Americans, both, uh, I in Tel Aviv and, and I think Herman Eilts in Cairo, and everyone back here [DC}. All had a sense that Sadat was Sadat. And that he didn’t really care much for our thought, and that his lip service to the Palestinian cause and the comprehensive cause was probably just that. And that Begin could buy him off.
KWS: Who is the Assistant Secretary of State at the time? Do you —
SL: After [unintelligible], at this point. [Harold] Saunders was the other key player, but he was Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research, because they were really acting as a team with [unintelligible]. Uh, [unintelligible], so it happened sometime in the spring. [Unintelligible.] Why does Begin go to Washington? This has always been an interesting question. Why didn’t he, umm — was because he never really told [unintelligible]? [Unintelligible] cloaked his interest in bilateral dealings with Egyptians. [Unintelligible], but as Weizman was very direct.
I think Begin had an acute appreciation for the fact that he had to sell Sadat. Wasn’t going to be wildly satisfactory, since he had heard what Sadat was asking for when he came to Jerusalem. The broader self, and he wanted Carter to lean on Sadat, he wanted Carter to help him sell his autonomy plan. So, he comes to Washington with it. First, he says, “I want to go to Washington next week. “Then the boys here were dumbfounded. The meeting for Christmas was already scheduled by this point. So, he comes and he lays out the autonomy plan in the White House. Carter is reserved in his reaction, but positive. A few nice things, Begin jumps on them, and overinterprets. [Unintelligible] Brzezinski is more suspicious of it, and asks immediate questions, and Begin’s answers were to some degree reassuring Brzezinski there were more possibilities in this then he had sensed. [Unintelligible.] Carter then goes into the back room of the Oval Office and calls Sadat. [Unintelligible] Begin’s permission. [Unintelligible] in his assessment that this is this is a serious proposal that Begin wants to bring to him, and that he should listen to it very seriously. You’re not, it’s not going to meet all of your desires, but give him, apparently, you know, encouraged him certainly to take it seriously. That’s what Carter I think was, thought he was doing. I don’t know how Sadat heard it. Umm, he gave him the main elements, so Sadat wasn’t surprised by the main elements when Begin got to, uh, Ismailia [December 25-27, 1977].
KWS: Come on machine, don’t quit on me now. When you arrived in Israel —
SL: Let me just finish this thought —
KWS: Sure. Go ahead.
SL: — and then, uh, go back to your questions. Uh, when, when the — it was pretty much a disaster what Sadat wanted to get agreement on — was a quick agreement of principles that he could then wave and then show he had not given up the Palestinian cause and go ahead and get the Sinai back. What Begin wanted to do was that all this detail in this autonomy plan was an answer to the Palestinian problem. They just really talked past each other. And Begin tried to blame it afterwards on the advisors and the new Foreign Minister [unintelligible] and all of that story you’re familiar with. But the interesting thing to me was that throughout this whole period, Dayan had been, he had gone along with the strategy of trying to deal directly with Egypt, but Dayan never believed for a minute that Begin would be able to reach an understanding with Sadat without a very large American, energetic American intermediary.
KWS: Why was Dayan so committed to the American involvement?
SL: Because he thought it was — he did not see Begin as able to agree with Sadat. And this was based, I think, on his conversation with Sadat and [UN Secretary General Boutros] Boutros-Ghali during the visit to Jerusalem. When he got a very clear picture of how important the Palestinian issue was going to end up being. And he knew enough about Begin, and what Begin’s view of the West Bank and Gaza was to feel that there was not going to be any way to close that gap. Moreover, he didn’t think that the personalities would click, uh, and not be able to negotiate too easily. Ismailia made him very skeptical. He came back from Ismailia convinced that the whole thing had been a disaster, that there was no alternative now but to turn to the Americans and get us into the act a la Kissinger. Dayan of course also was the only one of this Israeli crowd who had had an experience in the ’73 period of government. And he was a veteran of, of the achievement of the disengagement agreements, and quite an admirer of Henry’s technique. And he was never much of an admirer of Carter’s technique. Uh —
KWS: Did he become an admirer of Carter’s?
SL: He became an admirer of Carter’s technique, after he got to know Carter better and work. But I think, so he [unintelligible] on his prior experience, and his natural skepticism about Begin, which was true in many areas — ideological commitments. Was convinced that the U.S. would have to get in this thing big. When they got off the plane coming back from Ismailia, uh, I remember I was at the airport to meet them, uh, they were not too euphoric, but they were all putting on a very good face on. Begin was talking about disagreement about having two committees. The military committee meeting in Cairo and Jerusalem committee on political affairs. You ask me, we didn’t get a total agreement, but we made great progress, and so on. Dayan just turned and didn’t even stay for the ceremony, so he just walked over to get into his car. And I walked over to the car with him, and he turned to me and said, “[Unintelligible]. We`re not going to get anywhere this way.”
KWS: You didn’t, from your sense of that was he talking about the substance, or the method, or —
SL: Talking about the method. In other conversations, uh, it was clear. He saw U.S., an active U.S., leaning on both parties. And working closely with both parties. And a lot of it had to do with his judgement that Sadat and Begin just couldn’t communicate. They were on different planes, as became more and more apparent as time went on. So, let’s go back to your concern.
KWS: Well, the question I had was, umm, when you arrived in Israel — you know you and Begin arrived at about the same time?
SL: That’s right.
KWS: Umm, what date did you arrive in Israel? Do you remember?
SL: I arrived the day after the elections. The 17 of May.
KWS: How long did it take you to get to know Begin’s attitude toward procedure and process? I mean was he part of this devotee that only direct talks would be the way?
SL: You know, I don’t really think he was. Begin was never [unintelligible]. He didn’t start out that way. He became enamored with the possibility of doing this bilaterally. When [unintelligible] felt if he could sit down himself with Arab leaders, he could reach agreements. So, he didn’t — the idea of having to work through other people, but he never was hung up on it. Exactly.
KWS: Did — the conference concept didn’t particularly turn him on?
SL: He kind of liked conferences actually, because he liked making speeches.
KWS: He would have loved Madrid.
SL: Yea. He had a great confidence that oratory can change the world, persuade people.
KWS: When did, umm, [unintelligible] come into the region, trying to sell, sell the idea of a Geneva Conference?
SL: Well, he didn’t like the whole idea of the Geneva Conference in the first place. Well, he didn’t really reject the idea, when he came here. You have to start with when he came to Washington. His first encounter with any of these people was his Washington meetings in July of ’77. And, uh, he went away from there feeling that he was going to have some problems, uh, on the PLO and the Palestinian issue, but, uh, that Carter was basically very anxious to help achieve peace, and, uh, I think he felt he could work with Carter, and he was overly impressed with the nice way Carter treated him — which was part of the game plan which had been devised ahead of time: Try to get him to be impressed and to look on the U.S. as, uh, a partner in this search for peace, uh, not as an enemy. There had been quite an argument about that — how to treat Begin before the meeting ever took place. I flatter myself a little bit, because I had something to do with the mindset — I came back a week ahead of those meetings. And found that all of the papers and the mindset, Brzezinski’s in particular, and Vance’s to a lesser extent, and, uh, I don’t know where the president was at that moment — but all of the other people were pretty much decided that they were going to go hard and heavy at Begin from the first time he got into the Oval Office and really make clear to him what had to be done by Israel —
KWS: — in terms of substance —
SL: — in terms of our game plan to get to Geneva.
KWS: —in order to get to Geneva.
KWS: And what was, what was that? What was necessary?
SL: Well, one of the things that was necessary was to freeze settlements. Does that so unfamiliar? Plus chose change — uh, and —
KWS: Did Carter come heavy at Begin at that at this meeting?
SL: No, he didn’t. But the plan was — there were two conceptions here, he came at him, but he didn’t he didn’t, uh, make clear his opposition. So, Begin made clear they had a disagreement. And that’s where it was left. And that’s the way it went over the next several years., uh, now there were two conceptions on what to do about Begin. Carter’s game plan was shot. Carter’s game plan to get to Geneva was shot down by the election. And here was this new figure regarded as a total disaster by the American government. Nobody knew him, they thought of him as a terrorist, the ones who did know him. And this was the first time for them to take his measure, and to try to convince him what he had to do to work with us. So, the first instinct in the, the White House was to come on very tough with Begin in this initial meeting and lay the law down to him in effect. I had something to do, and I think maybe a good deal to do with convincing them that that wasn’t the way to handle Begin. That he was very susceptible to flattery, he wanted desperately to be accepted as a legitimate prime minister. He had this lifelong need to be accepted as a legitimate — Now, he’s prime minister, all that stuff. And that he admired the United States. And he, and he really looked up to an American president. And the way to do it was to use honey, and not vinegar, certainly in the beginning. And ultimately that’s what Carter did at those meetings. Now, he’s been criticized later, but I still think that was the right strategy. That if you started out the way Brzezinski was planning to start out on Begin, uh, the whole effort of the U.S., the whole role of the U.S. in the peace process would never have developed the way it had developed, because Carter achieved a lot of trust from Begin, in those early meetings. He made clear his areas of disagreement, but he really did co-opt him psychologically as a partner, as an ally. And that carried, that carried the relationship well into the spring and to some degree through Camp David and after. And if you had started out instead the other way around by trying to muscle Begin, Begin, being the kind of man he was, uh, I don’t think there would have been any peace. The U.S. role would not have been tenable.
KWS: What was it Sam that made Begin have this sort of semi-awe or awe toward the American president?
SL: The greatest democracy, bulwark against Communism. Begin was a great admirer of a — democratic institutions, constitutional government, and anti-communism. And we were the leader of the world in all of those areas. And the American president was the elected leader of the free world.
KWS: [Unintelligible] his representative.
SL: And he wanted to see himself as an ally of that president. And all of his actions throughout his time in office were aimed toward trying to convince American presidents to treat him like an ally, and not like a client. There’s a pride issue here too, considerable importance.
KWS: Did that play a role in his willingness to have his arm twisted at Camp David? Do you think?
SL: Oh, yeah. I think so.
KWS: He just couldn’t offend an American president? [Unintelligible.]
SL: Uh, no. Well, that was there.
KWS: I don’t mean Carter personally. I mean the presidency.
SL: That was one of the costs, but I don’t think that was so prominent by the time of Camp David. I think what really was working at Camp David was, was two things. The first place, by the time he got to the end of Camp David, Begin understood that he had gotten the best deal that he could get. And he was getting peace with Egypt. The deal was too good to lose. Secondly, there was, uh, some sense of, of having substantial sense of having achieved a relationship with Egypt, and with Sadat and which would bring the rest of the Arab world to make peace in time. He didn’t want to offend Carter, but he was quite ready to, uh, break off and go home, and say I didn’t they tried to muscle me and I wouldn’t give in., uh, if he hadn’t thought the deal was good enough, but you see I’m convinced that Begin was the winner at Camp David. He was the best negotiator, the most annoying negotiator, but he was the best. You look at what he came to Camp David to achieve and what he went away with. And what Sadat came to achieve and what he went away with. Umm, I think Begin came out ahead.
KWS: Carter said that to me [unintelligible]. He said he believes that Begin was the ultimate winner.
SL: And he was the best, because he was the best negotiator. The toughest, nastiest, hardest to deal with, but ultimately the best in that situation. He was the most prepared to see it fail politically.
KWS: At home.
SL: At home. [Unintelligible] for Sadat to go home. Sadat having already invested so much and gotten out on such a long limb with the Arabs. If Sadat hadn’t gotten his territory back, Sadat was really in trouble. [Unintelligible]of course having Bill Quandt write the speech to blame it all on the Israelis if it broke down. The speech was written of course, but never delivered, but it was there.
KWS: Are you saying that speech —
SL: You ought to try and get a hold of that. It must be in Carter’s archives. [Unintelligible] time at Camp David writing that speech, between meetings, uh — Anyway, Carter was going to try to blame the Israelis, and therefore deflect criticism from himself, and I don’t know how much it would have cost Carter. Except, you know he could have made a good case if he had gone the extra mile and he had done everything anybody humanly could. And the Israelis didn’t want it, that wasn’t his fault. But still having invested as much as he had. There probably would have been some political downside, failure for Carter. Uh, Begin could have come out a hero at home temporarily in the short run, by the way he would have characterized what made it impossible. But the reason he didn’t do that was because he wanted peace. And he had the deal that was too good to refuse. And he thought he had enough, and in fact he did. He had enough [unintelligible] enough waffle language in the Palestinian part of the document, so that he didn’t have to convince himself that he wasn’t going to have to give up the West Bank.
KWS: So, the incentive to sign was not an incentive [unintelligible]? of America. It was incentive with the content of the deal.
SL: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now we had to promise, help build airfields and you know all that stuff later. But it was the deal that he was getting that was incentive.
KWS: Carter in an interview with me about year ago [unintelligible] that by the summer of ’77, Sadat was willing to seriously consider recognizing Israel. And he told Carter that. [Unintelligible] really flirting with the idea.
SL: You mean recognizing Israel without having the treaty?
KWS: Umm huh.
KWS: Assuming, let, no. They coined the Carter Context, was the afterwards role. That Sadat was prepared to go the full mile if he got what he wanted.
SL: No, I think that —[END OF FIRST SIDE]
SL: [Unintelligible] actually told us in some meetings in Washington that I was in somewhere along the line, I’ve forgotten exactly where, but whereas Sadat in the beginning, he said, you know, we can only have peace in the next generation, then he had kept hammering away at Sadat, and he thought that if the Israelis would get out of Sinai, that he could bring Sadat to agree to the peace now. Not in the next generation.
KWS: How much nervousness did Carter create in Israel about his, his emphasis on the Palestinians?
SL: Not a lot, uh, that whole episode of Vance going to Saudi Arabia in August of ’77, and the, uh, the effort to entice the PLO to accept [UN Resolution] 242 or a version of 242, in order to be an accepted player in the peace conference, uh, drove Begin up the wall, and so [unintelligible] the [unintelligible] time he left Washington in mid-July, and the time Dayan came to Washington in September; in the wake of the Soviet-U.S. agreement.
KWS: That was October or September.
SL: Excuse me. But Dayan came in September, and then the agreement was in [unintelligible] while he was here. And then he stayed on for the working paper right after that. I guess that was the [unintelligible], uh, in that period of about six weeks, [unintelligible] of what Carter was up to rose very sharply in Jerusalem. Begin and all of his colleagues and the press and a lot of it was a reflection of the fact that there were some fairly sharp exchanges about settlements activity in that period. He went back, Carter having thought he had made an impression on Begin on settlements, Begin assuming why, this is our business, and they would have to agree to disagree. So, when they go ahead with some settlements, Carter sends some kind of stiff messages and Begin reacts. But more importantly, Vance is on this trip out there and it comes through back channels, intelligence, we don’t tell them what we’re doing. It’s all done behind the Israelis’ back. This business of trying to get the PLO into the act by Saudi Arabia. They hear about it through their own channels, and they get very suspicious. [Unintelligible] ask us about it and then we kind of grudgingly tell them. In an — I tell them that I’m giving something to tell them in a rather euphemistic form, and it’s clearly a bit phony. And that’s the beginning, I’d say, of the point where, where Begin has a warning signal about Carter, how far he can really trust Carter.
KWS: You want to clarify this. There’s a suspicion building about Carter in Begin’s mind.
SL: It’s not a huge thing yet, but it’s a worry.
KWS: And it has to do with the fact that he’s doing something behind Israel’s back or —
SL: Saying one thing to Israel and doing something else with the Arabs.
KWS: When I put this into the context —
SL: About the PLO —
SL: It all centers on the PLO.
KWS: That’s my point, because later on. I mean earlier today you said to me that Israel was willing to sit at that table with the PLO with the [PLO] flag [at the Cairo MENA House conference].
SL: Because, they now have had this enormous breakthrough. And the Egyptians are now the center of the universe and the Egyptians are hosting this conference and they’re about to have another summit with Sadat.
KWS: So if the goal —
SL: And, and, and Begin swallows hard. So, decides not to make an issue of this for a much more important goal.
KWS: So, if the goal is greater in the mind of the Israeli decision maker Begin, he’s willing to accept a compromise in something less then he would have not made a compromise on three months earlier.
SL: Sure. But don’t forget, it’s a little bit different. He also had — he was being advised, I’m sure, of the Palestinian — the PLO probably isn’t going to come. All the betting was they weren’t going to come. So, the issue really, I think, boiled down to “Can I swallow having a flag on the table?”
KWS: ’Cause they’re not going to show up.
SL: ’Cause they’re not going to show up. It’s a gamble. He took a gamble. But it was a gamble he was willing to take, because the goal was too much too much greater. Begin could be very pragmatic on tactics at times. He felt he was an ideologue. But he was not an inexperienced politician. He knew you had to make trade-offs.
KWS: At any time do you see in ’77 after Sadat said he would go to Knesset, and after the breakthrough with Egypt, did any Israeli come to you, like a Dayan or Weizman or [Eliyahu] Ben-Elissar and say [unintelligible], “You have to talk with [unintelligible] but you can’t forget about Syria?”
SL: No. Well, they were all convinced that the Syrians were beyond —
KWS: — beyond the pale.
SL: — beyond the pale. And that they would have to follow Egypt, ultimately.
KWS: Bill Qaundt said the same thing to me. He said we just forgot about Syria after it became an Egyptian-Israeli thing.
SL: When, when Assad listened to Sadat’s reasons, he said, “Don’t go.” He predicted, “It would all go badly for you.” Sadat said, “Well, my brother, I really appreciate your advice,” and then Assad leads the charge to isolate Egypt. And developed the rejectionist [unintelligible]. From there on, nobody saw any way to deal with Syria. I mean their own strategy focused on Egypt, because that’s where the opportunity was. And Jordan intermittently, mostly after Camp David, tried to get Jordan in. Sadat didn’t want Jordan anywhere near the negotiations until he had finished them. He thought that King Hussein would screw it up, and he wouldn’t get the Sinai back. He didn’t want the Palestinian West Bank issue to be, to have a strong advocate at Camp David. He wanted to handle that himself, because he didn’t want to lose sight of his major goal. And this: we let the Syrian issue just stay on the back burner, because Sadat didn’t want them in. Begin didn’t want them in. He wanted to concentrate on Egypt. They didn’t want to be in, uh, there wasn’t any opening, and Carter’s original concept that you had to have everybody there was destroyed by Sadat’s going to, uh, Jerusalem. That’s why I’m sure that they had this — that’s another reason why they had this sense of uncertainty as to how to respond to [unintelligible]. The White House was concerned about excluding Syria at that point as well as the Palestinian issue. Though my sense always was they were more upset about the Palestinian issue getting downgraded too much by the concentration [unintelligible]? But I could be wrong about that.
KWS: Did, did Begin understand how close Carter and Sadat had become?
SL: [Unintelligible] understand that, uh, and resented it and was bitterly jealous of Sadat, bitterly jealous of Sadat.
KWS: Could you give me a time?
SL: It began to surface in, uh, January, February of ’78, uh, when after the failure of the Jerusalem Conference [unintelligible], we invited Sadat to Camp David for a pow wow. That’s when Begin really began to get nervous about the [unintelligible]. And we know now, he had good reason to, because they cooked up this strategy. When Begin came to Washington subsequently that was one of their worst meetings as you recall. And a combination of things which Carter said to Begin about how cooperative Sadat is. Basically, Carter was not very skillful at the way he played this relationship. He would say very complimentary things about Sadat’s flexibility and try to convince Begin that Sadat was being very forthcoming when from Begin’s perspective he wasn’t. Uh, and he believed he was being forthcoming and he deserved a little praise, a little credit, and he was getting only banana peels instead. So, from, from the time of the meeting of Sadat and Carter in Washington up until Camp David, it was up and down. But basically, from that point on, Begin understood that Carter preferred Sadat, and since, uh, [unintelligible] and he kept trying to find ways to change Carter’s mind. And to sell himself to Carter, and he was kind of like the rejected lover. He regarded, I saw Begin’s view of Carter in that period very much as a rejected lover who was trying desperately to find a way to get back into the good graces of his beloved, but he can’t do it, and there is another person over here [unintelligible] who’s interested in him.
KWS: President Carter told me that he’s convinced that Assad had no idea how close he was with Sadat. [Unintelligible] about how they were becoming compatible with [unintelligible]. Carter also said to me he said that “Sadat put the burden of the Palestinian issue on my shoulder.” He essentially told me that “If you can get an agreement on the Palestinians, I can sign a peace treaty with the Israelis. And it’s, you’re the one who’s going to have to do that for me. Because apparently, Begin is not going to do it by talking to me.”
SL: Yeah, he reached that conclusion at Ismailia. He thought that up until Ismailia, Sadat — that he could get a sufficient agreement with Begin on the principles, and that would be enough for him. From then on, I think he did put it on Carter’s shoulders. And Carter wasn’t reluctant to take it, because he had for some reason, as I say, he had a feeling for it.
KWS: By the time he got to Camp David — he said that on numerous times — he said that Sadat just trusted me too much. He put too much — he gave me essentially carte blanche the right to negotiate for Egypt.
SL: You see Carter, Carter doesn’t understand, I think to this day, what you told me, what I heard him say too. Artful politicians [unintelligible] the most flattering thing in the world is to put yourself in the hands of somebody, “Whatever you accept, I know you won’t [unintelligible], whatever you think I [unintelligible], whatever you accept, I know will be in my interest.” [Unintelligible.] Carter read — you know, Sadat wooed Carter from the very beginning, from the first visit. Before Begin ever came to power, Sadat had already wooed Carter back at the beginning of the administration. He came to Washington, he came before Rabin, and then of course Rabin came [unintelligible] in fashion. And the contrast started with Rabin and Sadat. For a while, I think Carter thought, “Well, maybe Begin will be easier to deal with than Rabin.” But that began to atrophy over time. Has any of this conflict with what you heard from Carter?
KWS: No, Carter doesn’t admit.
SL: Well, I’m sure, he doesn’t admit that he was wooed and won by, by Sadat.
KWS: He puts it the other way. He said, “I persuaded Sadat that I can represent him in the Palestinians, and then Sadat kept on coming back to me and saying, ‘Yes, Mr. President, you are the only one that can help me on this.’” How else are you supposed to remember it when you’re a former president? Is there anybody in the Israeli foreign ministry at the next level, or at the Prime Minister’s Office at the next level who had a real sense of what was going on with Israeli foreign policy toward either a conference idea or toward how to handle the PLO or the Palestinian question or toward Carter [and] American responses? Was there anybody Begin particularly listened to that never made it to the higher levels, but a person that I could interview in Israel when I go?
SL: Well, don’t underestimate Epi [Evron].
KWS: I have an interview with Epi.
SL: Because Epi was director general when I arrived in Israel. He was close to, uh, he was he became quite trusted by Begin. I’m not sure he was when Begin took office. I’m not quite sure about that, but he sold himself to Begin, uh, and to Moshe, though not quite as successfully. And [unintelligible], he went on to become ambassador. But he was there in that first year as director general. And he was central. He was in on everything. In the, uh, [unintelligible] was a very tough cookie to deal with. [Unintelligible.] I think you ought to interview Yehuda Avner if you haven’t. Interesting position you see, he was a holdover from Rabin’s staff. He’s the only one except for Eli Mizrachi who was kept on in the prime ministry, and [unintelligible]. Yehuda was, Yehuda was the guy who took the notes. And he was also the guy who drafted the correspondence, because he was, he was Begin’s pen. That’s how Begin referred to him. And he became very loyal and admiring of Begin.
You know he started out as a Labor supporter. He worked for Rabin, but for reasons I’ve never been wholly clear on he was kept on and sold himself to Begin, and he stayed with Begin. All the way through, and he stayed with [Yitzhak] Shamir for a while too. Before he finally went off to London as ambassador. And he was in all the meetings, and he knew Begin’s reactions as well as anybody except [Yehiel] Kadishai. Kadishai of course was the ultimate confidant. But Kadishai didn’t get into a lot of policy issues. Kadishai concerned himself with politics, and with running Begin’s office, immediate office. Ben-Elissar who was chief of staff was a little more distant actually. He was not as intimate with Begin’s entourage, though he had the position, uh, and he was more difficult to deal with certainly in those days. And I had a lot of run-ins with him [unintelligible]. Uh, but I think Avner in the prime ministry role in the first two or three years, and Evron in particular in the foreign ministry are the two best sources. Now, after Evron goes off to Washington, Dayan brings Yossi Ciechanover as director general. And Yossi was intimate and close to Dayan. Eli Rubinstein of course was the other foreign ministry player, particularly because he was with Dayan everywhere. But he was much more prominent with Dayan than with Begin, though he was acting [unintelligible]. He was a Dayan staffer, and he was very well informed, but, uh, his relations with the Prime Minister’s Office in that period were not so close. He became a confidant of Shamir later on, but he wasn’t that, he didn’t have that relationship so much with Begin. He was much more junior in those days.
KWS: Carter said this to me in, uh, last year; he said, “I think Sadat was inclined obviously to go to an international conference in Cairo, that was his preference with the five permanent members of the Security Council. And he was very excited about that.” Would you briefly —
SL: Oh, I don’t know. See, I wasn’t dealing with Sadat, so I can’t — I understand that he had this idea first in having in, before he went to Jerusalem. He had this kooky idea of convening the five permanent members of the Security Council in Jerusalem.
KWS: That’s right.
KWS: Were you involved in all in any of the drafting of procedures of Geneva? I mean that was [unintelligible].
SL: No, I wasn’t.
KWS: Anyone, did — were things ever run off, run by you?
SL: Yeah, stuff was, oh, I don’t really quite remember now. I’m looking [unintelligible]. I was back here several times; I was getting ready to go out, you see, during the early part of the administration. But, I can’t say I know anything about those —
KWS: When were you confirmed? As compared to when you got there?
SL: I was confirmed in, uh, beginning of May in 1977, thereabout, but I was designated in February. And I think they got around to nominating me in March. Maybe I was confirmed in April.
KWS: Who else was, uh, considered for the post at the time?
SL: Marvin Kalb. Who wanted it very badly. And a couple of other Jewish, uh, candidates.
KWS: Uh, really?
SL: Yea. I don’t know if there were any other — what happened with me was that I was assistant secretary in IO [Department of States’s International Organization Affairs], and then there were only [unintelligible] and I was doing a good job. And Bill Maynes who did the transitions [unintelligible], who wanted the job, had IO as one of the places he was looking at for Vance. And he concluded that I was doing such a good job that they ought to keep me on. [Unintelligible], uh, and he recommended that to Vance. Andy Young weighed in and said I want everybody who ever worked for [former U.S. Presidents] Richard Nixon or Jerry Ford out of anything to do with the United Nations, both in Washington and in New York. And he went to the mat on this with Carter. And Carter was very, you know, close to Young at the time, and Vance didn’t feel like pulling the mat with, he didn’t have enough stake in me to argue with Andy. So, they cleaned house totally in New York and in IO of all the senior people-at Andy’s insistence. It didn’t matter if you were career or not, it wasn’t anything personal. He just wanted to get rid of all traces of Nixon and Ford era in the UN. So, Vance felt a bit guilty, and Phil Habib who was his undersecretary, uh, thought well of me. And Phil — I think it was — recommended me for Israel. I was offered my choice of three posts, because Vance felt some kind of obligation about the way all this had developed. [Unintelligible]. I was offered South Africa, India, and Israel. And I said I would love to go to Israel, and I would love to go to India, but I would prefer to, got to Israel. I don’t want to go to South Africa. And, uh, I was appointed. I don’t know if there was any, there must have been some other career people considered, but that’s what I know about it anyway.
And I know there were three or four Jewish candidates the White House was considering [unintelligible]. And I know that the White House sounded out as they were accustomed to doing. They sounded out, uh, the Israelis via a [unintelligible] as to rather they would prefer to have a career or a non-career person. And they had done that every time. Working back as it had before. “It’s obviously your decision, it’s none of our business, but we would rather have a career person.” And their reasoning was clear to me when I got out there. They felt they had a problem with the State Department, they had plenty of political clout in Washington [unintelligible], they would have a better chance of improving their standing with the state department if they had a state department person who they could sell. And it was pretty sensible actually. So that’s what happened as far as I know what happened.
KWS: Two questions I have to ask, but the answers may be obvious. After Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, the conference idea just sort of melted away. What value did Brzezinski, or Vance, or Carter place on the Soviet role in this evolution of American involvement [unintelligible]?
SL: At the beginning, they placed a great emphasis on them.
KWS: Because it moved more toward bilateral?
SL: And after it became bilateral, they just forgot it. Left it out totally.
KWS: Moscow’s views, views were —
SL: Zero. Once they, once they made the decision to go with the Sadat-Begin regional initiative, if you want to call it that way., uh, and not to, and not to try to bring the Syrians in, they had no need for the Russians. And of course, the Israelis were dead set against having any Russian party.
KWS: So it’s fair to say —
SL: And Sadat, Sadat didn’t want the Russians.
KWS: It’s fair to say as the peace process moved along a bilateral tract, and the Americans become involved as the choreographer, the Americans’ interest in the Soviets playing any role, or even a minor role decreases very —
SL: Yeah, it evaporates. As far as I know, I never heard any more about it. After Jerusalem, nothing serious —
KWS: And nothing from Jerusalem until Camp David?
SL: Nothing serious at all, no.
KWS: Interesting, because it becomes, in fact it was dominated, it was dominated —
SL: Of course, you see what happens was, it culminated in this U.S.-Soviet converge. Which blew up in the administration’s face. Vance really didn’t anticipate, for reasons which are beyond me, the Israeli reaction to that. And the suspicions that were aroused about what the U.S. was up to. And when Dayan came charging, and worked out the working paper — and Begin even had trouble swallowing that Dayan got in trouble with Begin about agreeing to that working paper. Begin finally accepted [unintelligible]. He never quite trusted Dayan again after that. uh, that had been such a messy experience that had, it also had its effects on Sadat from all indications. It played some role in contributing to his decision to come to Jerusalem. It wasn’t the signing of the Russian agreement. The Israelis think it was the signing of the view of the Russians, scared Sadat. Eilts’s version is it wasn’t that, but Sadat felt that was a good idea. What got him worried was the evidence that Israel could back us off on this so easily, within three days. And that demonstrated that the only way to deal with this thing was to go at Begin directly. That Carter was not going to be strong enough in effect.
KWS: That’s a very accurate rendition of how Herman viewed it, absolutely.
SL: And [unintelligible] would write about that. Anyway, it disappeared from the radar screen, after November.
KWS: Umm, Umm, I’m about at the end, and it’s clear I’m probably going to have to do one, if I can, one more with you on the period of the ’80s? Umm, you wrote an article in [unintelligible] book —
SL: On the Camp David thing he was after?
KWS: Uh, you said, you called, you said that Camp David was a conference. You used the term. Umm, how was it a conference in your mind?
SL: Well, there were three countries present. That’s why it’s a conference. You can, can say a bilateral thing is a conference if you want to. But, I would consider a peace conference anything that has more than two parties. That’s just the way I look upon it. It’s an unusual kind of conference at any rate. A secret conference.
KWS: And unlike any other in —
SL: And unlike any other in Arab-Israeli [unintelligible]. But I do think it has to be treated in any history of conference diplomacy. Not only because it worked, but because it did have multiple parties involved. As an aberration appeal, an unusual approach to a conference.
KWS: Alright, when we start again let’s pick up and talk [unintelligible] Camp David.
KWS: Then we’ll take it up ’85. Your article in Foreign Affairs on [Shimon] Peres’s legacy and during [unintelligible]. What can you tell me?
SL: It opened up some [unintelligible].
KWS: To ask Israelis [unintelligible].
KWS: It’s a good article on the Middle East.
SL: Thank you. I wrote that out of a sense that Shimon was not going to have his proper place in history for that period. If I could do something and get it into the library [unintelligible]?
KWS: The thing I get out of that article was Israel has to clear its domestic and other foreign policy agenda items before it can tackle the Palestinian issue.
SL: Well, that was Peres’s strategy. I’m not sure he’s right in that respect. But that’s what he was.
KWS: That was his focus, sure.
SL: He was convinced that he didn’t have the political clout in that National Unity structure, uh, certainly until you got out of Lebanon. And secondly, until you got the rampant inflation issue, and thirdly the Egyptian side. And I really blame [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak for the fact that Peres didn’t succeed in launching a peace process before he left the Prime Ministry. See, I think the Taba issue —
KWS: You blame Mubarak.
SL: I blame Mubarak. The Taba issue, I blame the Egyptians and I blame Mubarak. The Taba issue, the way it was handled, was the real burr under the saddle in the peace process, because Peres became convinced that he had to get relations with Egypt straightened out. That meant reaching an understanding on Taba, before he could go at the Palestinian question. And Mubarak, while trying ostensibly to advance the Palestinian question, stretched things out over Taba to a point that it was settled satisfactorily for this purpose only a month before Shimon had to leave the prime ministry. And by that point, Mubarak didn’t understand that once Peres wins the foreign ministry, he wouldn’t have near the same ability to put together the peace process.
KWS: What was Mubarak’s objective in stretching it out?
SL: I don’t know. I don’t — Peres also made a tactical mistake. He could have been put to rest January of ’85 or ’86, which January is it? Either January ’85 or January ’86. When Mubarak, in order to settle it, proposed an arrangement that had I think thirteen points in it, and they reached — he and Peres reached an understanding. Peres took it to the Cabinet [and] said that “This is a satisfactory way to deal with the issue, get into arbitration. I want to get this out of the way. Now you take it or leave it.” They had an all-night cabinet meeting. And he had them, but then — and he had the votes to push it through the NU Cabinet — but Shimon, you know, has this quality: he doesn’t know how to go for the jugular. And after he had it done, about four o’clock in the morning, he was pressed by the Likud people to go back to Mubarak on a couple of points. Mubarak having told him, “This is take it, leave it, this is the best I could do.” And he said, “I’ll go back on those points.” And the minute he went back to Mubarak, the deal came apart. And then it took, it either took another nine months or a year and a half. I think, I think that was January of ’86. Yeah, it must have been, January of ’86. At that point, he still had nine months as prime minister, which I think would have been sufficient for him to get that Palestinian negotiation off the ground. But by the time it finally got settled it was not until August, just a few weeks less than a month before he had to give the job, and took of course [U.S. State Department legal adviser] Abe Sofer going out there and shuttling and all that bullshit. So, I blame both Mubarak for stringing it out and Peres for missing a crucial opportunity to put it to bed. Uh, he, maybe it wasn’t right, because you hadn’t had the Intifada [December 1987 to September 1993]. But, but, I think there was a real good chance you could have gotten it launched at that point, and you could have avoided the intifada, which would have been an enormous —
KWS: I’m not sure the Palestinians could have done it [unintelligible].
SL: Well, that’s right. That’s, that’s another one of the unknowns.
KWS: I think they needed psychological or perceived psychological parity. To do what they ultimately did.
SL: Do you think the Intifada was the functional equivalent of the Yom Kippur War for Egypt?
KWS: Absolutely. I think without it, [PLO president Yasser] Arafat couldn’t have done what he did in Algiers. I think it gave them a sense of empowerment, however falsely interpreted.
SL: Yeah, but if you look back at that period, the game was also with Jordan at that time.
KWS: What year?
SL: In ’86.
KWS: Oh sure.
SL: See what would have developed was a different kind of negotiation.
KWS: Oh, no question.
SL: And, and —
KWS: You couldn’t have — you see, the Intifada forced Hussein to back away. Once Hussein backed away, the Palestinians then knew that this was their domain. And without the Intifada, he wouldn’t have backed away. That’s the interesting part of this historically.
SL: See, I think you would have had, you would have had the equivalent of the London Agreement a year earlier with Peres as prime minister and not as foreign minister.
KWS: But the Palestinians wouldn’t have played. This is the first time the Palestinians have had a, the closest —
SL: But don’t forget what the London Agreement was; it was for international conference.
KWS: But still the Palestinians had to play according to Jordan rules. This is, this is as close as they have come. Having full control over their destiny.
SL: I understand.
KWS: In fifty years.
SL: Well, you can’t ever know what —
KWS: No, no.
SL: I think even, see I think even ’87, had Peres held slightly differently vis-à-vis Shamir, you might have gotten negotiations launched at that point. But we’ll never know. Anyway —
KWS: Good stuff.[END OF TAPE]