During WWII, he fought in the British Army. Afterwards, he worked for the Jewish Agency, assisting with material preparation for the Nuremberg trials, and becoming a member of the Jewish Agency’s delegation to the UN. Rafael was also instrumental in forming Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was engaged in negotiations with Arab parties at Lausanne in 1948-1949. This included extensive private meetings with Palestinians, since Arab states did not allow Palestinians to negotiate for themselves. His intercessions enabled the Palestinians to access funds in otherwise closed bank accounts. Named Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1967, Rafael’s speech on June 3, 1967 right before the Six-Day War remains one of the best summaries of how tensions steadily rose between Israel and her Arab neighbors that spring.
In this interview, Rafael shared his valuable recollections of instances where international diplomacy did not succeed in tempering Arab-Israeli hostilities, including what was seen by him and others in the foreign ministry in the early 1970s as a missed opportunity for Israel and Egypt to have negotiated some agreement that might have avoided the October 1973 War. For example, he noted how the delegations at Lausanne never ate together as a single group even once, though they often met privately in smaller configurations. He also recalled how UN mediator Ralph Bunche shuttled between floors where the delegations’ rooms were located. But it was all for naught. Rafael’s toast at a luncheon in his honor before he cut short his time summarized his view of Lausanne’s shortcomings, “Never have so few consumed so many calories without producing so little energy.”
Over the years, Rafael and Bunche’s paths crossed again, including during the unfolding of events prior to the June 1967 war. Rafael pleaded with Bunche to have U Thant, the UN Secretary General, reinstate the UN troops that Nassar asked to be removed from Sinai in mid-May 1967. Rafael knew Nasser’s actions would likely spin out of control and lead to an Egyptian-Israeli War. His exchange with Bunche in May 1967 is worth reading* to understand how Israeli diplomats tried to dampen tensions and give Nassar a ladder to climb down from and perhaps avoid the Six Day War that unfolded on June 5, 1967.
The last third of the interview, Rafael recounts with keen detail the negotiations that the US mediated between Egypt and Israel prior to the 1973 war, with Rafael remorseful, coming down hard on the Israeli government for not taking Sadat’s overtures seriously at that time.
*Gideon Rafael’s memoir, Destination Peace: Three Decades of Israeli Foreign Policy, 1981.
June 13, 2022
Ken Stein interview with Ambassador Gideon Rafael, Jerusalem, Israel
(25 March 1992)
KWS: Interview with Ambassador Gideon Rafael, Wednesday, March 25th, 1992 at his home in Jerusalem, Israel. The Lausanne Conference, the Palestinian Conciliation Commission, Rhodes, and his position as director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, and other diplomatic activity in which he was associated. I’m basically interested in Rhodes, Lausanne, the formation of the Israeli MFA, and your presence at the UN prior to and during the June 1967 war.
KWS: When were you born?
GR: 1913 and came to Palestine in 1934.
KWS: And how did you find your way into the foreign ministry?
GR: Hmm…the foreign ministry.
KWS: Or the Jewish Agency, the political department, whatever it was at the time.
GR: I was mefaked [commander] Haganah in the Arab rebellions in ’36-’39. Hityashvut [settling the land], umm, arms supplies, arms transportations. I established my kind of reputation. One day I was asked the same questions you asked me by Lord Caradon [UK diplomatic officer Hugh Foot]. Lord Caradon had been the district officer [assistant district commissioner] in Nablus.
KWS: Absolutely, absolutely. I’ve read his materials.
GR: And he said to me, “How did you get in Foreign Service?” I said, “Because of you.” He said, “Why?” I said, “We had to transport weapons for the Haganah to Tel Aviv — from Haifa to Tel Aviv. The weapons arrived at the port. Now, the road to Tel Aviv, from Haifa to Tel Aviv, was very well guarded. So, I had the idea, for the transfers and stuff, in Arab taxis, going from Haifa via Nablus.
KWS: This was between the ’36 and ’39 rebellion?
GR: That’s right. Via Nablus. And I assume that neither the British nor an Arab would assume the chutzpah that I would put it into the trunk sub-machine guns — Tommy guns, that’s the term. And carry them from there to Tel Aviv. This way or, going around Eli,(?) and this was successful. I came to the attention of the bosses of the Haganah, a few years later. And it worked. Because if it wouldn’t have worked there was death penalty for carrying war weapons. And I risked everything. They had the impression that I had a knack on smuggling.
GR: They said, “Now we put you on another thing. We assign you to organize Aliyah Bet from Europe.” [unintelligible] and then to Holland in the beginning of ’39 for some rescue operation. And we had a ship there, several ships there. We had first to acquire them, and then to equip them, and send them to the shores of Israel-Palestine. My operation was the first, that we are sending — we’re sending ships around the Atlantic course, through the Balta, which was also quite daring. Normally we had operated from the Black Sea. Black Sea to the Straits and then through the Mediterranean was a much shorter run. But we were doing this, and under the nose of the British in Holland and Gibraltar. Anyhow, we managed — we managed to get these halutzim [pioneers], these halutzim who were in Hachsharah [pre-emigration training camps] in Holland, from Germany as a matter of fact, but were in Holland. And they arrived, and we — And not long ago we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their arrival. They all very good [unintelligible], kibbutz members. They made the kibbutzim from Menachem and [unintelligible]. So I have established myself in this, and I was the ship go-er. I came and I continued with other assignments in the same field, and you know, after the war broke out in September, I was assigned to continue organizing ships from Western Europe. At that time, I had to send them into —
GR: Thank you.
WOMAN: All right.
GR: — we tried to send them into the Black Sea, to take the people from the Black Sea. And so, I had some problems with that. And, uh, not always ended with triumph, on the contrary. We had one very tragic thing, which is known. We are [unintelligible] now and the circumstance of, of Yugoslavia. Eichmann, who was in charge of emigration in Vienna at the time, [unintelligible] Ehud Avriel [Israel diplomat and politician who emigrated from Austria-Hungary in 1940]. He was very active. He informed us that the policy is to get rid of the Jews. They can go to [unintelligible] and go to Paris and got to [unintelligible]. [Unintelligible] organized us in Vienna, to charter boats on the Danube, and to send them with the hopes to reach Sulina, a port in the Black Sea, a Romanian port in the Black Sea to board. And then, so he would handle the [unintelligible], organize ships which reach the Iron Gate. Iron Gate is the passage, the passage between Yugoslavia and Romania, on the Danube.
RG: And then they were stopped because the Romanians said we can only let them through if we know that there is a ship taking them from Solonika. I was supposed to send that ship from the [unintelligible] Marseille to Sulina. Well, they abandoned us and they, they never took this assignment because of, the way already [interruption]. Anyhows, anyhow, in June, the Germans —
KWS: June of?
GR: ’40. The Germans invaded and they took away — these people were stranded on their boat. They had to disembark on the little place, this little camp in Kladovo, on the Yugoslav side. And they took them away, eight hundred people, and they drowned them in the Sava River. Shot them and drowned them in the Sava River. One by one. One, one [unintelligible]. So they knew the story. Well, I was stationed not far from there. And the other people they shot there, not only the Jewry. No, I went, there was [unintelligible], it was one of the [unintelligible]. So we had ‘39, I was still during the war there. I tried to do something, from North Africa to get ships, but [unintelligible]. Then I had a mission since Eichmann was pressing hard, he sent me a trusted [unintelligible] of his, of the old school of conservatives and [unintelligible] and we had a GReat plan that he, Eichmann and company, would release 40,000 Jews to come by train to Trieste. And we would charter ships of the Lloyd Triestino, which was an Italian company, and bring them from there to the Island of Rhodes, from where we, our organization, Haganah, would take them over and smuggle them in on small boats into Israel. And I was working with that man and we were going together to Rhodes to establish the transit camp. The assistant of the fascist governor [Cesare Maria De Vecchi], because he had a huge [unintelligible] instructions from [unintelligible], the Germans, Germans — So everything looked at the time yet and this was right when the Germans had not yet decided on physical, physical destruction, to get rid of Jewish. While I was making these kinds of arrangements — this was on the 10th of May 1940, the Germans invaded Holland, The Netherlands, Belgium. And my, my company — my companion — got in touch with Rome, with the superiors there at the embassy and they told him what, under these circumstances, there wouldn’t be much leaving on the Mediterranean, because next to join the war would be Italy. So, Italy and the Mediterranean would be infested by enemies and therefore it’s hard to believe that [unintelligible] stand by that. Okay, so we separated, and I went back to my headquarters in Geneva and this Mr. [unintelligible] came to me to Geneva with the following missions. He said the end of May, “I may have misled you, because I told you the day of Italy entering the war would be the 6th of June. Now it had been postponed because of some internal problems in Italy and the German advance was not as fast as in, in France, as it was [unintelligible]. So it would be on the 10th of June. And I don’t want to leave you in that we have, I had misled you.”
KWS: [Laughs.] German meticulousness.
GR: So, I arrived here on the 1st of June, the last plane from Rome —
GR: [Unintelligible.] Zeh beseder, be’emet [It’s okay, really]. In Israel, and I made the [unintelligible] hour of [unintelligible] with this information. And in kibbutz, instructed the people to make trenches, because the kibbutz was near Haifa, and the refineries were a major target. As a matter of fact, that plane of [unintelligible] circled Haifa before landing in Haifa, land near the airport. And why circling? They were photographing the refineries, and what you could see was quite obvious. At that point, with that noise from the Germans, and seeing what they’re replicating, it was a matter of fact the last [unintelligible] flight which was when Haifa [unintelligible]. And I don’t know — I don’t think ever returned to Haifa. No, I don’t think so. Okay, so we are at war. So, I had my connections extended to the political — policy makers. There was [Moshe] Sharett, [David] Ben-Gurion. I remained in that. [Unintelligible] at the end of the year to Damascus, [unintelligible] telling of Israeli troops which had come. The British war effort in running, liberating and running, Lebanon — and this was the operation where Moshe Dayan lost his eye. I came a little bit later because we had to organize our force. And this was commanded by me and another colonel from the kibbutz and above us was a British officer [unintelligible] task was to control the line, patrol the line, from Damascus to Deir ez-Zor, know where that means, on the Euphrates, in anticipation of a German parachute drop. The Germans had prepared to drop two divisions from Cyprus — from, from Crete — into the back while [Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel — the back of — which was — Rommel was advancing towards Alexandria. So this was a pincer movement. In the middle of the pincer was the Palmach, which had been trained to defend until the last man, in Israel. And the other side of the pincer was the northern front; that was where I was.
GR: And the other one was in Egypt. Good. Anyways, [unintelligible] because the Germans had prepared some infrastructure in the Syrian desert. They had got there, they had got their agents to work with the Bedouin tribes [unintelligible] and tried to get them so that they could set up depos and markers for the troops to advance. Well, we were very alert, we found out. Comes a little — In 1971, director general, we had the first visit of a German foreign minister, Mr. [Walter] Scheel who became the president of [West] Germany, had a visit of [unintelligible] in Israel. It was a delicate mission because it was the first German [unintelligible] coming here and I was his official host and we were traveling and he asked me, cautiously, what had been done in the unit during the war. I told him [unintelligible]. So he was suddenly in a [unintelligible] German foreign minist — he was all excited and then [unintelligible]. He said, “I was decreed a junior staff officer for these divisions, in the air force, I was. And we lost, we lost so many agents and we never could find out what had happened to them.” And then of course the two divisions were not dropped, but they were transferred to the Russian front, when Operation Barbarossa started. [unintelligible, laughs, perhaps to someone else] He lo mavena, ken? [She doesn’t understand, yes?] Okay, from there, I slided into the political department. Because when I came back from Syria, we established — the Jewish agency established a liaison office with British intelligence. It had its own department, and, uh, for two purposes: gathering information in Europe, Nazi-occupied Europe, and since we had Aliyah, so we interrogated, very slowly, these people and illicit important information. And we had to tell people how to draw maps, and [unintelligible]. I think we were the first who discovered these [unintelligible] where the — what was the name? [unintelligible] — where the ground had just [unintelligible], escaped from us, and other things. And the second part of this operation was to prepare a group of Israeli parachuters to work behind the line for rescue missions, in conjunction with local fighting forces, partisans — Tito, Yugoslavia, and so on. So we had to have precise information: where to send them, how to train them, how to equip them. Our most famous was Hannah Senesh.
GR: And I was chief of staff of that operation within the framework. And the third point of this office was to prepare material for the persecution of the war criminals who had acted against the Jews. Got a lot of information from survivors, about the Nazis, Germany. And that material was then condensed, submitted to the International War Crimes, War Crimes Commission and submitted to the Nuremberg Tribunal [Nuremberg rials ran from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946]. And [unintelligible] I was sent to the Nuremberg Tribunal, operation of this case. Because we had hoped that the Jewish kids would be presented by Professor [Chaim] Weizmann. It was turned down by the tribunal because we had no rights as a state. The tribunal was composed by states.
GR: So, we had to act through proxy. He arranged for the American prosecutor [Robert] Jackson. But in the court, I was invited to interrogate a couple of characters and one was [Adolf] Eichmann’s deputy [Dieter] Wisliceny who operated in Czechoslovakia and in Budapest, and he was number 2. So, we got there, we got airport information from them and to check what our rescue operation had achieved and not achieved and so on. Then we were in ’45. Then came Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry [commenced January 4, 1946 in Washington D.C.], and I was asked to be liaison there in order to prepare the case of the survivors of the camps, because by that time, many, many, tens of thousands, of survivors were living in camps in the West from Austria to Hanover to whatever you want, and we had to make clear that they give evidence, which was suitable to our case, when the inquiry commission went to these camps — they went to work [unintelligible]. So, I had this part and [unintelligible].’46 the report, and then in ’47 we had the UNSCOP [United Nations Special Committee on Palestine], the second edition.
KWS: Were you involved in UNSCOP at all?
KWS: Were you involved in the UNSCOP report at all?
KWS: In what capacity?
GR: Again, liaison.
KWS: For the Jewish Agency?
KWS: Is that where you met Bunche for the first time?
GR: That’s right. Yeah.
KWS: What were your first impressions of Ralph Bunche?
GR: I don’t even know, first impressions for me, the last impressions were — No, because a certain — He was a very decent man basically, and very smart. But handicapped at the time of the ’45, ’46, after all, by his origin. And he had to assert himself in this establishment — United Nations and the Americans — as an equal or at least as a recognized authority. And he has demonstrated that by enormous intellectual qualities and human qualities. And he had basically a feeling of affinity with Israel. I will never forget what he told me once when he came here with the commission for the first time and they started an investigation here. Professor Weizmann invited them for lunch at Rehovot. This was for him, as he had told me and friends, his greatest experience in life. A Black man, sitting with the president, the president, yes, like the monarch of the Jewish state, and being at the table and being treated like any, any, any foreign dignitary. And this was for him a great, great boost. And then — clever, he was absolutely clever.
KWS: What do you mean by clever, Gideon?
GR: Well clever, you could say that he was. He did write the two reports, one of the federal, the federal, and one of the partition. You know —
GR: And [unintelligible], the partition.
KWS: And he wrote them both?
GR: And do that without complicating himself, and he could do that, I mean –
KWS: In other words, he became detached from the, his own personal feelings and —
GR: In a way, yes. It was a kind of an academic exercise in the political field.
GR: But I think his greatest achievement was — when he, they placed [Count Folk] Bernadotte as mediator, he was the acting mediator, he developed a technique which later was adopting wittingly by [President Jimmy] Carter, would work exactly the way Carter worked. He did this, the first time the Egyptians and the Israelis were sitting together in one place [unintelligible]. And, uh, not only they were estranged from each other, they had to find some kind of communication, to talk. So, he invented that mixture of direct talks and guided talks — let’s say it this way — guided talks. That means that he put in his input. And what his achievement was, he did not argue with “our party” or “this party” when we put a point, and “this is the way” or “you can’t do it this way.” He went around. He went, “You mean to say, if the other side would say, would you then, do this?” “Let’s see, can’t we put this —?” This was his way. This means he never — he always avoided a fronted clash between negotiators. And I think the classical example is with President Carter recently repeated on Israeli television in a tribute to [Prime Minister Menahem] Begin, when he said, “My greatest achievement in Camp Davis was that I kept the two apart.” He said it nicely to even he had it stronger. [Unintelligible.] But he says it in a friendly, in a friendly way. So, this is the technique of Bunche — direct negotiations. What was [President Woodrow] Wilson say? “Open covenants, openly arrived at?” Yes? So I would say, “Direct negotiations, indirectly arrived at.”
KWS: Umm, describe Bunche’s character. His personality. Describe it for me
GR: He wanted to accommodate everybody, that’s clear.
KWS: Was he firm? Did he know when to, to give?
GR: No, no, he was not firm.
KWS: What do you —
KWS: What do you mean he wasn’t firm?
GR: Why, he was not a person who would say, “Then that’s the way it had to be, and then that’s it. If you don’t do it, count me out, forget it. Forget about me.” No, no, no. He was the epitome of flexibility.
KWS: He let the sides determine the pace?
GR: Yes, “Let them talk, let them talk,” and then he picked up what he could pick up.
KWS: From either side?
GR: Yeah. And —
KWS: — built a bridge.
GR: — and built a bridge without having this foolish shortcoming of arguing to death a point. See, when you saw the point. We love this point to argue until there’s no, no sense anymore.
GR: We are the great believers of tzedek, tzedek [justice, from the commandment in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice, you shall pursue”], and the tzedek is always ours. It’s never [laughs] anyone else’s tzedek. So he knew tzedek tzedek shmedek tzedek. “Don’t — Didn’t you mean to do this? Couldn’t you mean to do this?”
KWS: In other words, he always tried to find another shaft of light.
GR: Absolutely. And always keeping up as if the parties had negotiated that themselves. To give them the satisfaction that was a result of their understanding
KWS: Did [Dr. Walter] Eytan feel resentful about this at all?
GR: No, no.
KWS: [Reuven] Shiloah?
KWS: [Eliyahu] Sasson?
GR: No. On the contrary. I think he was the most cherished politician, or whatever he was — mediator — from all over the 45 years.
GR: Why? Because he put his personality into the back, but he — it was not for him. He was not “You have to do what I want to do — what I want you to do, because I am convinced this is the best for you.”
KWS: He was a conduit.
GR: Yeah. And I — That’s right. And I’m not — and he wouldn’t say, “I am the United Nations, the world organization, and I represent them and therefore you can’t do this.” No, No. He had an ear, I would say, of the lowly man. For the nuances, for the nuances of people. And knowing what was essential and what was not essential. And to end — I have [unintelligible] the end, where he failed, one of his characters [unintelligible]. In ’67, when the crisis broke out, and he was the top man next to U Thant dealing with the Middle East. He was an established, he was an established expert, and the Laureate of the, Laureate of the Nobel Prize. I mean he had standing [unintelligible] [Egyptian President Gamel Abdel] Nasser [unintelligible]. The United Nations saw General [Indar Jit] Rikhye — Does that mean anything?
GR: “You better move out from here.” Not you better, “You move out.”
GR: “We don’t want to see you on the front line.” One point, inexplicable to me — Bunche snapped and snapped, what — the 17th of May he influenced U Thant [unintelligible] to make a statement [unintelligible]. If Egypt insists on the withdrawal of UN troops, there can’t be a partial restore, they will restore from all of their assigned positions. When I heard this, I virtually stormed up to the 38th floor.
KWS: You were where at the time?
GR: I was representative of the United Nations. Virtually. I said “Ralph, what have you done?” If you want a war and if you want the UN to force its hand, then this is the only thing, the right thing to do. But you don’t want. You have forced the hand of Nasser. By the way it has been proved later, because what Nasser complained all the time, “I didn’t want really to go in. I wanted them.” So, he says, “Hold me back, hold me back.” And they stepped into this trap. And, uh, are you recording this?
GR: And answer them, “Look, this is a terrible mistake, you must prepare — you must, you must change this statement. Because now you have entrapped Nasser in his own trap.”
GR: At that time our policy was to avoid war.
KWS: And what did Bunche say?
KWS: What did Bunche say to you?
GR: He was very excited. I rarely have seen him like this. Well, he started to talk to us, and he went back [unintelligible]. He had a legal opinion from Mr. [Constantin] Stavropoulos, his senior advisor, that it was agreed when the forces were stationed, the unit was stationed, in 1956, it was stationed with the consent of Egypt, and he just cancels this consent, so what can we do? Well, I went to [unintelligible] and I lectured to him all of the wrong of this because there is no such a, such a question of consent. There is an agreement and a resolution, that when Egypt wants a restoral of forces, the United Nations Special Committee — there was an advisory — has to decide upon on it, or to agree to consider it. And they [unintelligible]. And we have this, and this, and this, and this commitment from [Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed el-] Gamasy and from [U.S. Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles. Oh, he was completely blamed. He didn’t know anything —
KWS: He didn’t know anything about the —
GR: Anything! He said to me, “Where is this? Where is this?” I said, “Look, here is this report.” He said, “If the forces” — the report which was published [unintelligible] in ’66. “If the forces, the UN forces are withdrawn, undoubtedly there will be a frontal clash between Israel and, and Egypt.” So he asked me in return, “Who wrote that?” I said, “I don’t know who wrote it, but you signed it.” And you can imagine the confusion.
KWS: Was he just not smart or he’d forgotten?
GR: Wasn’t smart. No. Good man, not smart at all. He didn’t notice. He was relying on his legal advisors and then — and Ralph Bunche — and said, “Let’s, let’s make a stand.” And I tell you, the other point is Sharm el-Sheikh. “At least insist that your forces remain in Sharm el-Sheikh, so that the blockade cannot be reinstated.” [Unintelligible] and then he said, “Well, the Canadians who are there, they don’t want to stay there and all, everybody is packing up. The Yugoslavs are packing up.” A general rout, it went on for three days. We had warned him. Three days —
KWS: The 17th through 20th.
GR: The [unintelligible] of May. Well, finally, finally, I got him as far as asking, sending a message to Nasser, through the Egyptian Ambassador in the United Nations [Mohamed el Kony] and that’s when [unintelligible], that he should reconsider and so on. And he came back from the Foreign Minister [Mahmoud Riad], and he advises his Secretary General not to press this message on Nasser, and to withdraw it. At that time, we had reached a point of impasse. I had the idea — impasse you have to have movement, in a diplomatic impasse you have to have movement — unless you want an impasse.
GR: If anybody believes that we wanted to have this war, he would be absolutely wrong. Because he saw that the facts are that we tried to do what we could diplomatically to end it. I suggested to [U.S. Ambassador to the UN] Arthur Goldberg, who was my companion, I said, “Look, Arthur, what we have to do is we have to send this [unintelligible], this fellow, U Thant to the Middle East, so he can view the situation in this crisis. We send him to Cairo and we send him to Jerusalem, preferably to Damascus, and if, if — for good measure to Amman. And he should go there with the consent of the Security Council and meanwhile send him as surrogate. Don’t do anything to ask to order it.” [Unintelligible.] The condition is that this is not an Israeli proposal, it’s an American proposal. Of course, of course. And he got the support of the British and others. And the result was that they persuaded U Thant to fly out to Cairo. He didn’t want to go to all the other places, which was a mistake. And on his way to Cairo, he was landing in Paris, on a stopover, that Nasser had reinstated the blockade. In France — so he called his man in Washing—, in, in, in New York, I think it was [unintelligible]. Because he got in touch with Goldberg, or at night in New York or was 6 o’clock in the morning there in Paris. And he got in touch with Goldberg and Goldberg got in touch with me and said, “What do we do? He doesn’t want to continue, this man. What would you say?” I said, “He must continue, even if he is let down by Nasser, provoked by Nasser I may have said, because any chance which exists to save the situation peacefully, must be exploited to the end.”
GR: And we cannot — I said, “I cannot take the responsibility for me, on me, for interrupting such an [unintelligible] on a very important mission.” So he went on and we know the story of course, that “We didn’t want to insult him, insult you, if we told you that when you arrived that we had reinstated the blockade,” that he would have felt insulted to have come all the way and then to [unintelligible]. “So, we wanted to spare you this, so we did it while you were on the way.” Nasser, Nasser, as he lives and lies. There is a protocol of this meeting with Nasser and U Thant which had been written by an Egyptian who was with U Thant. It was published, a book on U Thant [U Thant in New York, 1961-71: A Portrait of the Third United Nations Secretary-General]. His name is [Ramses] Nassif, [unintelligible]. He was U Thant’s right hand press officer, his public information officer. Very nice Egyptian. I am in touch with him. He writes to me, I write to him. And it’s kind of a sign of mutual admiration. And he sits in Geneva and he had published in his book the record of the meeting, which is mostly reading of the meeting framework. Okay, so by that time, mission not accomplished. He return, and what, what was left? UN was withdrawn, the lines were drawn, we are facing each other. The Soviets were disinforming Nasser and his Minister of Defense [Shams al-Din Badran], when he came back from Moscow. This is where our military people became impatient, because we had so many forces mobilized in the desert. The man who was the most important person was Ezer Weizman, at the time. He went to [Israel Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol and swoop down his accolades and wanted to —
GR: — to fight. And [unintelligible] was still hesitant. He even, he even was in Washington with [President Lyndon B.] Johnson if you know. He thought he got a positive answer from Johnson but he didn’t understand Johnson at all. And happily Goldberg, who had received a message from the White House, having to interpret what was happening there — a report. And he called me in. He somehow Eban was leaving for Israel with this heavy burden, of a decision to make. So he went on the plane and come all the way to the Waldorf Astoria and would say warn us that one of us should understand correctly what Johnson said. And the correct thing, and the catch is that he said, “I can’t do anything without having the support of Congress.” That was the main thing. It was a scapegoat.
KWS: Did you doubt Johnson’s commitment to Israel’s security?
KWS: Did you doubt Johnson’s commitment to Israel?
GR: I hadn’t much to doubt because Eban was outwardly convinced that he had a commitment.
KWS: Was, was Eban correct?
GR: No, no.
KWS: Eban was not —
GR: Uvdah [Fact], the fact was that Eban was already not in a state to listen to Goldberg, because these people — “I was at the top. I talked to the top man, so I make up my mind, now you come without your very much — you weren’t there,” so he didn’t pay much attention.
KWS: Eban didn’t?
GR: Next morning, Sunday, Goldberg called me and said, “Look I have the impression that Eban didn’t understand the message.”
GR: This was not my personal message. This was the message from Washington: “I want you to tell Eban what I am telling you now, as the record of conversation between you and me, so that your people should know where they are.” Concluded and said, “You are alone. You have no way of abandoning your position, because you can’t yield to Nasser. This I say as my private opinion.”
KWS: Goldberg said this?
KWS: Goldberg said this?
GR: Right.[END OF CD1. BEGINNING of CD2]
GR: But your government should know — Whatever they decide, they have to decide on the facts, there will be no American naval show in the Gulf, or international show in the Gulf of Aqaba, as called Regatta at the time. Nothing of that kind will occur. If you feel the situation is intolerable, and you have been challenged and your whole position is at stake, you have to deal with that. Understand?
KWS: Were you convinced that the Israeli government that it had to pre-empt?
KWS: You sent a cable back, obviously, to Jerusalem.
GR: Of course, I sent back. By the way, but I did something else. I went — It was Saturday night. Abe Harman decided to fly — [he was] our ambassador in Washington — to Israel and to dissuade the government from taking action. [Unintelligible] come to the airport at Kennedy. That was our last meeting. And there we discovered [unintelligible] also trying to join that plane, they were the head of the Mossad, Meir Amit, whom the government had sent behind Abe Harman’s back to check with the CIA people what they think about the situation, what would happen to us, why, uh — That’s a long story. Our liaison man at the CIA was a man who later, later became paranoid, Jim Eagleton. Do you know the reference?
GR: Have you heard of him? Oh, you should know. Jim Angleton has done more harm.
KWS: Hamilton or Angleton?
GR: Angleton. James Jesus Eagleton. He was running counterintelligence in the CIA and running the Israeli account.
GR: And he was a Cold War warrior as no one has ever been invented —
GR: — and he was guided by a deflector — a defector — from Russia, [Anatoly] Golitsyn, who put into his mind all kinds of absolutely crazy ideas which he has adopted, which he assimilated and for years, from ’62 on, until he was dismissed. Mr. Angleton, in ’75, was carrying out the most terrible things, I mean, out of paranoia. There’s no question about it anymore. And he nearly destroyed the CIA with his counterintelligence; he wanted to find, the Russians had put into his mind, there is a mole in the CIA. And for years, instead of pursuing the aims and objectives of the CIA, he was digging inside the CIA. Anyhow, our men got this inspiration from the crazy, crazy Angleton who still is here kind of a holy man in this country, but he also went to [National Security Advisor] Walt Rostow was the counselor of the President — not Eugene [Rostow]. Eugene was the under-secretary of state.
KWS: But Walt?
KWS: You’re speaking about Walt Rostow?
GR: Yeah [unintelligible]. But Eugene, his brother, Gene, another Cold War warrior. I spoke to Abe Harmon and he explained to me that he would try to dissuade the government from taking action, and so on and so on. It’s too late in the day. It is cast and what we have to do is to prepare our search for the ordeal [unintelligible]. From there I went back, [unintelligible], back to my office, at 11 o’clock, and I wrote a speech which I delivered on the 3rd of June in the Security Council. It was a fighting speech, which said more or less, the balloon is up, I gave them an outline, I gave them five or six points, where they put retreat, I mean the Egyptians, but it was already formulated in a way that our cause could be presented as it had been. Okay, so that’s that, so we’ve reached the 3rd of June and on the 5th the balloon went up.
KWS: Did you have any more discussions with Bunche?
GR: Yes, but he declined very soon, physically. Yes, we had a very kind of affinity between us; we liked each other, and we talked frankly, asking. I don’t think he had admitted to myself that we had — that it was a mistake to make that statement that we can’t — we have to withdraw from all the territories.
KWS: [That] you didn’t have to withdraw from all of Sinai?
GR: No, he didn’t, he didn’t rectify that, and, uh, he was in favor of the mission to — Bunche — on the 29th of May he called me [unintelligible], he called me and said, “I have an urgent message for you from U Thant to the prime minister” that U Thant had returned. “Please clear all the lines and transmit this right away.” And, uh, the message was that, “Don’t take any action, give me two more weeks. No [unintelligible] back on this side, no [unintelligible] other side and just stand still.” I sent this message right away and while it was on its way, Bunche called me, “The Secretary General has withdrawn the message. Don’t send it. Cancel it.” What had happened here, I think, was that he had sent a similar message first to Egypt, and they had rejected it.
KWS: Mm-hmm. You met Bunche physically for the first time where? At the UNSCOP meeting?
GR: UNSCOP, yes.
KWS: And how about at Rhodes [armistice talks in February 1949]?
GR: I wasn’t at Rhodes. No. No. No.
KWS: You were at Lausanne [Conference in April 1949]?
KWS: Were you at Lausanne?
GR: Lausanne, yes.
KWS: But not at Rhodes?
GR: Yeah, at Lausanne. Lausanne. Geneva. When the talks of the PCC [UN’s Palestine Conciliation Commission] were transferred from Lausanne to Geneva, I took over the head of our delegation in Geneva. That was at the end of 1950, or beginning of 1951.
KWS: [Mark] Ethridge, Ethridge had already left the PCC.
GR: Ethridge had left. There was Harmon was head of the American delegation.
KWS: Did you have any illusions that the PCC was nothing more than an arm that was spinning its wheels? You knew you weren’t going to satisfy their demand for refugees.
GR: Well, my talk with the PCC was a response. And I said, “Look, you had such an enormous success by dealing with Rhodes one-on-one. You have gathered them all together in Geneva, in Lausanne. They can never agree the most extreme position will become the common denominator.”
KWS: You said that to Bunche?
KWS: And what was his reaction?
GR: “Well,” he said, “we have the resolution or we cancel in December 1949, setting up the PCC, the powers which are represented there. This is the way to handle the peace conference.” I said to him, “My dear friend, you are convening in April ’49 the conference. You haven’t even finished a full round of armistice agreement because Syria had only signed in the middle, in the middle of July.” He said, “Well, that’s one of our means, our means to expedite, to expedite the peace and not to make any hiatus between the armistice and the peace negotiation.”
KWS: He thought Lausanne would foster the armistice agreements between Israel and Syria? He basically [unintelligible] —
GR: Yes! Yes! And what more, they would go beyond, would go beyond because the armistice aGReements in the preamble says these are the first steps, uh, to —
KWS: In very narrow terms of reference —
GR: — for peace in Palestine. And he said shortly afterwards that we absolutely have to do this. Now, of course they couldn’t work, no question about it.
KWS: How did the preparation for Lausanne influence the Egyptian-Israeli talks?
KWS: The Egyptian-Israeli talks finished by the end of February.
GR: Yes, that’s right.
KWS: And Lausanne —
KWS: — was started in April. Did the upcoming nature of Lausanne influence the Egyptian-Israeli talks at all? Or they were just strictly disengagement, separation of forces, exchange of prisoners?
GR: Well, they made it very easy, they just didn’t negotiate, they didn’t negotiate with us. They left it to the PCC; they had to come forward with proposals: Israel should accept so and so many returnees, Palestinian refugee returnees, they should go back to the borders of the — original borders of the Partition scheme. And they were relying on these three gentlemen: the Turk, and the French, and the American [Cahid Yalcin, Claude de Boisanger and Mark Ethridge, respectively], that they would deliver the goods. And they didn’t have to put any input in by showing up, by, by, by meeting with Israel, by discussing with Israel. Nothing! Not only this, in Lausanne appeared the delegation of the Arab refugees, Palestinian refugees from the — what we call now territories — the Jordanian-occupied territories, led by a man, uh, Ahmad Shihada who was murdered two or three years ago. And they wanted to be —
KWS: Ahmad Shihada?
GR: Yes. Yes, they — Aziz Shihada.
KWS: This is Aziz you’re talking about?
GR: Yes Aziz Shihada.
GR: They wanted to be, to be a party to the negotiations. The Arab governments refused — the PCC, in response to the Arab, this inclination — refused to give them a hearing, so they came to us.
KWS: The Palestinians came to the Israelis?
GR: Yes, that we should help them. (NB- these Palestinians are likely to have been, Nimer al-Hawari (who ran al-Najjada), Zakib al-Akeit, Hamed Yehair from Nablus, Yahya Hammuda and of course, Aziz Shihada from Ramallah, according to our interview with Moshe Sasson that appears in our list on the website.
KWS: And what was the response?
GR: So and so said negotiate with us. And a year or two later, I had made an agreement with them, with Shihada and Dajani.
GR: And with the third one. And we had signed an agreement on what? On a, on a minor step. They were very keen on getting the frozen assets by Israeli banks released. [Unintelligible.] And I signed with them an agreement that they would get their frozen assets released. This was made at the time of a million sterling, [unintelligible] sterling altogether. And we made arrangements to the safety deposits. [Unintelligible.] This would be arranged by the United Nations and so they would get them.
KWS: Did they get it?
GR: They get it. They got it. To his dying day, Mr. Shihada was seeing this assignment, you deal with Israel, you achieve something. One of the first things which happened when we entered into Ramallah, I got call from Shihada, “You must see me, come to my house.” And we went. We were here, we got there [unintelligible]. And he wanted to settle it on the basis of two separate, not even states, entities, Israel and the Palestinians.
KWS: Did he have any, umm — ?
GR: Anyhow, he got what he wanted and I managed to get financing for the whole deal from Barclays Bank [unintelligible] the deal because the Jordanians had impounded Barclays Bank funds in Jordan. So, we had to deal with this.
KWS: Why did the Arab delegation not want to accept the Palestinian request?
GR: Because they had no problem with it. They had a problem with, with the State of Israel and the borders of the State of Israel, and, uh, they, they regarded themselves as responsible for, for any settlement. And even if there were refugees had to be returned, they were those who would, uh, enable the return.
KWS: They didn’t want to allow the Palestinians to — ?
GR: No, not at all!
KWS: Why? I don’t understand.
GR: First of all, Jordan wasn’t interested to give them a special standing.
GR: Because — and, as a matter of fact, when Shihada returned with his signed agreement on the release, on the release of the funds, he was imprisoned in Jordan.
KWS: This was 1950, this —
GR: What? No, 1951.
KWS: — this agreement?
GR: Yeah, he was imprisoned —
KWS: No, but the agreement was signed in ’50 or ‘51?
GR: ’51. ’51 [unintelligible].
KWS: Thank you.
GR: [Unintelligible] ’52. They didn’t want any independent organization dealing with it, they are responsible for the Palestinians. After all, they had taken the territory which was assigned to the Palestinian State.
GR: So [unintelligible]. What, they will all of a sudden recognize another authority there that may have its own ideas? That was Lausanne. Lausanne was a complete failure because of the lack of official negotiations. We had unofficial negotiations when we met with the Egyptians surreptitiously.
KWS: In Paris?
GR: No, in, in, in a place outside Lausanne. Outside —
KWS: So, we’re now talking about Lausanne again?
GR: Sure. Or in Geneva. We met with the [unintelligible]. With the Jordanians, we were negotiating in Amman. And in Shuna.
KWS: In Shuna, right. Fahmy al-Kahb(?), Dayan —
GR: Dayan, Eytan — And so this was a farce. Now the commission thought its diplomatic assignment was to keep us happy, and they organized luncheons and dinners all around the Lake of Geneva, from one side to the other. So there was a Turkish delegation giving a dinner for the Israel delegation. It was the American delegation giving a dinner for the Syrian delegation. So they filled their calendar. They never organized a dinner for all the participants together because they were not even eating together. So you can see how much we advanced now in Washington that we are not only shouting, we are even meeting together in the same room. And at the end, it became too much for me. In 1950, in April, I said, “That’s, that’s too much, and I have become from all your eating so voluminous that I have to stop this kind of debauchery.” And so they all, “Then you must have a farewell dinner.” At the farewell dinner, I raised my glass, and I said —
Woman: Do you want something to drink? Are you all right?
KWS: Yes, I’m fine.
Woman: Would you like another coffee?
KWS: That’d be great, sure. I’d love it. Thank you.
GR: I said, “Never have so few consumed so many calories with such little — with producing so little energy. Never have so few consumed so many calories without producing so little energy.”
KWS: You said that when you raised your glass?
KWS: When you left?
GR: Yeah, that was the end of the, that was the end of the PCC.
KWS: You never returned the delegation to the PCC?
GR: We spoke, uh, half-heartedly. We went to Paris, for one reason or another. And we asked our che— embassy to be reasonable with them.
RG: It was a completely fruitless effort and wrongly established in time and composition and arrangement. Wait until Camp David.
KWS: Ben-Gurion said to the PCC at the time, at the end of ’49, he said, “Israel’s security” — I’m sorry — “Israel’s need for military security takes precedent over the desire for peace.”
GR: Correct. Ben-Gurion in 1950, and you see, having lived with these characters so much [unintelligible].
GR: [Laughs.] And some politicians loved to make statements of clarity and decisiveness. In 1950, Ben-Gurion, in Cabinet said, “We could have — There will be this — The Jews of the Soviet Union will come. Must come. Will come.” In 1950. “If we will have to cut our military budget in order to accommodate them, their Aliyah is more important for the security and the welfare and the development of Israel than any kind of addition to the military, to the military budget to security.” And then the Chief of Staff Yadin nearly got a, got a seizure, and he resigned. This is — See, that Ben-Gurion, security. Security is the Aliyah from Russia. Security is the PCC. He didn’t want the PCC at the beginning; therefore, he said security. Because he had to give an — Look, we had to give an example that why did we exceed, why did we exceed the, uh, frontier, the boundaries, of 1947? Security. The new boundaries were established from fighting and consecrated in armistice agewments. So he didn’t ask. What he wanted to undermine, to put in jeopardy, in jeopardy, was this achievement of the War of Independence with the extension of our territory. So therefore security was there.
KWS: In other words, they —
GR: They just brokered [unintelligible] our man in Washington, in the war [unintelligible]. Our men in Lausanne, Walter Eytan, was naïve, signing a statement that we would never sit on the basis of the 29th of November ’47 resolution [UN resolution 181] —
KWS: And then —
GR: — in all its aspects. Whatever the end, Ben-Gurion blew up and says, well then they weren’t going back to —
KWS: When did Eytan write this?
KWS: When did he say this?
GR: On the 10th of May, 10th of May. He signed it and that doomed the negotiations.
KWS: 10th of May forty —
GR: ’49. In Lausanne, he doomed the negotiations.
KWS: It’s a very interesting series of three days: On the 10th of May ’49, Eytan signs a statement that says —
GR: Taking the basis for the negotiations, the ’47 Resolution.
KWS: The next day, Israel is admitted into the UN on the 11th of May.
GR: That’s right.
KWS: And on the 12th of May, the Lausanne Protocol is signed.
GR: Yes, but I’ll give you another interesting detail. The 11th of May ’49, the Berlin Blockade was ended.
KWS: And what influence did that have?
GR: I don’t know, I just said [both laugh]. But these were the two sponsors of Israel, Soviet Union and America. And they had sponsors in the middle of the Cold War visible in blockade, everything. They had sponsored the support of Israel. Also, including the admittance of Israel to the United Nations on the 11th.
KWS: Can you explain why? I mean I know why, I know why the Soviet Union endorsed Israel’s creation because —
GR: And then I remember they declined, of course, and then —
GR: [Unintelligible.] No. The Soviet Union policies adopted, they last some time until they are changed. Same thing in other countries too, but in the Soviet Union in particular. And now the archives, the Soviet archives, reveal that there were quite some differences in the Politburo on the Palestine issue, whether to support Israel or not to support Israel. This is just coming out.
KWS: Ben-Gurion was afraid that the UN and the United States would make Israel go back to the Partition.
KWS: And his desire was to preserve the acquisition of the territory that was won in the Independence War.
GR: Including Jerusalem, western Jerusalem.
KWS: And he was not, under any circumstance going to jeopardize what had been won in the war by continuing on in any negotiations that would see the return of refugees —
KWS: — if it were to affect the borders of the new state.
GR: You put it precisely because this dilemma was, or he was, defending geography and demography, very simple. On the geography, he had no aspirations beyond the armistice lines. [Unintelligible.]
KWS: What — Did you have any — Did you know Yosef Weitz at all?
KWS: Yosef Weitz?
GR: Yes, yes. Very well.
KWS: And he was at the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund]?
KWS: I read a document of Yosef Weitz from the protokolim [minutes].
GR: Yes. He wanted to transfer the Arabs.
KWS: No, but he wanted — well, that too. But what he also wanted to do is he wanted to acquire the land legally of the Arabs who had left here —
KWS: — and fled to Europe. He tried to track them down in Europe and buy their land from them —
GR: Oh, yeah. Well —
KWS: — after the war was over, after the war had started, in July and August of ’49.
GR: We had [unintelligible], we had at least three or four major commissions which were dealing with the re-compensation of Arab property and resettlement, and we were in negotiations with Libya, for example.
KWS: You mean com— internal commissions of re —
GR: Of Israel. Very high level people, including Weitz. And a number of proposals were made at the time and activities were undertaken. For instance, the resettlement of the refugees in Libya with funds provided by us and the international community, and everything went very fine, and there were some [unintelligible] and going to [unintelligible] parnassa [making a living]. And Kaddafi came, so it changed. But the idea was to resettle and, and to pay compensation. As a matter of fact, we still say now in our peace plan, we speak about resettlement and compensation. In these present stations, if we would come something to discuss with the Arab states or Palestinians, on substance, this would be one of the points on the agenda.
KWS: The difference between Lausanne and Madrid: at Lausanne, the United Nations
formulated the commission structure, sub-committees to review issues. At Madrid, the bilateral talks flowed from the plenary session without any necessity to report back to the UN.
GR: Well, that was with Israeli insistence.
KWS: Do you think the lessons learned from ’49 were in the minds of the decision makers here? They knew, they knew, that entangling Israeli decision making at the United Nations would constrain the independence of that decision.
GR: Well, I don’t know whether they were sophisticated, but they had certain, certain instincts, I mean I always noticed when they consult me on something how poor their prehistoric knowledge is. I mean how they just don’t know. They would look at you very strange — “What does that have to do with Lausanne?” — but you draw a conclusion. For them, these are sentiments and not political conclusions, but I will tell you three things: Lausanne, for those thinking policy makers, was a complete failure because of the lack of negotiations between the parties, direct negotiations, yeah. Therefore, we consist of direct negotiations. Here we saw [unintelligible] would come of it. If we did not negotiate directly, our man, Eytan, would sign for Mr. Ethridge or company a document which is untenable from our point of view, and he wouldn’t get anything back from the Arabs. If he would have already signed that, would he get — did he get from the Arabs a declaration — here, here, let’s do that, make peace, [unintelligible], nothing? Okay, that’s one lesson. The second lesson is the more important one. That the withdrawal of the United Nations’ forces in ’67, collapse of the United Nations means completely unreliable in times of crisis. That the famous statement Eban made when he said, “Well, that’s the situation that when the fire breaks out, the fire brigade withdraws from the sea. Instead of sending the fire brigade in, you, Mr. U Thant, have withdrawn your brigade. That was his statement. U Thant never forgave him for that statement but basically he was right.
KWS: Who said this?
GR: U Thant never forgave Eban for the statement about the fire brigade, that he had, uh, not only that he said it but it’s — he had not withdrawn it. The second lesson, I mean the collapse of UNEF [United Nations Emergency Force]. Third lesson: in ’67, the United Nations — or the Arabs had turned together with the Soviets, the United Nations — into a fierce battleground against Israel. Not that we had a pleasant situation before ’67 but what they failed to achieve on the battlefield, they tried to achieve in the United Nations arena, and with a very powerful —
KWS: — patron.
GR: — nation. And so powerful, I mean they give everything what the — I mean, they, they’re [unintelligible]. Their policy was with the Arabs a three-prong policy: isolation of Israel, defamation of Israel, and elimination of Israel. And here they had support from, from the Soviets. This resolution which was adopted against racism —
KWS: Resolution 3379 [adopted in 1975 and revoked in 1991 with Resolution 46/86].
GR: This was a Soviet invention. This was not made by the Arabs. The Soviets managed it, formulated it, handled it diplomatically, pushed it through. The United Nations has certainly lost, lost quality and standing in Israel. But I would say Lausanne, collapse of UNEF, and the behavior of the United Nations, the hostile behavior of the United Nations.
KWS: [Reading:} “At Lausanne, a protocol was signed by Israel and the Arab delegations on 12th of May ’49. It was composed of two separate documents signed respectively by the Israel and Arab delegations with the PCC members which stated the objectives of the negotiations with the commission, not with one another —”
GR: Mm-hmm [unintelligible].
KWS: “— was based upon UN Resolution 194 of 11 December —”
GR: And here you have —
KWS: “— and called to the discussions of the refugees, the respect for their rights, and the preservation of their property as well as territorial and other questions. One protocol was signed at 10:30 with the Israeli delegation and the PCC members, and the second signed at 11:30 with the Arab delegation head.” You guys didn’t even sign it together.
GR: No! Certainly not and there’s not a word of establishment of peace between us. Of course not.
KWS: Then why —
GR: Eytan has explained it; it is a tremendous faux pas. He thought he had to help us in our debates, in our wrangle with the United Nations on that commission, and he thought that if he signs this, it will help us on the commission. We never asked, never had asked him to give us this.
KWS: Eban gave the declaration on May 4th, the week before you admitted in which he vaguely made some reference to the resettlement of 100,000.
GR: Yes, yes.
KWS: And that statement, according to Eban, helped persuade Ethridge and [UN Secretary General] Trygve Lie that Israel was serious or more serious than ever before, yet it wasn’t the gesture that they really wanted. The gesture they wanted was total repatriation.
GR: Total repatriation and return — withdrawal to the ’47 lines.
GR: But that means a cancellation of the armistice agreement.
KWS: How much did Israel’s admission into the UN influence, umm, Israeli willingness to just talk at Lausanne, even if not negotiate?
GR: Yes, later because we, we — it had to been given — even — had an enormous, enormous importance to our admission.
KWS: Do you, do, did you concur in that? Do you concur that this [inaudible] —?
GR: In retrospect it was important. It was the legitimization of Israel and if you see that the Arab, the Arab position for all the years to delegitimize Israel including the racism, uh —
KWS: — Zionism is racism —
GR: — Zionism is racism resolution [unintelligible]. And the de-legitimization just means that they can’t hurt us, they can’t do what they want: eliminate it, defame it, isolate it. See how, how United Nations can act? Take Iraq. This is a tragic example. It is sanctioned, it is isolated, it is punished, it is attacked even. I don’t see that anyone would reach that stage with Israel. It would have opened the way to a forceful Arab coalition to settle [inaudible] their force. So therefore, opposition to the United States was a kind of an insurance policy.
KWS: After you left the United Nations in 1967 as Israel’s representative, where were you posted?
GR: As director general in the foreign ministry.
KWS: From when to when?
GR: I was appointed in August ’67.
GR: But I had to stay until the adoption of Resolution 242, [unintelligible] and then I returned to Israel.
KWS: And then you were director general through—?
GR: Foreign minister.
KWS: Until when?
GR: Until when? Until ’72.
KWS: Until ’72, alright. The two points that I’d like to clear up: I want to know your impression of [UN Special Enjoy Gunnar] Jarring.
GR: Of Jarring?
KWS: And how you came to know him and how you came to accept him. Also how did you receive the Rodgers Plan when it was introduced at the end of ’69 because you were director general? Either one, whichever you want to talk about first.
GR: I have written in my book about it.
GR: You can take this and put it in a way so that we’re still friends and exchange greetings on New Year’s, yeah. So we parted in friendship.
KWS: Joe Sisco thought he was a buffoon, a fool, and very incapable of being a mediator.
GR: It has something to do with his downfall of Jarring. I mean, it was his failure.
KWS: It also had something to do with his appointments.
GR: Not so much.
KWS: He was responsible for —
GR: I mean the candidate for, for the special representative was [Finland’s Max] Jakobson — You asked me about Bunche — and the name came up. We were sitting with U Thant — the short list — and Bunche had proposed Jakobson, in his innocence. “Now, I wouldn’t call this Jewish.”
GR: So Bunche said, “Well then, Mr. Secretary, you don’t mean that.” So, he was so embarrassed, and if he wouldn’t be a Black man, I would say that he blushed. And what, so there we are. Jarring [unintelligible]. Jarring was meticulous and over-cautious. That was his way. Because he had a formula worked out on the 10th of March 1969 which could have launched the negotiations. [Unintelligible] Egypt [unintelligible] and [UN Resolution] 242 implementation [unintelligible]. He thought he had the support of Egypt from Mahmoud Riad. He turned to us, he said, “No, it wouldn’t work.” So he needed that. There were bread riots or whatever they had there and they’re very cautious and cagey. “Go ahead, you just go publish this formula which is not exactly what we like but we would go along with it. And you will get support from King Hussein. So go ahead and do it.” We discussed this, and I never very close to him for very [unintelligible].
KWS: David Korn [of the political section at the American embassy in Israel].
GR: [Unintelligible.] Huh? I was very close with Jarring —
GR: — because I needed to see him all the time. “Now look, and now that you’re opening shop in Cyprus and you sent out an invitation, that we expect the pleasure of your company since this day.” He said, “How can I?” I said, “Bunche did it exact same way with Rhodes. He sent an invitation, and they all, they all cried and they refused and they said they wouldn’t come and wouldn’t sit with us.” So he sent them a letter, “I won’t expect your delegation [unintelligible] on the 9th of February in Rhodes,” and they came. And the Lebanese came and the Jordanians were involved, and it was a GReat problem with Syria. So I said to him, “Just go ahead.”
KWS: No personality difference?
GR: I don’t think he had enough support from the Americans because Mr. Sisco was handling his own policy. Mr. Sisco was his own Jarring. And I liked Sisco because I think he was the cleverest, the clever operator of all of them, and objective. But he, he, he wanted an American-made arrangement, whether they were direct negotiations or whether they were proximity talks or whatever he implied. He had a fertile mind.
GR: Yeah. Proximity talks — we would sit on the third floor and they would sit on the fifth floor, the Americans on the fourth floor, and then we would go by elevator or cart and horse back and forth.
GR: I made a fun out of him but this was Joe Sisco: fertile minded, inventive. But there was no place for Jarring in such a kind of — he wouldn’t be, he wouldn’t be the lift boy to push the button. Joe Sisco would — or he worked out [unintelligible], investigate it, check it out in the world of Astoria, the world of Astoria Towers. That’s the other part [unintelligible]. And then happened, in February ’71 Mr. Jarring, [unintelligible], submitted his proposal, his peace proposal, in which he made clear that we are ready — the Egyptians said, “Yes, we are ready to sign the peace settlement with Israel” or why they can get out of Sinai [unintelligible]. This had not been coordinated with Washington. Jarring thought that he was acting in close coordination with Washington. What Washington was doing — Mr. Sisco — he had his own line with [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, he had his own line with Sadat. And Sadat had sent a message to us. Joe Sisco, on the 15th of January 1971, that he is ready for a partial agreement with withdrawal of the Suez Canal withdrawal of some kilometers of Israeli —
KWS: Sadat sent it?
GR: To Sisco, for us. For us.
KWS: What did Golda [Meir] say?
GR: As a beginning — What? Golda nearly got a stroke. Golda said, “I will not move an inch without peace.” If you start —
KWS: But all that Sadat wanted was a couple of soldiers on the other side of the Canal.
GR: Ah, Golda wanted just a couple of Phantoms [laughs] on her side, so she was negotiating the Sadat initiative with the Phantoms with Washington.
END of CD2
BEGINNING of CD3 Second tape, Gideon Rafael, March 25th 1992. Beginning 11:55 p.m.
KWS: His last remarks before heading to the WC was “Golda was very stubborn on this issue, and she wanted to trade Phantoms for Sadat’s initiative.”
KWS: — stubborn on this. Are you telling me that the entire initiative of Sadat in January of 1971 was based upon Israel’s desire for more Phantoms?
GR: Let’s separate it this way —
KWS: I mean that’s interesting linkage.
GR: Sadat was not ready to move an inch, first off. And I’ll give you two examples. In 1969, the War of Attrition, we had a — or at the beginning of ’70 — we had a terrible incident that an Egyptian commander crossed the canal and cost us, cost an Israeli patrol some 10 or 12 casualties. Our patrol could only move to an advance position, a northern position, opposite Port Said on a narrow causeway — on the left was a canal, on the right was a swamp. So they couldn’t deploy. Whereupon Moshe Dayan, minister of defense, came to the Cabinet — I was present there — and said [unintelligible], “It would be better, perhaps, to withdraw our positions at once behind the swamp, which would give us additional protection.” Then he passed on the subject to the Chief of Staff [Chaim] Bar-Lev, because he wasn’t sure how Golda would react. And Bar-Lev explained his technical reasons why we should withdraw all forces, absolutely clear logistics behind the swamp, the marshes, whereupon Golda said, “If we retreat one inch from the canal, we will in no time land at the international border.” And then she called, [unintelligible] called, in her deft Yiddish: In dizn balt aint nazeh. There was not much [unintelligible] and not much chevel [rope], but she was [unintelligible]. This explains her stubbornness to reject the Sadat proposal, who basically suggested the same thing in 1971. The United States were in favor of it, but here comes Jarring in the middle of the Sadat initiative and Jarring comes out with his proposal on the 8th of September — 8th of January.
GR: It was February. 8th of February — of we withdraw from all of Sinai, and we get peace with, with, with Sadat. This was his proposal.
KWS: Golda didn’t take that seriously?
KWS: Golda didn’t take that seriously?
GR: No, no, because she checked back with Washington and she found out — [Yitzhak] Rabin found out; he was our most impressionist — impressive but most impressionist ambassador we ever had — he had impressions. Sometimes he had visitations, but I don’t know [both laugh]. What?
KWS: Go ahead.
GR: I wrote about it.
KWS: Go ahead. Golda what?
GR: So, Golda —
KWS: — found out from Rabin that?
GR: That this was not the move of, of — Jarring was not coordinated with Washington.
KWS: But what about Sadat’s statement?
GR: Ahh, here comes another thing because at the same time Rabin was channeling the Sadat initiative. See you have an initiative of Jarring, who makes a peace proposal. At the same time, we had something much more, I mean, appetizing, I would say.
GR: Sadat comes on and says — not Jarring — and says, “I want start — Let’s, let’s start going.” And in his proposal, Sadat even indicated that he would withdraw his forces to a distance of 30 kilometers from the Suez Canal, his forces in Egypt. So what was the first of, of, of Golda’s story? She said, she instructed Rabin to check with Kissinger. Well, it is in the interest of the United States that the canal should be open, in lieu of the Vietnam situation and the supplies lines, that the Soviet Union will become shorter. This proposal or this consideration was presented to Kissinger. And Golda was absolutely sure, and her advisors were sure, that in terms of global strategy and because of global strategies — and he can’t even understand our regional strategies, [unintelligible] he organized all the strategy — that in terms of global strategy, the United States never would agree to the opening of the canal during the Vietnam War. Whereupon, after some reminders, we got the following response: The United States supports any proposal which adds stability to the Arab-Israel situation to her global concerns with Vietnam. The fact that this move could create additional security — stability — is for the United States more important than, certain — perhaps certain — advantages — disadvantages in maritime traffic and Soviets and so on. Afterward the United States — in my view [unintelligible — would know much more about what their global concerns in regard to Vietnam are, and they would know what is important whether they will ship from Odessa or Vladivostok. All these things I’m not in a position to discuss, to, to consider at all because we don’t know. But the very fact that they gave first priority to any move which would influence or enhance stability, that is their priority. So she was, uh, she was very, very surprised by this, Golda. And Rabin and myself and Eban, we had foreseen this — I don’t know if Rabin foresaw it — but we were fully endorsing this view, that it is better to cooperate with Sadat and Sisco on this proposal of partial withdrawal. And she didn’t want to.
KWS: Even after she had her notion dispelled that the U.S. was willing to support it.
GR: These discussions went on until August ’71 and then the last meeting with Sisco. She had three ministers there: myself — who gave instructions to us, the ministers we have — Dayan Defense; Eban Foreign Affairs, [Yigal] Allon Deputy Prime Minister, and she gave instructions to us, “Nobody talks; only I will talk with Sisco.” We were sitting there, but not to be heard. This was one of the most ridiculous situations, because in the morning, she had learned that Sisco had met Dayan at a meeting where Gazit was present, I hope he told you.
KWS: Mordechai Gazit.
GR: Yes, where Sisco— where Dayan, in the middle, “Well, we can withdraw to the Mitla Passage.” Gazit in his zeal reported this with great excitement to Golda. She put the embargo on her ministers, on her ministers.
KWS: So she wanted to tell Sisco who was in charge.
GR: Indeed. Now, Sisco — and he is the smartest operator in this field I have ever met — well, he immediately saw what the situation is, so he said, “Madam Prime Minister, may I ask a technical question of your minister of defense?”
GR: He said, “Minister, what do we expect? What is your assessment of the situation if there is no proGRess, if the stalemate continues?”
GR: So Dayan, but Moti [Gur, IDF Brigadier General] doesn’t know, he said, “Well, then there will be war.” “What do you mean?” He says, “Well, how can Egypt tolerate that a hostile army, strong as this, is poised at 100 kilometers from its capital. This is an impossible situation. And, uh, this is a situation which can’t last. Nobody would let that.” There was a clear statement there will be war. So Golda was not any more of the hopes of “Ah, stalemate, stalemate.” In this world, in this [unintelligible], there was very, very clear notification. She realized [unintelligible]. She shifted, she, she shifted, she saw. She said, “Well, if such a situation as the minister of defense says, whatever,” she said, “Well, doesn’t that lead to you to understand how much we need the Phantoms? Without the Phantoms, we, we, we are exposed to the war.” But the war was a function of not moving. Then [unintelligible]. She turned this around, by abandoning the premise. The premise was: if there is movement, there is no war.
KWS: She turned it into —
Both: If there is war, we need the Phantoms.
KWS: And what did Joe say?
GR: He said, “I have no instructions on the Phantoms. I have only instructions to be with Sadat’s initiative. And then they were discussing whether there should be 700 policemen, whether should be armed with clubs or with rifles or with, with, with —
KWS: You mean Egyptians who would come across the border.
GR: Yes, yes.
KWS: I meant that’s how the detail — the detail was so —
GR: Yes. 700, 600.
KWS: My gosh.
GR: Yes, yes, everything. Where would they be stationed? Where would we go back? How far? 10 miles?
KWS: Could Golda have sold it to the government, to the government, to the cabinet ministers, the unilateral withdrawal?
GR: They were a bunch of cowards —
KWS: Could Golda have sold it to the Knesset?
GR: — the mother of the tribe.
KWS: Could they have sold it, sold it to the Knesset?
GR: No. Didn’t go, where it was discussed. For years, for years, the myth would, would be, would be promoted that this was just a trick of Nasser — of Sadat, and nothing would come out, and the whole thing was to get us back, and they had to wait until Begin, until he went back all the way. All the way.
KWS: It’s another missed opportunity.
GR: I once negotiated a situation. We had a go-between, the Romanians, with Nasser. Anyway, [Phone rings]. Anyway, so what she did, she feared — and Begin, with the help of Dayan and [Ezer] Weizman, carried out. We went back to — what I want to say about [Romanian head of state] Nicolae Ceaușescu. So he called, we had a system of consultations between the two governments and I was there to listen. He was willing to listen, to talk to Nasser. He was very good rapport.
KWS: ’68, ’69?
GR: ’68, ’69, ’71, ’72. He was a very good reporter. As a matter of fact, he was the first from whom I learned that Kissinger was going to China. It was Romanians there, in Washington, sitting there. He negotiated. [Unintelligible], came Sadat. At that stage, he said, “Give me the last, the latest reading of your position.” I wasn’t revealing our position. That he must have found [unintelligible]. And our people had here maintained the idea that whatever it is, we will have territorial contiguity from the international border to Sharm-al-Sheikh, half of Sinai. He didn’t mention this at all, [unintelligible]. So when they — when I came back from Romania and Dayan read the report, he said, “You have given up contiguity. You didn’t mention this. You should’ve —” So he was very upset about that. I sent him a letter that “never the government has decided on any contiguity, how he can expect the representative of Israel in negotiation to bring up a matter which is not our government policy?” The government policy was existing. So I made all of this our incidents to show that this government of Golda was not in any mood to make any movement, any progress. There is enough evidence now by Sadat himself, and others who spoke to him, that he really meant in ’71 to open the Suez Canal and to start a peace process. And avoid the war of ’73.
KWS: Why did Israel reject the Rogers Plan in December of ’69?
GR: To hold on to the territories. We don’t dare to divest ourselves. And at the same time Rogers made his plan [unintelligible], he was negotiating with King Hussein. And Golda, personally, had promised him that the most sizable part of the West Bank will be [unintelligible] for him. It’s on record. The most sizable part.
KWS: This is before the December ’69 proposal?
GR: Golda became, became Prime Minister in March of ’69, so this was in 1970. But before her, others were negotiating with King Hussein from Allon to myself, and Eban of course. And always — what he, his position was “I can’t agree to anything other than complete withdrawal.”
KWS: Gideon, let me just say something for the record, for myself to remember. We have just done Rhodes, going on with the Lausanne Conference simultaneously, or at least overlapping. We’ve just talked about the Jarring Mission going on tangentially or at the same time that Sadat articulates his initiative. The last thing we just talked about moments ago was the Rogers Plan coming at a time when Golda was personally in negotiation with Hussein for return of a good portion of the West Bank. If we’d have looked at the historical perspective over time, it’s clear you can’t have two kinds of negotiations going on at the same time, where you have different entities discussing different parts of the cycle, or the process. What you need is you need one effort concerted in, with the goal of achieving an outcome, because if you have two that are overlapped, that come from different sources, they compete, they conflict, they muddy, they close, they close the arteries.
GR: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
KWS: And here are three examples in just the span of a couple hours that we’ve spoken.
GR: You put it very well. But you see, it leads us to something which you in your masterwork piece on mediation —
GR: — of [unintelligible]: it will never work without an American ignition, ignition switch.
KWS: America’s got to be the igniter.
GR: It has to turn the switch. I mean you can have all the fuel, you have to have good tires, and a fine engine. Without the ignition switch, it wouldn’t work.
KWS: It doesn’t work if it’s Israel, Jordan, if it’s Sadat, Golda, or if it’s UN intervention —
GR: You know, it’s [unintelligible] —
KWS: — it’s got to be one pilot. The pilot has got to be America
KWS: — and it has to be constant and continuous.
GR: For reasons to which I will show you to your study, very simple, because you say two things there: There must be — The parties are not ready to make concessions to each other.
KWS: They got to make it to the meeting.
GR: Yeah. But not this. The second point is they expect compensation from the mediator in form of political support, of guarantees, security guarantees, and, uh, and mamash [substance], and, and, and tachlis [the heart of the matter] and, and —
KWS: — kesef [money]
GR: — kesef, as we got. I mean, we—
GR: — have our airports, airports removed. You could have never removed them without having been financed, financed for the rebuilding of the airports. We got, at the time, a guarantee for, of oil deliveries for withdrawal from the oil wells in Sinai. We got military subsist—, support assistance in June of billions of dollars. So got Egypt.
KWS: Nachon [correct].
GR: So, uh, it is one of the most expensive peaces you’ve ever engaged in, but it doesn’t work without these neutral incentives and compensations.
KWS: Guarantees, assurances, and incentives.
GR: Yes. This, this is how people understand. I mean, this idea — what I don’t even argue with [Yitzhak] Shamir because he’s completely [unintelligible].
GR: Yeah, yeah. He’s beyond discussing.
KWS: The Orthodox.
GR: That was [unintelligible]. And word.
GR: Now, it’s all right.
KWS: Anyway, I just wanted —
GR: It doesn’t go, exactly what you say, it doesn’t go without a third-party catalyst.
KWS: And you can’t have overlapping initiatives going on simultaneously. It doesn’t work.
GR: No, because they will get confused, and the wires will get crossed. And you will have short cuts, short —
GR: — all the time.
GR: And if he feels, “Ah, I can get something better from here, from there—“. And while we had another element to talk — why the Soviets were there. They have disappeared. They had to be taken into account.
KWS: The whole Suez — the whole question of Golda’s strategic notion that the Suez Canal couldn’t be cleared because we had a war with the Soviets in Vietnam.
GR: I remember in ’69 before the Rodgers Plan, Sisco negotiated with Moscow on the contents of all this plans in August, and we heard about it, and we became very annoyed that he was, umm, that he was negotiating. I talked to him, and he used the word which I absolutely will never forget. He said, “Look, the Soviets are too dangerous, and our relations are so —
too brittle, we must keep tuerflugel [door leaf, i.e., either face of a door].”
KWS: Who said this, Joe?
KWS: To you?
GR: Tuerflugel. You know what it is? The soldiers in the German army when they stand in line so that they should —
KWS: Touch. Touch.
GR: Touch each other, yeah, the uniform to uniform that they call tuerflugel. He said that. You have to remain in tuerflugel with them.
KWS: With the Americans?
GR: With the Soviets!
KWS: Oh, with the Soviets. You mean the, the —
GR: The Americans said they have to be in tuerflugel and that’s what he said. You don’t know what will come out if we don’t march together, but we must when we stand there, they must know us and we must know them. Feel them, we must feel them. Like one is two. One is two. [Unintelligible] surprised us in December with his approval in ’69 which was planned. It was GReat excitement here. Basically he didn’t say anything that Johnson had said in his five points.
KWS: That’s what Joe says! “Didn’t everyone understand Johnson’s speech of June 1967?”
GR: I understood it. But anyhow —
GR: And I always look back in writings and [unintelligible]. It’s —
KWS: It is a catechism, it was. There’s no question about it.
GR: And they have not changed, changed the words — they have changed, but not the, not the right [unintelligible], whether this was Johnson or it was Reagan on the second of September after Beirut, 1958, first of September 1972.
KWS: ’82. First of September 1982.
GR: ’82. Now come Rodgers which is in my view is a quality point more interesting. All that Rogers to, was meant to end the War of Attrition because the War of Attrition was becoming nasty, getting nasty. Deep inside bombing by Israel reaching nearly in the region of Aswan, [January 1970] suburbs of Cairo, [April 1970 Bahr el-Baqar] school bomb, [unintelligible] bomb, [Arabic place names]. Became nasty, became bad. Reaction — Nasser went [in January 1970] from Cairo to talk to Moscow. The Redhead Effect. And he sent 2s and 3 [Egyptian aircraft SA-2 and SA-3] in the area which was most unpleasant to us, to our Air Force, to our control of the skies. We lost to us those planes, therefore the Phantoms which we wanted to have replaced, which we had lost in ’69-’70. And Rogers decided one of the first things is to stop the War of Attrition, cease fire but not without accompanying political action. And therefore the cease-fire agreement included two parts: one, missile standstill and cease fire, and the renewal of the Jarring mission, which formula exactly pointed out that the Jarring mission intended to bring about the implementation of [Resolution] 242. This caused two things in Israel: Mr. Begin left the government. I remember when he passed my seat, I said to Mr. Begin, “Mr. Begin, there will come a time when you will hold on with your finger nails the 242, otherwise you won’t have any one point to stand on.” I have great respect for him; he has great respect for me. So he said, “How can you say that?” “Remember, 242 at your lenience. With your fingernails, you will hold onto it.” The second thing was our people. Dayan had not prepared a map of the positions of the missile deployment on the other side which could have been achieved by the [unintelligible] the Americans [unintelligible]. And so he signed something on the 7th of August without knowing what the situation, the situation on the ground was.
GR: Yes sir, yes sir. And when his chief of staff said to him, the chief, the chief of intelligence, Ariel Yariv, said to him, “But look, you, you, you must fix the points.” He said, “They will anyhow cheat.”
GR: That was his answer because he was concerned with the high political thing and he was drained and focused on the formula with Jarring, because Dayan didn’t want to lose Begin. So instead of concentrating on his responsibility for what happened on the 8th of August, the Egyptians, with the help of Syria, moved him in the vicinity of the Suez Canal. Now our military people knew this was disaster because this — they will need this deployment for air protection at the time when they cross the [unintelligible] canal.[The two exchange words in Hebrew; difficult to hear.]
GR: I’m not a GReat admirer of political wisdom, of the wisdom of the politicians.
KWS: [Laughs.] [Unintelligible.]
KWS: You read the report, the same one I did.
GR: Pardon me?
KWS: You read the U.S. Institute of Peace Report?
GR: Yes, very good report.
KWS: That was my experience.
GR: It is a learned report. It is a practical report. There are two points or three which are a bit of an overassessment on certain situations which I think which are quite not the focus. As a manual, how to handle things, metzuyan [excellent]. And I was — I have a particular attachment to this because six years ago, I wrote the first piece of this that there is no possibility of direct negotiations without the assistance of a third party. Then I developed it in August [unintelligible]. We had agreements with the Arabs, but they were never, they were never legitimized. We had a water agreements, with, with Jordan, on the water. We had, we had an aGReement of the free transit over the bridges. We have an ageeement on the return and reuniting of families. But there’s nothing binding out of this.
KWS: So we’re in the same place.
GR: Mmm. Well. Ah.
KWS: The same boat.
GR: Mm-hmm. [Unintelligible.] [KWS discussion with mother about taking photograph not transcribed.]
KWS: We’ve kept you long enough. Are you going to come to the states at all, in the near future?
KWS: Are you going to come to the states at all, in the near future?
GR: In June.
KWS: Are you going to the conference in Washington?
GR: Which one?
KWS: There’s a conference in Washington on the Six Day War. No?
GR: Could be, I don’t know. No, [unintelligible] Sunday [unintelligible.]
GR: Maybe conference. Who’s the organizer, I see the — something, but nothing definite.
KWS: I heard there’s a conference in Washington, but I don’t even know who’s doing it.
GR: I guess Indyk.
KWS: Who knows. Or Sam Lewis.
END of CD3