March 7, 1977
When Rabin came to Washington, the Carter administration had already established that a foreign policy priority for its administration would be negotiating a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To do that, the Carter administration needed to include the PLO or Palestinian representatives in future negotiations; it also wanted the West Bank to become the geographic center for a Palestinian entity or state. Israel was not prepared to either negotiate with the PLO or negotiate about Jerusalem. When Rabin arrived in Washington, he brought a peace treaty draft that might be initialed between Israel and Egypt, if not Jordan. When Carter asked Rabin what the interim step might be before a treaty, Rabin said, according to the person who took notes at the meeting, “…no interim step, the next step is a peace treaty.” Carter thought that Rabin was like a ‘cold fish,’ unresponsive to Carter’s probing about Israeli willingness to deal with the PLO. Carter took the view that the US could dictate the terms of peace and how the negotiations should unfold, rather than nudging the sides together, one step at a time. Carter was impatient, believing Israeli leaders were too cautious. Before Rabin left Washington, Carter made a public statement that the PLO should be engaged in the negotiations.
After the May 1977 Israeli elections when the Labor Party lost to Menachem Begin’s Likud Party, Begin’s advisers looked closely at the transcripts of the Rabin-Carter exchanges and were wary of the pressure they sensed would be applied to them to deal with the PLO and demand that the West Bank be reserved for a Palestinian entity or state. Begin and Carter would have their own severe disagreements about settlements. However, the origins of tension in US-Israeli ties during the Carter administration began in that initial Rabin visit with Carter.
The photo shows Rabin and Carter at the White House on March 7, 1977.