Reassessment of Washington-Israel Relationship Begins

March 18, 1975

In the aftermath of the 1973 October War, US diplomacy engaged Egypt and Israel in a series of negotiations to separate their respective armies and prevent another outbreak of conflict. Secretary of State Kissinger pushed hard for Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, particularly from the strategic Sinai passes and Sinai oil fields.  Israeli Prime Minister Rabin told Kissinger that if the Israeli government was to undertake such a withdrawal, and get it through the Knesset, he would need Sadat to agree that “Egypt and Israel undertake not to resort to the use of force and to resolve all disputes between them by negotiations and other peaceful means. They will refrain from permitting, encouraging, assisting, or participating in any military, paramilitary or hostile actions, from any warlike or hostile acts and any other form of warfare or hostile activity against the other party anywhere.”

Sadat balked because he felt that these conditions were  tantamount to signing a treaty with Israel and Israel was still in possession of Egyptian Sinai. A diplomatic impasse ensued. Kissinger believed that Rabin and the Israelis were unreasonable.  President Ford told Kissinger that the US would not “isolate itself from the rest of the world to stand behind Israeli intransigence.”  For Israel, it was a question of returning  significant territory for something less than a full peace.

From March 1975 until late summer 1975, the US undertook a “reassessment” of the Washington-Israel Relationship, creating enormous tension between the executive branch and the Israeli government. Kissinger froze arms deliveries to Israel, particularly F-15 aircraft, and recommended that “every department should put Israeli activities at the bottom of the list.” The Senate, led by Washington Senator Scoop Jackson, strongly supported Israel in its tussle with the White House, forcing Ford and Kissinger to relent on its intentions. On September  1, Israel and Egypt signed another separation of forces agreement, reflecting Israel’s terms.  Israel showed a hard resolve not to succumb to real pressure when asked to make territorial withdrawals it deemed too much for too little in return diplomatically.

Over the next four decades, Israel similarly balked about territorial concessions to Arab sides when it felt it was either compromising its security or receiving less diplomatically than it believe it needed. In 2014 negotiation terms it meant: Would Israel exchange West Bank lands, including possibly portions of Jerusalem, for less than recognition “as a Jewish state?”

March 18, 2019