(26 August 1977)

Source: Israel Foreign Ministry, posted September 19, 1977


Summary: The Rumanian president told Menachem Begin, that Egyptian President Sadat was interested in negotiations with the Israelis. This secret visit took place three weeks before Israeli Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan met secretly with Egyptian Vice-President Hasan Tuhami in Morocco where the topic of focus was also possible direct Israeli-Egyptian negotiations. The details of this meeting were not shared with the Carter administration that was focused on a comprehensive Middle East peace via an international conference.

Context: Since the early 1960s or earlier, Israel had secret contacts with the Rumanian government. Rumanian Jews mostly sought to leave, using Bucharest as a passageway to Israel; by the end of the 1960s after Ceaucescu came to power, Israel paid a fee for each Jewish refugee smuggled to Israel, about 1,500 Jews exited per year with fees set on the basis of the ‘value’ of each immigrant. This process reportedly continued until the end of the 1980s. 

At the end of the 1976 the Rumanian ambassador to Israel asked Israel’s Foreign Minister Yigal Allon to visit Bucharest;  Shlomo Avineri who was the Director General of the ministry at the time visited Rumania. There Avineri was reportedly asked if Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would visit in the near future.  Avineri explained the improbability of a visit during an election campaign wherein Rabin was being challenged for the Party leadership.  Avineri also told his cordial hosts that the Israeli Prime Minister’s next visit abroad would almost certainly be to meet the new American President.  When Allon and Avineri explained to Rabin that this invitation might be a hidden Soviet initiative, Rabin was unreceptive.  He did not want to hear another lecture from Nicolai Ceausescu about establishing Israeli contacts with the PLO and he did not want to strain his schedule by taking a day off from the election campaign to go to Rumania. 

After Begin was elected in May 1977, Avineri remained on for awhile as Director General At the July 4, 1977, American Embassy Independence Day reception for diplomats and dignitaries, newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin was introduced to the Rumanian Ambassador to Israel.  Avineri recalls, “On the spot, in the presence of some other people, the Rumanian Ambassador invited Begin to Rumania.  Begin said that this a welcome invitation.”   Several days later, the visit was scheduled for the end of August. Sadat had asked Ceausescu to probe Begin’s readiness for an agreement between them.15  (Background information provided in Ken Stein Interviews with Yahiel Kadishai, July 5, 1993 and Shlomo Avineri, July 6, 1993, Jerusalem Israel- Kadishai was Begin’s personal secretary/adviser for more than forty years) 

Present: Rumania Prime Minister, Manea Manescu Foreign Minister, G. Macovescu, the Ambassador Y. Kovatch, translator, Gluck;  Israel’s Director of the Foreign Office. Ephraim Evron, Ambassador S. Kahana.

Approximately from 10 AM to 12, The Prime Minister and the President conducted a conversation at the presence of the above mentioned officials. After a brief intermission, the two continued at the initiative of the host to converse in the garden, accompanied by the translator. The following are the minutes of the report of the conversation in its first part only. 

The President: Reiterated his welcome to the Prime Minister. 

The Prime Minister (PM):  Expresses his appreciation for the conversation that he conducted with Prime Minister Manescu and his high regards for Rumania’s achievements. The two countries have different positions on various issues and of world views but at the same time both have an interest and a will to develop positive relations and understanding for their mutual benefits and for  international concerns. 

The President: According to our custom we invite our guest to be the first to speak. 

PM: We too have customs of welcoming guests and I’m re-extending my invitation to the President and the Prime Minister to visit us in Israel. This is the second visit of an Israeli Prime Minister in Rumania and we promise that they will be met cordially especially by those who came from Rumania. 

The President: Thanking for the invitation. He would like to visit but so far he did not have the opportunity. He notes that the ties between the two countries were promoted by reciprocal ministerial visits. He hopes that he will be able to visit eventually. It is guaranteed though that Prime Minister Manesco will visit again in an appropriate time. 

PM: Explains in detail the proposal that he submitted in Washington to the President of the U.S., He will present later on a document to Ceausescu. He adds that President Carter inquired

Whether it is possible to add Lebanon to the countries that Israel will conduct negotiations with in Geneva and the PM said that he answered in the affirmative. 

The PM explains what he means by the term ‘precondition’. He then explains the hazardous security of the borders of June 4, 1967, that Sadat wishes us to return back to. Such borders will be a death threat. If Sadat demands that we retreat to those borders as a condition for the commencement of the negotiations in Geneva, this is a precondition that we shall not consider to accept, though we have no objection that he raises this demand during the negotiations. 

As for us we have critical positions such as maintaining the unification of Jerusalem. Jerusalem must remain united as it is inconceivable that Bucharest or Washington should be divided. We shall arrive with this position but we do not intend to demand a priori an Arab agreement to it as a precondition for the opening of the negotiations. 

The President: I could have added Berlin. 

PM: Indeed, Berlin is a problem. The Prime Minister continues to explain the procedures of the negotiations whereby the participants will be divided into four mixed committees: Israeli-Egyptian; Israeli-Syrian; Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Lebanese. Each one of these will set a goal to reach a peace agreement as it is required and accepted by international laws for nations that have been fighting one another. 

The Chairman of each committee will alternate in representing its respective government. The Prime Minister adds, that since he presented this proposal – that was in a form of a document to President Carter, Secretary of State, Vance made his trip to Arab capitals and to Israel and informed us that he concluded with some of the Arab governments that the purpose of the negotiations should be to reach peace agreements and not as the Arab previously asserted that there is room for arrangements but they were not ready to define them as peace agreements. 

Still missing is an Arab consent that an indivisible part of every peace agreement should be the establishment of diplomatic relations. This position is not reasonable in our opinion because diplomatic relations are the soul of a peace agreement. We intend to insist on it. The Prime Minister notes that even in the Agreement between the Soviet Union and Japan, that was not a peace agreement, it was determined that there should be diplomatic relations.  

The President:  Expresses his thanks for the presentation of the proposal and the concepts of the Israeli Government. Rumania was and continues to be interested in reaching a fast, a just and stable peace in the Middle East. He made a point that he did not wish to be involved in their internal affairs and the content of the negotiation that must be determined by the countries themselves. Rumania’s position is to encourage the countries to enter into negotiations for the purpose of reaching peace and not to severe its relations with either side. The aim is to act in a way that it assists in settling the conflict while adhering to her general principles that are guiding her in the international sphere. Namely, respecting the right of every country to sovereignty and equality; negating foreign intervention; rejecting the use of force to impose solutions; attempting to settle conflicts by peaceful means. 

PM: I accept and praise these principles.

The President: The continuation of the current situation in the Middle East worries Rumania. It might even cause harm to her as well. He discussed these issues in the past with Arab and   Israeli leaders, specifically with Mrs. Meir and recently with Sadat, Hussein, Assad and ‘the president of the PLO, Arafat’. In his opinion the situation today is adequate to start a dialogue and instill peace, but this opportunity may pass and get lost if not exploited. This is why it is necessary to do everything possible to start a serious negotiation in order to reach a stable peace in the Middle East. 

It is clear that the solution can be found in negotiations where each side can express his concepts and positions. The reconvening of the Geneva Conference may be one option, but not the only one. In his opinion it should be recognized in advance – whether this issue comes up during negotiations or before they start – that holding to the territories that were conquered in the Six Days War, cannot continue. This is a basic issue that should serve as an opening point if there is a sincere wish to reach a lasting peace. He exchanged views with Assad in January and with Sadat in May and continued his talks with them and it is clear to him that they cannot accept a situation whereby they don’t receive these territories back. It is true that there is room for modifications of the borders such as preventing a division of villages. But this issue as well requires mutual agreement and being a part of a comprehensive solution that will beneficial to all sides. It is hard to expect that that Assad and Sadat could go to Geneva Conference without insisting on the liberation of these territories as an immediately and an obvious matter. They are ready to make peace now and the practical meaning of it is the recognition of Israel. The establishment of diplomatic relations is an important issue but it is difficult to solve it concurrent with the making of a peace agreement. 

PM:  Why is it difficult? 

The President: It is not imperative that a peace treaty should include the establishment of diplomatic relations. It is possible that they will follow in gradual development. It happens in few instances in the past. It is necessary to aspire to get economic and diplomatic relations in order, but it can be left to an extended period. This is the conclusion from talks with Arab leaders that argue that after 30 years of hostilities it is difficult to settle all problems – it is necessary to advance in stages. During negotiations it is possible to discuss every subject but a distinction should be made as to what can be achieved immediately and what requires a lengthier process.  It is reasonable to assume that the Arab countries need a certain pause in order to alter the moods that have been prevailed within them. 

The main thing is that Assad and Sadat are ready for peace and it is only proper to hold on to this opportunity. His opinion is that peace treaties with adequate international guarantees will not only fortify the peace but will strengthen Israel’s security as well.

‘I said nothing about Hussein because I know that you have better relations with him. But I also know that his participation [in the Geneva Conference] is tied to the issues of territories and the Palestinians.’

There is a good atmosphere for convening the Geneva conference but one basic issue is lacking; namely, the participation of the representatives of the Palestinian people and specifically of the PLO. 

‘It is true that the PLO resorts to various forms of struggle that night be considered as unacceptable, and these are similar to an organization that you were involved in it at the time in Jerusalem during the British Mandate.’

PM: I was very involved…

The President: I know. It is necessary to relate to the PLO as an organization that attempts to reach for 3 million people the right for their existence as an entity, and build independent life for them. 

He assumes that during the passage of time there will develop relations between Israel and the Palestinians that will turn them to the strongest force in the region because each have talents and creativity, but this is a long term vision. 

First it is essential to recognize the right of these people for self-determination and help them emerge from their current situation. 

‘We have good relations with this organization and I specifically have with its president, Arafat’. This organization had undergone through a profound transformation. Actually, they have realized that they must recognize the existence of Israel. 

The Geneva Conference is dependent in the recognition of allowing the participation of the PLO and the willingness to provide for their right to have a state. 

It is difficult to imagine peace without recognizing the rights of the Palestinians. It is impossible to imagine peace and security for Israel without accepting the solution of granting self-determination to the Palestinians. I’ll stop here to listen to your opinion.

PM: I’ll respond fast and in earnest to your full frankness.  

For the other countries it is a political issue. As for us it is a question of life and death. But let me relate first to the question of establishing diplomatic relations.

The Prime Minister is using a map to indicate the danger to the population centers in Israel, especially the Dan Bloc, if we were to retreat to the June 4, 1967 lines. 

We can learn about the intentions of the Arabs from information that was conveyed to us by Vance. He proposed to the Arab leaders that Judea and Samaria will be demilitarized, but they rejected this idea and insisted that it should be militarized. 

If we are to face once more the test of Arab attacks from those borders there is no doubt that our military will take the initiative and will win. But until then we could lose many thousands and how much more blood can the Jewish People afford to shed after it withstood four wars. 

For us it is not a political question but an issue of life and death. 

As for the Palestinians:

The Prime Minister explains that the source of that name was in conquering policy of the Romans to eradicate the name and the essence of Judea and Eretz Israel; that the Jews of Eretz Israel are ‘Palestinians ‘and Palestine is Eretz Israel. He then moves to explain the PLO intention with regards to Israel according to the Palestinian Covenant. 

He refutes the attempt to compare the PLO to the liberating organizations who fought the British with the purpose to save the Jewish people while making all efforts and taking risks not to hurt the Arabs and civilians in general, which is not like the PLO that its purpose to annihilate the people of Israel. 

The PLO has made it its aim to target children and to execute genocide. The PLO wants Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa. There is no room for comparison. 

Let us assume, theoretically that a Hungarian minority would rise in Rumania and resort to acts of terror with the purpose to ruin the country, would the Leaders of Rumania agree to negotiate with it?

If and when you shall meet Assad and Sadat please convey to them that you have heard from an elected representative of Israel that we want peace. We have not yet commenced negotiations. If they will insist on the participation of the PLO we will not agree to enter negotiations. Thank you for your attention. 

The President: I am familiar with the Palestinian Covenant and I know that they no longer think in those terms. As of now, the PLO assumes the position that Israel exists and that and the Arab countries are willing to make peace with her. 

Rumania on its part always emphasized that Israel is a reality that cannot be ignored. Now we are taking into account that Israel’s neighbors are willing to make peace with her. This situation should be exploited and the problems of the Palestinian Arabs within this framework (in order to be accurate I say: ‘Palestinian Arabs’). This is necessary in order to convene in Geneva. I spoke about three million Israelis facing 100 million Arabs. In this balance of power it is obvious that Israel’s security is feasible only by establishing good relations with the Arabs. As of now, both sides continue to purchase arms. In 1973, it was not a remote possibility that foreign forces would have entered [the war]. 

PM: Forces of what countries?

The President: Let us say, Americans and Soviets. It was talked about. We have seen that when wars erupt there are countries that send forces to support one side and others to support the other one. This complicates the issue and increase the threat of spreading the war. Such development can endanger Israel more than the Arabs. 

It is necessary to overcome the causes that emerge from a lengthy political process and find an answer to the problems of the existing reality. 

A new Israeli policy that will recognize the rights of the Palestinian Arabs to self-determination will have positive impact. Otherwise,  three million people will remain as a constant source of hostility and unrest. Therefore,  it is Israel’s interest to solve the problem. During the discussion it is possible to search for various venues to settle this problem but the main thing is to recognize that it exists and the need to solve it. I propose a brief intermission.

PM: Agreed.

Later on the two conversed privately for an hour.

Notes taken by: S Kahana 

Source in Hebrew: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_wZ8qKsEas2YnhZYTJMU0VDb1E/edit?pli=1