(7 April 1987)
United States. Daily Report. Middle East & Africa. “London Document .” Washington, D.C.: Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1980. 185-6. Print.
In the 1980s, a diplomatic effort was reconstituted to initiate additional Arab-Israeli negotiations through the format of the international conference. In the aftermath of the October 1973 War, the conference format in Arab-Israeli negotiations had been used by Secretary of State Kissinger as a short, ceremonial, and public meeting held in December 1973 to give diplomatic cover to a privately arranged Egyptian-Israeli agreement. Jordan and Egypt attended; the PLO was not invited, and Syrian President Assad did not attend because he knew it was a complicit cover for ONLY an Egyptian-Israeli separation of forces understanding. The Carter Administration tried but failed to use an international conference as a means to jump-start negotiations in the summer of 1977. No private arrangements were hammered out in advance for potential ratification of an agreement, and the conference format – to argue or discuss matters in public — was neither Egypt’s nor Israel’s priority for reaching another agreement. In the aftermath of the October 1973 War, Jordan had wanted a disengagement agreement with Israel like Egypt and Syria had obtained, but due in large part to Egyptian President Sadat’s opposition to focusing on West Bank issues and disinclination to reopen the Suez Canal, American diplomacy did not push for a Jordanian-Israeli agreement. Other issues, such as the fierce competition between the PLO and Jordan for future control over the West Bank and Jerusalem, stalled any Jordanian-Israeli agreement.
In April 1987, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, met secretly with Jordanian King Hussein in London. Secret Jordanian-Israeli meetings about the future of Palestine and the West Bank and Jerusalem and potential Zionist settlement in Jordan had their origins in the early 1930s. King Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, had numerous discussions with Yishuv and Israeli leaders about reaching an agreement, and even went so far as to outline a treaty arrangement before Abdullah was assassinated in July 1951 in Jerusalem. Young Hussein was by his grandfather’s side when Abdullah was killed by a Palestinian who favored the politics of the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. Secret talks restarted in the 1960s and continued after Hussein lost the West Bank in the June 1967 war.
Like his grandfather, Hussein wanted to control the West Bank and maintain his country’s interests over the Moslem Holy Sites in Jerusalem. Hussein’s diplomacy with Israel moved cautiously and quietly in the early 1960s, always fearing for his family’s rule on the East Bank. He paid close attention to the political winds and the pressures coming from an Arab world that threatened his family’s rule on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The competition of the Arab cold war, with frequent threats from Syria, Egypt, the PLO, and Saudi Arabia, kept Jordan’s weak kingdom from engaging in direct bilateral talks with the Israelis. Hussein looked askance at Egypt’s separate peace with Israel, and noticed how isolated Cairo became in the 1980s. However, Hussein saw in Israel a strategic asset, maintaining a quiet understanding with Israel to keep his long border with Israel as quiet as possible, even without an official agreement. Too weak to move forward with the Israelis in any open fashion, his preference was to go to an international conference with the cover of Arab states providing him ‘sanction’ to move forward in negotiations with Israel.
Hussein, therefore, wanted to use an international conference as a diplomatic opening for bilateral discussions with the Israelis. He also wanted to deal with the Israeli Labor Party, who had repeatedly advocated some territorial compromise with the Jordanians; the Likud Party of Menachem Begin and later Yitzhak Shamir vigorously opposed any discussions about the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) or Jerusalem. Shamir like all previous prime ministers, feared that any return of the West Bank would eventually lead to a PLO or Palestinian state that would ultimately threaten Israel’s existence. When Labor stalwart Shimon Peres was Foreign Minister in 1987, Hussein seriously probed the possibility of negotiating for the West Bank and Jordanian rights to the Moslem Holy Sites in Jerusalem.
The London Document was negotiated while Israel had a national unity government in the mid 1980s. Peres and Shamir rotated the positions of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister after the 1984 Israeli national elections. At the time, Peres was openly opposed to an independent Palestinian state and wanted a restricted conference whose plenum would not impose solutions and where bilateral talks between countries would decide negotiated outcomes. In opposition to Peres, Shamir was not interested in opening any negotiations over the West Bank, and therefore opposed the international conference idea unless it was a ceremonial opening like Geneva had been in 1973, and like the Madrid Middle East Conference would be in 1991. Though not Prime Minister, Peres nonetheless moved forward in establishing the procedures for such an opening diplomatic conference.
The national unity government created diplomatic paralysis. Nothing immediately came of the London Document. At the end of 1987, the intifadah, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation and administration, temporarily halted any notions of jump-starting a negotiating process. Then, in July 1988, King Hussein diplomatically withdrew his interest over the West Bank, leaving the path open for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Hussein did not want to compete with a fervently resurrected Palestinian nationalism, enter into negotiations with the Israelis, and then be blamed for not delivering an independent Palestinian state. Hussein still sensed that the PLO was not to be trusted, and particularly wanted little to do with PLO leader Yasir Arafat. An attempted international conference did not unfold. Arab-Israeli diplomacy was overtaken by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War in early 1991. Arafat had to contend with West Bank / Gaza Palestinians who aimed to threaten his control over the Palestinian national movement. The winds of Arab politics kept Hussein out of negotiations for the time being. His priority had always been to protect his reign first and foremost on the West Bank. After the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and recognized Israel, King Hussein had all the cover he needed to sign an agreement, a peace treaty, with Israel in October 1994. No international conference was necessary. Bilateral interests prevailed for both Israel and Jordan, and the future of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem was left to the PLO and Israel; Jordan had persevered and preserved its territorial integrity with a fragmented Arab world all around it. The 1991 Madrid Conference, which became the opening for PLO-Israeli secret talks, was based on the procedures initially discussed in preparation for the 1987 London Document.
–Ken Stein, December 2021
Accord between the Government of Jordan, which has confirmed it to the Government of the United States, and the Foreign Minister of Israel, pending the approval of the Government of Israel. Parts “A” and “B,” which will be made public upon agreement of the parties, will be treated as proposals of the United States to which Jordan and Israel have agreed. Part “C” is to be treated with great confidentiality, as commitments to the United States from the Government of Jordan to be transmitted to the Government of Israel. A Three-Part Understanding Between Jordan and Israel:
- Invitation by the UN secretary general: The UN secretary general will send invitations to the five permanent members of the Security Council and to the parties involved in the Israel-Arab conflict to negotiate an agreement by peaceful means based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 with the purpose of attaining comprehensive peace in the region and security for the countries in the area, and granting the Palestinian people their legitimate rights.
- Decisions of the international conference: The participants in the conference agree that the purpose of the negotiations is to attain by peaceful means an agreement about all the aspects of the Palestinian problem. The conference invites the sides to set up regional bilateral committees to negotiate bilateral issues.
- Nature of the agreement between Jordan and Israel: Israel and Jordan agree that:
- The international conference will not impose a solution and will not veto any agreement reached by the sides;
- The negotiations will be conducted in bilateral committees in a direct manner;
- The Palestinian issue will be discussed in a meeting of the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli delegations;
- The representatives of the Palestinians will be included in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation;
- Participation in the conference will be based on acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 by the sides and the renunciation of violence and terror;
- Each committee will conduct negotiations independently;
- Other issues will be resolved through mutual agreement between Jordan and Israel
This document of understanding is pending approval of the incumbent Governments of Israel and Jordan. The content of this document will be presented and proposed to the United States.