Israel State Archives:  4313/4 – א

(20 September 1978)

This document is the only known official written transcript of the Begin-Carter discussion held at the end of the 1978 Camp David negotiations about any moratorium on Israel’s future settlement building. This record shows that Begin made no mention of a moratorium on settlement building for longer than three months. However, President Carter publicly, and Secretary of State Vance, in his memoirs, Hard Choices disagreed, believing the time mentioned was five years. For the remainder of Carter’s presidency, and for the rest of his post-presidency, the ‘building of Israeli settlements’ became a key point of contention in shaping his relationship with Israel. 

Ken Stein, August 26, 2023

At the hurried conclusion of the Camp David negotiations on Saturday evening September 17, 1978, American and Israeli officials discussed the future of Israeli settlement building. Prime Minister Began told President Carter that he would not commit Israel to a building moratorium of more than months. Carter believed that Begin did make such a promise. The only known notes taken at that meeting, were transcribed by Aharon Barack, a member of the Israeli delegation. Barack concluded that no such five-year promise was undertaken. Yet, Carter announced in the days following that there was such a promise made. And State Department officials fanned out across the Middle East telling Arab leaders that such a commitment for five years was made. When Israel continued to build settlements, Saudi and Jordanian leaders among others had doubts about the Carter administration’s promise and ability or willingness to curb future settlement building. The issue of Israeli settlement building and what promise was or was not made and did Begin violate a promise became a major issue of contention between Israeli and American governments for the next four decades.  Twenty-Five years later, at a conference recalling the Camp David negotiations, Barak repeated that Begin made no such promise, Carter disagreed. The Carter-Begin relationship already frayed before and after the Camp David talks became more icy in the 1980s, primarily because Begin would not permit any foreign sovereignty to be applied to Judea and Samaria – (the West Bank), or apply any Israeli withdrawal from there. I saw that firsthand in 1987 during a Carter visit to Jerusalem when Begin said to his longtime adviser Yehiel Kadishai, ‘I do not want to see that man!’ The settlements controversy greatly soured Carter’s attitude toward Israel, because of continued Israeli reluctance to have the West Bank to become a territory for allowing the development of “full autonomy” or establishing a Palestinian state there. 

Protocol of Conversation Between President Carter, PM Begin, Secretary of State Vance, Foreign Minister Dayan, and Attorney General Barak

(20 September 1978)

Israel State Archives:  4313/4 – א

After consulting with the Foreign Minister, I hereby submit to you the protocol that I wrote of the conversation that was held between the President and Vance and you, the Foreign Minister and me during which the issue of the settlements was discussed. 

During the first part of the conversation the agreement on Sinai was discussed. On the next part we went over the various parts of the document that related to Judea and Samaria. We then arrived to the section in the document that proposed the freezing of the settlements in Judea and Samaria.

The protocol on that section is as follows:

The Prime Minister: With regards to the settlements, we shall not do anything beyond what has been already planned. There is no Prime Minister in Israel who can take upon himself a commitment such as freezing the settlements. But we do understand the unique problem of the timing of the process of negotiations. I told you in the past that we shall do it prudently. Now I will say what we intend to do during the three months of the negotiations: we wish to establish one Nahal settlement in the Golan Heights; one Nahal settlement in the State of Israel and we may wish to establish additional Nahal settlement in the Jordan Valley. And that is all. These settlements are of the Nahal, which is part of the IDF, and this is proper even from the perspective of the Geneva Convention that as far as we are concerned does not apply here. 

The President: Are these military settlements?

The Prime Minister: They are ‘army security settlements’.

The President: What shall I tell Sadat, that there is no freezing? 

The Prime Minister: What does Sadat have to do with the freezing of settlements in Judea and Samaria?

The President: If your position is that Judea and Samaria is a part of Israel, then Sadat has nothing to say, and Camp David was unnecessary, but that was not the premise. 

The Prime Minister: With regards to Judea and Samaria we have both the right and the claim. As it is known, all in all it has to do with one Nahal settlement. 

The President: the whole world heard what Sharon said. This is the Government policy. Sharon spoke about 100,000 people. 

The Prime Minister: Would you want me to disavow a colleague of mine? We do not have 100,000 people at all [for new settlements]. 

The President: Do you wish to continue with your existing policy?

Dayan: Here we have several questions. The first one is whether if the issue of the settlements should be part of the framework? In my opinion it should be handled out of the framework and be done in a different venue, such as [an exchange] letters. 

The President: Send no letter to me. Write directly to Sadat. Our position is that the settlements are illegal. Now it is time for that issue to be determined. If you wish to have new settlements and expanding the existing ones – do continue. I cannot continue with it. The issue of Sinai was about to fail because of the settlements and now it will happen in the West Bank. 

Dayan: There is another question that relates to time elements. We have here two periods: one is during the negotiations and towards the beginning of the transitional period. The other has to do with the negotiations during the five-year period – when this issue will come up during the negotiations. Either there will be an agreement, or not. It will definitely come up. Sadat is worried about what would happen between now and the conclusion of the negotiations. 

Vance: What do you mean by ‘negotiations’? 

Barak: In the agreement with Egypt on Sinai, there was a clear-cut period of three months during which negotiations will be conducted in order to sign a peace treaty. In the agreement concerning Judea and Samaria no defined period was set, but the intention is to conduct negotiations at the end of which there will start a five-year transitional period. We proposed to set such transitional period for reaching an agreement over Judea and Samaria. 

The President: Your intention was therefore that as soon as this period is over you will commence with the settlements. 

Dayan: At the moment we do not discuss what will happen within a five-year period. As of now is it necessary to agree what will happen until an agreement will be reached? As far as I know there is no practical proposal as to what will happen with the settlements during that time. We wrote three months, as was the case with Egypt. But it may take longer. 

Vance: The negotiations between now and a three-month period has nothing to do with settlements. The negotiations are about the establishment of self-rule in the West Bank. Why should not the freeze [on settlements] continue after the three months period? 

Dayan: I will propose to the Arabs to put on the table our proposal regarding the return of the displaced persons. During these five years we shall listen to their positions and wishes about the return of these persons to the region. Is the proposal that that we should decide on this issue now, and not during the five-year period? 

Vance: I never mentioned three months. 

Dayan: Indeed, but you said “pending agreement”. It is one matter to talk about the first period and another to talk about the second period. 

The Prime Minister: In the meantime we are referring to three months of negotiations. And I submit a moral commitment that it is about one settlement in the Jordan Valley. I shall not tell  Sadat about it. This is not his business. 

The President: It should be in a document. Egypt is the one that conducts negotiations with you on the West Bank. Why does she not have the right to discuss it? 

The Prime Minister: On this issue there are different opinions between us and the U.S. Do we not have the right to hold different opinions? 

The President: What is the obstacle to peace in Sinai? The settlements. 

The Prime Minister: No. We can make peace with settlements. In July, you said in a press conference that adding more people to existing settlements is easier to accept than building new settlements. Now we are talking of adding several scores. Not more. And as for new settlements, we may have only one. But freezing the settlements is unacceptable. I will not be able to return home. 

Vance: I can imagine having negotiations for peace with Jordan. It may take time. 

The Prime Minister: And if Jordan does not enter? I agree to write three months in negotiations with Jordan. 

The President: The negotiations relate to the West Bank and Gaza. What do you wish to do about putting some limitations on the settlements? 

The Prime Minister: I’m ready to write a letter that will say as follows: ‘You have asked me if we shall continue to build new settlements in the West Bank. I announce that we shall do nothing in the Gaza region. In the Jordan Valley there will be, maybe, one military settlement. As for adding people to existing settlements, we plan on few hundreds and this defines ‘thickening’. 

Barak: We could say: no civilian settlement. Only Nahal. 

The President: How many people are there in all the settlements in in Judea, Samaria and Gaza? 

The Prime Minister: About 2,000. Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 maximum. We may add few hundreds. 

Dayan: We should not be mislead. We shall have an agreement with the Palestinian Arabs on a five years period. From the very beginning there will be some criticism about the self-rule. I am certain that the issue of the settlements will arise as well. 

The President: How would you suggest to reach an agreement? 

Dayan: We shall be able to do so. Our plans for five years include 15-20 settlements in Judea. Nothing in Gaza. In each of the settlements there will be about 50-60 people. It will be carried out during a transitional period whose length will be agreed upon. At the moment we speak about a period that commences now until the establishment of the self-rule authority. Now it is the time to decide on the duration of that period. I believe that they will ask to have 100,000 people coming back. And we shall say – 15 settlements. I assume that we shall reach an agreement. Practically, we have no intention to do anything. Do you assume that we shall be that stupid to risk all because of one settlement? 

The President: I have no idea. I propose the following formula: 

After the signing of the framework and during the negotiations, no new Israeli settlement will be established in the area, unless otherwise agreed. The issue of further Israeli settlements will be decided and agreed by the negotiating parties. 

Would you be able to tell this to him [Sadat] in a letter?

The Prime Minister: I will think it over and let you know by tomorrow. 

The President: you will postpone the one settlement that you want to establish.

The Prime Minister: I will write about it. 

At this point I stopped taking notes because we began to discuss Clause C. when it ended I wrote the following: 

The President: When the Knesset decides on the issue of settlements in Sinai and you mentioned that there will be an open vote, does it mean that you will not take a stand?

The Prime Minister: I will have to think about it. 

Dayan: At the beginning Begin said that he will be quiet. And then I said that the Prime Minister cannot remain silent; but you could avoid exerting pressure, and accept any decision that might be. 

The President: Does that mean that the Cabinet members will express their own opinions? 

The Prime Minister: Yes. 

The President: Dayan, what will be your opinion? 

Dayan: I have no political party. Whatever I say will be my opinion only. 

This is where the protocol ends. Hannan Bar-On called me in the evening and told me that Brzezinski is looking for me and he gave me his telephone number. I consulted with the Foreign Minister and I said that it would not be wise on my part to get in touch with him. The Foreign Minister agreed and asked me to edit my notes. And so I did, to the best of my memory. And it does not appear in my notes, after the President read his suggestion for the letter and after the response of the Prime Minister that he will think about it. The Prime Minister added that it is desirable to have positive phrasing while citing the response. But, as I said, I am not sure about it. 

Aaron Barak