UN Security Council Resolution 338 on a Ceasefire and Direct Negotiations Following October 1973 War (L-R) Prime Minister Gola Meir, President Nixon, and Secretary of State Kissinger pictured in the White House, October 1973. Photo: Nixon Presidential Library

United Nations. Security Council. Resolution 1973/338. 22 October 1973.

The October 1973 War broke the logjam over whether diplomacy could unfold to kick-off Arab-Israeli negotiations. Sadat used the 1973 war as an engine to harness American horsepower. In that he succeeded since US Secretary of State Kissinger saw Sadat’s leaning to Washington not only as a chance to begin useful negotiations, but of great significance to weaning the Egyptian President away from Moscow. 

Out of the 1973 war, through Kissinger’s mediation in Moscow, near the war’s end on October 22, he secured with the Soviet Union’s leadership agreement on the principle of “negotiations between the parties.” Israel had, since its formation, sought Arab neighbors to step forward and negotiate a settlement, agreement or treaty with Israel; in essence, end the state of war that had lasted since the 1948-49 conflict. Additionally, Kissinger and the Soviet leadership agreed that these negotiations would take place under “appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.” Moscow saw appropriate auspices as an opportunity for it along with Washington to steward the negotiations forward; Kissinger willingly created the perception in the Soviet Union that it would be an equal partner with the US in convening and conducting any upcoming negotiations, understood to be an international conference. It was Kissinger’s ruse to choreograph an Israeli-Egyptian agreement in advance of any super-power convened gathering, have the gathering, and then dominate the diplomacy in the conference’s aftermath. That is precisely what Kissinger did after ending the December 1973 Geneva Middle East Peace conference: he went on to negotiate without Moscow engaged—the January 1974 Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement. From then forward, Kissinger dominated the diplomacy and handed the option to continue to the Carter administration.  

It was not the conference that was so important to Israel; it was the concept of carrying out negotiations between the parties—a cherished mechanism that Israeli Prime Ministers of all political stripes protected from Golda Meir through the Netanyahu years. 

When Kissinger returned from his Moscow negotiations in October 1973, he saw that the Israelis had been traumatized by the surprise generated by the October war and the casualties sustained. But Golda was worried, upon meeting Kissinger that first time after the war in Israel, that the super-powers were about to impose an unwanted and dictated outcome on Israel that would be contrary to Israel’s interests.  Kissinger recalls in his memoir, Years of Upheaval, (1982 page 564) about his first meeting with Prime Minister Meir. He wrote, “Golda’s first question when we sat down in a back room concerned not the war but her nightmare for the future: Was there a secret US-Soviet deal to impose the 1967 borders? When I denied this forcefully, she asked whether there was a deal to impose any other frontiers. I denied this as well. As she explored all possible permutations of American duplicity, she exemplified the enormous insecurity inherent in Israel’s geographic and demographic position and its total dependence on the United States. For two weeks we had stood by Israel’s side, supplied its armories, risked and finally suffered an oil embargo, synchronized diplomacy, and achieved far more in Resolution 338 than foreseen in the first week when direct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis were never even being considered. Yet now the almost palpable relief at the war’s end gave rise to acute uneasiness about its implications. For twenty-five years, Israeli diplomacy had striven for direct negotiations. Now that this achievement was at hand, Golda was nearly overwhelmed by the realization, still mercifully obscure to her colleagues that the agenda for these negotiations would face Israel with the awesome dilemmas it had avoided for too long.” 

Four years later, Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s Foreign Minister. after a meeting between then Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat in Ismailiya on December 25, 1977, remarked to American Ambassador Samuel Lewis, “difficult decisions will need to be made.” Successful negotiations between the parties in any setting requires difficult trade-offs, and trade-offs by both sides. 

Ken Stein, October 2019

The Security Council,

  1. Calls upon all parties to the present fighting to cease all firing and terminate all military activity immediately, no later than 12 hours after the moment of the adoption of this decision, in the position they now occupy;
  2. Calls upon the parties concerned to start immediately after the cease-fire the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) in all of its parts;
  3. Decides that, immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire, negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.