Letter of an Arabists Lament
(October 27, 1964)
In this letter Lucius
Battle illustrates the Arabist thinking prevalent
in the State Department.
102. Letter From the Ambassador to the United
Arab Republic (Battle) to the Assistant Secretary
of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
Cairo, October 27, 1964.
I did not want to let Ridge Knight's letter and memorandum of October
162 go by without some comment.
I think Ridge's basic thesis is right. The United States is apparently
a helpless witness to Israel's inexorable drive not only to gain full
sovereignty over the demilitarized zones but to "remilitarize"
them. Therefore we get bogged down in details--"Black lines,"
"Brown lines," etc.--and end up assisting the Israelis in
a process which is a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the
Armistice Agreement and of the UN Charter. What should add to the Syrians'
apprehensions re Israel intentions and latent U.S. support for them
is the fact that the Israelis in 1955 possessed themselves of the Nitzana
demilitarized zone on the Egyptian-Israel armistice line and now operate
that region in fee simple with none to protest the presence of Israel
armed forces there.
We are unable to persuade Israel to return to the Israel-Syrian Mixed
Armistice Commission so we get directly involved in the details of General
Odd Bull's informal negotiations with the parties. We have been unable
to persuade the Israelis to withdraw their unilateral denunciation of
the Egyptian-Israel Armistice Agreement so we involve ourselves in the
details of financing and administering the United Nations Emergency
We are unable to formalize the international community's very real
interest in Jerusalem. Under Israeli pressure, we have now removed the
designation "Jerusalem, Palestine" from our directories. Maybe
this was the right thing to do. Maybe Jerusalem will just disappear.
Maybe the next change in the Foreign Service List will be to call Israel-occupied
Jerusalem "East Tel Aviv."
We are unable to obtain Israel compliance with UN resolutions calling
for the repatriation and compensation of the refugees. Therefore we
natter at UNRWA to prune its lists and cut expenses and keep reminding
the Arab host governments that it is American bounty that keeps the
unfortunate refugees alive.
The above picture is not very pleasant. It is compounded by the fact
that Israel and its friends in the United States have been able to establish
widespread credence in an upside-down world where Syria is the trigger
happy party in the demilitarized zones, Nasser is dedicated to the destruction
of "peace-loving" Israel, and the plight of the Arab refugees
is somehow the fault of the Arab host governments.
All the above is said neither in sorrow nor in anger. I don't think
it is realistic to expect the United States suddenly after sixteen years
to gain the capability to reverse any of these situations. To the contrary,
I think we should probably take some pride in that despite these handicaps
we have not only kept the peace in this area but have also managed to
contain Soviet influence and to pump out nearly a billion dollars a
year in petroleum revenues.
I do, however, go along with Ridge's thought that our preoccupation
with trees often obscures the forest. The fact is that Israel's interests
(as determined by Israel) do not at all times and in all respects coincide
with those of the United States. This is neither abnormal nor wicked.
Perhaps we should strengthen our efforts to bring this fact to the attention
of Americans. It was Thomas Jefferson, I believe, who in a little document
proclaimed on July 4, 1776 said something like this: "Let facts
be submitted to a candid world."
How do we do this? A number of suggestions come to mind. Perhaps some
well-known journalists could be persuaded that there is a story behind
some of the aspects of the Palestine problem and UN and other efforts
to keep the peace. Rick Smith, the Cairo correspondent of The New York
Times, tells us he has been commissioned to write a piece for the Sunday
Magazine about the Palestine refugees to be run at about the time the
UNRWA debate takes place in New York. We intend to give him every assistance.
Perhaps other American correspondents in the area or in Washington would
be interested in writing pieces about the demilitarized zones, the operations
of UNTSO and the Mixed Armistice Commissions, etc. More importantly,
however, it seems to me that it would be useful if some leading American
legislators from states where there is little involvement in the Arab-Israel
dispute were to take an interest in the Palestine situation and make
speeches about the issues and their effect on the totality of U.S. interests
in this area. Candidates for this type of exercise who come quickly
to mind are Senators Fulbright, Church, and Monroney.
The Arab-Israel area has been relatively free over the past few years
of clashes and incidents of the magnitude which grab headlines on a
continuing basis at home. This is, of course, a good thing as it demonstrates
the effectiveness of our policies. At the same time it has meant that
the field has been left fairly clear for special pleaders. This, I think,
we should try to remedy.
1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 32-1 ISR-SYR. Secret; Limit Distribution;
Official-Informal. Copies were sent to Ambassadors Knight, Barnes, Barbour,
Meyer, and Strong, and to Davies and Consul General Wilson in Jerusalem.
A handwritten note on the letter states that a reply was drafted on
November 6. The reply has not been found.
2 Knight's October 16 memorandum on the subject "Syrian-Israeli
Confrontation in the Demilitarized Zones," attached to a letter
to Talbot of the same date, argued that Israel was "seeking with
unflinching persistence and tenacity to extend its sovereignty to the
demilitarized zones" and that the United States was constantly
trying to restrain Arab reactions against Israeli actions and was consequently
too bogged down in details to do all that it could to restrain Israel.
Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli
Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO,