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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Rostow Urges President Johnson to Pressure Israel

(January 5, 1968)

This memo from Under Secretary for Political Affairs Walt Rostow to President Johnson encourages the President to pressure Israel to be more flexible in peace talks when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.


The Issues for Eshkol

You are so fully immersed in this problem that I need not go into detail, but I do want to found up for you in capsule form where we stand on each major point you will be discussing. I am attaching a one-page checklist of these points, an interpretation of Eshkol's political position and Secretary Rusk's comprehensive memos.1

1. The main issue — peace. The real issue between us is that the Israelis think the Arabs will come around if they just sit tight and we think the Israelis may have to go more than half way to get the Arabs to negotiate. We can't dictate Israeli tactics, and we may not even know of some secret contacts. But we must be assured that the Israelis aren't going to sit themselves tight right into a "fortress Israel" that we would not want to be tied to. In this context, Eshkol may ask you what kind of support he can count on from the US if he gambles territorial security for an uncertain peace deal with the Arabs.

One point we haven't discussed with you recently is our willingness to facilitate Arab-Israeli contacts anywhere it makes sense. We don't want to get in the middle, but we think it would be worth offering to help if we can be useful.

2. Israeli moves toward peace. When we say the Israelis shouldn't just sit tight we have in mind specifically their: proposing a refugee settlement that would include compensation and some repatriation; offering Hussein some accommodation in Jerusalem; letting refugees from the June war back onto the West Bank; evacuating Tiran Island which is Saudi territory; and avoiding further actions that convince the Arabs they're just consolidating their conquests.

1A briefing book prepared in the Department of State including memoranda dealing with all of the issues anticipated in the discussions between President Johnson and Prime Minister Eshkol was sent to the White House on January 5 under a covering memorandum from Rusk, which incorporated suggested talking points. The interpretation of Eshkol's political position was in a January 5 memorandum from Saunders and John Foster to Rostow. All of these documents, including the checklist, are ibid. There is also a full set of the briefing materials in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 70 D 418, PM Eshkol Visit, Briefing Books I and 11.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.