Then-Israel Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban speaks at the General Assembly in New York in the early 1970s..
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)
Preparations made by Israel in December 1967, for a series of negotiations with Jordan that it believed would erase the pos- sibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, were published for the first time on Thursday by Israel State Archives.
The archives released a set of transcripts from Israel’s Security Cabinet in 1967, recorded during the months leading up to and following the Six Day War, when in the flush of victory, Israeli pol- iticians imagined they were on the verge of peace with the Arab world.
Of particular interest was the possibility, put forward by the United States, of negotiations with King Hussein of Jordan, whose country had controlled the West Bank and east Jerusa- lem for the 19 years from 1948 to 1967.
On December 20, then-foreign minister Abba Eban explained a peace deal with Jordan with regard to the West Bank, saying such talks would effectively erase the idea of a Palestinian state.
Eban said Hussein feared the creation of a Palestinian reality. He quoted American officials as urging Israel to enter into such talks with Jordan and to stay away from the Palestinian track.
“The Americans told us they believe that a Palestinian solution was a very negative idea and that a Palestinian state [would be] irredentist and radicalized,” with pro-Soviet tendencies, Eban said, and that it would push for more territory than Israel would want to give.
Records from that meeting and subsequent ones held in December reveal the terms that ministers believed Israel could provide in such a deal. Aside from Hussein, there was also the issue of Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol’s upcoming visit to the United States, in which he was scheduled to meet with pres- ident Lyndon Johnson. It was presumed that Johnson would want to know Israel’s stance on a peace deal.
Security was the primary con- cern. Ministers willing to debate ceding the West Bank back to Jor - dan wanted, much like today, to retain military control of the area. In particular, they feared that the Soviet Union, which had ties to the Arab world and possessed nuclear capabilities, could place a nuclear weapon within kilome- ters of Israel’s borders.
But those who believed that sovereignty should be imposed, or that Israel should not cede territory, were at a loss of what to do with some 600,000 Pales- tinians living in the West Bank and another 300,000 in Gaza. Some floated the idea of the IDF maintaining security, with Jordan retaining governmental control. Menachem Begin, who was then a minister in the govern- ment, was among those who argued for sovereignty, saying that nothing would come out of the idea of such talks.
He said it was “a mistaken prognosis to believe that Hussein will hold direct talks with us,” and that Israel had to determine for itself and for the United States what its terms were.
“This is the first time since the destruction of the Temple that this area [the West Bank] is in Jewish hands,” Begin said.