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The Generous Peace Offer that was Never Offered:


The Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967

Historically, and to a considerable extent currently, Israels official line has been
that despite persistent attempts to make peace with its Arab neighbors there was no

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one to talk to on the other side. In public and academic discourse, the cabinet
resolution of June 19, 1967, which was adopted a bare nine days after the guns of
the Six Day War had fallen silent, has frequently been put forward as proof of
Israels desire for reconciliation: its government, the argument goes, offered Egypt
and Syria the territories they had lost in the war in return for contractual peace, but
the magnanimous initiative met with an immediate rebuff from the belligerent
Arabs. The story of the rejected generous peace offer makes a very strong case
for a peace-seeking Israel and for Arab animosity toward the Jewish state. But an
investigation into the matter reveals that the generous peace offer was never
offered, and that the Israeli cabinet passed the June 19 resolution mainly as a
diplomatic maneuver. Its principal objective was to win the United States support
against an uncompromising Soviet drive for a United Nations resolution demand-
ing Israel immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the territories occupied
in the war.
The purpose of this essay is twofold. One is to show that the story of the
generous peace offer of June 19, 1967 is unfounded. The second is to examine
how the myth of the generous peace offer came into being. The article first
explores the aim of the Israeli cabinet resolution; then it inquires whether Israel
asked the Americans to transmit the resolution to Egypt and Syria; and finally it
investigates whether the resolution reached Cairo and Damascus and whether it
was rejected by them. In tracing the creation of the myth, it will emerge that the
key figure was Abba Eban, Israels foreign minister between 1966 and 1974. His
words at the time, as recorded in recently declassified official papers, are at odds
with his retrospective versions that gave birth to the myth of the generous peace
offer. But as the author of the tale Eban had many followers, particularly among
scholars. By repeating and recycling the story unchallenged, these writers have
turned it into accepted wisdom.

THE MYTH

On the face of it, the Israeli cabinet resolution 563 of June 19, 1967 was both
magnanimous and bold. It proposed peace accords based on the international

Diplomatic History, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2013). The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University
Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. All rights reserved.
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borders and the security needs of Israelwhich arguably meant the return by
Israel of the recently occupied Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights to Egypt and
Syria, respectivelyin exchange for full demilitarization of these areas; guarantee
of freedom of maritime passage in the Straits of Tiran, the Gulf of Aqaba and the
Suez Canal, and of overflight rights in the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba;
and a guarantee of noninterference with the flow of water from the sources of the
River Jordan.1 After its adoption, the resolution was promptly cabled to Foreign

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1. Cabinet resolution 563 of June 19, 1967, obtained under the Freedom of Information Law
from Israel Cabinet Secretariat, Jerusalem (ICS):
The decisions of the Ministerial Committee appointed as per Cabinet Resolution No. 561 of
11 of Sivan 727 (19.6.67) approved by the Cabinet in Resolution No. 563 of the aforemen-
tioned date.
1. Israels Position Regarding the Territories Held by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces]
DECIDING:
A. Egypt:
Israel proposes to sign a peace treaty with Egypt based on the international border and
the security needs of Israel. According to the international border, the Gaza Strip is
located within the territory of the State of Israel.
The peace treaty will require:
(1) Guaranteed freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Solomon
[Aqaba];
(2) Guaranteed freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal;
(3) Guaranteed freedom of flight over the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Solomon
[Aqaba];
(4) Demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula.

Until a peace treaty with Egypt is signed, Israel will continue to keep the territories it
currently holds.

B. Syria:
Israel proposes to sign a peace treaty with Syria based on the international border and the
security needs of Israel.
The peace treaty will require:

(1) Demilitarization of the Syrian Plateau [Golan Heights] now held by IDF troops;
(2) An absolute guarantee of non-interference with the flow of water from the sources
of the River Jordan to Israel.

Until a peace treaty with Syria is signed, Israel will continue to keep the territories it
currently holds.

C. To defer the discussion of the position regarding Jordan.

D. Refugees:

(1) Establishing peace in the Middle East with the concomitant regional cooperation
will open opportunities for an international and regional settlement of the refugee
problem;
(2) To defer the discussion of ways to settle the refugee problem.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 87

Minister Abba Eban in New York, who was attending the Emergency Special
Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Eban relates in his autobiog-
raphy that he was authorized to communicate Israels terms for peace to the United
States for transmission to Arab governments.2
On the evening of June 21, Eban was received by Secretary of State Dean Rusk
at the latters Waldorf Towers suite in New York. Undersecretary Eugene
Rostow, Assistant Secretary Joseph Sisco and U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations Arthur Goldberg were also present. I outlined Israels proposals for
final peace, Eban recalls in his autobiography, and then he goes on: I could

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see that Rusk, Goldberg and their colleagues could hardly believe what I was
saying. . . . This was the most dramatic initiative ever taken by an Israeli govern-
ment before or since 1967, and it had a visibly strong impact on the United
States.3 In a newspaper article published in 1982 Eban cited the personal reaction
of the Secretary of State: Rusk responded that he did not know of any case in
modern history where a country, which had been attacked and emerged victori-
ous, put forward such daring proposals so soon after. 4 And in a BBC interview in
1997 Eban elaborated that as a result of the strong impression his words made on
the Americans, Ambassador Goldberg went to another part of the suite in order to
share the news with President Lyndon Johnson. [W]hen he came back he said,
Ive told the President and he thinks what youve said is very constructive.5
The Arabs, according to Ebans autobiography, were not impressed at all by the
Israeli largesse. A few days later replies came back through Washington stating
that Egypt and Syria completely rejected the Israeli proposal. Their case was that
Israels withdrawal must be unconditional. It must not bring about any reward for
Israel or any change in the previous system or the previous judicial relationship.6
Eban claimed further that Ambassador Goldberg had reacted sarcastically to the
rejection by Cairo and Damascus, saying that the Arabs wanted the film to be

2. Israels Position in the Special Session of the UN [General] Assembly on the Middle East
Crisis

(a) The Foreign Ministers speech at the [General] Assembly will mention only the
demand to sign peace treaties with the neighboring countries, and will indicate that
a return to the situation prior to 5.6.67 is inconceivable.
(b) If the Foreign Minister deems fit, he is authorized to mention the subject of the
refugees as formulated in article 1(D) above.
(c) In secret talks with representatives of the United States, the Foreign Minister is
authorized to detail Israels position regarding the territories it is holding, in accord-
ance with decision 1(A-D) above.
2. Abba Eban, An Autobiography (London, 1978), 43536.
3. Ibid., 436.
4. Abba Eban, Truth and legend about peace initiatives, Davar (Tel Aviv), May 23, 1982.
5. Transcript of Ebans interview (conducted on January 29, 1997) for The Fifty Years War:
Israel and the Arabs, a BBC six-part program (broadcast in 1998), GB165-0346, Middle East Centre
Archive, St. Antonys College, Oxford (MECA).
6. Eban, An Autobiography, 436.
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played backward in the projector,7 and President Johnson had quipped: You
Israelis suggested withdrawal and peace; the Arabs agreed to fifty percent of
your proposalsthey accepted the withdrawal part.8 With these quotations,
attributed to two key American figures, Eban sealed his account of Egypt and
Syrias intransigence, and a myth was born.
At the heart of the myth lies the assumption that resolution 563 was indeed
magnanimous and offered Egypt and Syria all the lands they had lost in the war
(barring the Gaza Strip, which Egypt did not consider as part of its own territory).
This assumption is wrong. The resolutions text proposes peace accords based on

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the international borders and the security needs of Israel9a formulation that in-
tended to allow Israel to retain some segments of the occupied Sinai Peninsula and
Golan Heights. According to none other than Abba Eban, senior White House
official Harold Saunders regarded this language as a philosophy of territorial
changes emanating from security considerations.10 The minutes of the long dis-
cussion of the ten-member cabinet committee, headed by Prime Minister Levi
Eshkol and assigned to draft the final version of the resolution, clearly show that
the ministers struggled hard to ensure that the resolutions wording would allow
border modifications but without saying so explicitly.11 Months later, Minister of
Information Yisrael Galili feared that Washington had not been specifically told
that Israel was demanding serious changes to the international border with Egypt,
not merely minor rectifications. He expressed his anxiety in a top secret letter to
Foreign Minister Eban.12
Though the cabinet resolution did not promise full restitution of the occupied
Egyptian and Syrian lands, discrediting the myth still requires a thorough exam-
ination of the historical evidence. To begin with, it is necessary to discuss the
context of the cabinet resolution and its purpose.

THE CABINET RESOLUTION

Already during the war, when the magnitude of the victory became clear, the
triumphant Israelis insisted on permanent peace treaties with their Arab neighbors
to replace the armistice agreements in effect since 1949. After 19 years of

7. Ibid.
8. Transcript of Ebans lecture, delivered at Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University,
March 19, 1986, 18, Moshe Dayan Center Library (MDCL).
9. Cabinet resolution 563, articles 1(A) and 1(B). Authors emphasis.
10. Ebans comments in minutes, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee (KFASC)
session, June 17, 1969, 7, A/8162/5, ISA. Even when discussing the generous offer in his auto-
biography, Eban says that peace treaties with Egypt and Syria should be based on the former
international boundaries with changes for Israels security. Eban, An Autobiography, 436. Quotation
marks in the original; authors emphasis.
11. Minutes, cabinet session, June 19, 1967 (3 p.m.), 3-23, A/8164/9, Israel State Archives,
Jerusalem (ISA).
12. Quoted in Amos Shifris, Yisrael Galili: Shomer ha-Massad ve-Noteh ha-Kav [Hebrew]
(Ramat Efal, Israel, 2010), 276.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 89

independence, the Israeli leadership was determined to exploit the outcome of the
war to achieve recognized and secure borders that would be very different from the
hitherto provisional Green Line demarcation.13 The memory of the Sinai
Campaign of 1956 was still painfully fresh. Israels armed forces had then swiftly
captured the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, but heavy pressure from
both superpowers forced them to withdraw. The United States sweetened its
demand with a pledge that any attempt to block the free passage of Israeli shipping
through the Straits of the Tiranas the Egyptians had done before the 1956
hostilitieswould be regarded by Washington as a casus belli, to which Israel

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could respond in self-defense. A decade later, on May 22, 1967, President
Gamal Abd al-Nasser of Egypt restored the Tiran blockade, thereby annulling
Israels main achievement of the 1956 war. American assurances proved futile, and
Israel went to war on June 5 for the third time in its short history. Unsurprisingly,
the Israeli policymakers, unwilling to rely on foreign promises, now insisted that
only peace accords could guarantee the security of their state.14
Emerging from the three weeks of fear that had preceded the war, the euphoric
Israelis were overwhelmed by national pride and military arrogance. For their
leadership the end of the fighting on June 10 also marked the beginning of a no
less formidable battle on the diplomatic front. This battle was set within the con-
text of the Cold War. The crushing defeat of Egypt and Syria was a serious Soviet
setback as well, for the USSR was the patron of these countries and the supplier of
their armaments, which proved inferior to the Western-made weapons of Israel.
The Arab rout dealt a heavy blow to Moscows prestige, and its authority in the
Middle East was considerably damaged.15 The Kremlin thus attempted to redress
the disastrous outcome of the war. On June 13, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko
sent a letter to UN Secretary-General U Thant, demanding that an emergency
special session of the General Assembly be at once convened to consider the situ-
ation and to adopt a decision designed to bring about the liquidation of the
consequences of aggression and the immediate withdrawal of Israel forces
behind the armistice lines.16 Four days later, the Emergency Special Session
opened.
In Washington, a special committee of the National Security Council, which
had been set up by President Johnson on June 7 to provide high-level crisis
management during the fighting, was now assigned to establish the U.S. postwar

13. See, for example, Prime Minister Eshkols statement in the Israeli parliament: The Knesset
Proceedings, June 12, 1967, 232731 (specifically 2330). For English version, see Henry M.
Christman, ed., The State Papers of Levi Eshkol (New York, 1969), 11734 (specifically 13132).
14. See Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (London, 2000), 17885, 23741.
15. See Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence: Moscows Ambassador to Americas Six Cold War
Presidents (1962-1986) (New York, 1995), 161.
16. UN document A/6717, June 13, 1967.
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policy.17 The pressing task at hand was dealing with the Soviet demarche at the
United Nations. This required McGeorge Bundy, the committees executive sec-
retary and special consultant to the president, to find out from the Israelis what
they were up to. The Americans were expected to side with the Jewish state in the
forthcoming skirmish at the United Nations, and Bundy urged the Israelis to
convey their ideas for a Middle East settlement without delay.18 Israel, then, had
to set out its peace terms; that is to say, to decide the fate of the territorial acqui-
sitions of the war.
The pressure from Washington prompted hectic deliberations in the top ech-

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elon of the Israeli government. One such meeting took place at Foreign Minister
Ebans office on June 13. Among the participants was Dr. Yaacov Herzog, the
director-general of the Prime Ministers Office and Premier Eshkols closest ad-
viser. He later confided to his diary that Ebans main concern was what Bundy
should be told about our thoughts regarding the future.19 The decision-making
process, which began with exchanges of views at the Foreign and Defense
Ministries, and informal consultations headed by the prime minister, quickly
moved to cabinet level. On June 14 and 15 the Ministerial Committee for
Security Affairs considered the matter, and its recommendations were debated
at three prolonged plenary sessions of the cabinet on June 18 and 19. The minutes
of the cabinet sessions, which ended with the adoption of resolution 563, reveal
that the discussion was aimed at defining the position Israel should present to the
Americans as regards the occupied territories in the secret bilateral talks that were
about to commence within the very next days. Another purpose, less crucial but
more urgent, was the need to furnish Foreign Minister Eban, now in New York,
with guidelines for the speech at the General Assembly which he was due to make
at a late hour on June 19.20
These were serious deliberations. While Police Minister Eliyahu Sasson won-
dered several times whether the proposed resolution was meant to be a tactical
maneuver or diplomatic ploy,21 other ministers appeared to feel that they were
entrusted with making a historical decision. What we are about to determine here
is no less than the political and security borders of the state, Minister of Labor

17. For the establishment of the committee, see Foreign Relations of the United States,
1964-1968 (FRUS), Vol. 19: Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967-1968 (Washington, DC, 2004), documents
149 and 194.
18. See Ebans comments in minutes, cabinet session, June 11, 1967, 6667, A/8164/6, ISA;
and minutes, KFASC session, June 15, 1967, 79, A/8161/7, ISA; Yigal Allon, oral history inter-
view, third meeting, May 21, 1979, 18, A/5001/19, ISA.
19. Yaacov Herzogs diary, June 13, 1967, A/4511/3, ISA.
20. Minutes, cabinet sessions, June 18, 1967 (morning), A/8164/6; June 18, 1967 (afternoon),
A/8164/7; June 19, 1967 (morning and afternoon), A/8164/8; June 19, 1967 (3 p.m.), A/8164/
9all in ISA. For a discussion of the deliberations that preceded the plenary sessions of the
cabinet, see Avi Raz, The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath
of the June 1967 War (New Haven, CT, 2012), 3944.
21. Minutes, June 18 (afternoon), 63, 65, 71.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 91

Yigal Allon stated.22 There was a consensus about the annexation of the Jordanian
sector of Jerusalem23 and keeping the Gaza Strip, which before the war had been
under Egyptian military rule. The main argument revolved around the West Bank
which had been taken from Jordan and was consideredlike the Gaza Stripan
integral part of the Land of Israel (Erets Yisrael), and the refugee problem. Deep
differences prevented the cabinet from reaching an agreement on these issues, and
consequently it was decided to defer discussion. In contrast, Egypts Sinai
Peninsula and Syrias Golan Heights did not present unbridgeable difficulties,24
and eventually the cabinet passed the resolution unanimously. But there is nothing

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in the records of the cabinets sessions to indicate that the deliberations were
intended to produce peace proposals. In fact, the ministers doubted Egypt and
Syrias readiness to negotiate peace with Israel, and nowhere in the hundreds of
pages of the verbatim minutes was there any talk about communicating the Israeli
ideas to Cairo and Damascus. Only the Americans, and specifically McGeorge
Bundy, were mentioned. We have a few friends or [rather] one great friend, and
he also has a committee, Premier Eshkol said at one point, referring to President
Johnson and Bundys committee. Through this committee he asks us: Tell us
what you want.25 Some cabinet members were inclined to avoid any decision at
that time. Eshkol attempted to make them understand that deferral was impos-
sible. They [the Americans] need to know what they should support, he said.26
The prime minister was convinced that in the secret talks with Bundy and his
associates the Americans would begin by raising the return of the territories
Israel had seized in the war, and therefore [w]e should know what to say.27
Time and again Eshkol and others brought up the imminent dialogue with the
United States, speculating what Bundy might ask and suggesting what he should
be told. Though the articles concerning Egypt and Syria begin with the words
Israel proposes to sign a peace treaty with [Egypt/Syria],28 resolution 563 was
not meant to reach Cairo and Damascus but only Washington. This is why the
resolution expressly authorized Foreign Minister Eban to detail its content in
secret talks with representatives of the United States.29 There is nothing in the
resolution to suggest an intention to convey the text as a peace proposal to the
Arabs. In fact, the most compelling pieces of evidence to prove that the resolution

22. Minutes, June 19 (morning and afternoon), 43.


23. At its first meeting after the war the cabinet agreed to unify the two parts of Jerusalem.
Minutes, cabinet session, June 11, 1967, A/8164/6, ISA.
24. The only serious disagreement was about whether the resolution should say that peace
treaties with Egypt and Syria should be based on the international border in addition to security
arrangements. After it had been decided by a ten to nine vote to include the controversial words, a
ministerial committee was tasked with formulating the final draft of the proposed resolution.
25. Minutes, June 18 (afternoon), 9596.
26. Minutes, June 19 (morning and afternoon), 56.
27. Ibid., 5253.
28. Cabinet resolution 563, articles 1(A) and 1(B).
29. Cabinet resolution 563, article 2(C).
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was just a foreign policy maneuver came from the author of the myth himself. On
May 24, 1968, during a discussion at the prime ministers office, Abba Eban
referred to the June 19 resolution and the motives for its adoption. Anticipating
a difficult fight at the United Nations against the Soviet draft resolution designed
to force Israel to withdraw unconditionally from the territories it had occupied in
the war, and wishing the United States to prevent its adoption, the cabinet con-
vened and we thought what we should say on the issue of peace. In his char-
acteristically convoluted style Eban explained that the cabinet had endeavored to
give the Americans something that would motivate them to thwart the Soviet drive

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at the United Nations. The cabinet resolution, Eban continued, had authorized
him to impart its substance to the Americans only.30 Eban repeated the same ex-
planation behind the closed doors of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security
Committee a few days later, adding: We wanted to form a front [with the
United States].31 Appearing before the same forum six months afterwards,
Eban stated again that he had received the cabinet resolution in order to share it
with the United States, and only with it . . .32

THE EBANRUSK MEETING

Classified top secret, resolution 563 was kept a closely guarded secret even
from Lieutenant General Yitzhak Rabin. The armys chief of staff learned about it
only months later from telegrams that had been sent to the Israeli embassy in
Washington and which he read after shedding his uniform and taking up his am-
bassadorial post in the American capital in early 1968.33 Foreign Minister Eban, on
the other hand, was immediately informed. In his autobiography Eban relates that
he was surprised by the spacious approach which Eshkol had empowered him to
communicate to the United States for transmission to Arab governments.34 As
we have seen, the resolution was adopted at the urging of the United States with
the aim of encouraging Washington to defend Israel in the diplomatic arena, but it
may be argued that Eban went beyond the cabinets instructions and suggested to
his American interlocutors that they should regard the resolution as a peace pro-
posal to be passed on to Cairo and Damascus for their consideration and response.

30. Minutes, The meeting with Lt. Gen. Rabin, May 24, 1968, 1516, A/7938/11, ISA.
31. Minutes, KFASC session, May 29, 1968, 17, A/8161/12, ISA.
32. Minutes, KFASC session, November 19, 1968, 6, A/8162/2, ISA. Authors emphasis. In
fact, Eban told the KFASC as early as September 1967 that Israel had shared its thoughts regarding
a settlement solely with the United States. See his comments in minutes, KFASC session,
September 8, 1967, 15, A/8161/8, ISA.
33. Rabins comments in minutes, KFASC session, May 29, 1968, 6, 8, A/8161/12, ISA. In his
autobiography, which was first published in 1979, Rabin says that he learned from American
sources about the June 19 resolution after he had become Israels ambassador to Washington.
Yitzhak Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, expanded ed. (Berkeley, CA, 1996), 135. It seems more likely,
however, that Rabins contemporary version is the correct one.
34. Eban, An Autobiography, 43536.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 93

But the available American and Israeli records of Ebans contacts in the U.S. rule
out such an interpretation.
On June 20 Eban met McGeorge Bundy and most of the discussion was about
Jordan. More generally, Bundy said that the United States thought that Israel
should withdraw from the territories it had occupied in the war but for obvious
reasons America was unable to announce this position publicly as long as the
Soviet demand for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal was still under
discussion at the Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General
Assembly.35 The next day, Eban saw Secretary of State Rusk. Rusk was the chair-

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man of the special committee whose executive secretary was McGeorge Bundy.
The meeting lasted one hour and mainly dealt with two closely related issues: the
Middle East crisis, including Israels views regarding a settlement, and the situation
in the General Assembly. A detailed four-page cable, sent to the State Department
in Washington from the U.S. mission to the United Nations and signed by Rusk,
summarized the discussion of the first issue. The American document shows that
Eban presented the content of resolution 563 as some tentative conclusions
which had been reached by an inter-ministerial committee. He then listed the
Israeli ideas in accordance with the cabinet resolution, and concluded that
Israel was offering both Egypt and Syria complete withdrawal to international
frontiers. These terms [are] not ungenerous. Yet there is no explicit or implicit
Israeli request to communicate the so-called proposal to Egypt and Syria.
Furthermore, Rusks memorandum of the conversation does not reflect any
American admiration of, strong impression from, or astonishment at, the alleged
Israeli magnanimity, as described years later in Ebans many self-congratulatory
versions. It states succinctly, [The] Secretary commented that it was helpful to
have these preliminary thoughts.36
The Israeli contemporary report is even more concise. Shortly after the meeting
with Rusk, Eban sent a two-page cable to Levi Eshkol, marked most urgent, in
which he informed the prime minister of the main points of the discussion. On the
generous proposal he merely wrote: Rusk listened to our thoughts regarding
peace with Egypt and Syria. He did not respond.37 Here too there is no mention
of Rusk and his colleagues deep appreciation of the Israeli largesse. In a book
published three years after Ebans autobiography, Gideon Rafael, Israels ambas-
sador to the United Nations in 1967 who attended the meeting with the Secretary
of State, supports his former boss claim and says that Rusk was visibly impressed

35. Evron, Washington, to Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem (telegram 227), June 21, 1967, A/
7938/10, ISA.
36. Rusk, New York, to State Department, June 22, 1967, POL 27 ARAB-ISR, RG 59,
Central Files 196769, Box 1796, National Archives at College Park (USNA). The paper was
reproduced in FRUS 19, document 314.
37. Eban, New York, to Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, for the PM, June 22, 1967, A/7938/10,
ISA.
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by the realism and moderation of the proposals.38 Retired American diplomat


David Korn offers a plausible explanation for the discrepancy between the histor-
ical evidence and the retrospective accounts of Eban and Rafael. Relying on inter-
views with former U.S. and Israeli diplomats, Korn says that Eban interpreted the
silence of Rusk and his associates as reflecting dumbfound admiration for Israels
generosity.39
Neither the American document nor the Israeli one corroborate Ebans 1997
story about Ambassador Goldbergs telephone call to the president and Johnsons
spontaneous positive response. Moreover, no record of such reporting has been

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found in either Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, or
the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Ebans narrative is clearly un-
founded, especially regarding the Israeli request to deliver the cabinet resolution to
the governments of Egypt and Syria as a peace proposal. Still, there is the hypo-
thetical possibility that the Americanseither of their own accord or because of a
misinterpretation of the Israeli intentionsapproached Cairo and Damascus
nevertheless. As we shall see, this possibility is indeed only theoretical.

THE ALLEGED ARAB REBUFF

In international diplomacy almost every exchange is recorded, including infor-


mation imparted on a personal basis or in strict confidence. This is particularly
true in the case of the United States, whose bureaucratic routine is exceptionally
meticulous. Thus, the absence of documents showing that the Israeli ideas were
conveyed to Egypt and Syria, either directly or through third parties,40 suggests
that such communication never happened. Not a single record of such a transmis-
sion has been discovered among the thousands of the State Department and White
House papers now available in American archives. There is no mention of the
alleged Israeli peace overtures in United States Peace Efforts in the Middle East
between the Six-Day War and Nassers Death, June 1967 September 1970a
detailed 156-page research project prepared by the Historical Studies Division of
the State Department, which discusses all American involvement in the attempts to
bring about a settlement of the ArabIsraeli conflict during the period under
review.41 In light of the declassification in 1995 of the EbanRusk memorandum
of conversation of June 21, and the EgyptIsrael peace treaty of 1979, it is im-
plausible that the matter is still considered confidential by the United States and
that in consequence the relevant documents are still secret. If such records are not

38. Gideon Rafael, Destination Peace: Three Decades of Israeli Foreign Policy: A Personal Memoir
(London, 1981), 178. Interestingly, Rafael uses similar language to Ebans.
39. David Korn, Stalemate: The War of Attrition and Great Power Diplomacy in the Middle East,
1967-1970 (Boulder, CO, 1992), 14, and n. 13 on 288.
40. Following their defeat, Egypt and Syria severed their diplomatic relations with the United
States.
41. Research Project 976: United States Peace Efforts. . ., February 1973, RG 59 Executive
Secretariat, Historical Office Research Projects, 196974, Box 6, USNA.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 95

found they almost certainly do not exist, and hence the Israeli so-called peace
proposal was not conveyed to the Arabs.
More circumstantial evidence is offered by the American diplomatic contacts in
the wake of the EbanRusk rendezvous of June 21. Two days later Undersecretary
of State Eugene Rostow, one of the officials present at the meeting, saw the British
ambassador in Washington and received him again on June 27. On both occasions
Rostow outlined what Rusk had heard from Eban. [T]he Israelis have told the
Americans in strict secrecy of the position they intend to take over frontiers,
Ambassador Sir Patrick Dean reported to London, adding that Rostow found

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their approach extremely moderate. And yet Rostow said nothing about an
Israeli request to pass the cabinets thinking on to the Arabs, nor did he mention
any American intention to do so.42 More significantly, when Ambassador
Goldberg dined with Andrei Gromyko a day after the EbanRusk meeting, he
merely told the Soviet foreign minister, en passant, that based on earlier conver-
sation I had had with Eban, he did not think Israel had any particular interest in
trying to retain Egyptian or Syrian territory.43 Britain was the ally with whom the
Americans shared vital information and coordinated diplomatic moves, and the
USSR was Egypt and Syrias patron and demanded an Israeli withdrawal on their
behalf. The only explanation for not telling the emissaries of Britain and the
USSRparticularly the latterthat there was an Israeli peace offer on the table
is its nonexistence: The Americans knew that what Eban had related to Rusk was
meant for their ears alone.
Washington maintained the same reticence even when it faced what President
Johnson perceived as a not-too-subtle Soviet threat of global war if the Israelis did
not withdraw. On June 23 and 25 Johnson met Prime Minister Aleksey Kosygin in
Glassboro, New Jersey, for extensive talks. Kosygin had come to the United States
to lead his countrys campaign at the United Nations Emergency Special Session
for a resolution demanding an immediate and unconditional Israeli withdrawal.
The aftermath of the Six Day War and the Soviet draft resolution were expected to
be major subjects at the summit. On the eve of the summit and one day after the
EbanRusk meeting, McGeorge Bundy advised the president how to respond to
Kosygins anticipated stance as regards the ArabIsraeli confrontation: Hell talk
withdrawal [of Israels troops]; we want withdrawal to peace, not to [the] June 4
[situation].44 The long discussions about the Middle East crisis between the two
leaders of the great superpowers in Glassboro went indeed along the lines Bundy
had predicted and were in fact a dialogue of the deaf. Premier Kosygin repeatedly
insisted that Israel must pull back its armed forces from the territories it had seized

42. Memorandum of conversation: Rostow et al. and Dean et al., June 23, 1967, FRUS 19,
document 322; Dean, Washington, to Foreign Office, London, June 23 and 27, 1967 (telegrams
2145 and 2180, respectively)both in FCO/17/503, National Archives, London. Quotation from
Deans June 27 cable; authors emphasis.
43. Goldberg, New York, June 22, 1967, FRUS 19, document 315.
44. Bundy to President, June 22, 1967, FRUS 14: The Soviet Union (Washington, DC, 2001),
document 225.
96 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

in the June War as a precondition to consideration of any other outstanding ques-


tion. Johnson tirelessly presented the U.S. position, which effectively rejected an
Israeli acquisition of territories by virtue of military conquests, but at the same time
accepted that the ArabIsraeli Armistice Agreements should be replaced by peace
accords that would satisfy Israels security concerns.45
The first JohnsonKosygin talk on June 23 was a two-hour tete-a`-tete in which
no one else except the interpreters was present. The Russian premier was unre-
lenting. At some point he warned Johnson that if the United States did not make
the Israelis withdraw and instead supported the aggressor, a great and grim war

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would break out which would last many years. The Arabs, whom Kosygin con-
sidered as people of the 19th century as far as their spiritual development was
concerned,46 were an explosive people, he said; they will fight with arms if they
have them; if not, with fists. Millions of people might perish, Kosygin continued,
[and] the world would be in a state of tension. In a debriefing by the president
immediately after this exchange, Johnson described Kosygins words as the near-
est thing to a threat. He decisively responded by leaning forward toward his guest
and saying very slowly and quietly, let us understand one another. I hope there
will be no war. If there is a war, I hope it will not be a big war. If they fight, I hope
they fight with fists and not with guns. I hope you and we will keep out of this
matter because, if we do get into it, it will be a most serious matter. Kosygin,
Johnson concluded, then backed away.47 If at the time of this conversation Johnson
knew of an Israeli peace proposal offering full withdrawal that was destined for the
Arabs, surely he would have mentioned it to Kosygin.
Indeed, the Americans kept to themselves the Israeli ideas that Eban had im-
parted to Rusk. Shortly after its adoption, the Israeli cabinet gradually retreated
from the June 19 resolution by adopting a series of decisions departing from the
original text that culminated in its complete annulment on 31 October 1968. On
that day the cabinet decided to keep Sharm al-Sheikh, at the extreme south of
Egypts Sinai Peninsula, with territorial continuity to the State of Israel.48 The
distance between Sharm al-Sheikh and Eilat, at the extreme south of Israel, is 200
miles. Though resolution 563 was central to the debate leading to the adoption of
the resolution that replaced it, none of the participantsincluding Ebanmen-
tioned transmission of the generous peace offer to Egypt and Syria, let alone any

45. For the JohnsonKosygin talks at the Glassboro summit and relating records see FRUS 14,
documents 22937. See also editorial notes, FRUS 19, documents 320, 323.
46. Memorandum of conversation: JohnsonKosygin, June 25, 1967, 1:503:05pm, document
234.
47. This paragraph is chiefly based on, and quotations are taken from, memorandum of con-
versation, JohnsonKosygin, June 23, 11:30 am to 13:30 pm, document 229; Record of the
Presidents Debriefing, June 23, document 230; transcript of telephone conversation between
President Johnson and former President Eisenhower, June 25, document 237all in FRUS 14;
Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 (London,
1972), 484.
48. Cabinet resolution 95, October 31, 1968, ICS; Raz, The Bride and the Dowry, 7778,
13839, 188, 259, 270.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 97

Arab rejection.49 Upon learning of the new resolution Washington accused Israel
of reneging on its June 1967 position. The Israelis countered that it was the U.S.
position that had changed. State Department officials were quick to refute the
Israeli claim. An internal memorandum reminded Secretary of State Rusk in
December 1968 that [t]he earliest authoritative statement of Israeli thinking on
specific territorial issues had been conveyed to him by Eban on June 21, 1967, and
gave a detailed summary of what Eban had said then.50 Both the Johnson admin-
istration and the succeeding Nixon administration became increasingly dismayed
by the growing Israeli intransigence that contributed greatly to the impasse in the

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attempts to reach a Middle East settlement. And yet, despite the Israeli attitude, the
Americans refrained from using resolution 563 as a lever against the Jewish state.
As late as May 1969two years after the resolution had been adopted and many
months after its informal and later formal abrogationthe United States still
avoided leaking anything about the seeming Israeli readiness to relinquish the
occupied Egyptian and Syrian territories. Ambassador Rabin ascribed the
American behavior to an unwillingness to allow premature pressure on Israel; he
argued further that the Americans did not want the Arabs and the Russians to know
about resolution 563 for fear that this would result in pressure on the United States
itself. He warned, however, that Washington might in time break its silence.51
In their struggle against the rigid Soviet draft resolution at the United Nations
in June 1967, the Israelis endeavored to exhibit a moderate posture, but apparently
in the process Abba Eban went too far. On the second day of the Glassboro
summit, during another Johnson-Kosygin tete-a`-tete, the Soviet premier pulled
out of his pocket what he said was a report on some very remarkable statements
Eban had made at a closed meeting with representatives of Latin American coun-
tries to the United Nations. According to Kosygin, Eban had said that Israel took a
negative view of the Soviet draft resolution that called for withdrawal; that Israel
demanded bilateral negotiations with the Arabs without any mediator; that Israel
insisted on the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula and of the Syrian Plateau;
that Israel would annex the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; that it would establish
control over all of Jerusalem; and that the refugee problem should be taken up only
after a settlement. No Arab could ever agree to such demands, Kosygin stated.52
With the exception of the sentence regarding the West Bank, the comments that
Kosygin attributed to Eban reflected some of the principal points of resolution
563. And yet by the Soviet leaders own account they were not presented as an
Israeli peace proposal to be conveyed to Egypt and Syria, but rather as Israels
non-negotiable terms, delivered in the context of the current Soviet effort at the

49. Minutes, cabinet sessions, October 31, 1968, (morning) and October 31, 1968 (evening),
obtained privately.
50. Hart to Secretary, December 12, 1968, POL 27 ARAB-ISR, RG 59, Central Files
196769, Box 1815, USNA.
51. Rabins comments in minutes, KFASC session, May 20, 1969, 15, A/8162/5, ISA.
52. Memorandum of conversation, JohnsonKosygin, June 25, 3:206:09 pm, document 235.
98 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

United Nations. It looks as if the loquacious Eban, while attempting to win the
Latin Americans over, told them more than he should have. The absence of the
resolutions other and no less crucial points from the report Kosygin read to
Johnsonnotably free Israeli navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez
Canalrule out the possibility that the premier was relying on an Israeli peace
proposal that had been transmitted to the Arabs.
Nor is there confirmation from Egypt and Syria that they received any Israeli
offer of withdrawal in late June 1967, quite the contrary. No such proposal
reached us, insisted Salah Bassiouny of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in an

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interview three decades later. [T]here were no specific proposals coming from
the Israeli side through America.53 Ismail Fahmi, a diplomat at the United
Nations in 1967 and the foreign minister of Egypt between 1973 and 1977, said
in an interview in 1982 that he had been told about the Israeli ideas by Rusk only in
1968.54 Fahmis statement seems to contradict Rabins of May 1969 according to
which Washington avoided leaking the substance of resolution 563 (see above). It
may well be that Rabin was wrong and that the Americans had revealed the Israeli
June 1967 ideas to the Arabs in 1968. It may also be, however, that Fahmis
memory misled him when he was interviewed in 1982. In any case, by 1968 the
Israeli government had long abandoned the June 19 resolution. More significantly,
the available documentation shows that Secretary Rusk did not raise the so-called
Israeli proposal during his ninety-minute private conversation with Dr.
Mahmoud Fawzi, President Nassers consultant for foreign affairs, which took
place in New York on June 22, 1967, a bare twenty-four hours after his meeting
with Eban. Though no record of the RuskFawzi talk has been found by the State
Departments Historian,55 its substance was discussed the next day during Rusks
exchange with his soviet colleague Gromyko in Glassboro.56 Rusk and Fawzi met
again on June 27. Fawzi pressed hard for a straightforward UN resolution on
Israeli withdrawal, and Rusk pressed equally hard on the necessity for returning
to peace and not to a state of war. In both conversations the Secretary of State kept
the Israeli ideas to himself.57
Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, at the time Al-Ahrams editor and President
Nassers confidant, claims in a book published in 1996 that the Egyptian leader
refused an Israeli offer to return the whole of Sinai to Egypt immediately in

53. Transcript of Bassiounys interview (conducted on February 25, 1997) for The Fifty Years
War: Israel and the Arabs, a BBC six-part program (broadcast in 1998), GB165-0346, MECA. In 1967
Ambassador Bassiouny was a special assistant in the office of the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs.
54. Transcript of Ismail Fahmis interview with Professor Avi Shlaim, September 17, 1982,
Cairo. I am grateful to Prof. Shlaim for sharing with me this and other interviews he conducted.
55. See editorial note, FRUS 19, document 320.
56. Memorandum of conversation: RuskGromyko, June 23, 1967, FRUS 19, document 321.
Premier Kosygin mentioned Fawzis talk with Rusk several times in the course of his morning
meeting with President Johnson on June 23 with no reference to any Israeli peace proposal. See
memorandum of conversation, JohnsonKosygin, June 23, 11:30 am to 13:30 pm, document 229;
Record of the Presidents Debriefing, June 23, document 230both in FRUS 14.
57. Rusk, New York, to State Department, June 27, 1967, FRUS 19, document 327.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 99

exchange for an EgyptianIsraeli peace agreement. Heikal places the alleged offer
sometime between the end of the hostilities and the summit of the Arab rulers in
the Sudanese capital Khartoum (29 August to 1 September 1967). The Egyptian
journalist, whose myriad publications do not have a reputation for accuracy, does
not elaborate and provides no source.58 In view of what Eban told the Latin
Americans (as quoted by Kosygin), it is however very likely that by then Nasser
knew about Israels declared lack of territorial appetite as regards Egypt. In his
speech at the Khartoum summit Nasser allegedly revealedaccording to the U.S.
ambassador to Saudi Arabia, relying on two Saudi contactswhat a senior

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American official had recently imparted to the Indian Ambassador in
Washington: Israel wanted to internationalize Gaza, keep Jerusalem and demili-
tarize Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Hills. Nasser reportedly told his fellow
Arab rulers that this would be a surrender and thus unacceptable.59 The available
sources give no confirmation that Nasser had said in Khartoum what the American
ambassador attributed to him.60 But even assuming that the story is true and dis-
regarding its deviation from resolution 563, this is yet further proof that the
Americans did not convey to Egypt the Israeli ideas as a peace proposal.
Ultimately, it was Abba Eban again who provided a convincing testimony of
Cairos ignorance of the Israeli generous peace proposal. On June 21, 1968,
Eban appeared before the confidential Foreign Affairs and Security Committee
of the Knesset and disclosed that Egypt, pressured by our friends (presumably
the Americans) to negotiate peace with Israel, had argued: If only we had a general
knowledge of the way Israel saw peace, if only it gave us some idea, any clue, we
might have done something. One of the committees members wondered whether
it was true that Israel did not give Cairo any clue. We did not tell them how we
view the matters of Sinai, shipping and Gaza, the foreign minister responded.
There are newspapers [i.e. press reports about the Israeli intentions], but there is a
difference. They argue that they want something which is more binding, [some-
thing] that carries Israels official seal of approval.61 A fortnight later Eban

58. Mohamed Heikal, Secret Channels: The Inside Story of Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations
(London: HarperCollins, 1996), 13233. Heikal was approached twice about his claim, in 2005
and in 2007, and did not respond either time. Commenting on Heikals writings, Walter
Laqueur cautions: As a historical source his revelations have to be read with the greatest of
care. Laqueur, Confrontation: The Middle-East War and World Politics (London, 1974), 14 (n.).
59. Text of cable from Ambassador Eilts (Jidda, 896), September 5, 1967, NSF/Country
File/Jordan, Memos & Misc., Vol. IV, 5/67-2/68, Box 147, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Austin,
TX. Nasser said that the Indian government had informed him about this.
60. See, for example, the accounts of the secretary-general of the Egyptian Presidency, and
Egypts Foreign Minister, who both accompanied Nasser to the summit: Abdel Magid Farid,
Nasser: The Final Years (Reading, PA, 1994), 5567; Mahmoud Riad, The Struggle for Peace in the
Middle East (London, 1981), 5357 (respectively). In this context it is worth noting that when King
Faisal of Saudi Arabia disclosed at the summit that he had met the American ambassador imme-
diately before his departure for Khartoum, Nasser asked him what he and the ambassador had
discussed. By God, he did not tell me anything, the King replied. Farid, Nasser, 59.
61. Minutes, KFASC session, June 21, 1968, 56, A/8161/12, ISA.
100 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

reiterated this point. He told the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that
according to UN peace envoy Gunnar Jarring, Egypts Foreign Minister Riad had
said that Cairo might become more forthcoming regarding negotiations, if it knew
what recognized and secure border the Israelis had in mind. The Americans,
Eban added, felt that the Arabs demand was reasonable.62

EBANS MULTIPLE VERSIONS

Having established that the Israeli generous peace offer of June 19 was never
offered to Egypt and Syria and therefore was not rejected by them, the obvious

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question is why Eban fabricated the story. One can only speculate what his mo-
tivation was, but it would be quite safe to suggest that one reason was his wish to go
down in history as a resolute statesman and diplomat who played a leading role in
Israels strenuous efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Ebans second
autobiography, Personal Witness, published in 1993, reinforces this hypothesis.
After recounting the myth (though a different version thereofsee below),
Eban turns to rebut domestic criticism: Israeli liberals who fault the Eshkol gov-
ernment with insufficient zeal for peace have a hard time explaining how this
accusation stands up against the fact that we had offered the whole of Sinai and
Golan and most of the West Bank before any expression of an Arab willingness to
negotiate.63 In this passage, despite knowing better, Eban denies both King
Husseins desire, from the very beginning of the Israeli occupation, to reach a
peaceful settlement with his Jewish neighbors in return for his lost territory, and
the secret direct contacts in this regard between the Israeli government and the
Jordanian monarch which started as early as July 2, 1967. Moreover, in late
September 1968 Eban presented to Hussein the Allon Plan, which offered the
king only two thirds of the occupied West Bank, as an unofficial proposal that still
required a government approval.64
Indeed, Eban was not always truthful. For example, he claims in his 1978
autobiography that Ambassador Goldberg, when conveying to him the alleged
Egyptian and Syrian rejection of the Israeli peace proposal, said sardonically
that the Arabs wanted the film to be played backward in the projector. But
this comment was voiced in an altogether different context according to Eban
himself. In an unpublished manuscript about the Six Day War, completed in

62. Minutes, KFASC session, July 5, 1968, 14, A/8162/1, ISA.


63. Abba Eban, Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes (London, 1993), 446.
64. In his Davar article of 1982 Eban claims that the Allon Plan was presented to Jordan
within weeks after the war. Abba Eban, Truth and legend about peace initiatives, Davar, May
23, 1982. For Husseins attempts to negotiate peace with Israel in the immediate aftermath of the
June 1967 War see Ebans contemporary comments in KFASC sessions, October 20, 1967, 10,
A/8161/8; December 8, 1967, 1113, A/8161/9; January 2, 1968, 10, 12, A/8161/10; May 21,
1968, 45, A/8161/12all in ISA. For discussion of the secret IsraelJordan talks during this
period see Raz, The Bride and the Dowry, 4950, 6573, 15464, 21923, 24561; Avi Shlaim,
Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace (London, 2007), chapters 1112.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 101

1969, Eban quotes a passage from Goldbergs speech at the General Assembly on
June 20, 1967 in which the American diplomat ridiculed the Russian move: The
Soviet proposal is as follows: Israel, withdraw your troops, and let everything go
back to exactly where it was before the fighting began on 5 June. In other words,
the film is to be run backward through the projector to that point in the early
morning of 5 June when hostilities had not yet broken out.65 More crucially,
Ebans reporting to the cabinet and other top-level forums was occasionally in-
accurate. Dr. Herzog, Eshkols right-hand man, confided to his diary more than
once that Eban gave untrue information, including his accounts of sensitive meet-

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ings with foreign leadersnotably King Husseinin which he, Herzog, was also
present.66 Meir Amit, then chief of Israels intelligence agency Mossad, and former
Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin also hinted retrospectively at suspicions about the
accuracy of Ebans accounts.67
Why, then, have so many scholars and writers repeated Ebans tale without
query? It may be argued that so long as Ebans account in his 1978 autobiography
was the only version available and the relevant records were classified, there was no
way or even reason to challenge its accuracy. Such an argument would be uncon-
vincing, however. To begin with, the writings of politicians and practitioners are as
a rule self-serving and biased and should therefore be thoroughly scrutinized.
Secondly, Yitzhak Rabins autobiography, published only a year after Ebans,
should have raised some doubts because it firmly states that the June 19 resolution
was to be communicated solely to the government of the United States.68 But the
main reason for vigilance should have been the storys sourceAbba Eban. A
prolific writer and speaker, Eban provided several conflicting versions of the
affair. With two conflicting versions, at least one must be untrue. Eban produced
more than two conflicting versions of the generous peace offer, and this should
have raised suspicions as regards the veracity of them all.

65. Abba Eban, Live or Perish (unpublished manuscript, 1969), 389. I am grateful to Dr.
Ami Gluska for providing me with this manuscript.
66. See, for example, Herzogs diary, From June 12 till 20 July 1968, 2, 4; 6869, A/4511/4,
ISA. Herzogs distrust of Ebans statements and telegrams was also observed by his biographer.
See Michael Bar-Zohar, Yaacov Herzog: A Biography (London, 2005), 311. In a book about
the events leading to the Six Day War, Bar-Zohar himself accuses Eban of giving the cabinet
inaccurate reports of his conversations with President Charles de Gaulle of France and
President Johnson in late May 1967. Michel Bar-Zohar, Histoire secre`te de la guerre dIsrael
(Paris, 1968), 16162. Although Premier Eshkol publicly defended Eban (The Knesset
Proceedings, December 9, 1968, 6023), and Eban venomously stated that Bar Zohar was the
type of man for whom lying is a profession, a hobby and a custom. (Jerusalem Post, December 8,
1968), no libel suit was ever filed.
67. Interviews with Meir Amit, April 14, 2003, 87, and June 2, 2003, 134, oral history
project, Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, Tel Aviv; Meir Amit, Rosh be-Rosh: Mabat Ishi
al Eruim Gdolim u-Farshiyot Aalumot [Hebrew] (Or Yehudah, Israel, 1999), 239; Rabin, The Rabin
Memoirs, 95.
68. Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, 135. Authors emphasis.
102 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

Ebans first version was delivered from the podium of the Knesset in December
1977.69 In the previous month Egypts President Anwar al-Sadat had launched his
dramatic peace initiative in a historic visit to Jerusalem, and the Israeli parliament
debated the Begin governments peace terms. Eban, now in opposition, supported
the return of Sinai to Egypt and attempted to take some credit for the concept: On
the morrow of the 1967 War . . . the cabinet of the time authorized me to propose to
Egypt a peace treaty, based on the erstwhile international border and Israels security
needs, and a special agreement regarding Sharm al-Sheikh. Eban added that even
though the cabinet had retracted the proposal later on, it has remained stuck in

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the international consciousness.70 This version (which did not mention the clause
dealing with Syria) was incorrect on four accounts. First, resolution 563 was not a
peace proposal but Israels ideas intended to win the Americans over; second, Eban
was authorized to convey the resolution to the United States, not to Egypt; third,
there was nothing in the resolution about a special agreement regarding Sharm
al-Sheikhas confirmed by Eban himself in the cabinet during the discussion
leading to the annulment of resolution 563;71 fourth, there is no way a top
secret resolution that had been kept secret since its adoption could remain stuck
in the international consciousness. At any rate, what Eban said was an astounding
revelation, and yet it went unnoticed.
Only the next version, which was offered by Ebans autobiography the follow-
ing year, gave birth to the myth of the magnanimous peace proposals: Washington
promptly conveyed the Israeli terms to Egypt and Syria, and within days both
rejected them. Four years later, in 1982, Eban presented a different narrative. The
Arab rejections reached Israel by mid-October 1967 thorough the American gov-
ernment, he claimed in an article published in the Israeli daily Davar, and [i]n one
case [we received them] from the U.S. president himself. So now the Arab rebuff
was not immediate as claimed in Ebans autobiography, but a delayed one. Eban
stressed that the rejection was not a matter of Israels interpretation of the
Khartoum summits resolutions, but was explicit and related to the Israeli pro-
posals. The Khartoum summit ended on September 1, 1967, with a joint commu-
nique in which the Arab rulers expressed their determination to employ political
and diplomatic measuresrather than military onesin order to eliminate the
consequences of the [June 1967] aggression. But this moderate approach was
overshadowed by the uncompromising three nos it containedno peace
(sulh) with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. Israeli
diplomacy chose to highlight the three nos as a proof of Arab animosity.
[W]e did not rely on the Khartoum conferences rhetoric, Eban indicated in

69. In fact, Ebans first known version was given almost two years before, in early 1976, but it
became public only in 2003. In this version Eban talked about Israels far-reaching proposals that
had been made to Egypt and Syria through the United States in June 1967, but he did not mention
any Arab response. Avi Shlaim, Interview with Abba Eban, 11 March 1976, Israel Studies 8, no. 1
(2003): 157.
70. The Knesset Proceedings, December 28, 1977, 978. Authors emphasis.
71. Minutes, cabinet session, October 31, 1968 (evening), 5.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 103

his Davar article.72 In 1987, however, Eban produced a diametrically opposed


version. Cairo and Damascus were informed by the United States about the
Israeli peace initiative, he said in an article that was carried by the London
Jewish Chronicle and appeared the following year in an edited volume on the
impact of Six Day War, [b]ut within a few weeks, the Arab governments meeting
in Khartoum published their virulent document of rejection.73 In his 1993 mem-
oirs, Personal Witness, Eban considers the three nos of Khartoum as a direct
answer to Israels June proposals.74
Abba Eban produced additional versions of the myth. In 1997, in an interview

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for a BBC documentary series on the ArabIsraeli conflict, Ebans story was more
carefully formulated. This time he did not state unequivocally that the Israeli ideas
had been transmitted to Egypt and Syria by the United States and rejected. Instead,
Eban said that around August 1967 he had met U.S. Ambassador Goldberg in one
of the UN lobbies, and the latter had told him: We have conveyed what youve
said [in the meeting with Rusk on June 21] but I like to tell you that there is no
evidence whatever that the Arabs intend to accept it. The Arabs, Goldberg added
according to Eban, went to Khartoum for their summit and we will all find out
from there what happened. Eban, then, dropped the claim about the Arab rejec-
tion, whether direct or indirect, and merely quoted Goldbergs interpretation of
the alleged silence of Cairo and Damascus. What Eban said further betrayed his
doubts about the transmission of the Israeli thoughts to Egypt and Syria.
Goldberg had said that we have delivered the message but they [the Arabs] are
not going along with it. And thats really the only evidence that I can give. Weve never
had an occasion when we [Israel] have sent messages and they [the United States]
havent even delivered them. They might however have not wanted to confess that
not having any relations with Damascus or Cairo, they could only have delivered
them probably through some intelligence source.75
The common denominator of Ebans many versions is their mutual incompati-
bility, as well as their being replete with inaccuracies.76 More importantly, Eban,

72. Eban, Truth and legend about peace initiatives, Davar, May 23, 1982. For the text of the
Khartoum summits resolutions see Fuad A. Jabber, ed., International Documents on Palestine, 1967
(Beirut, Lebanon, 1970), 65657. The Arabic term sulh means peace in its deepest sense;
reconciliation.
73. Abba Eban, An opportunity squandered? Jewish Chronicle, Colour Magazine, June 26,
1987. Entitled Israels Dilemmas: An Opportunity Squandered, the same article is reprinted in
The Impact of the Six-Day War: A Twenty-Year Assessment, ed. Stephen J. Roth (Basingstoke, UK,
1988), 2229 (quotation on 2425).
74. Eban, Personal Witness, 446; see also 49394.
75. Transcript of Ebans interview (conducted on January 29, 1997) for The Fifty Years War:
Israel and the Arabs, a BBC six-part program (broadcast in 1998), GB165-0346, MECA. Authors
emphases.
76. In yet another version, Eban gives the false impression that the June 19 resolution included
the Allon Plan that dealt with Jordans West Bank. Furthermore, this version argues that the Arab
position was that they wanted 100 percent of the [occupied] territories and would give zero percent
of peacean utterly untrue statement as regards King Hussein. Abba Eban, The New Diplomacy:
International Affairs in the Modern Age (London, 1983), 224. In 1986 Eban outlined the myth in a
104 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

being the foreign minister in 1967, was in charge of apprising his government of
the diplomatic steps regarding the June 19 decision. He was entrusted with con-
veying the substance of resolution 563 to the Washington, and any Arab response
would have been transmitted to the Israeli cabinet by the Americans through him.
In other words, had there been such transmission and Arab response, Eban would
have been the source of his governments knowledge of them. The few accounts by
contemporary Israeli players that seemingly support Ebans myth are therefore not
credible because their authors inevitably relied on what they had been told by
Eban.

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Moshe Dayan, Israels defense minister in 1967, is one of them. In fact, when
Dayan came to write his autobiography, he contacted Mordechai Gazit, the
director-general of the Prime Ministers Office and formerly the director-general
of the Foreign Ministry under Eban (197273), to check his hazy memory of what
diplomatic action was taken by Israel to follow up the June 19 resolution. Gazit
replied that to the best of his knowledge very little had been done.77 Dayan never-
theless says in his autobiography, published in 1976, that the United States notified
Nasser that Israel was prepared to withdraw to the international frontiers within
the framework of a peace treaty with Egypt and Syria. But the Egyptian president
had not changed his stubborn opposition to the existence of Israel.78
In 1977, after the Labor Alignment lost the elections, Dayan defected to the
winning Likud and became foreign minister in the government headed by
Menachem Begin. In his memoir of the EgyptIsrael peace negotiations in
197779, Dayan returns to the myth. He relates an exchange he had with
President Sadat in September 1978, during which Sadat raised the question of
the contentious Jewish settlement of Yamit in the northern part of Sinai. Yamit was
established in the mid-1970s. Dayan retorted that the idea of creating Yamit had
been his, but before going ahead with its construction we approached you and
offered to hand back to you the whole of Sinai within the framework of a peace
treatyand that idea, too, was mine. Egypts answer, Dayan goes on, took shape
in the three nos of Khartoum which were adopted at the initiative of Nasser.79
Eventually the negotiations resulted in a peace treaty and the return of the entire

lecture delivered at Tel Aviv University, and said that he did not know of any study about the way
the Israeli proposals had been treated in Cairo, except some reference in a book by Mahmoud Riad,
Egypts foreign minister in 1967, to the fact that the Egyptians had duly noted the matter. The
Soviets, Eban claimed further, had assured the Egyptians that the USSR would get them a better
deal and thus had urged Cairo to decline. Transcript of Ebans lecture, delivered at Moshe Dayan
Center, Tel Aviv University, March 19, 1986, 18, MDCL. There is no such reference in Riads
book (The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East), and not a shred of evidence to corroborate Ebans
claim about the Soviet advice.
77. Mordechai Gazit, Political Lessons, in Dapei Elazar 10: Esrim Shanah le-Milhemet
Sheshet ha-Yamim [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv, 1988), 57. Dayan was working on his autobiography in
197475.
78. Moshe Dayan, Story of My Life (London, 1976), 362.
79. Moshe Dayan, Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations
(London, 1981), 172. Dayan does not mention any response from Sadat on this point.
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 105

Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Eager to defend the Israeli withdrawal, Dayan said in the
course of a Knesset debate over the Camp David Accords in September 1978 that
the Eshkol government had offered Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria
in return for peace, but the presidents of both countries had declined.80
The claim that the three nos of Khartoum had served as Egypts negative
response to the June 19 resolution was reiterated by Yisrael Galili, Israels minister
of information in June 1967, in an interview published in 1981, and by Moshe
Raviv, Ebans political secretary during the same period, in his 1998 memoirs.
However, Raviv gives a wrong date for the EbanRusk meeting, and Galili insisted

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that the United States had delivered to Cairo alone the Israeli ideas regarding
peace.81 The myth also enjoyed delayed support from Ebans former subordinate
Gideon Rafael. In an article published in 1988, Rafael says that Secretary of State
Rusk transmitted the Israeli proposals to the principal Arab capitals for consid-
eration. Bouncing off the wall of Arab hostility, they did not even succeed in
denting it.82 Significantly, there is no mention of the transmission and the sub-
sequent rejection in Rafaels autobiography, published seven years before.83
Neither Dayan nor Galili elaborate, nor do Raviv and Rafael, and none of their
accounts stand the test of historical scrutiny.

SOURCES AND SCHOLARSHIP

Abba Eban did not create the myth of the generous peace offer all by himself.
He concocted an untrue story, and the myth has been developed by the dozens of
scholars, researchers and other writers who did not query Ebans tale, repeating
and recycling it without question. Of Ebans many versions they relied solely on his
1978 autobiography, or on other authors whose source was the same book.84 None
wondered how it was that such a momentous initiative had not been mentioned in
any of the memoirs and writings of President Johnson, Undersecretary Rostow

80. The Knesset Proceedings, September 27, 1978, 4184.


81. Yeshayahu Ben-Porat, Sihot [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, Israel, 1981), 7374; Moshe Raviv,
Israel at Fifty: Five Decades of Struggle for Peace; A Diplomats Narrative (London, 1998), 117, 121.
82. Gideon Rafael, Twenty Years in Retrospect: 1967-87, in The Impact of the Six-Day War:
A Twenty-Year Assessment, ed. Stephen J. Roth (Basingstoke, UK, 1988), 4.
83. Rafael, Destination Peace, 17778.
84. The list is very long and includes, inter alia, Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the
Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 (London, 2000), 330; Reuven Pedatzur, Nitshon ha-Mevukhah:
Mediniyut Yisrael ba-Shtahim le-ahar Milhemet Sheshet ha-Yamim [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv, 1996), 57;
Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinhartz, eds., Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on
Society, Politics and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, 2nd ed. (Waltham, MA, 2008), 238;
Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (London, 2007),
500501 (Segev adds a caveat which is absent from the 2005 Hebrew original: there is no con-
firmation of this account, however.); Ami Gluska, The Israeli Military and the Origins of the 1967
War: Government, Armed Forces and Defence Policy, 1963-1967 (London, 2007), 259; Charles
Enderlin, Paix ou guerres: les secrets des negociations israelo-arabes (1917-1995), new ed. (Paris,
2004), 262; Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements,
1967-1977 (New York, 2006), 56; Korn, Stalemate, 1415. Some of these and other authors
referred also to the autobiographies of Dayan and Rabin.
106 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

(both great sympathizers of Israel), Secretary Rusk, or other American actors, or in


their oral history interviews for the Johnson Presidential Library.85 Skepticism, an
essential tool for every historical inquiry, was absent. Eban was the star witness,
and in most cases the only witness.
The relevant historical evidence became available in Israeli and American arch-
ives (Arab archives are inaccessible) from the mid-1990s onward, including the two
key documentsthe Israeli and the American records of the EbanRusk meeting
of June 21, 1967.86 But this had no effect on the works published thereafter. Even
the editors of the official volume of selected documents from Prime Minister Levi

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Eshkols lifetime, produced in 2002 by the Israel State Archives, endorse in an
editorial note the tale of the generous peace offer and its rejection by Egypt and
Syria.87 Despite having unlimited access to all the archival records, including
papers which are still classified, their source too was Ebans 1978 autobiography.88
Some discussions of the June 19 resolution are embellished with inaccurate
details or factual mistakes. One book, for example, argues that Secretary of State
Rusk personally conveyed Egypt and Syrias dismissal of the generous peace
offer to Foreign Minister Eban.89 Another talks about Israels official pro-
posals . . . for direct talks (not only were there no Israeli proposals, official or
otherwise, there is no mention of direct talks in resolution 563).90 A third claims
that President Nasser repeatedly reiterated the Egyptian rebuff in his speeches (no
such reiterations have been found in Nassers speeches).91 Yet another study insists
that neither Cairo nor Damascus reacted to the Israeli initiative because of the
exclusion of Jordan, and that Nasser said that the response to Israels offer should
be postponed for the time being.92 Most striking is the book whose Hebrew
version (2004) states that in addition to Sinai and the Golan, Israels June 19
resolution included a readiness to withdraw from most of Jordans West Bank;

85. http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/biopage.asp#anchor24993.
86. Ebans cable to Eshkol was declassified in 2000; Rusks cable to the State Department in
1995.
87. Arnon Lammfromm and Haggai Tsoref, eds., Levi Eshkol: Rosh ha-Memshalah ha-Shlishi:
Mivhar Teudot mi-Pirkei Hayav (1895-1969) [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, Israel, 2002), 575.
88. The editor of this series of official publications confirmed on behalf of the volumes
editors that Ebans autobiography was their only source. Yemima Rosenthal, letter to author,
October 20, 2004.
89. Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israels Security & Foreign Policy
(Ann Arbor, MI, 2006), 406.
90. Avraham Sela, The Decline of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Middle East Politics and the Quest for
Regional Order (Albany, NY, 1998), 98.
91. Dan Schueftan, Mi-Milhemet Sheshet-ha-Yamim le-Milhemet-ha-Hatashah, in Yeridat
ha-Natserizm, 1965-1970: Shkiatah shel Tnuah Meshihit [Hebrew], ed. Shimon Shamir, (Tel
Aviv, Israel, 1978), 328. No reference is offered.
92. Samir A. Mutawi, Jordan in the 1967 War (Cambridge, UK, 1987), 180, and n. 4950 on
211. There is no source for Egypt and Syrias non-reaction. The reference given for Nassers
alleged response is an article in a Jordanian daily. However, the article does not mention any Israeli
proposal, and the context of the quotation from Nasser is different. Abd al-Majid Farid, Wathaiq
wa-Asrar wa-Waqai: Liqaat al-Husayn wa-Abd al-Nasir, Al-Rai (Amman), April 11, 1983 (for
English version see Farid, Nasser, 5558).
Israeli Cabinet Resolution of June 19, 1967 : 107

according to the English version of this book (2006), the resolution covered with-
drawal from significant portions of the Gaza Strip as well.93
Avi Shlaim was the first scholar seriously to question the validity of the myth,
after obtaining Rusks report of his June 21 meeting with Eban from the Johnson
Presidential Library, and observing the lack of any confirmation from Egyptian or
Syrian sources that they had received an Israeli peace proposal.94 Yet the note of
caution that Shlaim sounded in The Iron Wall in 2000 went unheeded, with a
number of writers repeating the myth and even using The Iron Wall as their
source.95 Though a handful of writers did not accept Ebans story fully, they did

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not doubt the Israeli intention to transmit resolution 563 to Egypt and Syria. One
says that Washingtons involvement in promoting the Israeli initiative was inad-
equate,96 while three others suggest that the United States did not communicate
the generous peace offer to the Arabs.97 Only two scholars rejected the myth
completely. Ian Bickerton, an Australian historian, states unequivocally that nei-
ther the Israelis nor the Americans passed the content of the June 19 resolution to
the Arabs.98 Shlomo Ben-Ami, an eminent historian and former foreign minister of
Israel (200001), offers a more elaborate account:
No formal peace proposal was made either directly or indirectly by Israel. The
Americans, who were briefed of the Cabinets decision by Eban, were not asked
to convey it to Cairo and Damascus as official peace proposals, nor were they
given indications that Israel expected a reply. At its meeting on 19 June the
Israeli government developed policy guidelines; it did not discuss a peace ini-
tiative, nor did it ever formalise it as such.99

93. Yoram Meital, Shalom Shavur: Yisrael, ha-Falastinim ve-ha-Mizrah ha-Tikhon [Hebrew]
(Jerusalem, 2004), 44; idem, Peace in Tatters: Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East (Boulder, CO,
2006), 20.
94. Shlaim, The Iron Wall, 25354.
95. For example, Leslie Stein, The Making of Modern Israel, 1948-1967 (Cambridge, 2009),
319, and n. 99 on 374; Maoz, Defending the Holy Land, 406; Frank Brenchley, Britain, the Six-Day
War and Its Aftermath (London, 2005), 54 (and n. 1 on 161); 97.
96. Meital, Shalom Shavur, 44.
97. Dan Bavly, Halomot ve-Hizdamnuyot she-Huhmetsu 1967-1973 [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 2002),
3738; Joseph Nevo, King Hussein and the Evolution of Jordans Perception of a Political Settlement with
Israel, 1967-1988 (Brighton, UK, 2006), 27; Yigal Kipnis, Ha-Har she-Hayah ke-Mifletset: Ha-Golan
bein Suryah ve-Yisrael [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, Israel, 2009), 9394, 167, 321. Nevos source is Bavly.
Bavly, who mentions no source, relied on interviews with Israeli and American diplomats who had
come up with no concrete evidence as to whether the Israeli ideas had been transmitted to Egypt
(Bavly, email to author, January 29, 2005). Kipnis speculates that immediately after the Americans
had acquainted Israel with the details of the Glassboro discussions, Premier Eshkol and his asso-
ciates interpreted the non-mention of the June 19 resolution as proof that Egypt and Syria had
declined their peace proposal.
98. Ian J. Bickerton, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History (London, 2009), 107. Bickerton relies
on Shlaims The Iron Wall.
99. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford, UK,
2006), 125. No source is indicated, but as acknowledged in the Preface (p. xiii), in 2004 I shared
with Professor Ben-Ami my early findings on the myth of the generous peace offer of June 19,
1967.
108 : d i p l o m a t i c h i s t o r y

Bickerton and Ben-Amis words also went unnoticed. Moreover, they and most the
other authors overlooked the language of resolution 563 which did not in fact
constitute a pledge to relinquish all the Egyptian and Syrian territories in return for
peace with Cairo and Damascus, respectively.
A discussion of resolution 563 should have taken place in the broader context of
Israels intentions and policy in the aftermath of the June 1967 War. The treat-
ment of the subject in the existing literature has prevented such a discourse from
evolving. Moreover, it led to the erroneous representation of the June 19 resolu-
tion as proof of Israels desire for peace and of insurmountable Arab animosity

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toward the Jewish state. In truth, however, Israel offered nothing to Egypt and
Syria. Had it offered them land for peace, they would almost certainly have
responded negatively, primarily because the generous peace offer excluded the
Palestinian-inhabited Old City of Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza Strip. But the
fact is that Israel never did. The only withdrawal the Israeli leadership was willing
to consider was a withdrawal from the pledges included in the disingenuous
resolution 563. And withdraw from them they did.