Exchange of Letters Between President George Bush and Prime Minister Shamir
on the Proposed Middle East Peace Conference
President Bush’s Letter to Prime Minister Shamir
Washington, D.C., 1 June 1991.
I am writing to you at a special time. A special time because we can now celebrate together the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry. The capacity to rescue Jews living in fear and desiring to immigrate to Israel is the implementation of the Zionist dream, the essence of the State of Israel.
The Americans are proud that they helped in 1985, and are helping now, the Falashas to immigrate to Israel. I also am proud of the role my country played in persuading the Soviet Union to permit the immigration of Jews to Israel. The approval of the Soviet immigration law provides legal status to what has already become massive immigration to Israel and strengthens my confidence that the flow of immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel will not stop.
These developments provide you with a great opportunity and pose a challenge to you similar to the times 'of the establishment of the State. And pose a challenge to you. Similarly to the times of the establishment of the State, Israel now confronts the important strategic task of absorbing immigrants in large numbers.
I believe that creating an atmosphere of peace will greatly facilitate this task. In this context we are at a special time; a time in which we will, perhaps, be able to open direct negotiations, bilateral and multilateral, between you and the Arab States and between you and the Palestinians.
Israel has worked for such negotiations for 43 years, and there is something of a correlation between rescuing Ethiopia's Jews and the departure of Soviet Jews and the fact that such negotiations may be at hand.
Although I am well aware that making peace will involve risks for Israel, we have built a process that gives an answer to your concerns and needs. That is a process that includes the Arab States and the Palestinians from the Territories and not the PLO.
A process that attempts to bypass the issues that caused you problems last year; a process that is consistent with Camp David, that will proceed in stages, that will ensure that you will not have to deal with the issues of the final status [of the territories] already at the beginning of the process; a process which begins with a conference that will not torpedo or compete with direct negotiations.
I told you on the phone that I'm determined to get the Arabs to sit at the negotiating table with you, and start talking. The United States will not be a party to a conference that will pose obstacles, that will contradict or substitute direct negotiations between the parties. Only direct negotiations can settle the disagreements between you.
We have already made sure to make this very clear to the Arabs and the Palestinians. Jim Baker told them that they must enter into direct, give-and-take negotiations with you; that they should not rely on a conference, or on any other hook, to rescue them from this need or from the need to make compromises and to make difficult decisions for peace.
Let us say this clearly: The conference we are talking about is not a forum for negotiations for the adoption of decisions; it is a forum for breaking the “taboo” of a direct face-to-face meeting and for promoting direct negotiations.
I also understand your concerns about the UN presence in the conference and regarding the reconvening of the conference, but I don't see how a simple observer can cause a problem, especially if it is only present in a conference that cannot impose its preferences.
In addition, the absence of a task of a decision-making role, our determination to make sure that all the patties understand that a conference cannot be a board of appeals, and your ability to prevent any meeting you don't want-all these make sure that there will be no way to evade negotiations. When all these points are combined, they, respond to your concerns that the conference will not re convene at any time.
With regard to the UN and the reconvening [of the conference], we have examined various alternative proposals – the options that Jim [Baker] promised to try but without success. In the process, which is already based mostly on your terms, we cannot sell less than that to your neighbors.
King Hussein is being asked specifically to deal with the PLO, the fundamentalists, and perhaps the Syrians, and he needs a few symbols that he can point to. Frankly, he will not need those symbols and there will be no doubt as to his ability to include Palestinians in a joint delegation, if he can say that there is a freezing of the settlement activity the moment that negotiations begin.
I ask you to consider this. If it is impossible, we'll need something like the compromise proposals we worked out regarding the UN and the right of the conference to reconvene. Again, in any case, your interests will be preserved, and in any case-these limited symbols will not influence the contents of the negotiations.
You should also know that as we move toward the possibility of issuing invitations to the conference, we expect the Soviets to adhere to the approach describe here.
It's important that we focus on the essence of this effort – direct negotiations. I believe that we are able to move such negotiations. It will be very difficult to understand anybody choosing not to come and not to enter into direct negotiations, bilateral or multilateral, because of the two procedural issues which are still on the table-issues which, as I said, can't affect the negotiations themselves.
I rely on you personally, Mr. Prime Minister, to help us bridge the gaps and move the negotiations forward. Working together we have a chance to begin direct negotiations, and to establish real hope for a more tranquil future for the region. I can't think of a better legacy both of us could leave for our heirs.
Prime Minister Shamir’ Response to President Bush
Jerusalem, June 1991.
I fully agree with you about the historic importance of saving the Ethiopian Jews. It was yet another step in fulfilling the Zionist dream. It is also additional proof of what can be achieved when we work together for a worthwhile cause. You, Mr. President, have a great personal role in that victory, and our appreciation for your contribution is written in our hearts.
We want the current peace efforts of the United States to succeed, because there is nothing we aspire to more than true peace with our neighbors. Peace will open great new opportunities for us and our neighbors and will permit us to fulfill, in an atmosphere of greater security, the monumental task of absorbing the new immigrants from the USSR and Ethiopia into our country.
I will deal with the points you raised in your letter, which deal with the peace process with the candor and frankness called for in our special relationship.
Our position, which is based on long experience, is that direct negotiations with each of the Arab states separately is not just a matter of technical procedure. It involves testing the intentions of the Arabs, who have still not changed, about their acceptance of Israel and reconciliation with it.
With the particular logic of this part of the world, our neighbors are still looking for a process that will enable them in the end to claim that they did not recognize Israel's right to exist as a legitimate entity in the region. They therefore demand as wide-ranging an international character to the discussions as possible, as well as UN participation. That is the reason for their demand to define the aim of the peace process in terms such as an overall settlement, and not as peace agreements with Israel.
Those are the reasons for our positions over the years, which each Arab government interested in joining the peace process must undertake to discuss directly with Israel.
An international conference will sabotage direct discussions and will prevent them from having any chance of succeeding. Any kind of call or reconvening of the conference will create the same negative results and will push the focus away from direct bilateral discussions. We know for a fact that that is the aim behind the Arab demand for continuation and UN participation.
Within the framework of our peace initiative and in the exchange of views with Secretary Baker, we tried to take into account Arab sensitivities. We agreed to joint auspices to start direct discussions only in order to satisfy the Arab demand for what they call “international legitimacy”; we agreed to joint auspices and a UN contribution because we feared that our agreement on those points would open the way to what would become an international conference with UN participation. [sentence as published]
We are keen to conduct peace talks with our Arab neighbors, though they continue to arm themselves unceasingly and do not hide the fact that those arms are meant to be used against us.
We agree with you completely about the need to help King Hussein and to encourage him to join the peace process. I continue to be convinced that Jordan is the most logical and reasonable partner for peace talks with us. Any assistance that can help in that direction will be welcomed.
An understanding was reached that the Arab-Palestinian representatives would come from the region, that they would accept the two-track negotiations and the rapprochement in stages, and that they would be committed to live in peace with Israel. Those demands alone, however, do not guarantee the appointment of representatives who are trustworthy and are not in any way subservient to the PLO.
That is vital because there can be no peace process with Israel if the PLO is involved. We believe that a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation is the best way to deal with the issue of the Arab Palestinian representation and to discuss with us a solution of the Arab Palestinian problem. In addition, the composition of the Palestinian pan of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation must be agreed to by us.
True to its character, the PLO tries to frighten and terrorize the Arab Palestinian population. In the past week alone, seven people were murdered, and you can imagine what that symbolizes to those who ponder joining the discussions.
We cannot ignore the position and views of the Arab states, including those far from the arena. The position of the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, is disappointing to us. Syria has made Lebanon into a protectorate and the world looks on in silence. That move increased the possibility of trouble along our northern border.
Egypt has also contributed to our disappointment. President Mubarak has adopted a method of attacking Israel and me personally every few days. It appears that he supports the Syrian extremist positions instead of using his influence for moderation and peace negotiations with Israel. He did not make a single move to improve ties and to bring about a normalization in relations with Israel, and he refuses to talk to us at a high ministerial level.
I know full well, Mr. President, that some of the views I have expressed in this letter might not completely meet the answers you had sought. We are doing the best we can to assure your success and the success of Secretary Baker's efforts, The meeting to open peace talks, however, must undergo preparation, coordination, and understanding before invitations can be sent.
I would like to note here that we understand that the USSR is supposed to set up normal diplomatic relations with us before the process begins.
To sum up, Mr. President, we still face a great amount of significant and complex work. I am far from despondent; I see encouraging signs on which we can build the process.
Achieving the joint aim calls for a very large measure of patience and firm perseverance. We continue to be committed to achieving that aim, and we will go on working with you until it is achieved.
As we are approach [sic] your 67th birthday, Shulamit joins me in wishing you and your wife, Mrs. Bush, many years of good health and happiness at the helm of the United States.
Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. xxi, no 1, Autumn 1991.