President Richard Nixon with George H.W. Bush upon being appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. 12 January 1970 (George H.W. Presidential Library).
In an August 8, 1989 memo to President George H.W. Bush, President Nixon urged his successor and one-time protege to use his electoral mandate to set a new direction of policy for the long term interests of America and its allies in the Middle East.
Though Nixon believed that the United States should maintain close ties with its democratic ally, Israel, he argued that it would be disastrous not to do more to extend goodwill to nearby Arab states.
The Israelis had won every war they fought since their independence in 1948. However, each subsequent war had come at an increasing cost in blood and treasure. Nixon had first hand knowledge of this. In October 1973, he ordered the U.S. Military to Defcon 3, and re-supplied Israeli Defense Forces through an airlift following a surprise attack on the Jewish state by Egyptian and Syrian forces.
The Arabs were learning how to fight, and their exponential population growth gave them a favorable geopolitical advantage over the Israelis.
“Israel will inevitably become even more than now a tiny garrison island-state in a sea of implacable enemies,” Nixon wrote.
Nixon recalled how French President Charles DeGaulle told him that the United States needed to recognize China, while it was still weak, before its full potential was realized. Israel was in a similar position, and it could gain more diplomatic good will while it still had a strategic advantage over the Arabs.
Nixon then signaled to the ripening positive developments in the region. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist wouldn’t have been a thought in year’s past. In Israel, the domestic political situation was more favorable than ever to negotiations with the Palestinians. Furthermore, the Soviet’s declining influence in the region also reduced any potential for clash between the world’s great powers.
Nixon’s prescription called for U.S. leadership to confer America’s prestige on the peacemaking process, while defending Israel and opening dialogue to major actors in the Middle East. Specifically, he counseled Bush to shape U.S. policy in the following manner:
— Help secure border of Israel, and encourage them to exchange land for peace.
— Allow for self-government of Palestinians, but not an armed Palestinian state.
— Push for Vatican oversight of Holy Sites.
— Don’t support an international conference: Israel would be alone, and submit its fate to a stacked jury.
— Find a strong negotiator: Select a person outside the foreign service or national security council. Give the negotiator plenty of time, at least two years, to accomplish his or her goals.
— Authorize the negotiator to talk with Arafat. Peace might not be achieved with him. But it certainly won’t be achieved without him.
— Consider a Mutual Defense Treaty with Israel: This would enlist Israel’s support and allow for greater latitude in negotiations.
“As I complete this letter, I almost hesitate to sign it and send it to you,” Nixon concluded, recalling the difficulty in dealing with this part of the world as Vice President under Eisenhower during the 1956 Suez Crisis, and as President during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
“In the interests of Israel as well as our own interests, you should insist that the only way to assert the survival of Israel is for the U.S. to support an initiative which has some chance to bring peace to the world’s most explosive area.”
Read the whole memorandum below: