Carter Praises Begin on Knesset Vote but Warns Israel on West Bank Issue
Menu JTA Search

Carter Praises Begin on Knesset Vote but Warns Israel on West Bank Issue

Download PDF for this date

President Carter late last night sent a message to Premier Menachem Begin of Israel expressing his admiration of the Israeli leader in relation to the Knesset’s endorsement of the Camp David accord a few hours after he took a harsh line against Begin on the issue of the West Bank settlements freeze in a private meeting with reporters and 10 days after telling American Jewish leaders, in effect, “trust me to do good for Israel.”

In his letter to Begin following the Knesset vote, Carter said, “I deeply admire the courage and skill with which you presented the agreements we reached at Camp David,” and called the Knesset’s action “another step” towards a “peaceful Middle East.”

Yesterday morning, at a breakfast with selected White House reporters, the President took a tough position on the West Bank settlements issue. He insisted that his version of the duration of the moratorium on settlements was correct and he warned the Israelis against putting any more settlements in the area.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was not invited to the breakfast meeting and the office of White House image-maker Gerald Rafshoon, who arranged it, said that those not invited would not receive a transcript until next week. There was no explanation why most of the media was being shut out of the information imparted by Carter to a few chosen reporters even after his hard line remarks were quoted in the media.


“I would feel it would be a very serious problem if Israel decided to tie it (the West Bank question) to the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations on the Sinai to which it is completely unrelated, because I expect these agreements to be consumated without delay, “the President was quoted as saying by an invited reporter.

The President was also quoted as saying by reporters at the breakfast that he had “a very clear understanding” with Begin that the question of new settlements on the West Bank would be settled by negotiations during a five-year transitional period in which the “final status” of that area is to be decided.

Begin completely denies this version. He insists that the moratorium on the settlements is for the three-month period in which the Egyptian-Israeli accord is to be negotiated. Aharon Barak, legal advisor to the Israeli delegation, who did most of the drafting of the frameworks for the Israelis at Camp David, handed Carter the written position that Begin had taken.

This was on the morning of Sept. 17 after the late night discussions Sept. 16 to which Carter now believes he had Begin’s word on five years. Carter, on the morning of Sept. 17, had already told President Anwar Sadat of Egypt of his success the previous night before Barak came to Carter’s lodge in Camp David.

No stenographic transcript or tape recording has been made of the talks. In any case, letters regarding this issue are being negotiated through diplomatic channels. The fact that Carter took his tough line against Israel in the private breakfast before the letters were completed and made public was seen as motivated by the Administration’s desire to put a lid firmly and forever on Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The President was seen also as effecting a maneuver in this manner to placate Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria and give them leverage to go along with the peace movement at Israel’s expense. If the Carter version holds, this would mean that no Jewish settlements could be started or enlarged since the Arab negotiators in the five-year transitional period would have a veto over them.

According to reports of the breakfast, Carter also was quoted as saying he had “a very clear understanding” with Begin that the question of new settlements on the West Bank would be settled by negotiations during the five-year transitional period in which the “final status” of that area is to be decided.

“My belief is that Begin did agree not to start any new settlements during the time negotiations on the West Bank-Gaza self-government were being conducted, and that the status of the future settlements would be determined by the negotiations,” Carter told the reporters.


Meanwhile, seven Jewish community leaders held a low-key meeting with Carter and five of his principal advisors at the White House Sept. 19, the day after the President had addressed the joint session of Congress on the Camp David results.

The meeting’s purpose was to review and provide background information on the accords. No announcements were made of the meeting either in advance or afterwards. The session was tentatively arranged on a stand-by basis prior to the start of the Camp David conference, JTA was informed, in order for the Jewish leaders to receive a report of its results directly from the President whether they were successful and favorable or not.

According to information received by the JTA, the President in effect told the leaders that the results of the summit conference proved that the community should trust him to do good for Israel. He recalled the antipathy that some in the Jewish community had towards him since he took office and began his efforts for a Middle East peace, but now that they had reached the end of the tunnel the light was evident.

The implication, it was said, is that the President wanted the Jewish leaders to make clear that he would be helpful toward Israel in the difficult months ahead in negotiating the agreements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The President, it has become known, was with the group for about 25 minutes in the session which lasted for more than 90 minutes. Other participants were: Vice President Walter Mondale; National Security Affairs Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; White House Counsel Robert Lipshutz; Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders; and Edward Sanders, senior advisor to the President and the Secretary of State.

Jewish leaders present were: Theodore Mann, Richard Maass, Burton Joseph, Howard Squadron, Rabbi Sol Teplitz, Lawrence Weinberg and Rabbi Israel Miller. Other Jewish communal leaders had been invited but they were unable to be present because of their attendance at a Jewish Agency meeting in Jerusalem and other obligations, it was reported. The meeting was described as “obviously constructive” both to the Carter Administration and the Jewish leaders.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund