American Diplomatic Efforts

American administrations, from Johnson through Ford, seemed committed to finding some way in which to break this diplomatic stalemate. The Johnson Administration set out to pursue a five point program which offered a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. After considerable debate on these principles, the UN adopted a comprehensive statement on peace -- UN Resolution 242. The resolution called for the end of belligerency, the withdrawal of forces from occupied territory, acknowledging the territorial integrity of every state in the area, creation of demilitarized zones, settlement of the refugee problem, and the creation of a special envoy to negotiate peace. The diplomatic efforts initiated to carry out UN-242 failed when the Israeli made it clear they would not withdraw and when Arab states, taking advantage of a new found cold war relationship with the Soviet Union, began to rearm themselves with more modern weapons.

Initially, the Nixon administration focused on a comprehensive solution to the conflict. Known as the Rogers Plan (for Secretary of State William Rogers), the administration's strategy relied on American pressure on Israel and Russian pressure on Egypt. Israel would agree to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders in exchange for an Egyptian declaration ending the state of hostilities and opening up the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. In the presence of both Israeli and Egyptian recalcitrance, though, the Rogers Plan failed to develop any momentum for peace.

Later American attempts at peace carried on by both the Nixon and the Ford administration focused on diplomacy managed from the White House and by National Security Advisor (and later Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger. Decidedly incremental, Mr. Kissinger's tact concentrated on continuing to make "modest steps" towards peace. What Kissinger called "step by step" diplomacy. He divided the issues into clusters, postponing the more serious ones for later.

The rise to power in Egypt of Anwar el-Sadat promised more Egyptian flexibility. The 1973 war, masterminded by Sadat, created an opportunity for more diplomatic progress, as well. Israel's desire to repatriate prisoners of war and reduce the number of Egyptian forces in the Sinai matched Egypt and Syria's desires to reclaim their lost territories. These mutual interests generated a disengagement agreement for the Sinai, negotiated by Mr. Kissinger. On the wings of this successfully negotiated cease-fire settlement, Kissinger set out to organize a full fledged conference in Geneva. The conference, however, recessed permanently after the first day.

Kissinger moved on to bi-lateral negotiations seeking to stabilize the relations between Israel and some of her adversaries. In a Sinai Agreement signed in September of 1975, Israel and Egypt agreed to a lessening of tensions in the Sinai by creating a buffer between the two. The Israelis withdrew from the Suez Canal area and established defensive positions beyond the Gidi and Mitla Passes, while Egypt would allow free passage of Israeli shipping through the Suez and into the Gulf of Akaba. Despite these successes with Egypt, Kissinger's incremental strategy made little headway in resolving the question of the West Bank territories claimed by Jordan and captured by Israel, or the status of Jerusalem or the status of the Palestinian refugees. Moreover, the Egyptians refused Israeli shipping any passage through the Suez Canal.


For three administrations, American diplomacy seemed to work best pursuing a less ambitious, "partial" approach to resolving problems. By the end of 1976, though, there was considerable evidence that the incremental strategy had achieved all that it could.

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