Ben-Gurion on Refugee Issue
(January 22, 1963)
This is a telegram from the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State reporting of a meeting with David Ben Gurion on the refugee issue.
537. I met yesterday afternoon with Prime Minister at his request. Other Israelis present included Harman, Rafael and Arad. He opened discussion by expressing appreciation for deep understanding, goodwill, and friendship for Israel shown by President Kennedy in recent talks with Foreign Minister Meir. President's comment that United States special relation with Israel not negotiable appeared touch him particularly. While deeply grateful to hear United States would come quickly to Israel's aid if latter attacked he commented in this respect Israel must nevertheless rely upon itself.
He agreed with President's statement that progress must be made in refugee issue, which was reason he had asked me to call. Series of high-level talks within GOI had been held on this subject in recent days and he wanted to apprise me generally of results. His earlier talk with President Kennedy on this subject had resulted in complete agreement between them and he was pleased to hear President still held same views. As he saw situation, in accepting any future agreement Israel must be able to see clearly where plan comes out in end and agreement must settle whole problem once and for all. Aside from this consideration, he believed there were two initially fundamental questions: (1) what is total number of refugees; and (2) number refugees Israel can take. On first, he insisted that there be included as refugees only persons who came from territory which is now Israel and that no others, such as persons from Nablus, be thrown in. He saw no particular difficulties with this question (sic), but he thought there may be complications about second although he believed Israel and United States views this matter not divergent. As was known, he pointed out, Israel had interest in settling refugee question and was willing to consider it aside from issue of general peace. Any real settlement must also have goodwill of Arab states, he continued, which inevitably would mean their settlement of major portion of refugees in Arab territory as it would be impossible to settle appreciable numbers elsewhere. In this connection he reiterated Israeli willingness to participate in compensation. This goodwill would also mean that Arab states would agree that any accepted solution cleared up fully and finally refugee question and it should be understood that solution would terminate in discussion of problem in United Nations. It was in getting Arab acceptance to such a plan that he saw difficulties arising, but he assured me that to obtain such a solution Israel would be willing to make its contribution.
Ben-Gurion outlined foregoing as fundamental groundwork of further Israel-United States talks on refugee problem. He said he would be prepared begin such talks on substance as soon as Mrs. Meir's return of February 5 from her current trip to East Africa (Embtel 511). He expects these talks to take place in Israel with his personal participation, at least at outset, which later emphasized as Israeli position by Rafael.
I responded that I had no instructions as yet as to further pursuit refugee problem but that I was pleased to find agreement in United States and Israeli point of view that solution of refugee issue highly desirable. It was United States belief, I commented, that such a solution would contribute materially to peace in area, hence any step in that direction would assist in developing this peace. I expressed my gratification that discussions on this issue might begin earlier in year and not be carried out under commission to meet UNGA deadline. His remarks would be transmitted to the Department, I said, and I would await instructions.
Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.