Johnson Administration Alarmed by Israeli Settlement Plans
(April 8, 1968)
In this document Secretary of State Dean Rusk raises concerns about reports that Israel plans to build settlements in the territories it conquered in the Six-Day War and wants American diplomats in Tel Aviv to relay American opposition to the idea.
SUBJECT Israeli Settlements in Occupied Territories
We have noted press and posts' reporting that the GOI is under increasing pressure to authorize and facilitate the establishment of civilian settlements in the occupied areas. Existing settlements in the Golan Heights, Sinai, and at Etzion were justified by the GOI as para-military encampments serving security purposes.
Recent reports (Tel Avi A-716) indicate that these settlements are taking on aspects of permanent, civilian, kibbutz-like operations and some are, in fact, civilian kibbutzim with Nahal covers. Thus far, we have no information on the establishment of settlements by the 17 groups which Prime Minister Eshkol announced in the Knesset February 26 he had approved. While there was no suggestion in his statement that these groups would be associated with Nahal, we note that the groups filed applications with the GOI and it seems probable they are non-Nahal.
Although we have expressed our views to the Foreign Ministry and are confident there can be little doubt among GOI leaders as to our continuing opposition to any Israeli settlements in the occupied areas, we believe it would be timely and useful for the Embassy to restate in strongest terms the US position on this question.
You should refer to Prime Minister Eshkol's Knesset statement and our awareness of internal Israeli pressures for settling civilians in occupied areas. The GOI is aware of our continuing concern that nothing be done in the occupied areas which might prejudice the search for a peace settlement. By setting up civilian or quasi-civilian outposts in the occupied areas the GOI adds serious complications to the eventual task of drawing up a peace settlement. Further, the transfer of civilians to occupied areas, whether or not in settlements which are under military control, is contrary to Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which states "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
Finally, you should emphasize that no matter what rationale or explanation is put forward by the GOI, the establishment of civilian settlements in the occupied areas creates the strong appearance that Israel, contrary to the principle set forth in the UNSC Resolution and to US policy expressed in the President's speech of June 19, does not intend to reach a settlement involving withdrawal from those areas.
Source: "Airgram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel," in Smith, Louis J. (Ed.). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.