Rostow Recommends Solution On Palestinian Refugees

(May 21, 1966)


Rostow explains to President Johnson Ambassador Goldberg's plan for solving the Palestinian refugee problem from Israel's War of Independence. Goldberg's plan is for Israel to announce that they will accept refugees into Israel with quotas and security screening and that Israel would compensate the rest. Rostow felt that there was much good in the proposal but it would not be accepted by the Israelis unless they could be convinced that the Arabs would not accept it. The Israelis felt that they could ignore the refugee problem as it would solve itself through time (this was before the Six Day War). The U.S. also did not want to press this issue too much in order to encourage more liberal politicians to take over.

Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, May 21, 1966.

Ambassador Goldberg has sent you a very imaginative proposal for tackling the Palestine refugee problem./2/

His idea is to persuade Israel to announce unilaterally that it will allow any refugees to return to Israel who want to, subject only to annual quotas and security screening. This would be a bow to the Arab claim that the refugees have a "right" to return. Israel would offer compensation to those who wanted to settle elsewhere. While this might not work, Israel would at least have made a move to break the current impasse.

Our preliminary reaction is that, even though there are some good new ideas here, the Israelis would not buy this. They feel they have to put upper limits on the number of refugees coming back into Israel for security reasons. If they were sure the Arabs would reject the idea, they might consider it to make political points. However, they feel that the present situation is tolerable and time is gradually eroding the problem.

There are clearly fresh winds blowing in the Israeli Government and greater willingness to think about a long-term Arab-Israeli accommodation. We do want to guard against pushing these new thinkers too far too fast because their hard line cohorts will be all too ready to jump them. So we would want to work out any such initiative very thoroughly before proposing it to them.

I think we ought to give State the outlines of Goldberg's plan to staff out in detail. If you approve, I will send it over without attribution.

Walt

Send it to State/3/
See me

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 3. Confidential.

/2/Goldberg's May 19 letter to the President is ibid.

/3/This option is checked. Johnson's handwritten notes on the memorandum indicate that the President wanted his staff to "Hurry it up" and to thank Goldberg. Another note in an unknown handwriting states that Rostow called Goldberg in New York later that day.


Source: "Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson" in Smith, Louis J. (Ed.). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.