White House Conference on Johnson Plan, August 14, 1962
Secretary:/2/ The problem has been mounting, we should not keep falling back on old line, but should seek new approach. Accordingly, we have asked Dr. Johnson to look into the matter and he will now give the highlights of his recommendations.
JJ:/3/ The proposals are a bare minimum or a margin of what is possible. They are in low key and can be cut off at any time. The emphasis is on finding out what the refugee wants. They require the least commitment of governments to the fewest things; these may let things proceed if they don't have to speak publicly.
1) If the refugees know what is involved, few will choose to return.
2) The countries as sovereign powers have the final decision on entry.
3) Land experts now know value and location of property, and in two months can match names with property.
The propositions are the only likely way to carry out Paragraph 11 or to do anything on the Palestine question. I am personally convinced that movement on Palestine must begin with the refugees. No total solution is possible. The chances of success are slim, but there is some chance. If we don't try this, nothing will be done. We must use the next few months or we'll be in trouble if we try to do something later. The US, France and Turkey are on the hot spot; this is a means to exercise their responsibilities. There is a real advantage in doing something before the UNGA meets, for the GA could prove to be a donnybrook. I would like to see someone in place since this may quiet the debate. If the decision is taken to go ahead, we will need an intensive diplomatic effort by the US with other states.
President: Why isn't the status quo more preferable for both the Israelis and the Arabs? We pay the bill, and there is no compromise of principle.
JJ: We may not continue to pay the bill for Congress is restive. Israel has a sore spot on the borders, and it can't move toward peace. An attempt to erode the problem, to dissolve it, is advantageous to Israel even though it does not want to take the Arabs back.
Secretary: Would the Arabs acquiesce to this first small movement?
JJ: There is some chance they might. The Arabs have missed many trains. Now the fate of UNRWA is in question.
President: It would suit the Arabs to have all the refugees go back to Israel. They would use propaganda to push them.
JJ: There will be propaganda.
President: We must be sure someone explains why they would not like to go back.
JJ: It will be explained they can't go back to previous homes and compensation will be offered.
President: What would the cost of compensation be to all.
JJ: Just over $1 billion.
President: We would carry 60 to 70%?
Feldman: 38% get others. (?)/4/
President: Do we carry Israel too if Israel agrees to compensation?
Feldman: Israel also took Jewish refugees. Israel would probably have to be against because it implies repatriation of all refugees, but, privately, might go along. Publicly, the Arabs could go along with repatriation and oppose resettlement, but they have something to gain.
President: When would the plan be launched?
JJ: Shortly. By Friday in the PCC to lay out Plan; then 7 to 10 days for the PCC to endorse, then 3 or 4 weeks later we would set up administrator in Jordan.
President: Wouldn't we say that we would run a trial for a few rather than push the whole 1,100,000? To limit it might reassure Israel. Otherwise, it will be hard to get Israel acquiescence fearing that all would come. Trial might show only a few would come.
JJ: The countries would reject a trial run. The Arabs would not accept at all.
President: Israel cannot accept free choice of return; we only assume that few will go back.
JJ: This is "free preference", not "free choice". We would in fact be doing a trial run without so calling it. Administrative difficulties will mean it will move slowly at first.
Secretary: We would get a good reading with the first thousand, either it will work or it will not. If it failed, it would lead to a new start with a clean slate.
President: What are the problems?
Feldman: From the international point of view, if Israelis refuse, don't try it; find out how far they will go. Domestically, if there is a public statement, it would be reflected by the local community. Part of the risk is removed if we can get private Israeli assurances. We would like to delay until after November, but JJ says we can't.
JJ: I have talked to Jewish leaders and found them receptive to trying to go ahead. I could renew contacts.
Feldman: If we could tie in the Hawk, it might work.
President: It might be stillborne if we have word out of a big repatriation. People would stir up because of elections. We should find out what Israel will do. I don't want to get into a costly fight without getting something. I'm still living with residue of December vote. Don't want to live with residue of another fight for years and years.
Secretary: How do we get a trial run? PCC has the responsibility to see how the refugees feel about repatriation and resettlement; can perhaps find a way to put this to the parties.
Feldman: Part of the plan is to limit to what BG has agreed to--100,000.
JJ: I want nothing to do with numbers. Must be open about finding out preferences.
President: There are hazards for us in the proposals but there are also hazards for the Israelis and the Arabs. The difficulties are numerous but this is the only hope. We should start with the Israelis and thus avoid a bloody battle. Does JJ have trouble?
JJ: The Arabs say JJ and US are in Israel's pocket. If word gets around that this is cleared with the Israelis, this will kill the Plan.
President: JJ then should have nothing to do with this.
Secretary: What is the problem of getting at the proposals more slowly?
JJ: UNRWA's future is unclear. It terminates 6/30/63. If we postpone discussion we must postpone continuation of UNRWA. If we postpone until 1963 we run into the tough problem of Jordan waters over which the Arabs will be all steamed up. If postponed until after November I can say there is not time to think enough, but the Arabs are impatient--not uncontrollable.
Secretary: GA used to postponing item until after US elections.
President: If postponed until after November, we could find out from the Israelis. Does JJ object to this?
JJ: We should speak to Nasser at the same time (President agrees). Reason proposals not submitted to parties earlier because it would become a negotiation and be torn to pieces. If we do approach Israel, don't negotiate details. Plan should stand or fall as is.
President: What threat do we have on Israelis and Arabs to get them to accept? Withdraw our support?
JJ: The following are threats to the Arabs: 1) Congress is restive. 2) Paragraph 11 would be dead.
MF:/5/ 3) Would be difficult handle Arabs.
President: The Arabs are more interested in repatriation. They might buy it.
JJ: This is the carrot. Resettlement with money in hand would lead to economic development much like Dag's earlier proposal./6/
MF: Apart from emotions, there are factors which favor acceptance.
Secretary: The collapse of UNRWA would be more likely to come from other contributors.
President: Envisions $700 million to Middle East over next 10 years.
Secretary: Much could be local Israeli currency.
Barbour:/7/ Up to 200 million worth of Israeli pounds.
MF: Also Egyptian pounds.
President: If JJ has no objection to Israelis and Nasser we can proceed.
JJ: Okeh. Our backing is necessary and it is up to us to decide. Should approach to PCC come first?
Secretary: How much do they really know?
JJ: I gave general concepts and French and Turks know I am seeing President.
Mac Bundy: French not very reliable.
President: JJ should delay seeing the PCC until we talk to Israelis and Nasser directly. We should meet on what our approach to Nasser and Israelis should be.
Secretary: We must prepare papers on talking points, must tie into other matters.
MF: We should be prepared to tie in security guarantee with Johnson Plan, but tell him (Ben-Gurion) ahead of time he gets the Hawks.
President: We must talk to Nasser first on the Hawks. All of this must be carried out with utmost secrecy.
President: We must get precise answers later on how Feldman works. Problems--Hawks, reps to Nasser. MF to work on Israeli side in White House.
Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86B/8-1562. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Robert C. Strong. The time of the meeting is from the President's Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library) The source text is attached to an August 15 memorandum from Dutton to Talbot on the policy of direct negotiations between Israel and the Arabs. An unsigned typed note, dated August 14, presumably prepared in advance of this meeting, reads: "We'll have to march to get through them all. 1. Should we back Johnson Plan (Joe Johnson will speak)? 2. Should we make an effort to get tacit UAR/Israel arms limitations before selling Hawks to Israel? Timing? 3. Should we sell Hawks to Israel if above fails? If so, what timing? 4. Should we challenge Israel's claim to sovereignty over Lake Tiberias? Privately or publicly? Timing? 5. Should we send Presidential emissaries to Israel and UAR." (Ibid., National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 8/10/62-8/16/62)
/2/Secretary of State Rusk.
/4/As on the source text.
/6/Reference is presumably to a May 1959 report by U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.5