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John F. Kennedy Administration: Joe Johnson On Refugee Issue

(February 6, 1962)

This memorandum puts forth Dr. Johnson's request for the U.S. government to address a series of questions and issues, which he believes need to be dealt with in order for further progress to be made in relation to the refugee issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Washington, February 6, 1962.

PCC Refugee Initiative

Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, Special Representative, Palestine Conciliation Commission
Mr. Sherrington Moe, UNRWA Liaison Officer, New York
USUN--Mr. Robert Blake (part)
USUN--Mr. Richard Pedersen (part)
UNP--Mr. Palmer
NEA/NE--William R. Crawford, Jr.

1. Questions for Study: Dr. Johnson said that following his meeting with Department officers on January 17/2/ he, Mr. Moe, Mr. Gaillard (PCC Secretary), and Mr. Jarvis (PCC land expert) had considered a sharper definition of questions bearing on the next round of negotiations with the Arab host countries and Israel. It appears that these questions are largely matters of political judgment. Therefore, the gathering of a panel of technical experts such as had been envisaged on January 17 no longer appears necessary. Rather, it is hoped to submit these questions of judgment for the personal consideration, on a highly confidential basis, of some 15 or 20 persons who have an objective familiarity with the refugee problem. These persons are to be found in three areas: (a) in the United States Government, (b) in the United Nations, and (c) outside the USG and UN. Category (c) might be further divided into persons outside the area and persons actually in the Middle East at the present time and so actively associated with the problem that a solicitation of their views might be indiscreet at this early stage (Dr. Davis, Mr. Roy Lucas). From those in the United States Government only an expression of individual view, not a cleared, coordinated position, is sought at this preliminary juncture. Distribution within the UN would be limited to three or four officers. Among the outsiders whose names come immediately to mind are individuals such as Norman Burns, Don Peretz, Albert Hourani, Hurewitz. It is hoped that the Department can suggest some additional names (to be given to Mr. Moe prior to Dr. Johnson's return from Europe on February 23).

The questions on which expressions of judgment are desired fall into three "complexes", as follows:

Complex One: The problem of selecting and repatriating or permanently resettling a limited number (20,000?)/3/ of refugees in a specified period (1 year?). (Mr. Moe handed those present a list of questions under this heading.)/4/

Complex Two: Inducements which exist to persuade the parties (the Arab governments, the Israelis, and the refugees) to accept such limited movement. By whom can these inducements be used? Underlying this complex of questions is the assumption that all sides will ultimately agree with the Special Representative that any solution to the refugee problem will include some repatriation to Israel as it now exists, some resettlement in the Arab countries, compensation for properties, an appropriate per capita reintegration allowance, and some resettlement elsewhere. A related consideration is how to keep all parties (which include American Jewish elements) in line as negotiations progress.

Complex Three: Timing, money, and machinery.

2. Regional Economic Development: Dr. Johnson said the strongly adverse Arab reaction to statements in his original report regarding the need for regional economic development make him aware that this is not a path he can pursue if he is to have any success on political aspects of the problem. Nevertheless, he feels there must be a "separate but parallel" effort in this direction to facilitate the absorption of refugees once there is some movement out of the present political stalemate. He remains convinced of the need for this despite the pessimistic view recently expressed to him by Mr. Eugene Black. Mr. Black considers it doubtful that any effort to persuade the states of the area of the advantages of regional economic development will succeed at this time. However, he acknowledges that something hopeful may come out of Kuwait's announced intention to set up a regional development fund. Dr. Johnson said he hopes the Department will give this whole aspect of the problem further, careful thought. Mr. Crawford said this would be done, but noted that because of political differences between the Arab states we have found it necessary, almost without exception, to conduct USG aid programs on a bilateral basis.

The concept of a multilateral, regional approach has always been attractive, but it is difficult to impose an overlay of economic cooperation on a foundation of political factionalism. Even after study, therefore, the conclusion may be reached that economic support of refugee integration will have to be primarily through bilateral channels.

3. Dr. Bryant Wedge: Dr. Johnson remarked that if no objection is perceived he intends to proceed with the recruitment of Dr. Bryant Wedge, a psychiatrist and sociologist from Hartford. Dr. Wedge has demonstrated an extraordinarily objective and penetrating understanding of the Palestine refugee problem in his correspondence with the Department and his recent conversations with Dr. Johnson himself. For the moment, Dr. Wedge will be the only member of the Special Representative's staff except for Mr. Moe, who is shortly to be relieved of his UNRWA responsibilities and assigned as the Special Representative's "Senior Advisor".

4. United States Government view of goals and timing in relations to 17th GA: Mr. Crawford noted past discussion between Dr. Johnson, USUN and the Department regarding a simplified statement of the goals of the Special Representative operation. There emerges a consensus that these are (a) some movement, or promise thereof, of refugees prior to the 17th General Assembly, or (b) documentation that such movement is not a practical possibility and that the USG-PCC-Special Representative operation has failed, to permit ____ (c) a thorough re-examination of the United States Government role in relation to the refugee problem looking toward a gradual reduction of the US involvement with minimum disruption to area stability, over a multi-year period. Mr. Crawford remarked that while the US will continue to provide all appropriate support, the road of the Special Representative must increasingly become a lonely one. The ingredients of progress on the refugee problem are probably known to many persons, but only the individual negotiator can ultimately determine a combination and timing of these ingredients that will be acceptable to all the parties.

Dr. Johnson said he realizes that as the second round is approached he must increasingly "go it alone". He is only anxious that the base of the mountain to be climbed be as broad as possible. Dr. Johnson said he appreciates that the Department must know by mid-summer whether the Special Representative operation has succeeded or failed. He looks toward completion of his final report by the first week of August. It is perfectly possible, however, that the second round of consultations in the Near East will show that failure is inevitable. Because of other commitments, the timing of the next Special Representative trip to the area must fall in the period April 1-May 5.

5. Presidential Interest: Dr. Johnson inquired regarding the degree of President Kennedy's personal involvement and interest in the Special Representative operation. Department officers commented that the President's continuing personal concern is attested inter alia by the letters he wrote last May to Arab leaders, which were the opening move in this initiative, and the sanction and full support given by the White House to our objective stand during the General Assembly refugee debate. As Mr. Talbot had remarked on January 17, this is "as important a piece of business" as the United States has in progress anywhere.

6. The Farbstein Resolution: Department officers noted the introduction into the House of Representatives on January 24 by Congressman Farbstein of a resolution (House Resolution 525)/5/ expressing the sense of Congress that our United Nations Mission should henceforth favor direct peace negotiations between the Arab states and Israel. The steps being taken by the Department to prevent Committee approval of this resolution were outlined. Dr. Johnson concurred that passage of this resolution would make it appear to the Arab states that the US was going back on the objective stand taken at the GA. He stated, further, that he was inclined to think adoption would render it "virtually impossible" for him to continue his mission, and authorized the Department to use this statement in the manner deemed most effective. Department officers concurred in Dr. Johnson's suggestion that he call Mr. Bundy in the White House to express concern about the Farbstein resolution before departing for Europe the following day.

7. Contacts with Jewish Leaders: Department officers recalled that Dr. Johnson had asked earlier for suggestions about private individuals that he might see while in Israel to provide a broad understanding of Israel attitudes. It was noted that Dr. Johnson had not yet met Rabbi Irving Miller, the new President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, that contact with him by Dr. Johnson is desirable, and that Rabbi Miller might be very helpful in suggesting means whereby Dr. Johnson might meet influential private persons during his next visit to Israel. Mr. Blake of USUN undertook to arrange a meeting between Rabbi Miller and Dr. Johnson after the latter's return from Europe on February 23. It was also suggested that Mr. Blake discuss the Farbstein resolution with Rabbi Miller.

8. PCC Press Release: It was agreed that a PCC press release announcing Dr. Johnson's "reappointment" as Special Representative is desirable for the record. A proposed text will be cabled to Dr. Johnson in Europe. After approval it will be shown by Mr. Gaillard to Arab host country and Israel representatives in New York, about February 19. The representatives will be notified of the Conciliation Commission's intention to issue the release a day or so after Dr. Johnson's return from Europe on February 23.

9. Possible Role of UNHCR: Dr. Johnson indicated his intention of calling on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/6/ while in Europe. It was agreed that the UNHCR has little useful place in the current PCC initiative. Conceivably, however, the UNHCR might be asked to provide or recommend staff for such centers as might eventually be set up to record or sample refugee opinion, and might furnish other technical assistance in due course.

10. Sampling vs. "Pilot" Group: Dr. Johnson referred to the possibility of sampling refugee opinion and of choosing from among the samples a smaller group to be moved during the first year of a repatriation-resettlement project. For example, the PCC might try to sample the opinion of 80,000-100,000 refugees with the object of giving 15,000 or 20,000 their free choice during Year One. Department officers expressed doubt that an accurate opinion sample could be obtained in the abstract. It would seem preferable to meld the two operations so that, for example, the first 20,000 refugees to record preferences would be given those preferences during Year One.

11. Single Camp vs. Area-Wide Effort: The relative merits of clearing out a single camp or camps totaling roughly 20,000 persons, vs. implementing the freely expressed choice of the first 20,000 who apply from anywhere in the area, were discussed. It was agreed that this is a decision with which the Arab states must ultimately be identified. If, for example, it were decided to try to vacate a camp in Jordan, other Arab states might turn on Jordan in mid course unless they had concurred in advance in this being the best approach.

12. Israel Declaration: Department officers asked whether Dr. Johnson had given thought to the nature and timing of a carefully circumscribed Israel declaration of willingness to cooperate in principle in implementation of Paragraph 11. Dr. Johnson concurred that it might be too much to expect Israel to make such a declaration on its own behalf. The actions which Ben-Gurion has taken to buttress Israel's stand on the refugee problem (his encouragement of the recent Knesset resolution opposing repatriation, etc.) genuinely limit his freedom of action. Dr. Johnson said one might rather look toward announcement by the Special Representative that both parties had agreed to cooperate in implementing during Year One the freely expressed choice of the first 20,000 refugees to record a preference. To this would be added the further statement that all parties had assured the Special Representative of their agreement in principle to continue such cooperation consistent with national security and economic interests. It was agreed that something along this line might (1) satisfy Arab demands for Israel's acceptance in principle of paragraph 11, and (2) give the Year One pilot project the sense of continuing in the future.

13. United States Financial Support: Dr. Johnson hoped that the Department is actively considering the question of US financial support of progress on the refugee problem, particularly as regards the establishment of a compensation fund.

14. Further Meetings: It was agreed to consider a further meeting of the group about March 1. Further meetings could be arranged as necessary.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/2-662. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Crawford and Palmer on February 12.

/2/See Document 166.

/3/At. Dr. Johnson's suggestion, the figure of 20,000 was used throughout discussion as being, perhaps, the maximum number of refugees that could realistically be moved and re-established in a one year period. This was not regarded as a fixed or final figure, however, and Department officers pointed out the possible merits of aiming at a figure at least equal to the annual 30,000 increase in the refugee population. [Footnote in the source text.]

/4/Not attached to the source text.

/5/See Document 186.

/6/Felix Schnyder.


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.