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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Further Discussion of the Johnson Plan

(October 4, 1962)

This memorandum discusses the U.S. position on the Johnson Plan and chances of solving the Palestinian refugee problem in light of the public learning of the plan.


Next Steps on the Johnson Plan

The Johnson Plan has reached the press in New York (source unknown) and the gist of it has been published./2/ It follows that pressures will mount on Israel, on the Arab states, on the United States, and on France and Turkey as the other members of the Palestine Conciliation Commission to make their positions on the Plan known. We, therefore, must be in a position shortly to take a reasonably clear stand, yet at the same time avoid use of language which would precipitate a public rejection by Israel. If it becomes necessary to say something more publicly, we propose stating our belief that the Plan seems to us to have real possibilities and deserves the most careful and sympathetic consideration by the interested governments. We would avoid pledging all out US support or engaging our prestige on the outcome.

We continue to believe we must keep the approach of the Plan in play. If it is to be rejected, it must be rejected either by both the Arabs and Israel or by the Arabs alone, preferably the former. The Arabs have been careful thus far to avoid formal rejection of the Plan, although this could be their effort to throw the onus of rejection upon Israel. It continues to be in Israel's interest, and ours, that the onus for rejection not fall on Israel alone, and we should keep stressing this to them.

Keeping the matter in play involves continuing talks with the Israelis, agreed to by Mrs. Meir, to be conducted by Assistant Secretaries Talbot and Cleveland with Ambassador Harman over the next four or five weeks. It involves avoidance by any United States official of any indication to Israel that we consider the Plan dead. I declined to agree with Mrs. Meir that the Plan is dead, telling her that the two words "Johnson Plan" should not serve to prevent a profitable discussion of how we can proceed on the problem of Arab refugees. We should take this approach with Harman.

I propose in their discussions with Ambassador Harman that Messrs. Talbot and Cleveland undertake detailed exploration of the Israeli attitude on Arab refugees, determine what the Israelis in fact are willing to do, determine what additional explanations or clarifications might be made, and examine in detail the assurances which the United States might be able and willing to provide Israel, starting from the point of the United States assurances given earlier in Jerusalem./3/ We need not argue with Harman whether we are talking about the refugees within or outside the Johnson Plan. We should not now discuss with Harman how the Plan is to be handled in the PCC or in the GA. We expect to consult periodically with Dr. Johnson as the discussions with Ambassader Harman are pursued. We do not feel obliged to wind up the discussion with something called the "Johnson Plan" but whatever it is to be called the principal features of the Plan may well survive and Israel must not reject the Plan unilaterally. This approach would serve to meet Israel's current stand that the "Johnson Plan" as such is unacceptable and non-negotiable. There is no way in which we can relieve Israel of responsibility for rejecting the Plan if the Arabs keep it in play.

One further step is important at this stage. We must have authority to discuss fully and frankly with selected Senators and Congressmen and with a number of Jewish leaders the proposals that have been made and our reactions to them, the dangers of Israeli rejection, and the willingness and ability of the United States to assure that Israel's sovereignty, security and well-being are safeguarded. Similarly we must be enabled to persuade the French and Turks to cooperate in keeping the matter open during the coming weeks. In these talks we will be pressed to state categorically our position on the Johnson Plan. We should make clear that we do not consider the Johnson Plan dead but that we are focussing on how to put into effect practical steps to resolve the refugee issue.

I should appreciate your approval of the foregoing.

Dean Rusk/4/

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/10-462. Secret; Limit Distribution..

/2/Circular telegram 574 to certain Near Eastern, African, and European posts, October 2, reported that a substantially accurate summary of the main elements of the Johnson Plan, written by journalist Milton Freudenheim, had appeared in the Chicago Daily News and The Washington Post on October 2. The telegram also transmitted the text of the Department of State spokesman's comment. (Ibid., 325.85/10-262)

/3/Talbot met with Harman on October 12. Cleveland did not attend, but was represented by the Director of the Office of United Nations Affairs, Joseph Sisco. The memorandum of conversation is ibid., 325.84.10-1262; for text, see the Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute. Briefing papers prepared for the meeting are in Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 44, Refugees, PCC, General Policy; and ibid., IO/UNP Files: Lot 72 D 294, PCC--Johnson Mission.

/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. A handwritten note next to the signature reads: "Sgnd by Secy & sent to WH via UNP from New York 10/4/62 per/BWeiner." A copy of the memorandum, attached to the source text, bears a handwritten notation: "Orig handed to the Pres by NEA-Talbot 10/5/62-1 p.m."


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