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

(October 9, 1962)

This memorandum notes Syria's rejection of the Johnson Plan, and the suggestion of the U.S. to continue their efforts to seek alternative solutions to the Palestinian refugee problem.


With Syria's "unshakable rejection" of Johnson Plan,/2/ it is breathing its last. Though UAR, Jordan, Lebanon were ready to buy the Plan, they will now be forced to go along. State retains more professional optimism, however; to it, "rejection" in Arabic means "maybe".

In any case, the results to date amply justify our tactic of not knuckling to Israeli pressure for immediate US disengagement./3/ If we had done so, and it had leaked (on top of Hawk offer), Arabs would have had a free ride at Israel's and our expense.

By the same token, we should continue this tactic, spinning it out at least through Palestine refugee debate in GA. By letting Arabs and Israelis share the blame for failure, we get credit for a good try (which it was, though very poorly timed) and enter UNRWA debate with maximum flexibility.

So Joe Johnson and Talbot should continue explorations, seeking to counter the growing chorus of objections. There's a slim chance of salvaging some vestige of the Plan approach (perhaps a truncated version less anathema to Israel). At any rate, we may be able to keep the concept alive for another year (I still believe it in Israel's long-term interest).

Bob K.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Palestine, Refugees, Vol. II, 10/62-11/62. Secret. Copies were sent to Feldman and Kaysen. A transmittal memorandum from Komer to Bundy reads: "This is largely for Mike's benefit. I've asked State to keep us clued on its tactical plan; because of President's continuing interest (and fact he keeps getting Mike's views anyway). This hand isn't played out yet; I'm trying to keep close tabs on it."

/2/On October 4, Syrian Prime Minister 'Azm delivered an official public statement indicating that the Syrian Government considered Johnson's proposals to be a "clear violation" of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 and a "deviation in the interpretation of its provisions." 'Azm also conveyed the Syrian viewpoint that the Johnson Plan "in reality and consequences is not a plan aimed at settling the refugees problem, but a solution aimed only at expatriating them and settling them finally outside their homeland." The Embassy in Damascus transmitted the text of his statement in airgram A-115, October 9. (Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/10-962)

/3/A handwritten marginal notation by Bundy next to this paragraph reads: "which we sold JFK over Mike's dead body."

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