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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Suggestion of Recommendations to Israel

(May 1, 1961)

This memorandum outlines suggestions that the United States Secretary of State Rusk should make to Israeli Ambassador Harman regarding issues such as the Arab refugees, water, stability in Jordan, and military aid.


Suggested Reply to Memorandum of Israeli Ambassador re Arab-Israel Situation


You will recall that Ambassador Harman submitted to you a memorandum (Tab A)/2/ setting out, at some length, an Israeli appraisal of the present Near East situation with some suggested steps for its improvement. The memorandum was prepared in response to a query on your part during the Ambassador's introductory call. We have reviewed and analyzed this in some detail and have prepared a response to significant points raised in the memorandum. We believe it would not be advisable to attempt a written reply to the Ambassador's memorandum and that the matter could appropriately be handled by a discussion between myself and Ambassador Harman in which I would inform him you had reviewed the points he had put forward and had asked me to speak on your behalf. If you approve, I would make to him the points listed below, which have been appropriately cleared in other bureaus and in the Department of Defense, as a preliminary to the Ben-Gurion visit.

/2/All tabs cited in the memorandum are attached to the source text. Tab A, not printed, includes a February 27 covering memorandum from Harman and a memorandum entitled "Some Aspects of the Arab-Israeli Situation," under cover of a February 24 note. References to subsections of Tab A refer to special tabs affixed to portions of the February 27 memorandum.

Ambassador Harman's memorandum is noteworthy in that it speaks favorably of the present tranquillity in the Near East and eschews "frontal and public" approaches to an Arab-Israel settlement. In this connection, it is of interest that Ben-Gurion has publicly stated that an Arab-Israel settlement cannot be imposed. While endorsing this general thesis, which for the Israelis is somewhat of a departure from their previous thinking, the Ambassador in his memo proceeds to set forth a set of proposals which, for the most part, date back to days when the Israelis were not so satisfied with the status quo. Throughout the memorandum there is much emphasis of the theme that Nasser is the root of all evil. This reflects current Israeli and Jewish sentiment which tends to portray Nasser as some sort of new Pharaoh or new Hitler. It does not take into account that anti-Israel feelings are even stronger in the Arab world outside Egypt than in Cairo and that even were Nasser to disappear from the scene Arab resentment of Israel would remain undiminished. A schematic analysis of the Israeli memorandum setting out in skeletal form the Israeli suggestions and the pros and cons pertaining thereto is attached (Tab B)./3/

/3/Tab B, entitled "Analysis of Ambassador Harman's Proposal," is divided into 12 subsections.

Points to be Made to Ambassador Harman.

1. Quiet Diplomacy. We are pleased that the Israelis share our view concerning the many "positive aspects" characterizing the present climate of the Near East. As noted in previous exchanges between us, we agree with the Israeli view that a "frontal and public attack" on major outstanding issues would be likely to boomerang but we would not, of course, be averse to steps which could be effective in advancing an Arab-Israel settlement. We have been gratified to note that under the relatively tranquil conditions prevailing during the past year Israel has continued its phenomenal progress, e.g., exports up 25%, industrial growth up 14% (highest in the world), GNP per capita above that of Netherlands and Italy, foreign exchange reserve up over 65%, and even USG aid up from $60 million to $82 million.

2. Security Assurances. We have serious doubts as to the advantages either for the U.S. or Israel of a bilateral Defense Agreement and we question the advisability of a new public statement on the part of the U.S. Government supporting in explicit terms territorial integrity of the Near East states. We do not believe either our allies or the Soviet Union would join us in such a declaration. Such a statement would, in fact, seem to constitute the kind of broadside effort regarding issues in the area which would carry a greater risk of disturbing the existing calm than it would carry promise of aiding progress towards solutions. The Arabs would interpret such a gesture as an American attempt to coerce them into making peace with Israel and as an abandonment of an impartial attitude on the part of the United States. Existing U.S. ties with Israel, our demonstrated opposition to armed aggression as reflected in the Lebanon crisis and Israel's own military capabilities are significant deterrents to aggressive intent on the part of Israel's neighbors (Tabs A-1 and B-1).

3. Military Aid. With regard to the arms imbalance feared by the Israelis, we continue to believe that steps which would in effect make the United States the arsenal for Israel would heighten tension in the area and would probably lead to a corresponding step-up of Soviet arms to the UAR. Such an intensified arms race with its concomitant economic burdens would be highly detrimental to the countries of the area and dangerous. We are confident that Israel's military needs can best be served: a) by procurement of its heavy and advanced arms from traditional European suppliers; b) by the occasional sale of modest amounts of defensive arms from the United States; c) by accepting our offer for some $15,000,000 worth of advanced electronics equipment (early warning); d) by military training of Israeli officers in the United States at about the present levels; e) by the continued availability to Israel of surplus U.S. matériel; and, f) by continued beneficial contacts with our military attachés in Israel. In this connection, we are gratified by the high regard which our military officers hold for Israel's military prowess and their confidence that the Israel defense forces will more than match Arab military capabilities for the foreseeable future (Tabs A-2 and B-2).

4. Regional Disarmament. The U.S. is very much in sympathy with the Israeli objective for reducing arms burdens in the Near East but we fear that there is at the moment not much hope of finding a basis for agreement for disarmament or agreed upon arms control in the Near East region. We intend, however, to keep this matter under scrutiny. Prospects for any initiatives would, of course, be enhanced by preservation of the existing calm and by a cooperative attitude on the part of all the nations which are supplying significant quantities of arms to the Near East countries (Tabs A-3 and B-3).

5. Arab Refugees. The United States finds the position of the Israel Government on the Palestine refugee problem somewhat disappointing. At the Lausanne Conference in 1949 Israel spoke in terms of the repatriation of a substantial number of refugees--up to 150,000. Thus, it seems that Israel's stance on repatriation has retrogressed considerably. The U.S. remains deeply concerned with the refugee problem. There is mounting Congressional impatience with continuance of massive U.S. financial contributions unrewarded by significant progress towards solution. It is also a subject on which Israel and its friends are extremely vulnerable in the annual debates on the UNRWA item at the UN General Assembly. We do not expect either Israel or the Arabs to sacrifice vital national interest to make progress. However, there is required a willingness on both sides to undertake concessions which seem of significance to the other.

The choice of compensation or repatriation has perennially been endorsed by the UNGA. This principle is supported by the U.S. It is difficult to envision real progress until Israel has found some means for dealing effectively with this concept. In recent years Israel has indicated willingness to compensate the refugees, but has done so in the context of rejecting the principle of repatriation. Lacking this element, the sum impression of the Israel position is that the present unhappy situation should endure for a very long time, with the U.S. continuing to bear the brunt politically and economically. For its part the United States would not view as acceptable any arrangement which would disrupt Israel's economy or prove to be a significant threat to Israel's security (Tabs A-5 and B-5).

6. Palestine Entity. The Arab concept of a "Palestine Entity", with the implied thought of establishment of a "Palestine Government in exile", is regarded by the U.S. as a retrogressive development in Arab-Israel relations. The Arabs so far have been notoriously unable to develop any agreed course of action for implementation of the Palestine entity idea and a frontal attack by the U.S. on the entity concept is only likely to give it more life (Tabs A-4 and B-4).

7. Jordan Waters. The U.S. continues to believe that an internationally agreed unified program along the lines of the Johnston Plan promises the most satisfactory resolution of the Jordan waters problem. Meanwhile, it is imperative in our view that Israel in its water development program abide by the terms of the Johnston Plan. Because of intense Arab antagonism and threats of hostilities when Israel diverts water out of the Jordan basin, we are on a continual alert for possible indications that a unified development plan can be negotiated by one agency or another with the parties directly concerned (Tabs A-7 and B-7).

8. Aid to Jordan. The U.S. concurs in the Israeli view that continued stability and economic growth in Jordan are important for stability in the area. Our attitude is reflected in the substantial assistance we annually provide to Jordan.


That you approve my conveying the foregoing orally to Ambassador Harman./4/

/4/Rusk initialed his approval of the recommendation on May 1. Talbot met with Harman on May 5 and covered orally the points made in this memorandum. The memorandum of that conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, 784A.00/5-561.

Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86B/5-161. Secret. Drafted by Meyer, Thacher, and Palmer on April 25 and concurred in by Haydn Williams (DOD/ISA).

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