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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum Proposing Solution For Arab Refugees

(April 28, 1961)

This memorandum discusses a solution to the Arab refugee problem. Here, very generous offers of Israeli citizenship, or resettlement in either an Arab or non-Arab country are raised as possible solutions.


An Approach to the Arab Refugee Problem

It is our view that for the following reasons a serious attempt should be made to do something about the Arab refugee problem: a) a UN resolution of April 21 directed the Palestine Conciliation Commission (United States, France and Turkey) to undertake action with respect to the Arab refugee problem and report to the General Assembly by October 15; b) unless progress is made the general review of the refugee problem scheduled at the General Assembly this fall is apt to produce repercussions highly detrimental to the interest of Israel, the United States, and peace in the Near East; c) unless some move is made toward resolving this 13-year-old problem, Congress will not be likely to continue appropriating funds (approximately $23,000,000 annually) as the United States contribution (70%) to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); d) the Arab refugee problem is probably the best key to progress on this entire Arab-Israel problem, including such issues as Suez transit, the Arab League boycott, boundaries, and the status of Jerusalem; and e) during the campaign last fall a pledge was made to initiate action designed to facilitate an Arab-Israel settlement.

The approach which the Department proposes consists of elements recommended by qualified and unbiased observers over the years. Briefly, it offers each refugee the choice of repatriation as a law-abiding citizen of Israel, resettlement via special works projects in an Arab country, or resettlement via United Nations encouragement in a non-Arab country. The approach assumes, and by careful restriction and phasing assures, that only a fraction of the refugees will in fact return to live permanently in Israel. As a first step, a Special Representative under PCC auspices would carry out a "reconnaissance mission" to Israel and the Arab capitals. The Special Representative, probably a non-American, will be selected in consultation with Secretary General Hammarskjold.

The Arab-Israel question in its various aspects has defied solution for 13 years. This effort, if it is to have any chance of success, will require maximum cooperation from all parties directly concerned. The forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion will afford excellent opportunity for you to bespeak his cooperation. It is important, however, that PCC activity become public knowledge prior to the Ben-Gurion visit, for otherwise Arab leaders are apt to reject the Commission's project with allegations that it was "hatched" by you and the Prime Minister in your talks. It may not prove possible to select an appropriate Special Representative and to have him commence his mission prior to the arrival of Ben-Gurion. In that case there could at least be a meeting or two of the PCC and a subsequent press release or planted story to the effect that the Commission is considering how an impartial approach to the problem might be made and, in this connection, that it is thinking about the selection of an impartial representative to sound out the parties directly concerned.

As you know, the Arabs already tend to view this Administration as pro-Israeli, particularly because of certain recent developments at the United Nations. Because of the important time factor, I would hope you will be able to give us prompt approval to undertake this approach./2/

/2/The points raised in this memorandum were discussed on April 27 at a meeting attended by Meyer, Plimpton, Strong, Eilts, Hamilton, Crawford, Ludlow, Palmer, and others at the Department of State. A memorandum for the record, drafted by Crawford, is ibid., NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 229, Israel-US.

Chester Bowles/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that indicates Bowles signed the original.

Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/4-2861. Secret. Drafted by Meyer. A note on the source text by Manfull reads: "Informed by Mr. Dungan (WH) by phone on 5/4/61 that President had approved."

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