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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum Regarding Concern Over UN Debate on Arab Refugees

(November 19, 1963)

This is a memorandum from Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy reporting on the debate in the United Nations on Arab Refugees.


Another teapot tempest is upon us at the UN on annual Arab refugee debate. Issue is over mentioning Para. 11 of UN Resolution 194 (1948) in annual compromise resolution we sponsor and get through (Para.11 calls for repatriation or compensation of refugees).

Through 1961 we referred directly to Para. 11. Last year under Israeli pressure we fuzzed issue by referring mainly to Res. 1856, and mentioning Para. 11 only in passing. Israelis took this as a big victory, claiming it meant Para. 11 was mentioned in retroactive sense only. Arabs didn't catch on.

This year, however, Arabs have made a big issue of whether US retreating from Para. 11. They've introduced their own bad resolution, which we think could win a 2/3 majority. Israelis have countered with usual "direct negotiations" gambit.

Last Saturday we decided (Feldman, Schlesinger, myself concurring) we simply can't afford to drop Para. 11 just now, without breaking faith with Arabs and sustaining a defeat. Among other things, JFK's 1961 letter to Arab leaders said we'd search for a refugee solution under Para. 11. Moreover, 1964 would be an Israeli year--on top of SC vote condemning Syria and Gruening Amendment, we face problem of cutting UNRWA relief rolls and then Jordan Waters, etc. So best course was to block bad Arab resolution by agreeing to insert old reference to Para. 11 in ours. They agreed (NY 2124), and also to drop any effort to amend our version to include old property custodian para. However, Arabs want Israelis to agree not to bring direct talks resolution to a vote either. We think this a good deal, since it almost certainly can't win.

Israelis are wroth, however. Gazit says we're heading for a crisis in US/Israeli relations. Israelis claim regime will be in trouble with Knesset because it said this year's refugee talks were "without preconditions", i.e. without Para. 11. So no further refugee talks possible if US version goes through. Israelis say we can lick Arab Res. if we fight all-out, but even so we'd have to abandon Para. 11 and eat crow.

Despite the likely flak, our strategy seems to be working. With luck we'll end up with both Arab and Israeli resolutions abandoned for our own. Feldman seems chiefly concerned by proposed dropping of direct negotiations resolution (but IO is a better judge than he of whether it can win). Israelis themselves say their principal concern is that our statement and if possible resolution don't base themselves solely on Para.11, but include other less offensive resolutions. This should be possible.

An alternative is to sidestep the issue, withdrawing our resolution and abstaining on Arab and Israeli ones. But this lets Arabs win; so we and Israelis would be even worse off.

State's proposal seems best way to stay evenhanded and minimize losses on both sides. Rusk has the decision at moment, and I've urged he touch base with JFK.

RW Komer

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