Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

John F. Kennedy Administration: Kennedy Prepped For Meeting With Israeli PM Ben-Gurion

(May 26, 1961)

This memorandum briefs President Kennedy for his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, outlining the United States' position with regards to certain requests assumed to be made by the Israelis.


Subjects for discussion at meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion

1. Israel's security problem

Mr. Ben Gurion will stress the Arab military threat and evidence of a buildup along Israel's borders. He will probably request (a) a security declaration from us; and (b) substantial military aid, particularly a supply of ground-to-air missiles.

Our answer

The United States determination to assist small nations needs no formal declaration, and such a declaration would have more of a disturbing than a stabilizing effect. It might invite Arab approaches to the USSR. Moreover, it is doubtful that we could persuade either our allies or the Soviet Union to join in a multilateral declaration. With regard to the Hawk Missile, this would introduce a new, dangerous and very costly phase in an already desperate arms race. When Israel obtains the French Mirage Fighter it will have a combat plane superior to the MIG-19.

2. Regional disarmament

Mr. Ben Gurion will urge reduction of burdensome defense expenditures for all states in the Middle East, to be achieved by big power agreement not to introduce additional arms.

Our answer

We will examine the possibilities, but there seems to be little prospect of agreement with other major powers upon an arms control program. For the Soviets to join in such an arrangement, they would undoubtedly insist that the CENTO countries be included. This is not feasible from the United States point of view.

3. Israel's atomic energy activities

Mr. Ben Gurion has assured us that Israel's new reactor at Dimona is utilized solely for peaceful purposes. However, he may urge that the growing Arab threat would leave Israel with no alternative but to develop a nuclear military capability.

Our answer

Our findings, resulting from the visit of Dr. Croach and Dr. Staebler, confirm the peaceful purposes of the reactor advertised by the Israelis. But we should seek similar visits at frequent intervals. If the Israelis merely give the appearance of having decided to embark upon the production of fissionable material and weapons manufacture, it might set off violence resulting from an Arab mood of desperation. We must oppose concealment of Israeli intentions because of the unsettling effect of this reactor in a highly volatile part of the world.

4. Arab refugees

Mr. Ben Gurion is unlikely to raise this question, but this question is a major element in continuing Arab-Israeli tensions. The United States has contributed approximately $260 million to support the refugees and continues to pay about $25 million a year.

The United States position

If the refugee problem is solved, it could break the log-jam to general Arab-Israeli peace. We support the approach by the Palestine Conciliation Commission. This consists of (a) a reconnaissance mission by a PCC special representative; and (b) a practical, phased program of repatriation, resettlement and compensation which can be worked out without endangering Israel's security. Ultimately refugees would be offered 3 choices: (a) repatriation, (b) resettlement in special work projects in Arab countries, and (c) resettlement, with United Nations encouragement, in non-Arab countries. Mr. Ben Gurion would have difficulty with the repatriation alternative, but it should be explained that no one would be repatriated without a careful screening, so that Israel's security would be protected and only limited numbers would be repatriated annually under a careful phasing operation. If we can get Israeli assurances of acceptance of the principle of choice--either now or to the PCC special representative when he visits Israel--this would be a solid break-through toward peace in the Middle East.

5. Jordan Valley water development

Mr. Ben Gurion will point out that water for the Negev is the key to Israel's future and that Israel is planning to divert a portion of the Jordan River by 1963 along the lines of the Johnston Plan allocation. The Arabs are threatening both military action and diversion of the headwaters of the Jordan. Mr. Ben Gurion would urge that an equitable solution would allocate the Jordan River to Israel and the Yarmuk to Jordan.

Our answer

We believe the Jordan Valley's future lies with a unified development plan along the lines of the Eric Johnston recommendations. Substantial, largely unpublicized assistance has been given Israel for water development, $45 million since 1958. Jordan has received $6 million in the same period of time. We do not consider Johnston's effort implied a moral, political or financial obligation on the part of the United States. Rather, it is basically a responsibility of the riparians. We might suggest (a) an open statement by Israel of its intention to stay within the Johnston allocation to help reduce tensions, or (b) mediation by IBRD. The de facto solution suggested by Ben Gurion allocating the Jordan River to Israel and the Yarmuk to Jordan is not equitable. It would deprive down-stream Arab users of that portion of the Jordan River legitimately theirs.

6. The UAR's role in Middle Eastern problems

Mr. Ben Gurion will contend that Nasser is a Soviet tool seeking domination of the Middle East and Africa. He will argue that the Arab boycott of Israel and the restrictions on the Suez Canal prevent peaceful development of the area.

Our answer

We might point out that Nasser's efforts to establish influence over Africans and other Arabs is having a very limited success. The United States may have differences with Nasser but must seek a viable relationship as an alternative to forcing him to rely on the Soviet bloc. The United States opposition to the Arab boycott and UAR restrictions on Suez Canal transit is unequivocal, but we believe the United Nations is the most effective channel through which to seek solutions.

7. Israel's relations with non-Arab governments

Mr. Ben Gurion will seek support for Israel's Point 4 activities in Africa which influence these countries toward a Western orientation; he will seek support for Israel's efforts to improve relations with nations in a middle position between the Arabs and Israel, such as India; and he will seek United States influence to include Israel in regional groupings such as the Common Market.

Our answer

(a) The United States approves Israel's efforts with underdeveloped countries but questions the advisability of collaboration or subsidization. Such collaboration with the United States might deprive Israel of its most important asset-- freedom from the stigma of imperialism. But the United States would continue to provide Israel with large-scale aid so that Israeli funds could be freed for technical aid to Africa.

(b) Although we would not initiate any action with India or Pakistan in behalf of Israel, if they seek our position we would express sympathy for Israel's point of view.

(c) We have supported Common Market applications of Greece and Turkey, but they provide no analogy for Israel because Greece and Turkey are contiguous to the Common Market and have NATO relationships. The European groupings must decide for themselves whether to include Israel. With regard to OECD, we are in the process of determining the basis for additional memberships.

8. Jordan

Mr. Ben Gurion would urge continued and even expanded political and economic support of Jordan and Hussein. If this is done, it will contribute to area stability and create jobs for refugees, thus facilitating their resettlement and integration into the economy. He feels that Hussein is in trouble due to his marriage to an English girl and the attacks upon him by the UAR.

Our answer

We would agree that Jordan is the key to stability in the area. We are now providing that country with assistance of between $50 million and $70 million a year. Increases are not feasible because Jordan is already receiving as much assistance as can be effectively utilized. Should something happen to Hussein, we would expect Israel to refrain from any precipitous action. His overthrow would not necessarily be followed by the installation of a Cairo dominated government.

This memorandum reflects the point of view of the Department of State in every respect.


Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, Countries, Israel--Security 1961-1963. No classification marking.

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