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John F. Kennedy Administration: White House Staff Discuss Criticism of Policy Toward Israel

(May 1, 1963)

This is a memorandum from a White House staff meeting discussion of general U.S. policy to the Near East and the balance between Israel and the UAR.

3. Most of the meeting this morning was given over to a discussion of the Arab-Israeli situation, mostly prompted by the stories in the New York Times this morning which tell how some liberal Congressmen, including Senators Javits and Humphrey, have begun attacking the Administration's allegedly pro-Nasser and pro-Arab policy in the Middle East. The following points arose:

a. The President's immediate concern, regardless of the merits of any long-term arguments about the rights and wrongs of the situation, is to take some of the domestic political cutting edge off these Congressional Zionist-inspired attacks. Everyone was wishing that there was some liberal Senator who felt differently and who could therefore defend the Administration, but even Arthur Schlesinger could think of no one in this category. It was agreed that some gains could be recorded by going straight to the Israelis themselves and telling them that these overly zealous Zionist attacks can be counter-productive; since there is some letter from Ben Gurion to the President which is awaiting an answer, it will furnish a convenient and timely vehicle for the expression of such views.

b. Komer moved the discussion on to broader terrain by noting that there was a more fundamental approach to this problem. This approach would consist of some kind of US guarantee in the area, and I gather that this guarantee would probably be for the preservation of the status quo and the peace. Komer said that he felt such a guarantee was going to be necessary sooner or later, and that if we extended it sooner we would be better able to exact concessions and agreements from both sides. Bundy agreed with this approach on the whole, likening it to the problem of air defense for India--i.e., it is something which is going to have to be done eventually and had better be done sooner rather than later. However, Bundy hastened to add that all this deep-draft thinking was well and good, but that the President's concern was for the more immediate aspects as reflected on the domestic front.

c. Undaunted as always, Komer continued to press on with the discussion of more fundamental questions. He raised the subject of the potential nuclear capabilities of both the Israelis and the Egyptians, pointing out how desirable it would be if both sides would agree to renounce involvement in nuclear activity and would further agree to submit to some kind of inspection-policing activity to assure compliance. Komer admitted the grave difficulties involved, but, in true Machiavellian fashion, felt that we just might be able to pull it off if we could very cleverly play one side's fears against the other side's fears. Bundy's reaction was one which he has expressed before, both in his own right and more or less in reflection of the President's attitudes: he said he was most doubtful of the wisdom of "signing on to a non-starter." He has expressed the same thought before by saying the President simply did not believe in laboriously and publicly marching up some steep hill in order to get pushed down.


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