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John F. Kennedy Administration: Telegram Describing Reactions to the Johnson Plan

(September 10, 1962)

This telegram recounts the reaction of Israel and a number of the Arab states to Johnson's proposed plan for settling the Palestinian refugee problem.

Johnson proposals on Arab refugees.

1. Johnson and Moe (UN) gave Israelis and host governments today copies of Johnson proposal on refugee problem and accompanying explanation./2/ Johnson met with Comay and Meron (Israel) in morning and jointly with Rifai (Jordan), Tarazi (Syria), Hakim (Lebanon), and Mohamed Riad (UAR) in afternoon. Each meeting took about hour and a half. Johnson has another meeting with Arabs Friday at 3 p.m., at which time he hopes to get preliminary comments based on delegation studies of proposals. (Apparently, at today's meeting Johnson did not read either proposals or explanation but left them to be studied afterward.)

2. According to Moe, Johnson in both cases made opening presentation along following general lines: After considering results his previous trips and efforts he decided it unwise for him to pursue further efforts to bring positions of those involved together as it seemed unlikely he would be able to obtain explicit agreement. He had therefore decided best course for him would be to draw up fair and reasonable program to which two parties could acquiesce. Consequently, he had drawn up plan which he was presenting. He hoped he might have any reactions they had in 14 days or so as he would like to see program approved by PCC and inaugurated before GA if they could acquiesce. Also he said neither he nor PCC publishing anything about program and hoped parties would be able to treat it confidentially also. Johnson made clear this was proposal on dealing with refugee problem and not his report to PCC and GA, nature of which would depend on their reactions to his proposals.

3. Moe reported Comay (Israel) said he had expected to receive paper from Johnson today and noted that Comay questions were well organized. Comay said he was "discussing" paper at this point but asking questions for purposes of clarification. Most questions were of procedural nature, e.g., status of paper with PCC. Johnson told him PCC had authorized him to present proposal to parties and that they were now under study by PCC members. Comay also noted two-week period suggested by Johnson created difficulties for Israel as Ben Gurion now in Finland and Golda Meir in Switzerland and not planning return Israel before GA. Comay agreed to no publicity point and said he hoped Johnson would not release it himself without consulting Israel. Johnson agreed subject to proviso that if report began to leak either PCC or GA would have to do something to correct information. Comay also noted that democratic government of Israel might have problems re "acquiescence", inquiring what Israel would say in Knesset. Johnson replied he thought Israel could handle this question itself easily enough, perhaps along lines saying this was UN scheme with which Israel is cooperating to extent consistent with its national security. Comay also wondered how GA debate would be avoided, to which Johnson replied this could better be discussed after parties have studied his proposals. Comay concluded that even if Israel may feel it necessary to object to some parts program they wanted Johnson to know they held him in great respect. Moe concluded that important Israeli objective was not to have to be first to say no to program.

4. Arab response, according to Moe was comparatively friendly, stiff at start, warmer at end. Arab questions posed no basis previous long standing attitudes with only cursory look at program.

After Arabs have studied proposals thoroughly Johnson hopes meeting on Friday will produce considered comments. Hakim (Lebanon) asked how Arabs could acquiesce in anything not involving prior agreement of Israel to implement paragraph 11, arguing plans for implementation came only after acceptance of political conditions of paragraph 11. Johnson answered this obliquely by referring to provisions of program designed to assure paragraph 11 carried out. Rifai (Jordan) posed hypothetical question of refugee who has been interviewed, and modern-day life in Israel explained to him, told his home destroyed, etc., who still might say he wanted to return to Israel, would UN guarantee his return? Johnson replied that as far as UN was concerned it would do its best, but UN did not have last word as Israel was a sovereign state. Johnson then referred to provisions of program designed to assure its good faith implementation. Rifai also asked whether this was new program or same idea as presented in his visit to area. Johnson replied it was new, noting pilot scheme had been dropped, although same principles on preferences of refugees and rights of governments remained. Tarazi (Syria) said that although while Johnson as UN agent had to proceed from rights of Israel re people it admitted Syria could not accept that Israel would have last word. Riad (UAR) apparently confined himself to question how refugees in Gaza would be consulted if headquarters were in Government House. Johnson replied initial approaches would be through mail, adding that if responses warranted suboffices would later be established in area.

5. Moe said Johnson favored US Embassies now going ahead with approaches to respective governments at whatever time they wished, noting that as member of PCC US be expected to have knowledge of approach he has now made./3/


/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/9-1062. Confidential; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Beirut, Damascus, Amman, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, London, and Paris.

/2/Text of the identical covering letters from Johnson to the five pertinent U.N. Ambassadors is in circular telegram 424, September 10. (Ibid., 325.84/9-1062)

/3/On September 10, the Department of State instructed the Embassies in Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus to proceed to arrange for meetings as directed in circular telegram 384 (Document 34). The Department advised the Embassies to avoid a hasty follow-up to Johnson's presentation, allowing time for the respective governments to learn first of the proposals from their U.N. representatives. (Circular telegram 423; Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/9-1062))

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