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Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. Pursues Evenhanded Policy on Refugees, Refuses to Recognize PLO

(November 17, 1964)

The Johnson Administration here outlines its intention to prevent any change in policy toward the Palestinian refugees. This document also refers to a new organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which the Administration does not plan to recognize as representative of the refugees.

106. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts1

Washington, November 17, 1964.

954. We do not expect to undertake any major initiative on Palestine refugee problem for time being, and hope to steer UNRWA item through GA with no change for worse in basic elements of overall Arab-Israel conflict over refugees.

We intend maintain to maximum degree "even-handed" position which will resist all proposals designed to tip balance in favor of one side or other. This policy should give us maximum leverage to obtain our objectives, and produce middle-of-road res acceptable to all. With UNRWA up for extension this year, we have increased capability for keeping problem within tolerable limits.

Some new elements have entered picture. Cairo non-aligned conf declaration included statement endorsing "rights of Palestinians to homeland" and Arab League has endorsed new and stronger refugee organization called "Palestine Liberation Organization." We do not know that either of these factors will have any strong influence at UNGA, but we must be ready in event Arabs decide to press forward for additional UN backing for refugee cause in Palestine. On other hand, in keeping with even-handed position, we must be alert for Israeli efforts to ram through partisan resolution.

As usual both sides are expected to open early campaign at UN and in capitals throughout world to gain adherents in this annual contest. Palestine Liberation Organization is making plans to send special missions to various govts to seek support for Arab objectives; Israelis are planning counter offensive.

Many governments will look to US for lead. In your discussions this subject, you may be guided by following:

1. USG favors even-handed res along lines last year's. It would extend UNRWA for perhaps two years. Exact length of time to be left open for time being.

2. We continue oppose Arab proposals for UN custodian for Arab properties in Israel. We will also strongly oppose any Arab attempt gain GA endorsement of non-aligned conf declaration on Palestinian rights, or to win GA recognition of Palestine Liberation Organization as official representatives of Arab refugees.

This connection, if govt to which you accredited asks US attitude toward any special missions by PLO, you should state USG does not recognize it as official reps of refugees at UNGA, and we would be concerned at any effort by PLO to convert UNRWA item (essentially a humanitarian issue) into political problem (Arabs' anti-Israel objectives). If PLO missions ask to see Emboffs we prefer Embassies decline. We do not, however, believe PLO missions likely be very effective.

(We have informed Israeli officials we will brief our Embassies on USG substantive position on PLO and authorize them to give our position clearly and forthrightly to any government which asked our judgment on this matter. We declined however to take initiative since any approach by USG could raise allegations of "imperialist" pressure and befog substantive issue in manner which might help PLO. We also said we could not tell other govts how they should receive foreign visitors.)2

3. Similarly, we continue oppose Israeli partisan res for direct negotiations, and regard as unrealistic Israelis' objective of eroding at this time traditional UN affirmation of refugees' right to repatriation or compensation (Para 11 of res 194 of 1948).

Embs should report any developments this question.3



1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, REF 3 UNRWA. Confidential. Drafted by Campbell; cleared by Stackhouse, Jernegan, William B. Buffum, Louise McNutt of FE/RA, George N. Monsma of ARA/IPA, and in substance by Ross E. Freeman of EUR and Joseph J. Wagner of AF/AFI; and approved by Sisco. Sent to 37 Embassies and pouched to 61 Embassies and USUN.

2 Harman raised this with Talbot in a meeting on November 12, summarized in circular telegram 905 to Tel Aviv, November 12. (Ibid., POL ARAB-ISR)

3 The General Assembly did not discuss issues relating to UNRWA at its 19th session. On February 10, 1965, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 2002 (XIX), in which it extended the mandate of UNRWA for one year, to June 30, 1966, "without prejudice to existing resolutions or to the positions of the interested parties."

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.