18. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, April 15, 19581




  • Mr. Henry R. Labouisse, Director of UNRWA
  • Mr. Francis O. Wilcox, IO
  • Mr. John W. Hanes, IO
  • Mr. Henry Villard, NEA
  • Mr. James Ludlow, NEA
  • Mr. Elmer Falk, OIA
  • Mr. David Gamon, UNP

Mr. Labouisse called at his own request, primarily to review the financial situation of UNRWA. In view of the unexpected increase in the Canadian contribution and the unblocking of old French pledges for rehabilitation, Mr. Labouisse explained that the Agency’s financial situation had improved considerably. Assuming that the US and others would contribute during the second half of 1958 at the same [Page 42] rate as at present, he estimated that the Agency would be able to maintain its present relief and reduced rehabilitation programs. In fact, he said, the Agency had recently started a new arc-welding training program in Tripoli that would graduate some 200 refugees a year for whom there were jobs waiting. There were, however, some relatively minor problems that Mr. Labouisse wished to settle. He was concerned lest a substantially large number of contributions from others might be made during the month of June too late for the US to match under present appropriations. Mr. Falk assured him that the US could make contributions in July out of the present appropriations to match contributions made by others in June. The Canadians have indicated that they would be paying $500,000 of their current pledge after July 1. Mr. Labouisse would be trying to get them to move payment up to before then, so that the US might be able to make a corresponding payment from existing appropriations. He said that if the Canadians were unable to pay the $500,000 before July 1, contributions from non-US sources would be $400,000 short of the sum required to release the full US contribution.

Mr. Wilcox asked Mr. Labouisse’s opinion on the prospects of turning operational responsibilities over to the host governments. Saying that there were many reasons why such a transfer should take place, Mr. Labouisse answered that he did not have a pat answer to the problem which, in the final analysis, was a political one. From a technical point of view, he saw no problem in Lebanon and Syria. Moreover, he felt the Egyptian Government could handle the administration of the Gaza refugees. Even Jordan, with outside financial and technical assistance, might be able to handle the refugees there. In this connection, Mr. Labouisse noted continued evidence that the refugees were inclined to be more reasonable and less adamant in their attitude to any change in their status. In response to a query of Mr. Wilcox, Mr. Labouisse expressed the opinion that King Hussein and the other leaders in Jordan fully realized that the refugees must be absorbed into the Jordanian community.

Mr. Villard asked if Mr. Labouisse saw any UN solution for the Gaza problem. Mr. Labouisse said that if the UN were to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip, it would be saddled with an impossible situation involving difficult administrative and security problems. He said that, as he understood it, Nasser would not favor the creation of a political grouping in Gaza which might seek adherence with the UAR. If that were to happen the residents of the Gaza Strip would be free to move into Egypt, a development which Nasser was anxious to avoid.

Mr. Wilcox asked if Mr. Labouisse had any suggestions to make on the future handling of the refugee problem. Mr. Labouisse answered that for the time being no change should be made. However, [Page 43] he urged, the US should determine what it wanted to see as an eventual solution to the Palestine problem and try to have the refugee situation dealt with in such a way as to further the American solution.

Mr. Hanes asked what type of mechanism would be necessary to take over operations in 1960. Mr. Labouisse merely responded that UNRWA was a very large operation, employing some 10,000 people, only 120 of whom were not Arabs and almost all of whom were refugees.

In response to a question from Mr. Villard as to the effect of the creation of the Arab Union on the refugee problem, Mr. Labouisse pointed out that the constitution of the new union provided for the freedom of movement for citizens of each component into the other.

Mr. Wilcox, noting that Mr. Labouisse had tendered his resignation to be effective on June 15, asked Mr. Labouisse if he had any thoughts on his replacement. Mr. Labouisse answered that it would be preferable for his replacement to have had both experience with the US Government and practical working experience outside the government. It was very important that the person be a level-headed man. In his opinion, Mike Harris, the head of the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, would be a good candidate. Mr. Carver, Mr. Labouisse’s Deputy in Beirut, could take over during an interim. However, Mr. Labouisse said, the Secretary-General was not in favor of his taking over more permanently. While competent, he was not very popular. Moreover, his being British was a handicap in the area. Mr. Labouisse added that his resignation would not be announced until after his return to Beirut.

Mr. Wilcox remarked that the next two years should offer more of an opportunity than the last four to do great things and that the next Director of UNRWA should find himself in a position to render a real service to the cause of peace. In conclusion, Mr. Wilcox expressed the Department’s very great appreciation of the fine job done by Mr. Labouisse in the face of very difficult problems. He assured Mr. Labouisse that the Department had been aware of these difficulties and that it realized that UNRWA could have done much more if the political situation had made it possible. In response, Mr. Labouisse added that it was this faith on the part of the US Government that had made it possible for him to continue in his work.

Following the meeting Mr. Labouisse discussed in greater detail with Mr. Hanes and Mr. Falk some of the problems related to UNRWA operations. The desirability of getting the Canadians at least to commit themselves to the payment of the promised $500,000 before July 1 was stressed. The possible use of PL 480 to supply food to the Agency was discussed. In this connection Mr. Labouisse promised to furnish the Department with a report on the various foodstuffs purchased by UNRWA, where they were purchased and in what amount. This would help in determining the feasibility of further use of PL 480. As [Page 44] far as the assumption by the host governments of operational responsibility was concerned, Mr. Labouisse said that he saw no technical reason why UNRWA’s present education and health programs should not continue with primary responsibility resting with the host governments, but with technical assistance provided by UNESCO and WHO. He envisaged the possibility of a gradual transfer of responsibilities under such arrangements.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 320.511/4–1558. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Gamon on April 17. A briefing memorandum for Wilcox for his conversation with Labouisse is ibid.,IO/UNP Files: Lot 79 D 215, Palestine Refugees General Correspondence.