7. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Herter) to the Ambassador in Lebanon (McClintock)1

Dear Bob: I was very glad to get your good letter of January 292 in regard to the Palestine refugee problem. This is a problem which has been hanging heavy over my head for a long time, and the answer is certainly not a simple one. As of the moment, it seems to be complicated even more than we would have thought possible by the uncertainties of the permutations and combinations in the Middle East [Page 19]which may well end in the majority of these refugees being located in Iraq or in some new federation. There are threats of the Egyptians setting up a new Palestinian Government using the refugees in the Gaza Strip as a nucleous as a political squeeze on Israel, and there are as you may have gathered, possibilities of the whole Middle East blowing up in smoke in the next few weeks.

Recently the Israelis have been making very strenuous efforts to borrow from the EX-IM Bank or the new Development Fund. Both loaning agencies dropped the baby in our laps on political grounds and so advised the Israelis. As a result, I have had several talks with the Ambassador in which both the immigration problem and the refugee problem have been discussed at length. With regard to the former, the 100,000 anticipated immigration for last year turned out to be 70,000. The number is now down to about 2,000 a month and dropping steadily. Actually those who are leaving Israel, I am told, have just about balanced the population during the last few months. This does not prove much except that unless Russia changes its policy materially, this ought not to be a problem of great numbers in the near future. With respect to the refugees, the Ambassador has made the situation reasonably clear. He has told me that Israel will make an offer to take perhaps as many as thousands3 of the existing refugees and will arrange for resettlement costs in a generous way just as soon as such an offer can become a part of some scheme that had some hope of success. He felt that such an offer would now spin around in outer space with the immediate acceptance of the Israeli offer and nothing done to resettle those who could not be included in repatriation. He has been talking to Hammarskjold who, as you know, is working hard on the possibilities of a Middle East Development Fund which would put into being sufficient public works projects to enlist the labors of many of these refugees. Israel would want to have resettlement a corollary to such developments which falls very much in line with what Labouisse and Hammarskjold have been discussing lately.

The above is only a condensation of some of the thinking now going on in connection with this problem. Every time it arises for discussion, the moment seems inopportune to grasp the nettle firmly and I am afraid that this is again one of those moments. However, as I say, the problem does not leave my mind during any part of my conscious hours.

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In spite of my being so negative, I was delighted to get your letter and hope you will keep sending me similar ideas of the same kind which you may have.

With warmest regards,

As ever,

Christian A. Herter4
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers. Secret. Drafted by Herter.
  2. In his letter, McClintock speculated that perhaps only 2 years remained before a major war in the Middle East occurred and suggested that solution of the refugee problem might well ease the tensions in the area. The Ambassador proposed a carrot-and-stick approach with both sides using U.S. aid as the vehicle for doing so. (Ibid.)
  3. At this point in the source text, “100,000” was crossed out and the word “thousands” written in.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.