166. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • PCC Refugee Initiative: Continuation of the Special Representative Function


  • Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Mr. Sherwood G. Moe, UNRWA Liaison Officer, New York
  • NEA—Assistant Secretary Phillips Talbot
  • IO—Assistant Secretary Harlan Cleveland
  • USUN—Ambassador Francis Plimpton
  • NEA—Deputy Assistant Secretary James P. Grant
  • NEA/NE—Mr. Robert C. Strong, Director
  • NE: Mr. Thacher
  • NEA: Mr. Ludlow
  • USUN: Mr. R. Blake
  • UNP: Mr. Palmer
  • NE: William R. Crawford, Jr.

Assistant Secretary Talbot asked Dr. Johnson’s views on continuing the work of the PCC Special Representative.

Dr. Johnson said he is considerably encouraged as the result of recent informal meetings with Arab delegates in New York who appear to have met on January 15 to determine their common attitude toward continuation of the Special Representative mission. They now believe their governments are disposed to cooperate with the PCC and will not push the issue of PCC reconstitution at this time provided Paragraph 11 of Resolution 194 (III)1 is clearly the basis of the PCC’s actions and of the Special Representative’s terms of reference. It is evident that the Arabs are disturbed by references to area economic development in the November 22 Special Representative report.2 They fear this may be an effort to turn attention away from Paragraph 11 and to place emphasis on resettlement. In this connection, the French representative on the PCC has received an inquiry from Paris asking his opinion as to the possibility of omitting mention of Paragraph 11 in the Special Representative’s terms of reference. Such mission would be disturbing to the Arabs and should not be considered.

Dr. Johnson said he must have all reasonable assurance of free access to chiefs of state and foreign ministers during the next round. This [Page 410] is implied in the PCC’s draft message, to be transmitted through U Thant, informing governments that the SR function is being continued.3 Dr. Johnson said he is now inclined to play “a little hard to get” to elicit assurances of access.

Department officers commented that the proposed PCC-SYG notification to governments does not specifically request a reply. (After discussion it was agreed that it would be politic to assume Arab approval of a continuation of the SR function and of the SR’s access to highest levels unless negative replies are received within the ten days following transmittal of U Thant’s message.)

Dr. Johnson said he can continue as Special Representative for one further year only. If by June or July there are signs this work will have to be carried on beyond next fall, thought should be given to his successor. Additionally, he wishes to have Mr. Moe assigned to him for the coming year, with a title appropriate to his responsibilities. As regards a timetable, several questions arise. When the SR has accepted appointment by the PCC there should be some announcement, for the record, in a very low key. After this announcement there would follow a long period in which hard examination could be given to a series of questions or “studies” directly relating to the SR’s second round, to be carried out under the aegis of the PCC, or perhaps the Special Representative himself, with a competent staff including some non-Americans.4 Among the matters to be studied would be (a) methods of ascertaining refugee preferences (perhaps by a questionnaire similar to that used in connection with release of refugee blocked accounts), (b) the feasibility of some refugee leaders making an inspection trip to Israel, and (c) the advantages or disadvantages of dealing with refugee movement on a piecemeal basis, country-by-country or camp-by-camp. These studies would serve both to educate the Special Representative and enable him to have in hand a whole series of proposals to fire at the Arabs and Israelis.

[Page 411]

Dr. Johnson said it seems important to avoid the “numbers game”, aiming instead for limited, parallel movement within prescribed periods.

Dr. Johnson said that after completion of extensive technical studies he looked to a second round to begin about mid-April and last four or five weeks. It is better not to try to predict where the problem will stand at completion of the second round.

Mr. Strong remarked that the seriousness of our intentions can be questioned if the second round is delayed too long. However, if the states of the area know that studies are going on this will help explain the delay.

Dr. Johnson said he has certain broad questions on which he welcomes the Department’s comments. These are:


How far is the United States prepared to go in providing diplomatic support? In this regard, Mrs. Meir had stated on the first round that Israel is willing to take back some refugees, but must be “the last not the first”. It seems obvious that things must be the other way around if progress is to be made, although the difference between a commitment to take back refugees and the act of taking them back can be recognized. Israel will obviously have to be the first country visited on the second round. Presumably, there will have to be strong U.S. support if Mrs. Meir’s view is to be altered. Support with the Arab governments will also be necessary, for example, if the SR is to enter refugee camps in safety to obtain indications of refugee attitudes.

Mr. Talbot commented that there has been extensive communication between our Government and both the Arabs and Israelis which illustrates our support of the refugee initiative. This is “as important a piece of business” as we have underway anywhere. The degree of U.S. support provided will, of course, relate to determination of what is required to get on with the job.


Dr. Johnson noted there are very important financial considerations in an approach to the refugee problem. There is the estimate of Mr. Jarvis, the PCC property expert, that the value of refugee property as of 1948 was perhaps 200 million sterling. At the most, this might mean minimal payments to as many as 125,000 refugee families (500,000 refugees). The 200 million figure presumably must be adjusted to show some allowance for loss of intangible property (20%), devaluation of the pound since 1948, and the absence of any return from property for 13 years. To the result must be added a minimum figure, perhaps $2,500, to assist each family in resettlement. Finally, funds for area economic development to create necessary jobs must be considered. In all, the financial basis for a meaningful effort to resolve the refugee problem may exceed $1 billion. Obviously, Israel cannot pay all of this, although unofficial [Page 412] statements from Israel diplomats have referred to the possibility of Israel’s setting up a compensation fund of $250 million. It will be important for the Special Representative to have an indication of U.S. Government willingness to provide financial support to enable him to say in negotiation that funds to do the job can be counted upon if the parties agree on specific steps toward a solution.

Mr. Talbot agreed that the financial aspect of this problem is one that deserves most careful consideration.


Are there U.S. policies elsewhere with which the SR mission conflicts?

Mr. Talbot replied that the SR mission is in itself a cardinal element of U.S. policy in the area.

Dr. Johnson clarified his question by explaining that the pattern of U.S. relations in the Near East would have an influence on the determination as to whether there should be emphasis on making progress in one particular country. Because of the U.S. position in Jordan, it would obviously be easy to start there; Gaza will be the toughest nut to crack.

Mr. Strong commented that there is merit in trying for limited, parallel movement in each country.


What is the U.S. view of the “Palestine entity” concept?

Mr. Talbot replied that the Department sees advantage in dealing with existing entities. We hope the SR action will not give impetus to the “Palestine entity” concept.

Dr. Johnson asked for the Department’s current evaluation of the strength of the movement. Mr. Strong remarked that the effort to create a Palestine entity is subject to the pull of many different influences. A reconciliation of these is unlikely in the near future.


What is the Department’s estimate of Nasser’s current position and attitudes? Might Nasser be willing to use his good influence in the refugee problem in order to relax tension on a major element of instability in the area and thus be free to concentrate on the internal development of Egypt?

Mr. Strong said this is hard to determine. It would be logical for Nasser to reach such a conclusion, but we cannot be certain that logic will motivate his actions. We are sure that Nasser does not want to see the Arab-Israel issue stirred up at the moment. This is a moderately hopeful factor.


What should be the nature of the Special Representative’s relations with governments other than those of the host countries and Israel, particularly Iraq and Saudi Arabia?

Department officers commented that the formula adopted during Dr. Johnson’s first round appeared satisfactory. It is desirable for him to show a willingness to consult, but not to seek consultation in a way to [Page 413] invite rebuff or increase the difficulties of negotiation by expanding the number of negotiating parties. The more this problem can be kept out of the Arab League context the better. Even well-disposed states such as Sudan and Tunisia are unlikely to be willing to take the risk of involving themselves in this problem in a constructive fashion.


What is the Department’s estimate of the position of the present Syrian Government? Syrian Delegate Rifai had seemed very helpful during the fall Assembly session.

Mr. Strong replied that, while today the Syrian Government is somewhat more subdued and moderate in its actions toward the United States, and we try to encourage the moderate tendency, there is no assurance that Syria will not soon “revert to type”.


(Mr. Moe) Is it the Department’s view that at the recent GA the Arabs feel they suffered a defeat in the sense that they can no longer expect the Afro-Asian states and fellow neutralists to follow blindly whatever path they may take in U.N. debates of the Palestine problem?

Mr. Cleveland asked whether in the long run, if the Arabs feel more isolated, they will be easier or harder to deal with?

Ambassador Plimpton said that, thanks to the African direct peace negotiations resolution, the Arabs certainly realize they will not necessarily find all Afro-Asians in their camp. However, this sense of isolation will probably make them frustratingly harder to deal with.

Parenthetically, Dr. Johnson asked whether it would be wise to have Ambassador Macomber talk to responsible Jordanian officials. The composition of the Jordanian Delegation at the last Assembly was very unsatisfactory in that all delegates save one were refugee leaders. As a result, the Jordanians were time and again the most immoderate and unhelpful.

Mr. Strong commented that the degree to which Jordan can be helpful will depend very much on what the King feels he can or cannot do in terms of public opinion.


What does the Department intend to do in terms of conditioning domestic U.S. attitudes?

Department officers commented that the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and Rabbi Miller and Mr. Label Katz seem disposed to be helpful. Assistant Secretary Cleveland remarked that it might be useful for him to talk to Senator Javits.


How much is it feasible to think in terms of resettlement outside the Near East?

Department officers replied that a call for the creation of resettlement opportunities outside the Near East must be a part of any program for progress on this problem. It is unwise to be optimistic in this regard, however, since the same factor which prevents assimilation of the refugee [Page 414] in the Middle East—his lack of skills—makes him unattractive as a prospective immigrant to other countries.


What countries other than the members of the Conciliation Commission can be helpful to the Special Representative’s mission?

Department officers agreed that The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Canada have all shown a constructive interest in this problem over the years.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/1–1762. Confidential; Limited Distribution; Noforn. Drafted by Crawford on January 24.
  2. U.N. Resolution 194 (III) of December 11, 1948. Article 11 deals with repatriation; for text, see American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941–1949, pp. 718–719.
  3. See Document 140.
  4. The Palestine Conciliation Commission reappointed Joseph Johnson as its Special Representative on January 18. U.N. Secretary-General U Thant on January 24 sent a cable to the Arab governments hosting Palestinian refugees and to Israel informing them of Johnson’s reappointment and of his instructions to initiate discussions with the Governments of Israel and the Arab host states at both the highest and technical levels. (Circular telegram 1315, January 25; Department of State, Central Files, 324.84/1–2562)
  5. Dr. Johnson said he is interested in obtaining the services of Dr. Bryant M. Wedge, a psychiatrist in Hartford who has shown a real interest in, and an understanding of, the refugee problem, and perhaps also Mrs. Georgiana Stevens, Don Peretz, and Albert Grand, a French officer with much experience in this problem who is now believed to be on the staff of UNTSO. Dr. Johnson said that, following a suggestion of the French PCC representative, he intended to call on French officials concerned with the refugee problem during a trip to Europe, in another connection, in February. Perhaps in Paris he might be able to recruit a French expert to help in preparing technical studies. [Footnote in the source text.]