289. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • PCC-Johnson Arab Refugee Initiative


  • Dr. Joseph Johnson—Special Representative, Palestine Conciliation Commission
  • Mr. Sherrington Moe—Senior Advisor to the Special Representative
  • NEA—Assistant Secretary Talbot
  • IO—Assistant Secretary Cleveland
  • NERobert C. Strong
  • UNPJoseph J. Sisco
  • NEAJames M. Ludlow
  • UNP—Stephen E. Palmer, Jr.
  • NEWilliam R. Crawford, Jr.

In response to questions from Department officers, Dr. Johnson commented as follows on his just completed (April–May) “second round” trip to the Arab host countries and Israel:


General Climate: Both Arabs and Israelis were uniformly friendly to Johnson personally, Mrs. Meir possibly excepted. On the Arab side, despite the fairly “stale” resolution adopted by the Arab League at the Riyadh meeting, there is less rigidity of thought, “more viscosity,” than was evident in September 1961. There is a sense of movement—even if the Arabs are dissatisfied with its direction—and a fumbling for some new position, perhaps a Palestine “entity,” a “liberation” force, or a simple long-range building of strength. Johnson counseled the Arabs very strongly on the futility of any such moves. The Arabs were invariably told that as a UN official Johnson had to recognize that Israel existed. Not once was this challenged. There is a change in attitudes towards Israel’s permanence, or at least semi-permanence. There is a concern with practical things such as where compensation will come from.

Israel not only does not want any refugees back but would prefer no Arabs in Israel. Its drive is toward “uncompromising exclusivity.” The Arabs are “second class” citizens, a fact recognized in Arab arguments that there can be no refugee return to “Israel” as such. Manifestly, also, Israel has a distaste for anything connected with the United Nations.


Program: The first task is for the Special Representative to define specific proposals which come as close as possible to what each side might reasonably accept in the light of its security and other national interests as communicated to Johnson during the “second round.” The concept of a pilot project within a given maximum number of refugees (20,000) was rejected by both sides and must be abandoned. Therefore, procedures must be evolved for finding out what the refugees want, for counseling them in confidence as to the alternatives realistically open to them, etc., in such a way that Israel will not see this process as a hazard to its existence. The proposal must be simple, must anticipate arguments from all sides, and must be predicated on acquiescence rather than cooperation of governments. It must be accompanied by statements that the UN cannot assure implementation, that preferences can be changed, and that implementation will in any case take time. Equally, compensation must be carefully studied. It must be paid for more than just loss of property. From some source, it must also be provided to those who return to Israel and cannot take up residence in their old [Page 709] homes. In all, an estimated $1.4 billion ($1500 per refugee) will be required for compensation.

When the Special Representative’s proposals have been elaborated, it will be necessary for them to be examined and endorsed by the highest levels of the US Government.

After quiet approval by the US, possibly some time in September or October, the Senior Advisor to the Special Representative would personally deliver the text of the proposal to the Arab host governments and Israel. The Senior Advisor would entertain suggestions but the Special Representative himself would not further negotiate his own proposal. At the same time a process of quiet consultation with other key governments (the U.K., France, Netherlands, India, Ghana, etc.) would be initiated.

At the UNGA, the final text of the proposal would be floated, if possible about mid-November. If it is a reasonable proposal that reasonable nations weary of the problem can adhere to, and the parties reject it, the UN can properly say it has tried, failed, and can henceforth wash its hands of responsibility.


Sanctions; Other Moves: Nasser seems primarily concerned with domestic developments. He will have no interest in progress on the refugees in Gaza, where the problem seems unsolvable, but must be persuaded at least to remain neutral and not make trouble elsewhere.

Sanctions with the Arabs include the threat that the UN will wash its hands of responsibility for Paragraph 11 of Resolution 194, the reduction of UNRWA (heretofore admittedly not a credible deterrent), the Special Representative’s final report, and the threatened passage of Israel’s direct negotiations resolution.

Sanctions with Israel lie primarily in the hands of the U.S. But there is additionally the threat of Israel’s isolation from reasonable nations in the UN if it has rejected a fair proposal that the Arabs have accepted. United States supporters of Israel can perhaps be helpful. There are also some very divided councils in Israel. Israel will not like the recording of refugee preferences, even if these are kept confidential, but there is the possibility of a U.S.-Israel understanding as to the maximum repatriation the U.S. will support, perhaps also a U.S.-UAR understanding, outside the cognizance of the Special Representative. If a procedure for recording refugee preferences does go forward, it should do so under an individual, perhaps on the pattern of the UNHCR. The PCC should not try to be the administrator of the recording procedure.


Reconstitution of the PCC: The Arabs are less unhappy with France’s presence on the PCC than before but, not unreasonably, seek an enlargement to accord with the changed composition of the UN. Moderate [Page 710] Arabs have suggested that the U.S. might wish to consider taking the lead in such an enlargement.

Assistant Secretaries Cleveland and Talbot expressed the Department’s deep appreciation of Dr. Johnson’s patient diplomatic skills so vividly demonstrated again during his just-completed visits to Near East capitals.

It was agreed to meet again on June 27, at which time Dr. Johnson hopes to have a first draft of his proposals.

At meetings on June 8 with the Department working group it was agreed that prior to June 27 the Department will:

Develop information on screening procedures used in previous refugee interrogations in other areas;
Re-examine the “legislative history” of the problem of compensation (“and” vs. “or”) as provided for in Resolution 194;
Be in touch with Dean Sayre regarding his sponsorship of a possible series of “social” meetings between Dr. Johnson and appropriate Congressional leaders, after June 27, for informal discussion of the Johnson mission.

Dr. Johnson accepted the Department’s suggestion that he see, in the interim, certain Congressional leaders identified with movements favoring U.S. sponsorship of direct Arab-Israel negotiations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/6–762. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Crawford on June 12.