16. Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Brubeck) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • Consequences for the United States of Rejection of Dr. Johnson’s Proposals

On August 8 you asked Mr. Talbot for the Department’s views on this, requesting that they reach you by August 9 for consideration by the President in his review of Dr. Johnson’s proposals.

Alternative I

(If Plan Implementation is Impossible but Responsibility for Rejection is Unclear)

Both the Arabs and Israelis will find elements of the Johnson proposals distasteful. Johnson has devised a clever formula requiring acquiescence rather than approval, but either side might regard the proposals as so unpalatable as to lead it to try to defeat the entire venture. Neither party, however, will wish to be caught before the world opinion in a posture of open intransigence. Therefore, firm decision(s) not to cooperate would probably be manifested not by public rejection(s) but by (1) effort(s) to place the blame on the other side, (2) subtle or not so subtle sabotage,1 and/or (3) charges that Johnson’s proposals are partisan.

Johnson’s proposals are so realistic, safe, and admirably balanced that we doubt charges against him would stick under international scrutiny in the General Assembly. In fact, the party leveling such charges would put itself in a bad light. Moves along the lines of (1) and (2) are probable (even if the parties ultimately cooperate). In this situation there would be propaganda charges and countercharges and responsibility for rejection would be fuzzed. We consider this the situation we are most likely to confront if Johnson’s acquiescence formula does not work.

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If this occurs, we would still be well on our way to achieving our secondary objective. In our posture of being the party which put its shoulder to the wheel of an effort at realistic solution of the refugee problem—truly impartial but regrettably unsuccessful—we would be in a strong position in this fall’s scheduled General Assembly debate. Depending on what we deemed most advantageous after careful consideration within this Government and with the other principal contributors to UNRWA, we would have won freedom of action to take the lead in such alternative courses as (a) declaring Resolution 194 unimplementable and disbanding the Conciliation Commission, (b) calling for a new basic United Nations resolution in regard to the refugee problem and the Arab-Israel dispute as a whole, (c) pressing for revision of UNRWA’s responsibilities and operations to provide for a gradual reduction of the United States contribution and our eventual disengagement from the problem, and (d) organizing opposition to unrealistic proposals likely to disrupt area stability (Arab demands for appointment of a custodian of refugee properties in Israel; Israel’s demands for peace negotiations on its terms).

We see no foreign policy disadvantages under this set of circumstances. If our freer hand in the General Assembly did result in that body’s taking a tougher line on UNRWA and a clear United States intention gradually to disengage from the problem was demonstrated, the Arabs (and possibly Israel as well) would be temporarily hostile, but they would not have the grounds for opposing our intentions that they would have if Johnson’s proposals were not tried.

Alternative II

(If Both Arabs and Israelis Reject)

We think this is unlikely, but the consequences would be the same as in Alternative I with clear net advantage for the United States.

Alternative III

(If Arabs Reject)

After Alternative I, this is the next most likely situation we might face, since the Arabs may (however reluctantly) feel that considerations of "face" force them to reject the proposals in the absence of satisfaction on their standing demand that there be a prior declaration by Israel that it accepts in principle the “right” of every refugee to return. If they should feel compelled into such public rejection, rejection will be accompanied by accusations that the plan was inevitably biased as the result of the PCC’s “pro-Israel” membership, that the entire initiative was a cynical “Zionist-inspired” conspiracy by the United States to back out of its [Page 50]"responsibilities" to the refugees, etc. Again, we think the balance and realism of the proposals are such that the Arabs would find scant support for these charges in the Assembly, and we would achieve our secondary goal (gaining of greater freedom of action) with its attendant advantages and absence of disadvantages as specified under Alternative I. As our moral and public posture would be strong (i.e., that we had tried conscientiously to implement a resolution which the Arabs have pressed for fourteen years only to be faced by their rejection of this reasonable effort), we think whatever Arab cries of anguish did result would be short-lived and not significantly disruptive in terms of our broad relations with the Arab states. There would be the possibility of disturbances among the refugees, but we believe the Arab governments would find it in their interest to control these. (Whatever course we chose to take in regard to the refugee problem in the General Assembly would necessarily have to be designed to minimize this possibility and ensure that the plight of the refugees was not worsened.)

Alternative IV

(If Israel Rejects)

Open rejection by Israel alone might be embarrassing to the United States, as we would presumably be faced by Arab demands to force Israel’s cooperation. Such open rejection, however, is extremely unlikely. Israel has at hand a number of means of shifting the blame to the Arabs, of dragging its feet, of creating tactical diversions, etc., which it would not hesitate to use to avoid the onus of intransigence if it felt compelled actively to obstruct implementation of the Johnson proposals. Since, of course, our primary objective is to resolve the refugee problem, our efforts should go to ensuring Israel’s cooperation and forestalling its recourse to such obstructive tactics.


If we play out this endeavor on the same impartial, moral track we have pursued thus far, we think that, win or lose, there will be no advantage in terms of our future relationship to the refugee problem. The same holds true for our dealings on this subject with Congress, which has become increasingly restive over the years with lack of decisive United States diplomatic action to move the problem from dead center.

A.E. Breisky2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 886.411/8-962. Secret. Drafted by Crawford and cleared by Buffum, Strong, and Talbot.
  2. This has occurred already (Cf. Israel’s leak of an alleged Presidential-Ben-Gurion “numbers formula” in April 1961; Israel’s current “black” propaganda designed to whip up the refugees against the Arab governments and prevent cooperation with Johnson; and Iraqi and Communist allegations that Johnson’s forthcoming proposals are the result of a Zionist-inspired “deal” by the United States and Israel to “liquidate” the Palestine problem.) [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. Breisky signed for Brubeck above Brubeck’s typed signature.