17. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot) to the President’s Deputy Special Counsel (Feldman)0


  • Considerations Relating to Use of a Presidential Emissary to Secure Israel’s Cooperation in Implementation of the Johnson Proposals

There would be hazards for us in this, but also advantages. We think the latter would outweigh the former, with real gain for Dr. Johnson’s proposals, provided:


There is no publicity on the emissary’s visit to Israel and, of course, absolute secrecy regarding his talks with Ben-Gurion.

Rationale: Whatever the cover story invented, an open visit to Israel by a member of the President’s staff at this time would sooner or later be connected by the Arabs with the Johnson proposals. When the connection was made, moderate Arab leaders would almost certainly be forced into rejection of the Johnson Plan, as extremists would charge that it was the result of United States-Israel collusion. The Israelis might choose to leak the story to bring about just this Arab reaction. Therefore, security should be so good and knowledge of the visit so restricted that the Israelis will not dare leak it, knowing that if they did so we would consider there had been violation of Presidential confidence.


Our resolve on the quid pro quo is firm and remains firm. The deal would have to be (a) Hawks, subject to progress on an Israel-UAR arms limitation, (b) security guarantee (in the form of a specific, unilateral United States reaffirmation of paragraph 3 of the 1950 Tripartite Declaration), (c) assurance of financial help in meeting Israel’s contributions to refugee compensation and in reintegration of refugees who are repatriated, and (d) if absolutely essential, a secretly agreed ceiling on refugee repatriation, in exchange for (a) Ben-Gurion’s pledge of cooperation in Johnson’s plan, including establishment of procedures for prompt and equitable hearing of compensation claims submitted by returning refugees; and (b) assurances that Israel will drop the direct negotiations resolution this year.

Rationale: We judge Ben-Gurion to be increasingly confident that he will get the Hawk and perhaps even a security guarantee regardless of how he helps us at this time. Unless he is convinced we are not bluffing [Page 52] about withholding these if he does not cooperate on the Johnson Plan, he will be the more likely to feel he can risk non-cooperation in, or sabotage of, the refugee plan. Ben-Gurion is a hard bargainer and can be dealt with successfully only on the basis of hard bargaining.


A strong effort is made to avoid having to commit ourselves on a repatriation ceiling and, if we are forced to fall back, the resulting Presidential assurance is oral and is discussed with no one in Israel except Ben-Gurion.

Rationale: Offering Ben-Gurion a ceiling on repatriation will put us in his hands. By leaking this and knowledge of the emissary’s visit, he could ensure Arab rejection of the Johnson Plan. (He tried this after seeing the President in May 1961 but failed because there was almost nothing to sabotage—the Johnson mission had not yet been created—and we promptly and publicly denied the story.) We would then have failed not only in the primary objective (solving the refugee problem) but also in the secondary objective (building out of failure a strong moral position to disengage gradually) in undertaking this initiative. As in (1), and even more on this point, greatly restricted knowledge of the ceiling will be good insurance against the Israelis taking the risk of leaking the story.

The great advantages, of course, of the Presidential emissary approach are: (1) from Israel’s point of view (a) it affords a secret shot at the plan before it is ever made public, and (b) Israel gets some very important returns if it cooperates; (2) for the foregoing reasons we have a far better chance of gaining Israel’s cooperation than would otherwise be the case. Ben-Gurion has made it clear he favors this kind of ultra-secret personal diplomacy, and would give much more weight to the words of a man close to the President; and (3) it is difficult to negotiate a complicated issue by letter.1

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 8/10/62–8/16/62. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Crawford.
  2. A memorandum entitled “Suggested Approach and Talking Points,” drafted by Crawford and Strong on August 16, was apparently prepared for Feldman’s guidance. (Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 304, Security Guarantee for Israel, 1963) For text, see the Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute.