290. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel0

20. Arab Refugees. Department believes USG bilateral talks with Arabs and Israelis should be moved forward apace. Predictably, talks so far show each party extremely reluctant break away from repetitious previous patterns of insistence that only after initial concession has been made by other can it consider specific definition of its own contribution to a solution. Such reiteration of long-standing positions will not advance a solution. We do not exclude potential middle role for USG in a solution, but we could not consider recommending USG take on such responsibility even in background until we have obtained fairly firm and carefully defined assurances from each party as to its contribution if its basic welfare and concerns were reasonably safeguarded.

[Page 627]

For Arab Action Addressees: Department regrets that presumably due recent intra-Arab stresses missions have not had greater opportunity pursue talks along suggested lines basic and follow-up guidance (Deptel 402 to Amman, etc, and Deptel 464 to Amman,1 etc, respectively.) We do not believe refugee problem should or can remain static; i.e, we see little likelihood that alternative to continued careful probing of possible solutions could be perpetuation of status quo. Rather, we would anticipate loss of USG initiative in which efforts find balanced solution could well be eclipsed by more assertive moves to invalidate relevant UN resolutions and build support for thesis that resettlement cum direct Arab-Israel negotiations is only feasible solution. However unrealistic this proposition, its general adoption would obviously have most serious repercussions for US-Arab relations.

For Tel Aviv: Also disappointing is Israel’s response to a carefully conceived and well presented approach designed provide it three opportunities demonstrate some new thinking (through comment on USG position, through presentation GOI ideas, through discussion GOI concerns). Reviewing history of our discussions with GOI we see following:

USG made strong effort carry Israel with us through every step in evolution in Johnson Plan, providing background assurances that Israel’s fundamental concerns would be met. Confronted with plan, and despite its earlier expression of readiness “acquiesce”, Israel balked but concurred in bilateral talks on points of agreement. Although these (Talbot-Harman) talks carried out in October-November 1962 demonstrated considerable meeting of minds on essential elements of any solution and extent to which these elements had been safeguarded in Johnson Plan, Israel opposed and made vigorous effort persuade us not to advance Plan in GA context. As quid pro quo it promised bring forward useful proposals in bilateral talks following GA. We reluctantly agreed. Subsequently, your bilateral talks with Ben-Gurion were initiated. At Israel’s request we opened these by conveying succinct reiteration of USG attitude. (Although this was compounded of Talbot-Harman principles to most of which Harman had acceded, GOI apparently trying avoid give US statement of position any status.)

In body of your talks with Ben-Gurion,2 essential Israeli ideas advanced seem from here to have been: [Page 628]

Israel willing have USG serve as custodian of privately declared intentions both parties. Direct Arab-Israel agreement as to where operation for solution will come out not required.
Before Israel can be more specific on what it would do it must have through USG Arabs’ assurance they agree:
Proceed with operation.
Take bulk of refugees for resettlement with number Israel repatriates more symbolic than substantial.
Refugee problem must cease exist as international issue once operation starts.
Simultaneous movement.
Compensation payments by Israel will not be problem.
Simultaneous cooperation all four Arab host countries not feasible. USG should try start with Jordan.
FYI: Gratifying to us was Ben-Gurion’s tacit acknowledgment that Johnson proposals contained some useful elements. End FYI.
  • Re (1) we see no problem.
  • Re (2a) no problem once USG in position give assurance what “operation” will be.
  • Re (2b) no problem if this rephrased to read, “If USG can state confidently Arabs understand that, while operation will preserve principle that individual refugee will have opportunity express preference for repatriation or resettlement, it is expected great majority refugees will ultimately opt for resettlement or emigration, and operation will cease unless there is Arab as well as Israel cooperation in implementation of their choices”.
  • Re (2c) you have ably made points that, while USG also would be opposed agitation of this issue in international fora once operation starts, and propagandistic pressures for repatriation would be cause for cessation of operation (Ben-Gurion’s point last August), it unrealistic expect total blackout on mention of problem particularly its technical aspects such as UNRWA budgeting. We agree.
  • Re (2d) we have always concurred that reasonable simultaneity essential.
  • Re (3) we gratified have Israel’s reiterated assurance there will be no problem on compensation.
  • Re (4) we emphatically do not think it desirable begin only in Jordan. Even if feasible—and we are convinced Hussein could not agree—this would dangerously increase Jordan’s vulnerability amidst intra-Arab tensions which would be neither in Israel’s interest nor ours. While we appreciate there might be differences in degree of Arab host country cooperation, as there are in nature of problem each would face, we convinced every effort should be made keep all cooperatively involved.

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In short, what Israel proposes is with some modification a partially acceptable basis for further discussion leading perhaps to our putting Israel’s position to Arabs and trying to meld it with theirs. Important missing element, however, is firm statement to USG of what Israel would do that would enable USG in good conscience say that in return for Arab cooperation we have firm grounds assure them Israel would on its part cooperate in good faith in resettlement.

Without missing element we have not perceptibly progressed from Israel’s long-standing position it would consider its contribution only when and if Arabs agree to its preconditions.

Frankly, we were told we could expect more than has been told us so far when Israel urged we not surface substance of possible solution at last GA, and we would not regard Israel’s position to date as meeting its side of bargain made then.

Therefore, you should at early opportunity review foregoing with PriMin Eshkol, referring again to your basic instruction to seek:

Statement of what Israel would be willing do in terms of repatriation under adequately safeguarded conditions.
Specific statements re Israel’s security and other concerns in cooperating with operation for solution (i.e, its detailed requirements re security screening, logistic and absorptive problems, etc.).
Awareness on Israel’s side of importance we attach to principle of “acquiescence”. If Israel is willing satisfactorily fill in aforementioned blanks in its suggestions to us so far, we would not be reluctant put case to Arabs in straightforward terms. But essence of acquiescence principle which could be important to Arab (as well as Israeli) cooperation with any operation is that there are things both sides could permit in practice that would not be susceptible to specific definition by agreement due to extreme divergences in public positions in which both sides find themselves entangled.
Comment on USG position as put by you in first talk.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 3 PAL/UN. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Crawford on July 3; cleared by Sisco (in draft), Ludlow (in draft), and Davies; and approved by Talbot. Also sent to Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus and repeated by pouch to London, Paris, Ankara, Baghdad, Jerusalem, and USUN.
  2. Documents 166 and 214.
  3. Barbour’s most recent conversation with Ben Gurion on the refugee problem took place on May 14 and was reported in telegram 897 from Tel Aviv, May 16. (Department of State, Central Files, REF 2 PAL)