9. Memorandum of Conversations0


  • Dr. Johnson’s Proposals for Solution of the Arab Refugee Problem


  • (not at all meetings):
  • The Secretary
  • Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, Special Representative, Palestine Conciliation Commission
  • NEA—Assistant Secretary Talbot
  • IO—Assistant Secretary Cleveland
  • IO—Deputy Assistant Secretary Wallner
  • NEA/NERobert C. Strong
  • NEAJames M. Ludlow
  • UNPStephen E. Palmer, Jr.
  • NEWilliam R. Crawford, Jr.

At the Secretary’s request, Dr. Johnson explained his proposals1 as follows:

There are three premises: (1) minimum public commitment by the parties, (2) objectives are limited to implementation of Paragraph 11 of Resolution 194 (III),2 and (3) an effort should be made to have the plan launched and in limited operation before the 17th General Assembly, as recommended by the Athens Chiefs of Mission Conference.
Essentials of the plan are the confidential recording of refugee preferences, and the initiation of such recording without prior undertakings save reasonable assurance that U.N. representatives would have customary facilities and freedom to function effectively.
It may be that refugees will not voluntarily send in questionnaires or that there will be refusal to cooperate in implementing refugee preferences on the part of either the Israelis or Arabs or both. But there is agreement with working level officers in the Department that we should try to go ahead with a process of this sort and should inform the parties that we intend to do so.
There is one issue unresolved. On grounds of the legislative history of Resolution 194, of equity, and of practicality, should the U.N. undertake to facilitate payment of compensation, as appropriate, to refugees being repatriated? The Department, which concurs that what we are all seeking is a formula to result in a final choice of repatriation by about one refugee in ten, does not agree. It holds that adding the inducement of compensation to the prospect of repatriation would produce a difficult-to-control ratio of expressed preferences for repatriation as contrasted with resettlement far higher than one in ten. It believes for a number of reasons that compensation for loss of or damage to properties of returning refugees is a responsibility of Israel.

In the discussion which followed, the Secretary asked about the categories of compensation; the availability of information on former refugee property holdings; the percentage of refugees who owned immovable property at the time they left Palestine; the relationship between the total value of these properties and the essential costs of establishing the refugees in a new life; the annual costs of UNRWA and the United States contribution thereto; the prospects for acceptance of the plan; the probability that governments will be forced to take positions opposing the plan as soon as questionnaires are distributed; the extent of U.N. approval required; the difficulty of beginning operations until financing is in sight and the likelihood of undesirable publicity as financing is sought; the schedule of operations planned for the current year; expected average payments per family unit; extent of resettlement which has already occurred; possibility of UNRWA assisting financially in a settlement project; deduction from compensation of international funds already spent for refugee support; and the possibility of a “trial run” in which questionnaires would be distributed quietly to a very small number of refugees. The Secretary concluded by asking Dr. Johnson to give further thought to something along the lines of his last question. He pointed out the problems which might arise with Congress if the Administration were to seek a further large fund in the foreign assistance field at the very time it is preoccupied with the foreign aid bill and U.N. bonds. There may also be cause for concern in commitment of United States prestige to a proposal which may meet flat, immediate rejection by the parties. (The following subsequent memoranda to the Secretary dealt with the above matters in detail: Assistant Secretary Talbot’s memorandum to the Secretary of July 28 answering the questions raised at the July [Page 19]28 meeting,3 the Talbot-Cleveland memorandum of August 4 which enclosed a suggested Memorandum for the President setting forth the Johnson Plan in detail,4 Dr. Johnson’s memorandum of July 27 concerning compensation,5 and the Department’s comments of August 4 on Dr. Johnson’s compensation memorandum.)6

At the July 28 and succeeding meetings, the Secretary’s concerns were discussed in detail. In consultations with working levels of the Department, Dr. Johnson made certain revisions in his proposals to emphasize for the Administration’s consideration thereof (a) their built-in controls over pace, (b) the essentially preliminary and “trial run” nature of the steps proposed for the coming year, and (c) recognition of limitations on responsibility to be assumed for compensation by the United Nations. Further revisions were incorporated to meet Dr. Johnson’s concern that, if compensation were not to be paid through the PCC to refugees choosing repatriation to Israel, there should be a clearer recognition of the returning refugee’s right, in equity, to be assured of prompt and fair hearing in Israel of such claims as he might have to compensation for properties sequestered, destroyed, or otherwise not available to him.

At the concluding meeting on August 6, the concerns of Dr. Johnson and the Department having been met by Dr. Johnson’s revisions to his proposals, the Secretary agreed to forward the latter for the President’s consideration.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 886B.411/8-662. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Crawford on September 5 and approved in S on September 18. Johnson concurred in this record of the conversation.
  2. A briefing memorandum by Talbot and Wallner prepared for Rusk on July 27 contains a summary of Johnson’s draft proposals submitted to the Department of State on July 17. (Ibid., NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 44, Refugees, PCC, General Policy) For text, see the Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute. A copy of Johnson’s July 17 draft proposal is in Department of State, IO/UNP Files: Lot 72 D 294, PCC-Johnson Mission. Johnson discussed his proposals with Department of State officials on July 19, 23, and 24. A memorandum of conversation of conclusions reached at these meetings is ibid., Central Files, 325.84/7–1962.
  3. This resolution, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 11, 1948, created the Palestine Conciliation Commission and defined its mission to seek a resolution of the Palestine refugee problem. Article 11 dealt with the issues of repatriation of those Palestinians who wished to return to their homes and compensation for those who did not. For complete text, see Official Records of the Third Session of the General Assembly, Part I, 21 September-12 December, 1948, Resolution, U.N. Doc. A/810, pp. 21–25. Also printed in A Decade of American Foreign Policy, 1941–1949: Basic Documents, pp. 718-719.
  4. Talbot’s July 28 memorandum is in Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/7–2862. For text, see the Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute.
  5. The August 4 memorandum is in Department of State, Central Files, 886.411/8-462. For text, see the Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute.
  6. Not printed. (Department of State, IO/UNP Files: Lot 72 D 294, PCC-Johnson Mission)
  7. Not printed. (Ibid., Central Files, 886.411/8-762) It was attached to Document 15.
  8. A list of "Changes Made in the Johnson Plan Package for the President as Result of Secretary’s Meeting with Dr. Johnson and Assistant Secretaries Talbot and Cleveland, August 6, 1962,” was attached to Document 15. Johnson expressed appreciation to the Department of State for changes made in response to his requests, but indicated that he did not agree with the views presented in the Department’s July 27 memorandum concerning compensation. (Memorandum by Johnson, August 7; Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/8-762)