70. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1
4390. Reference: Urtel 3171.2 Subject: Arab refugees.
At dinner last night, Stevenson discussed refugee question with PM Eshkol of Israel. After emphasizing seriousness of problem for both [Page 168] Israel and US in Near East and in UN, Stevenson asked what plans Israel has for dealing with problem. Eshkol replied that he fully appreciated difficulties question presented for us but that Israel had no new suggestions to advance. After expressing firm opposition to Johnson proposal he said that adding 100,000 Arabs to the 250,000 now in Israel, and assuming the present rate of Jewish immigration continued at about 30 to 35,000 per annum, the higher birth rate of Arabs would “create a Cyprus situation” within 25 years. On this assumption he estimated Arab population would become one quarter of total. Arabs will force refugees back into Palestine by various devices and he was not sure that any open-end formula could even restrict repatriation of 100,000.
While extremely cordial and appreciative of US and UN problem, his position appeared inflexible and he advanced sundry arguments as to why any increase in Arab population was hazardous for Israel, including fact that Arabs do not serve in army. Eshkol referred repeatedly to integration of many of refugees into Arab countries and left no alternative but absorption of balance by Arabs.
Following his departure, Jacob Blaustein asked Stevenson if he had discussed refugee problem, adding that if formula could be devised which would limit Arab repatriation to 100,000, he felt confident GOI could be persuaded to accept it in final settlement of problem. Stevenson concluded that Eshkol’s official position at least no more tractable than Ben Gurion’s.
Plimpton also brought subject up with Peres (Deputy Defense Minister) saying that time pressures had prevented its being discussed in Washington, but that US Government regarded problem as very serious one for Israel and US in Near East and in UN. We realize that there is no overall solution in sight, but we do look to Israel for constructive suggestions that would lead to some partial progress. Peres entirely negative: he said only solution was to abolish UNRWA and turn over decreasing amounts of relief funds to host governments and let them handle refugees pending absorption into local economies. He rejected concept of admitting limited number of refugees on an experimental basis to see what could happen and shied away from compensation problem.