329. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach to President Johnson 1


  • Suggested Talking Points for Meeting with King Hussein 2

We attach suggested talking points3 for your visit with King Hussein, now scheduled for Wednesday. After Bill Macomber’s4 talk with the King, we recommend that you see him alone, at least for a brief period. It will be easier for the King to talk about reality without any witnesses but yourself, and especially without Arab witnesses.

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The talks with King Hussein could be crucial to the process of achieving a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. The King is approaching a fork in the road. It should not be impossible for him to choose the right course. If he does so, that fact would be a real beginning, breaking up the hitherto rigid Arab line against peace. If he is convinced that such a peaceful solution is impossible, the tide could run in the wrong direction from our point of view.

The Soviets are already consolidating Nasser in Egypt. Nasser is in touch with us, but we doubt that he will have an acceptable deal to offer. Therefore the Jordanian problem remains the most hopeful opening for us.

There is a difference of view between those who counsel moving ahead with Jordan now, and those who advise waiting for the dust to settle. We recommend taking advantage of the King’s presence to open the possibility of prompt action on his part with Israel, directly or through an intermediary—perhaps the Shah, perhaps an American. Our stake in the possible success of these negotiations, difficult as they will be, makes it advisable to consider an American intermediary if the King requests one. A delay, which the Israelis favor, could result in freezing the situation on the West Bank into a pattern of Israeli control which it would be nearly impossible to change later.

The problems between Israel and Jordan—the West Bank and Jerusalem—are more difficult than any of the other issues between Israel and her neighbors, except for the overriding and fundamental problem of obtaining Arab recognition for Israel’s right to exist. But there are also greater opportunities, because a Jordan–Israel solution would hold out the hope of transforming the refugee problem, and that of Jerusalem, which are at the heart of the conflict.

Our talks with Israeli representatives in New York and here persuade us that the Israelis are willing to make a pretty favorable deal with King Hussein, provided he accepts the idea of peace. You should not, we think, sponsor or propose any particular bargain, or be drawn into the details of any possible plan. But we do recommend that you be prepared to advise and encourage King Hussein to explore the possibility of negotiations with the Israelis, directly or through an intermediary. (You should know that the King has negotiated secretly with the Israelis in the past, e.g., meeting Eban on the Riviera. This information is of the greatest sensitivity.)

The basic territorial problem dividing Israel and Jordan is the West Bank area. The West Bank was part of the Palestine Mandate given up by the British in 1947. It came under Jordanian control as a result of the hostilities in 1948, and the subsequent declaration of Palestinian notables of their wish to adhere to Trans–Jordan. We have never recognized [Page 579] Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank; instead we have recognized the area as being under Jordanian control pursuant to the General Armistice Agreement. We have taken an even more reserved position about Jordanian control in the Old City of Jerusalem and about the whole position in Jerusalem. Our Ambassador to Jordan, for example, does not show the flag while driving in the Old City. A memorandum on the history and legal position of the area is included as a Background Paper in your book.

The Israelis tell us they have not yet finally made up their minds on the position they will take with regard to the West Bank generally, and Jerusalem in particular. So far, we have advised them not to take unilateral actions, nor to present the world with a fait accompli.

The Israelis point out that they have a national security interest in keeping the West Bank out of unfriendly or aggressive hands; that they tried to prevent King Hussein from entering the war and sought a cease fire even after he had taken offensive action; and that their occupation of the West Bank was unanticipated and is unwanted. They were particularly aggrieved by his attack in Jerusalem, where they took heavy casualties because they refrained from the use of air power. On the other hand, they say, these events occurred, a new situation has emerged, and they are still not clear what policy King Hussein represents today. They stress that the City of Jerusalem cannot be divided again, and that the Holy Places must be accessible to all.

There is a good deal of talk in Israel and among Palestinian Arabs about the possibility of an autonomous Arab State on the West Bank, federated with Israel, and of comparable status for the Gaza Strip. Both Dayan and Ben Gurion have suggested such an approach. Some Palestinians are reported to be interested in the possibility. There are rumors of possible meetings of Arab notables. There is always a possibility that such meetings could be stage-managed by the Israelis to come up with a statement or even a declaration calling for a separation of the West Bank from Jordan. Such a procedure would follow that of Jordan in annexing the West Bank in the first place.

There would be political danger if Israel tried to set up a semi-autonomous Arab State on the West Bank by unilateral action. Such a step would make general Arab–Israeli peace more difficult to imagine, and would create a new Arab grievance.

We do not see any possibility that King Hussein could negotiate with Israel, and then accept a state of peace with Israel, unless he retained political control over the West Bank area, subject at most to minor boundary rectifications, and an international solution for Jerusalem.

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But it is possible that over time an economic link could develop between Israel and Jordan as a whole. This would leave the two states of Israel and Jordan politically independent but with open cooperative economic relationships. A development of this kind should make it easier to solve the issue of Jerusalem, which could become a focus of economic exchange, rather than a salient on a nervous frontier. It could transform the refugee problem into a problem of regional economic development. And by providing an economic opportunity for the refugees, it would begin to relieve the other Middle Eastern states of the burden of the idea that somehow, some day, Arab loyalty requires them to help liberate Palestine and restore the refugees to their rightful property.

We therefore conclude that at this stage the optimum plan should include these elements: (1) economic links between Israel and the whole of Jordan, (2) the West Bank under the sovereignty of Jordan, subject, however, (3) to boundary adjustments and (4) a special agreement about Jerusalem, and (5) an end to the state of war, demilitarization of the West Bank, and normal relations. We gather from a conversation between Evron and Walt Rostow 5 that Israel is thinking along similar lines.

We should have no illusion: the odds are against Hussein accepting this sort of package at an early date. But it is worthwhile encouraging him to explore the possibilities.

The Israelis would probably accept some such approach in the near future. They might even accept a less ambitious solution that left the West Bank in Jordanian hands, except for an agreement on Jerusalem.

If the present situation continues very long, however, King Hussein should understand that his risks with regard to the West Bank probably increase. At the moment, he could probably get political control of most of the West Bank, in exchange for a favorable long-term economic arrangement, and a new status, perhaps condominium, in Jerusalem. Later on, such a deal might well become more difficult.

Nicholas deB Katzenbach
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Visit of King Hussein, 6/28/67. Secret. No drafting information appears on the memorandum.
  2. Bundy and Rostow both sent memoranda to the President on June 27 with recommendations for his June 28 meeting with King Hussein. Rostow suggested telling the King that Johnson could not get the Israelis out of the West Bank unless Hussein was prepared to take serious steps in return, that Hussein should not rely on anyone else to solve this problem for him but that if he was willing to seek a solution, others could help as intermediaries, with economic resources, and with persuasion of the other party. (Ibid.) Bundy seconded Rostow’s recommendations, commenting, “our main purpose must be to let him down as gently as we can from his present conviction that you must pull his chestnuts out of the fire for him.” He advised the President to “stay within the State talking points and not press the King toward bargaining with the Israelis (along the lines of the State covering memo)—unless he gives you an opening.” (Ibid., Country File, Jordan, Visit of King Hussein, 6/28/67)
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations and former Ambassador to Jordan William B. Macomber, Jr.
  5. Evron stated in a June 24 conversation with Rostow that there was increasing thought in Israel about an economic link to Jordan that would leave the two states politically independent but with open cooperative economic relationships. Rostow reported the conversation to the President in CAP 67579, June 24. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 32)