399. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Bundy) to President Johnson1


  • The Middle East at the End of July

Walt tells me that this subject is on the agenda for lunch tomorrow2 and there are some aspects of it which are better for talk than for paper, but this preliminary assessment may be helpful to you overnight:

The Israeli position appears to be hardening as the Arabs still resist all direct negotiations. The Israelis have great confidence in their short-run political and military superiority. I think the evidence grows that they plan to keep not only all of Jerusalem but the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, too.
Unless the Arabs make a drastic change in their bargaining position, we have no practical way of opposing this Israeli position. We can insist on the principle of “withdrawal from danger” but as a practical matter the Israelis will continue to confront the Arabs—and us—with small accomplished facts (today they put in their currency in much of the occupied territory), and we will find it unwise to take any practical action in reply. When the Israelis come to us for major military supplies, we shall need to have serious talks, but I begin to think that our bargaining power even on this issue is not overwhelming. I think we can trade hard on such matters as nuclear policy and perhaps even get them to back off from the French missiles they have had on order, but as long as the Arabs are adamant, I doubt if we can or should make the Israeli view of Jerusalem or the West Bank into a federal case. We can’t tell the Israelis to give things away to people who won’t even bargain with them. We may well be heading toward a de facto settlement on the present cease-fire lines, and we do not want to play King Canute if that is the flow of the tide in the Middle East. We want it to be Nasser’s fault, not ours, if the Israelis decide to stay where they are. I think the [Page 740] Secretary may have a slightly different view—and you may want us to go around the alternatives a little tomorrow.
The Arab Foreign Ministers meet tomorrow in Khartoum. I think the odds on an eventual Arab summit are a little less than even; the odds on friction between the Arab right and left are pretty good. I see no current opportunity for us to take any important initiative with any of the Arabs—moderate or radical. We should wait until they come to us.

In sum, I think the current short-run position should be one of quiet watchful waiting. The most we might want to do this week is to get out a low-key statement which would offer some encouragement to responsible Arabs and yet not affront the Israelis. I have a new scheme for such a statement, namely, that it might be made in an exchange of letters with some outstanding American who is favorably known to the Arab world. Such a man might ask you if we still love the reasonable Arabs and you would then have an excuse to tell him that we do, without too much repetition of other points which they don’t like. I hope to have a draft of such an exchange tomorrow. I also hope to have a further report on arms registration, which still takes lots of time in the Department. (It really is complex, though you don’t believe it!)

As Hussein draws back from negotiation, a lot of us find ourselves looking once again at Nasser. Egypt remains the key country on the Arab side, and sooner or later Nasser is likely to put out stronger feelers toward us—he still hasn’t come near solving his economic problems. I have commissioned a major intelligence estimate of just where Egypt now stands—especially in relation to the Soviets. I don’t think a full Soviet “takeover” is imminent, nor do I think the Egyptians are going to re-open the war tomorrow, but these are the two dangers which we need to be alert for, even if the odds are small.

I think the sum of it all is that the situation remains tense but not immediately explosive. The worst thing that happened to it today was the drafting of David GinsbuRG for other duties,3 but I had to tell him that as a citizen I was delighted. I also told him that he could have this office, because my own needs are already much more modest than the generous space I now occupy. He reminded me that the office was not mine to sublet, so I report its availability to you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, U.S. Position—Discussion. Secret. Sent through Walt Rostow.
  2. The President met at luncheon on August 1 with Rusk, Nitze, Walt Rostow, Bundy, and George Christian. No record of the meeting has been found. The agenda for Middle East discussion includes the question of naming a new coordinator on Israeli and UAR desalting plants, progress on the military aid fight, what to say to King Hussein concerning his planned trip to Moscow, and the difficulties “of getting a statement that can help the moderate Arabs without arousing the Israelis and their friends.” (Ibid., Files of Minutes and Notes) For documentation on U.S. policy concerning possible cooperative desalting projects, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIV, Documents 130 ff.
  3. On July 31 President Johnson announced Ginsburg’s appointment as Executive Director of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book II, p. 726)