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

SUBJECT

  • Middle East Problem

Recommendations:

1.
That you sign the attached letters to Prime Minister Eshkol and King Hussein.2
2.
That you agree in principle, subject to a final recommendation regarding timing, to send a personal representative to Tel Aviv for intensive talks with Israeli representatives, and possibly to Amman and Cairo. Some suggested names of prominent private persons from which a representative might be chosen are included in the following memorandum.

Background

We are deeply concerned over recent developments in the Middle East which are affording the Soviets the opportunity to exploit the situation: the pattern of provocative terrorist activities countered by substantial [Page 259] Israeli military retaliation; the increased status which the Fedayeen seem to have achieved as a result of these developments; the inability of Hussein to deal with this matter and the apparent weakening of his regime; the decline in sympathy for Israel and growing doubts about its peaceful intentions; the inability of Jarring to get a dialogue going between Israel and the Arabs resulting from a rigid Israeli posture and the hardening of the UAR attitude.

In light of the foregoing, we have concluded we must make a more direct effort to arrest and reverse these trends. Our efforts with the parties concerned to take measures to bring greater stability to the cease-fire areas and to begin talks under Jarring’s auspices have not been successful. I believe it is now urgent that we raise these appeals to a higher level. We have indications that many Israelis are as concerned as we about the present course of events, and such an effort would strengthen those calling for a reappraisal of Israeli policies, particularly with respect to terrorism. We have therefore recommended to you the early despatch of the attached letters to Eshkol and Hussein.

In addition, it would be highly desirable for you to send to Israel, perhaps some time next week (depending on the results of Jarring’s continuing efforts), an individual who could speak frankly to the Israeli Government regarding recent trends and to explore with them possible steps which could be taken to reverse these trends. The principal short-range purpose of such a trip would be to try to indicate to Jarring a willingness to formulate acceptance and implementation of the Security Council resolution in such a way that it at least provides Jarring the opportunity to continue his efforts both in Amman and Cairo. While it is problematical that this would get talks started, it would at least help place the onus for failure on the UAR rather than Israel. More broadly and fundamentally, such an emissary could try to get across to the Israelis the immediate need for some gesture on their part, at least to Jordan, which will be an overt demonstration to the Arab world of a continuing Israeli interest in a political settlement. This would bolster Hussein. As a follow-up to your discussions with Eshkol, your emissary could also explore with the Israelis their concrete ideas about a settlement.

The U.S. emissary would not take over the mediation effort of Jarring. He would support Jarring’s efforts, and we would ask Ambassador Goldberg to explain this to the Secretary General so that there would be no misunderstanding.

Our hope would be that such an emissary would also find it desirable and opportune to discuss matters in Amman and Cairo, though we would not wish to make any final recommendations to you in this regard until we know the results of discussions in Tel Aviv. Since it would be desirable to include Cairo on the itinerary, we believe the individual selected should be a private person in whom you have confidence [Page 260] rather than a government official. We have three possibilities in mind in the following order of preference: McGeorge Bundy, Robert Murphy, George Ball. Ambassador Goldberg feels, and we agree, that the emissary should have some ostensible reason for the visit other than the actual purpose. In this respect, McGeorge Bundy would be especially suitable since his foundation affairs could quite naturally take him to the Near East.3

Ambassador Goldberg concurs.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. II, 4/68-1/69. Secret;Nodis.
  2. There is no indication of the President’s reaction to either of Katzenbach’s recommendations. The draft letters are ibid. The proposed letter to Hussein was not sent. For the President’s letter to Eshkol, see Document 134.
  3. In an April 5 memorandum to the President, Walt Rostow discussed the proposal to send a personal representative of the President to Israel. He proposed McGeorge Bundy, whom he cited as “everyone’s top choice.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. II, 4/68-1/69)