6. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

79148. Subj: Discussion with Comay on Refugees.

At GOI suggestion as follow-on to Secretary’s discussion of refugees with Eban October 23,2 Comay had lengthy conversation December 1 with Battle, Sisco and other Department officers. Discussion of UNRWA debate tactics reported septel. Detailed memcon being pouched.3 Highlights follow:
In general, we were reassured by Comay’s presentation of Israeli tactical approach. With exception attitude on new refugees, their thinking on delicate pre-settlement period conforms to ours. Comay repeatedly stressed GOI belief refugee problem could and should be solved and importance it attaches to overall political settlement for achieving this objective.
New Refugees--In response to our inquiries and arguments re return of post-June refugees, Comay indicated that for all practical purposes movement from East to West had stopped for time being. Although family reunification scheme could help (and Comay attributed poor performance to GOJ), substantial movement of refugees must await movement on political front following progress of Jarring’s contacts. (Comay will also have GOI responsibilities for negotiations with Jarring.) Comay gave customary GOI line on refugee return, detailing August and September operations and asserting that, for reasons of family ties, income sources and political uncertainties, bulk of refugees did not really wish to return.
GOI Activities During Pre-Settlement Period—In addition to ascertaining GOI thinking on refugee planning, object our discussion with Comay was to forewarn against statements or activities which could prejudice chances for settlement. Comay cited careful GOI contingency planning for eventual refugee solution but said there would be no formal, public announcement of master plan. GOI thought such plan would have dramatic and for GOI beneficial public relations effect but also knew publicity would cause adverse Arab reaction seriously damaging chances for settlement. Neither would GOI undertake any specific projects which would similarly jeopardize negotiations with Jarring.
GOI concern during interim period would be to promote economic well-being of refugees. Comay mentioned stepped-up vocational training as non-controversial program which would prepare refugees for better life in situ or elsewhere but which would not arouse Arab fears. Refugees would benefit from 100 million pounds being budgeted for civilian administration in occupied territories in current GOI fiscal year ending March, 1968. Comay emphasized that GOI had moved quickly to restore normalcy in occupied areas and had developed effective cooperation with UNRWA with only minor difficulties arising mainly from security requirements, i.e. restricted movement of Arab personnel in Israel.
Long-term Refugee PlanningComay said GOI was drawing up recommendations from studied conducted by various technical teams (water, land, economics, etc.) for presentation to Cabinet in near future. Perhaps early next year GOI could have contact with US experts. GOI recognized, however, that long-range plans for refugees could not be [Page 14] divorced from question of political future of area. Even within GOI, opinions were divided on such questions as what size, shape and future borders of Israel should be. GOI waiting to see what its options were. It could make no decisions until these were clearer. Meanwhile, it was doing its homework to fill gaps in its knowledge of refugees and of economic potential of occupied areas. It realized that what it could do on its own to solve refugee problem was limited not only by economic factors but by political and juridical considerations as well. When time came, GOI would be prepared cooperate to fullest extent in finding solution to refugee problem, but unable say now what this might involve. Comay made point of emphasizing that, notwithstanding appeal of West Bank from sentimental and security standpoints, GOI had made no decision to incorporate area in Israel, and it was mistake to draw general conclusions to this effect from specific actions taken by occupation authorities for local reasons.
Without commenting on specifics of GOI planning, we emphasized that these and other elements of any meaningful refugee solution must come in context of general settlement. Comay agreed and said refugees should in GOI views have “top priority” in settlement. We noted important contribution which well-staffed GOI refugee plan could make to settlement and Comay agreed it would be useful and important approach Jordan with proposals on refugees when negotiations under way.
Comay emphasized GOI working hard on planning and aware US also developing ideas on refugees. He expressed great willingness exchange views with us on preliminary, non-committed basis.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Confidential. Drafted by Henry Precht in NEA/IAI and Atherton, cleared by Joseph J. Sisco and Director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs Elizabeth Ann Brown (IO), and approved by Battle. Repeated to Beirut, Amman, London, Jerusalem, Paris, and USUN.
  2. This conversation is summarized in telegram 58735 to Tel Aviv, October 24, scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIX.
  3. A memorandum of this conversation was transmitted to Tel Aviv as an attachment to circular airgram CA-4218, December 14. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, REF ARAB)