U.N. Envoy Leaves Today on Special Mission to Israel and Arab Countries
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U.N. Envoy Leaves Today on Special Mission to Israel and Arab Countries

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Dr. Edward E. Johnson, who was appointed as special envoy of the U.N. Palestine Conciliation Commission last week, will leave tomorrow or Friday for Israel and the Arab countries to carry out his mission of “exploring” the progress made toward a solution of the Arab refugee problem. He will remain in the Middle East for a month, during which he will confer with leaders of the Israel and Arab governments on the tangled refugee issue.

In the course of this week, Dr. Johnson, who is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, met several times with the members of the Palestine Conciliation Commission here. He also conferred separately with Ambassador Michael S. Comay, head of the Israel delegation to the United Nations, and with the heads of the delegations of the Arab states. His talks with the diplomats took place during two separate luncheons given by Francis T.P. Plimpton, Deputy U.S. permanent representative at the United Nations. The Palestine Conciliation Commission is composed of representatives of the United States, France and Turkey.

Dr. Johnson will make his first stop in London, where he will finalize his Middle East itinerary. From there he will proceed to Beirut, capital of Lebanon, where the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has its headquarters. UNRWA is the body in charge of the United Nations relief program for the refugees. During his stay in Beirut, Dr. Johnson will also confer with the Lebanese Government on the refugee issue.

From Lebanon, Dr. Johnson is expected to proceed to Jerusalem to discuss the refugee problem with the Israel Government, which has already informed the United Nations of its readiness to give Dr. Johnson full cooperation. He will then continue his discussion with the governments of the United Arab Republic and Jordan. He will also visit some of the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the Gaza Strip.

Dr. Johnson will return to New York about October 1, in time to submit a report on his findings to the Palestine Conciliation Commission. The PCC is under instructions of the United Nations to submit a report, not later than October 15, on what progress, if any, it has made in regard to the Arab refugee situation.


Dr. Johnson’s mission is actually aimed at establishing whether at least a small start cannot be made toward repatriating, resettling, or compensating some of the Arab refugees who left Palestine of their own will in 1948, on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, because they did not want to live under an Israeli Government.

If at least a start cannot be made toward a solution of the refugee problem, after Dr. Johnson’s talks with the governments of Israel and the Arab countries, there is serious doubt that the United States Congress will continue appropriating funds to support the work of UNRWA. The United States has contributed about 70 percent of the UNRWA budget. Hints that this support might be withdrawn have been made, but never mentioned openly, and have drawn protests from the Arab states.

A United States resolution inferentially suggesting the possibility of some solution other than repatriation was beaten down by the Arabs at the last session of the UN Assembly. Israel has already re-admitted 70, 000 Arab refugees. Some 35, 000 of them were re-admitted under a “re-union of families” plan; 17, 000 re-entered Israel by illegal infiltration later countenanced; and 18, 000 came from a group which, though refugees and uprooted, had never left Israeli territory.

The good will gestures which Israel had made, through the “family reunion” scheme and by releasing of certain blocked bank accounts of Arab refugees, have not been reciprocated by the Arabs. Informed circles here are, therefore, doubting whether Israel would be prepared to make any further good will moves of this nature, since the Arab rulers have not been appeased by the previous gestures and are still going strong on their call for the “destruction” of Israel.

Depending on Dr. Johnson’s report will be whether President Kennedy’s ambition to see the refugee problem solved can be realized. President Kennedy had recently indicated in individual letters to rulers of the Arab countries his deep interest in the matter. However, it was reported that each of the Arab rulers was negative in his reply to Mr. Kennedy’s appeal, while Iraq refused to answer it.

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