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Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1957

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957
Volume XVII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1957, Document 102


102. Memorandum of a Conversation With the President, Thomasville, Georgia, February 16, 195711. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President. Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Dulles

  • [ALSO PRESENT]
  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of the Treasury
  • Ambassador Lodge

I had given the President the night before22. According to Dulles’ Appointment Book, Dulles and Lodge left Washington by air at 6:15 p.m., February 15, and arrived at Spence Airfield in Georgia at 9:30 p.m. At 10:30 p.m. that evening the two met with Eisenhower at Humphrey’s plantation and then spent the night at a hotel in Thomasville. The following morning Dulles and Lodge returned to the plantation and had breakfast with Eisenhower, Humphrey, Hagerty, and Eisenhower’s physician, Dr. Howard Snyder. This conversation took place following breakfast. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers) the text of the Israeli aide-mémoire of February 15, together with a reminder copy of our aide-mémoire of February 11, 1957. The President had read these prior to our morning conversation herein recorded.

We discussed in considerable detail the situation resulting from the non-compliance by Israel of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

I reported on the position which I had taken with Eban the preceding afternoon with reference to the Israeli position set forth in its aide-mémoire to the effect that the United States could not arrogate to itself the responsibility of negotiating with Israel regarding the future status of the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal on the ground that we would be both unwilling to assume this responsibility and if we did attempt to assume it, it would be bitterly resented in the United Nations as an encroachment upon the authority and responsibility of the United Nations, and would never receive UN approval.

The President recognized that the Israeli position, as set out in its aide-mémoire, was unacceptable and we all expressed the hope that the Israeli position might be modified over the week end as Eban had intimated might perhaps be the case.

We felt, however, that the strongly emotional attitude of Prime Minister Ben Gurion and of Foreign Minister Meir made it unlikely that there would [be] any important change of position, and accordingly we considered what the United States attitude would be if this proved to be the case.

Ambassador Lodge pointed out that we had been obtaining a deferment of action by the Arabs in order to give our démarche with Israel a chance to succeed, but that if success were not achieved this week end, we would be faced with the necessity of dealing with the problem in the United Nations early next week. Further delay on the part of the Arabs would not be obtainable.

I expressed the view that we had gone just as far as was possible to try to make it easy and acceptable to the Israelis to withdraw and I felt that to go further would almost surely jeopardize the entire Western influence in the Middle East and make it almost certain that virtually all of the Middle East countries would feel that United States policy toward the area was in the last analysis controlled by the Jewish influence in the United States and that accordingly the only hope of the Arab countries was in association with the Soviet Union. This, I felt, would spell the failure of the Eisenhower program for the Middle East even before it got under way. Ambassador Lodge indicated that, from his judgment of the situation at the United Nations, he concurred in this estimate and that failure of the Eisenhower program would open the way to war.

We thereupon considered various possible courses of action at the United Nations, including:

1. A UNGA resolution which would condemn Israel more strongly than any prior resolutions and thus perhaps bring to bear stronger moral sanctions against Israel;

2. A UNGA resolution which would follow the pattern of the United States resolution in the Security Council of October 30, 1956, which had been vetoed by the United Kingdom and France and which we interpreted as calling merely for a suspension of governmental support of Israel, a suspension which was now, in fact, in effect in the United States as indeed was there a comparable suspension as regards Egypt ever since it seized the Suez Canal Company;

3. A UNGA resolution which would call on the members to suspend not merely governmental assistance but private assistance to Israel. (In this connection George Humphrey telephoned to Mr. Burgess to get an estimate of figures, and reported that the rough estimate indicated that United States private gifts (tax deductible) were about $40,000,000 a year; bond sales between $50,000,000 and $60,000,000 a year. He also said that German reparation payments in the form of goods amounted to about $80,000,000 a year. I remarked that the Germans had indicated that they would be very reluctant to suspend these deliveries in kind);

4. A UNSC resolution which might call for present sanctions against Israel and prospective sanctions against Egypt if it exercised belligerent rights against Israel, after Israeli withdrawal, in the Suez and the Straits of Aqaba.

We felt that a Security Council resolution which did not carry a threat to Egypt would be vetoed by France and probably the United Kingdom, and that it was not accepted procedure to impose sanctions as against an anticipatory breach, which there was considerable reason to believe might never occur.

It was the President’s feeling that resolutions along the lines of 1 and 2 were probably inadequate and that in order to get the necessary results, and perhaps to prevent a fresh outbreak of hostilities, it might be necessary to go along with an Arab resolution of the general character indicated by paragraph numbered 3 above.

It was, I think, understood that this decision was not an irrevocable one until I had had a chance to communicate further with the President following the talk which I expected to have with Eban later today. It was, however, felt that the likelihood of having to move in this sense was sufficiently great to justify preparatory moves.

The President suggested that I should arrange to make public this afternoon the text of the United States aide-mémoire, together with an explanatory statement. It was also arranged that he and Secretary Humphrey from Thomasville would try to get in touch with one or two leading Jewish personalities who might be sympathetic to our position and help to organize some Jewish sentiment in support of what might be the President’s final position.

1 Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President. Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Dulles

2 According to Dulles’ Appointment Book, Dulles and Lodge left Washington by air at 6:15 p.m., February 15, and arrived at Spence Airfield in Georgia at 9:30 p.m. At 10:30 p.m. that evening the two met with Eisenhower at Humphrey’s plantation and then spent the night at a hotel in Thomasville. The following morning Dulles and Lodge returned to the plantation and had breakfast with Eisenhower, Humphrey, Hagerty, and Eisenhower’s physician, Dr. Howard Snyder. This conversation took place following breakfast. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)