The British Chargé (Chilton) to the Secretary of State
Sir: With reference to my note of the 5th instant (No. 512) I have the honour to inform you, on instructions from my Government, that His Majesty’s Government are anxious to ensure that no religious community shall feel any apprehensions as to the position of its adherents in Palestine under the British Mandate. They are conscious that Palestine is the centre of a variety of religious interests, each one of which, considered separately, is world wide. As a Christian Power they are fully alive to the paramount necessity of ensuring to all Christian communities the consciousness that nothing will be done in Palestine which might be construed as negligence of, or indifference to, Christian sentiment.
In order to remove all possible ground for apprehension, His Majesty’s Government have prepared an alternative draft of Article 14 of the draft mandate and I have the honour to transmit herewith a copy of this draft for the information of the United States Government. For the purpose of ensuring that the delicate task of deciding what are the existing rights in the Holy Places and religious buildings or sites which His Britannic Majesty, as mandatory for Palestine, is responsible for protecting, should be entrusted to a body whose impartiality is not open to question, His Majesty’s Government now suggest, not only that the composition of the Commission shall be subject to the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, but that any report made by them shall also be laid before the Council of the League for confirmation.[Page 285]
As a further means towards ensuring absolute impartiality His Majesty’s Government would be prepared, if the Council of the League approve this course, to select nominees for the Commission from a panel put forward in the first place under some international procedure, whether by the Assembly or the Council of the League of Nations, or by the President of the Court of International Justice, while reserving to themselves the right to submit additional names for stated reasons to the Council of the League for approval. The panel should in their opinion be composed of persons of world-wide reputation, to be selected in such a way that the Commission would be a thoroughly representative international body, on which none of the Great Powers interested in Palestine and none of the three confessions, namely Christian, Mohammedan and Jew, would be without representation. His Majesty’s Government will also invite the Council of the League to appoint one of the members of the Commission as its first chairman by whatever procedure commends itself to the Council.
You will observe that His Majesty’s Government do not propose, in the draft Article which is now enclosed, to retain the obligation that the Commission shall necessarily ensure that certain Holy Places, religious buildings or sites are entrusted to the permanent control of suitable bodies. Nor have they attempted to define the exact number of members of whom the Commission shall be composed, beyond providing that the body shall be sufficiently large to ensure all interests being represented upon it.
The reason which has prompted His Majesty’s Government to suggest that prospective nominees shall be recommended under some international procedure, rather than by political or hierarchical authorities, is that it appears to them preferable that a body to which this responsible task is to be entrusted should not be composed of persons who might possibly be regarded as agents of a particular Power or community whose interests might be directly concerned. Political interests are fully safeguarded by the provisions that the appointment of the Commission shall be subject to the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, and that all reports presented by the Commission shall require their confirmation. Religious interests are equally well protected by the provisions that the Commission shall be in consultation with representatives of the confessions concerned, and that any religious confession which considers that the Mandatory is not giving effect to the provisions of the report may appeal to the Council of the League of Nations, who may require the Mandatory to reassemble the Commission.
His Majesty’s Government confidently expect that the Great Powers and confessions who are interested in Palestine, and who [Page 286] will, it is hoped, also be represented upon the Commission, will realise that the traditional policy of His Majesty’s Government, its application in Palestine, and the proposals now put forward for the Holy Places Commission are such as to dispel all legitimate apprehensions. They will invite the Council of the League to agree that no further political or religious safeguard is either necessary or practicable.
I have the honour to add that His Majesty’s Government regard the United States as one of the great powers interested in Palestine which should not be without representation upon the Commission. His Majesty’s Government confidently assume that the United States Government will welcome these fresh proposals as likely to show more clearly the precise intention of Articles 13 and 14 of the Palestine Mandate and to dispel the unfounded apprehensions which have been expressed in certain quarters on this subject.
I have [etc.]