The Consul General at Jerusalem (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

No. 529

Sir: Political discussion in Palestine during the last fortnight, I have the honor to report, has centered around British Government intentions in the matter of Palestine settlement. That the mot d’ordre in London is postponement of any positive action is the general consensus of opinion. Some clarification in the European situation must first, it is held, render possible general settlement of the Mediterranean problem of which the Palestine question, like that of Spain, is but one of several component elements.

That, in sum, is the conclusion now reached by most well-informed local observers in the light of the discussion which has followed the publication six weeks ago of the British White Paper of January 4 (despatch No. 503 of January 8). Positive action to render effective the Royal Commission’s recommendation of tripartite Partition, it is argued, would have been readily possible in the event of assent thereto by both Arabs and Jews. In the absence of such assent the Partition policy could be carried out only by the use of force, i. e., by imposing it. To such a course of action, every local British official assures me, His British Majesty’s Government is not prepared to resort even if, as appears highly unlikely, the approval of Geneva could be obtained.

As a matter of fact Arab assent has not been forthcoming. On the contrary the Partition policy has met with increasing opposition by a preponderance of Arab opinion not only in Palestine but also in neighboring Arab countries. An imposed Partition would go far towards alienating the already undermined and wavering traditional friendship of the Arab World. Avoidance of any such development, especially during the current period of European tension, is an obvious dictum of Empire strategy.

Further, the Jewish camp is divided within itself. A considerable body of Zionist Jews under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Chaim Weizmann—notably a preponderant proportion of Palestine Jewry—has come to accept Partition as the less unpalatable of two generally recognized alternatives—a Jewish State in part of Palestine or minority [Page 900]status in an Arab State embracing the whole (minus, presumably, an area embracing the Holy Places under permanent mandate). At the same time, according to report in local Jewish circles, there is marked and growing opposition to this view in important circles of British and American Jewry.

As phrased by Dr. Maurice Hexter, able American non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency Executive recently returned from a visit to the United States, Western Jewry envisages with no little foreboding the setting-up of a Jewish State in which the preponderant majority must necessarily bear the stamp of long-persecuted, less-culturally-developed Eastern European Jewry. One should not forget, he emphasizes, that part of the Balfour Declaration21 which provides that in facilitating establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people “nothing shall be done which may prejudice … the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

These various considerations are, of course, largely but a recapitulation of views reported in my earlier despatches as having been expressed by various competent observers in Palestine. My point is that they are today more generally accepted—and this in the face of the following-quoted statement reported by Reuter as having been made in Parliament on February 9, last, by the British Colonial Secretary, Mr. Ormsby-Gore:22

The Government regards the policy of Partition as the best means in existing circumstances for implementing the promise regarding the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.

The continuation of acts of terrorism will not deter the Government from the further inquiries necessary to prepare a definite scheme.

In answering further questions the Colonial Secretary was reported to have added that no one more than he regretted the delay in the departure of the projected Technical Commission and to have replied with a curt “Certainly” to a query as to whether it is true that “the Government are anxious to get on as rapidly as possible with Partition.”

These apparently categorical assurances are discounted in local discussion. The White Paper itself envisages that the Commission’s investigations will “occupy many months”, and the possibility of eventual adoption of some solution other than Partition is not debarred. That the Government wishes to have in hand at a reasonably early date a carefully-prepared detailed scheme of Partition is not [Page 901]questioned, but that the field of activity of the new High Commissioner who is to assume office next month is to be limited to preparing the ground for the putting into effect of such a scheme is termed absurd. The Chief Secretary in after-dinner conversation last week, in begging a question as to what plan of settlement was being advocated by Nuri Pasha as-Said (please see my current Press Review23), observed that politically the situation could perhaps best be described by parodying the negro spiritual “I’ve got wings, they’ve all got wings, etc.”, by substituting “plans” for “wings”.

A further point of considerable interest was made on another occasion last week by Dr. Hexter (see above) and the Honorable Edwin Samuel (son of Lord Samuel, former High Commissioner). Dr. Hexter, in reiterating his conviction that Mr. Ormsby-Gore stands almost alone in the British Cabinet in his staunch advocacy of Partition, recounted as an unquestionable fact that the famous Cabinet meeting of July 1, last, at which the British Statement of Policy adopting the Royal Commission’s Report was approved, had lasted but one hour and 18 minutes and had had on its agenda, besides the Palestine problem, questions of major British policy with respect to the Far Eastern and Spanish questions.

It should be obvious, therefore, Dr. Hexter argued, that the Partition policy was railroaded through the Cabinet and that there existed serious ground for considering as true the subsequent reports of ensuing Cabinet dissension as to the propriety of that policy. Mr. Ormsby-Gore, he believed, had assured his colleagues that Partition could be made palatable to a majority of both Arabs and Jews. Subsequent developments had proven him wrong. Today, Dr. Hexter concluded, there could be no doubt that the Colonial Secretary’s further tenure of office was dependent on his making good that assurance. With this final comment Mr. Samuel, who had but shortly before discussed the same question with his father in Egypt, was in full accord.

I have since noted in a BOWP report of February 15 that Mr. Ormsby-Gore has “indicated … that he proposed to retire from the House of Commons at the end of the present term of Parliament in 1940.” The local Arabic daily Falastin of February 16 in welcoming this news suggested that the date of retirement would be advanced unless the exercise of Jewish influence should result in his retaining office. Ad-Difa’a of the same date commented: “It is not so much the imminent resignation of the Colonial Secretary as the withdrawal of the Partition policy which is important.”

Respectfully yours,

George Wadsworth
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1917, supp. 2, vol. i, p. 317, footnote 1.
  2. United Kingdom, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th ser., vol. 331, p. 1074.
  3. Not printed.