The Minister Resident in Iraq (Knabenshue) to the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)
[Received April 19.]
Dear Wallace: In my letter of February 26th,27 I gave you an inkling of the negotiations which have been taking place between Dr. Magnus28 and the Mufti as related to me by Nuri Pasha when he came to see me recently. I mentioned that I had reported it fully in a despatch which would go off by next pouch. However, since then I have decided, for various reasons, not to report it in a formal official despatch, but to give it to you in this personal letter for the informal strictly confidential information of the Department, for it contains dynamite and should be carefully guarded.
Nuri left Baghdad on December 15, 1937, for Syria, Egypt and London. He returned to Baghdad on February 8th, 1938, and on February 22nd came to see us to pay a personal friendly visit. After a time, my wife tactfully withdrew. I soon found an opportunity of asking him about his alleged proposal for the unification of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq. He thereupon related to me an account of his conversations with various parties engaged in efforts to bring about a settlement of the Arab-Jewish problem in Palestine.
With regard to his alleged proposal of the amalgamation of Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan, Nuri said that upon his arrival at Damascus he received a letter from Ibn Saud29 saying that it had been reported to him that he (Nuri) had made such a proposal. It was evident from Ibn Saud’s letter, Nuri said, that he was not at all pleased with such an arrangement. Nuri replied that he had never made such a concrete proposal; that he had merely talked about an ultimate confederation of independent Arab states in respect to close [Page 904]economic, social and cultural relations and not the establishment of a central federal government of Arab states. Nuri explained to me that he had entertained the idea of endeavoring to bring about such confederation beginning first with Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan before attacking the Jewish problem in Palestine, for he believed that thereby the Arabs could be made to feel that with a large area comprised of independent, sovereign Arab states in close relations with each other, with a preponderant Arab majority, they could with impunity and without fear absorb a larger number of Jews and thus satisfy in some measure Jewish ambitions in respect to immigration and perhaps also make other concessions to meet their more reasonable demands. This scheme was predicated upon the assumption that Palestine and Transjordan (or the two latter amalgamated as one) should be independent Arab states. His proposal in effect was to open up Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq to Jewish immigration under appropriate rules and regulations and limitations, and to accord such Jews certain liberal electoral, parliamentary and other political and economic rights.
However, Nuri said that he afterwards decided that the better method of approach would be first to bring about a settlement of the Arab-Jewish problem in Palestine, if possible, mutually satisfactory to the British, Jews and Arabs.
From Damascus Nuri went to Beirut. Upon his arrival there he learned from the Mufti that Dr. Magnus (President of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) had recently been in Beirut in consultation with him, with a view to arriving at a solution of the Palestine problem mutually satisfactory to Jews and Arabs. A few days later, Dr. Magnus returned to Beirut when he learned that Nuri was there, and held conversations with Nuri and the Mufti. Dr. Magnus claimed that he represented the Jews and was authorized to enter into conversations with Arab leaders in an effort to bring about a mutually satisfactory settlement. He offered a plan based on nine primary considerations, which, in effect, constituted a Jewish acceptance of a minority position in an Arab state of Palestine.
Dr. Magnus explained that the British, American and German Jews were fearful of the consequences which they believed would arise out of any partition scheme such as proposed by the Royal Commission. What they desired primarily was the right to establish a spiritual and cultural home for the Jews in Palestine under suitable guarantees and the enjoyment of minority political rights in the government and administration of the country without a desire to dominate it politically.
The Mufti told Dr. Magnus that before the Supreme Moslem Council (most of whom are now in Syria and the Lebanon) could [Page 905]enter into negotiations with him, it would be essential for him to present to them credentials showing that he was in fact authorized to represent the Jews. Dr. Magnus said that he would return at once to Jerusalem and secure the necessary credentials.
Nuri said that after a few days he received from Jerusalem a copy of an official communiqué issued by the Jewish Executive Committee which was to the effect that the Jews would not accept a minority position in an Arab state.
Nuri then went to London where he held conversations with a number of Jews interested in the Palestine problem, notably Dr. Weizmann, Norman Bentwich30 and Hyamson,31 and with numerous British personalities also interested in the problem, particularly Ormsby-Gore. The Jews with whom Nuri talked confirmed what Dr. Magnus had said in respect to the attitudes of British, American and German Jews. Ormsby-Gore, however, told him that the British Government is committed to the partition scheme, unless the technical commission which is about to proceed to Palestine should report that it is not practicable of operation. Nuri discussed the situation fully and frankly with him, including his talks with Dr. Magnus.
Nuri said that he had told Ormsby-Gore that the time had come when the British Government should make an open and frank declaration of policy with regard to Palestine. First, that if they intend to establish partition by force, the only way it could be established, they should so declare it and proceed to enforce it, but I gather from what he said that he had warned him that if this policy were followed, it would create a new picture, as he expressed it, in the Near East, which would be bound to have repercussions throughout the various Arab territories and would undoubtedly result in more harmful consequences to the large number of Jews already established in those territories than could be counteracted by the good (if any) it would bring to the few Jews who could be settled in Palestine. On the other hand, he told Ormsby-Gore that if the British Government were to support the proposal of an Arab state with a Jewish minority protected under adequate guarantees, enjoying proportionate representation, etc., peace would be restored and maintained and the way would be opened to better and happier relations between Arabs and Jews and room made for a further expansion of Jews throughout the Arab territories. Ormsby-Gore replied that the Central and Eastern European Jews, who formed the majority of the Jewish diaspora, were opposed to this. Nuri’s response was that in his opinion, the British Government should more properly be influenced by the wishes of the [Page 906]British, American and German Jews than by Central and Eastern European Jews.
Nuri said that Ormsby-Gore expressed realization of the impracticability of creating a Jewish state in which there would be an Arab majority. For instance, said he, if Haifa and Jerusalem were left out of the proposed Jewish state, the majority of the population left in the areas which the Royal Commission suggested, would, with the exception of a few centers like Tel Aviv, be composed of Arabs. Ormsby-Gore seemed to appreciate that in spite of the large number of Jews in Jerusalem, it would be impracticable to include that city in the Jewish state. As for Haifa, Ormsby-Gore made it plain to him that Great Britain’s position in the Mediterranean made it essential that that port must become a British naval base outside the area of either a Jewish or Arab state or at least in accordance with the terms of a treaty of alliance.
I may insert here that the Mufti had told Nuri that, in the event of an Arab state being created with a Jewish minority, the Arabs would be quite willing to have the various holy places in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in the country, under the guardianship of a foreign commission.
On Nuri’s return to Beirut, he received a telephone message from Dr. Magnus asking him to wait there for a few days until he (Magnus) could go to Beirut to see him. Upon his arrival, Dr. Magnus was accompanied by the Bishop in Jerusalem, The Right Rev. Graham Browne, and Dr. Izzat Tannous.32 These three held conversations with Nuri and the Mufti. Dr. Magnus offered some slight amendments to his original draft proposal, which Nuri believes will be acceptable to the Arabs. Nuri also made suggestions. Dr. Magnus said that he would return to Jerusalem and endeavor to persuade the Jewish Executive Committee to accept these proposals in principle and to appoint a committee to go to Syria to hold conversations with an Arab committee in some secluded spot. He told Nuri that “if you do not hear from me within two weeks, you will know that I have failed with the Jewish Executive Committee.” This was on February 7th. Up to February 22nd, when Nuri came to see me, he had received no communication from Dr. Magnus. Nuri said that Magnus had told him that in the event of the Jewish Executive Committee’s refusing to negotiate on these terms, a split would be brought about in the Jewish world as between the American, British and German Jews on the one hand and the Central and Eastern European Jews on the other.
Reverting to the question of partition, Nuri said that if such a scheme were attempted, the area given over to a Jewish state would of necessity have to be smaller than that visualized by the Royal Commission for otherwise the population would embrace an Arab majority, [Page 907]an obviously impossible situation if peace is to be an important consideration. Even an Arab minority in a Jewish state would, said Nuri, be unsatisfactory, for, he explained, the Arabs fear that, in such an arrangement, the Arabs would, in a relatively short space of time be forced or squeezed out through various kinds of persecutions on the part of the police and other Jewish government agencies. He said that whenever an Arab would be convicted in a Jewish court it would be claimed by the Arabs a consequence of false charges, and the action would be interpreted and given publicity by the Arabs as persecution. Nuri mentioned these things simply as examples of the discord which would arise and cause bad relations between Arabs and Jews in consequence of any partition scheme.
Reverting to the confederation proposal, Nuri said that the Arab states are already being brought closer and closer in cultural, social and economic relations as exemplified by the recent Arab medical congress held in Baghdad attended by Arab doctors from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and also by the numerous delegates from other Arab states who attended the recent memorial services for the late Yasin Pasha al-Hashimi.33 More particularly, he pointed out that they have adopted a more or less common foreign policy. For instance, said he, Iraq has a treaty of alliance with Great Britain as has also Egypt. If a new Arab state is created in Palestine, there will also be a treaty of alliance with Great Britain. Iraq has a nonaggression pact with Saudi Arabia and with the Yemen. It is obvious, he said, that in view of these circumstances and in the event of a world war the Arab states will take common action and the treaties of alliance now with Great Britain would throw the Arabs on the side of the British. Syria will also have a treaty of alliance with France and thus with the French and British as allies, Syria would follow on parallel lines with the other Arab states.
Another point mentioned by Nuri was that he hoped the British, American and German Jews would be able to prevail upon the others and thus permit negotiations to be commenced with the Arabs as soon as possible, in the hope that a solution of the problem, mutually satisfactory, might be reached before the new British Commission to Palestine could present its conclusions in the matter. He explained that this would create a much better atmosphere and put Arab-Jewish relations on a much more friendly and sounder basis than if such an arrangement would come in consequence of a report of the Commission. Obviously, he said, it would be easier to implement a solution which had been mutually agreed upon between the two parties than a solution which had been forced upon them.[Page 908]
On March 2nd, I received a strictly confidential letter from Wadsworth, enclosing a letter from Dr. Magnus for me to deliver to Nuri in my discretion. I gave the matter considerable thought and decided that I would give Nuri the letter. I telephoned to him and he came to see me that evening. It is entirely possible that Wadsworth took copies of Dr. Magnus’ letter and its enclosures and sent them to you, but on the off chance that he has not done so, I am enclosing them herewith. You will note that Dr. Magnus complains to Nuri that word had come from London that Nuri had reported that he, Dr. Magnus, favored a permanent minority status for Jews in Palestine, while Magnus insists that he had only favored a provisional minority status based upon a term of years. Nuri pointed out to me that in the original Hyamson-Newcombe34 draft it was provided that the maximum Jewish population should not exceed an agreed figure which would be less than 50% of the total population, while the Hyamson-Newcombe draft as amended by the Mufti in Beirut insisted upon the Jewish population remaining at the present ratio. On the other hand, in the third draft “as amended by a prominent non-Palestine Arab” (who was, in fact, Nuri) provided for a maximum Jewish population of “X%”. Nuri said that this was understood to be a percentage afterwards to be arrived at, but less than 50%. He said the Jews would demand not less than 40% and the Arabs would offer 30% and it would probably end in a compromise figure of 35%.
Nuri was at a loss to know how the report came from London to Magnus, and he said that he had only discussed the matter in Baghdad with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the British Chargé d’Affaires, myself, and, on that same day (March 2nd) with the King. It is obvious that during his conversations when in London he undoubtedly gave the impression of which Magnus complains, and it was in consequence of his discussions there that the word got back to Magnus in Jerusalem.
It seems to me that Magnus is hedging, because he fears to have the Jewish opposition believe that he is in favor of a permanent Jewish minority status. My own impression is that he negotiated along these lines with Nuri and the Mufti, but probably with a mental reservation that ultimately there might be a Jewish majority. Nuri said that the Arabs certainly would not agree, at this time, to any clause which might indicate a future Jewish majority. He said that if they could arrive at an agreement on the basis of 35% now, it is possible that after a term of ten years or more, if relations between the Jews and Arabs become cordial, the Jewish proportion might then be increased somewhat, but certainly never beyond 50%. But he also said if they come to an amicable settlement now, it would open the way [Page 909]for the Jews to bring in a larger number of immigrants in the Near East, spread over Transjordan and Iraq and possibly even Syria and Saudi Arabia, especially if a closer confederation of these states should materialize.
I have offered to send Nuri’s reply to Wadsworth for delivery to Magnus. I have agreed to do this because otherwise I would not be able to see it. I will send it by sealed pouch by airmail.
The propriety of my acting as intermediary in the transmission of these letters is probably questionable, but after considering the matter carefully, I decided that it was justifiable. In the first place, Nuri is undoubtedly the most important personality in Iraq, and I suspect that he will be the next Prime Minister or at least Foreign Minister. (Perhaps both.)35 Secondly, I am merely acting as a friendly intermediary in negotiations which have peace as their object, in a very vexed international problem. And thirdly, in so doing, we are able to be accurately informed of what is actually taking place.
I am expecting Nuri to bring his reply to me either today or tomorrow, and I will therefore leave this letter open until the last moment before the pouch closes the day after tomorrow.
It is my intention to send only one copy of this letter to you and one copy to Wadsworth and retain one copy for my strictly confidential file.
Sunday, March 6, 1938.
Nuri has not yet come to me with his reply to Dr. Magnus. The past week has been a rather hectic one in political circles, about which I am writing you separately, and I assume that Nuri has been too busy to attend to the other matter. As the pouch goes out within a few hours, I will therefore have to send this letter without a copy of Nuri’s reply.
- Not printed.↩
- Judah Leon Magnes, president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.↩
- King of Saudi Arabia.↩
- Formerly Attorney General for the Government of Palestine.↩
- Albert Hyamson, formerly Director, Department of Immigration, for the Government of Palestine.↩
- Leading Christian member of the Mufti’s party.↩
- Former Prime Minister of Iraq, overthrown by the coup d’état in 1936.↩
- Col. S. S. Newcombe, Treasurer of the Arab Information Bureau in London.↩
- Gen. Nuri es-Said became Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Iraqi Cabinet on December 26, 1938.↩