The Consul General at Jerusalem (Wadsworth) to the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)

Dear Wallace: Further to the mention made in my letter of May 3143 to the so-called Magnes–Nuri conversation of February 6, last, I am now able to report fully to you personally the substance of a two hours’ conversation I had this morning with Dr. Magnes. He spoke freely but in strict confidence.

The genesis of the matter is to be found in the discussions and final resolution of the Jewish Agency Council meeting held in Switzerland last August following the World Zionist Congress. At this meeting, you will recall, the non-Zionist members, notably the so-called Warburg group, insisted that an effort be made to bring Jews and Arabs together on a solution other than Partition (please see my despatches Nos. 286 and 297 of August 20 and September 3, last44). The final resolution, while empowering the Executive to ascertain the precise terms for the establishment of a Jewish State, approved the convening of a conference to explore the possibilities of settlement “in an undivided Palestine”.

There followed informal Jewish (non-Zionist) efforts, both here and in the United States and in London, to explore the field opened by this resolution. The most successful were those made in London by Mr. Albert Hyamson, formerly Palestine Commissioner for Migration. Speaking for the group of English non-Zionists headed by Lords Samuel and Bearsted, he discussed the problem at length with Colonel S. S. Newcombe, Treasurer of the Arab Information Bureau in London and British representative of the then still-recognized Arab Higher Committee.

The result was the so-called Hyamson–Newcombe draft of a “suggested basis for discussion between Jewish and Arab representatives” dated October 9, 1937. Its text is the first of the three drafts annexed to Dr. Magnes’s letter of February 23, 1938, to Nuri Pasha (sent you as an enclosure to Knabenshue’s letter of March 3).

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This draft was sent from London to Dr. Magnes here. He discussed it at length with the Jewish Agency Executive which, while objecting to certain of its terms, eventually, on December 6, formally authorized him in writing to discuss it with Arab leaders.

On December 15 Dr. Magnes consulted with Bishop Graham-Browne and Dr. Izzat Tannous (leading Christian member of the Mufti’s party), with both of whom earlier conversations had been had, as to the most efficacious method of approaching the Mufti who had meanwhile established himself in Lebanon. It was decided that the Bishop should lay the matter before the Palestine Government. This he did, and the latter, by implication at least, gave the endeavor its blessing by authorizing Dr. Tannous to act as a go-between in arranging that the proposed discussions be held with the Arab (Mufti group) leaders in Beirut.

On December 22, Dr. Tannous having made the necessary arrangements, the Bishop went with him to Beirut. Nothing, however, came of this visit, for on the same day the Palestine press carried the Jewish Agency public denial of Arab-Jewish parleys and statement that the Arab assumption that the Jews would accept permanent minority status “ab initio voids the possibility of negotiations” (please see my Press Review of January 10, 193845). The Mufti, according to Dr. Magnes, “waved these reports in the Bishop’s face” and was “vigorously forthright” in declining to discuss the proposal until assured anew as to the Agency’s bona fides.

This Dr. Tannous was able to do and a meeting was finally set for January 12. It had first been arranged for January 4 but was postponed because of announcement that the British White Paper would be published on that date.

Here I should interpolate that Dr. Magnes assured me he at no time has personally seen or discussed the compromise proposals with the Mufti or with any of the fugitive members of the Arab Higher Committee. The Bishop was his willing intermediary.

Thus, on January 12 the Hyamson–Newcombe draft was for the first time seriously discussed with the Mufti by the Bishop and Dr. Tannous. The result was the Beirut counter-draft of that date, i. e., the second draft enclosed with Knabenshue’s above-mentioned letter to you.

This Arab draft, as you will have noted, differs fundamentally from the London draft in that, by omitting Art. 9, it provides for a definite rather than a temporary and renewable agreement. Specifically:

  • Art. 1 omits reference to the League.
  • Art. 2 by omitting “nationality” permits only those Jews who possess or acquire Palestinian citizenship to enjoy “complete political and civil rights.”
  • Art. 3 is unchanged.
  • Art. 4 omits reference to the Jewish National Home.
  • Art. 5 omits “districts”.
  • Art. 6 fixes the Jewish population at “the present population”, omits reference to Trans-Jordan, and brings in new references to the Arab Kings and to further land sales to Jews.
  • Art. 7 changes “watched over” to “guaranteed”.
  • Art. 8 apparently declines specifically to recognize “special British rights at Haifa.”

For your ready reference I enclose copies of the three drafts (covered by Dr. Magnes’s letter of February 23 to Nuri Pasha) although you have already received them from Knabenshue. I am afraid you will have to lay these three drafts out before you to appreciate the significance of my brief comments.

Dr. Magnes communicated this Arab counter-draft immediately to the Jewish Agency Executive which, he says, “turned it down flat”. And under date of January 25 it wrote him a letter “calling off the entire scheme” and adding a “scathing criticism” of his efforts as a negotiator. Particular exception was taken to the redraft of Art. 6, and he was taken to task for having apparently given the Mufti to believe that the Jews would accept permanent minority status.

In the circumstances Dr. Magnes undertook to submit in writing a full report of his activity. This was not done until February 21, and in the meantime his relations with the Agency Executive lapsed. It has, he believes, since endeavored to discredit him by fair means and foul both here and abroad, notably in London and in the United States. His greatest difficulty in dealing with its members, he says, was to get them to appreciate the difference between “a basis for discussion” and “formal negotiations.” But he is convinced, as am I from other sources as well, that Dr. Weizmann and the majority of its Zionist members had by this time definitely decided to orient their policy along strictly pro-Partitionist lines.

It was during this interim that the four-hour conversation took place in Beirut with Nuri Pasha. On February 4 the Bishop suggested it. It was had two days later, the four “private negotiators” being, as you know, Nuri Pasha, Dr. Magnes, the Bishop and Dr. Tannous. The result was the third of the three drafts herewith. It was not at the time submitted for Nuri’s initialing but its amendments were read to and approved orally by him. As drafted, they are based on verbatim notes made at the time by both Dr. Magnes and the Bishop. Specifically:

  • Art. 1 reintroduces reference to the League.
  • Art. 2 reintroduces “nationality”.
  • Art. 3 remains unchanged.
  • Art. 4 is as in the first draft except for the omission of reference to the Jewish National Home. Such reference, Nuri Pasha held, was unnecessary and gratuitous.
  • Art. 5 reintroduces “districts”.
  • Art. 6 continues to omit reference to Trans-Jordan but leaves the percentage of Jewish population open to both current discussion and possible future amendment.
  • Art. 7 uses both “watched over” and “guaranteed”.
  • Art. 8 is unchanged it being understood that legitimate British interests included special interests at Haifa.
  • Art. 9 is again omitted, but, in view of the amendment to Art. 6, the effect of such omission is somewhat cushioned.

At this point let me refer to and enclose a copy of a letter written by Dr. Magnes to the High Commissioner (Sir Arthur Wauchope) one week before the latter’s final departure on March 1. In the second enclosure to my last letter46 to you reference was made to Sir Arthur’s request therefor. It recounts briefly much of what I have reported above and then (middle of page 2) sets forth Nuri Pasha’s view that the Jews should accept permanent minority status both to attain peace here and to obtain “the open door for the settlement of many Jews in other Arab lands,” this latter being in line with what Dr. Magnes’ described as Nuri Pasha’s strongly Pan-Arab views.

After returning from the Nuri conversation and just prior to writing this letter Dr. Magnes had on February 21 submitted to the Agency Executive his promised full written report. It included a detailed account of the “private” conversation with Nuri Pasha. It was 18 pages in length with another 18 pages of documentation. It was approved by Dr. Hexter and other non-Zionist members. Its recommendation was that mentioned also in the Wauchope letter, i. e., that “the neighboring Arab States or Kings be influenced to propose to the Palestine Arab leadership an armistice between themselves and the Jews on the basis of a 10 year agreement at the end of which the Jews could not be more than 40 per cent of the population.”

Following the submission of this report an Agency Executive meeting was held. Chairman Ben-Gurion and other pro-Partitionists found in it only grounds to confirm their conviction that negotiation with the Arabs could serve no useful purpose; and it was decided to hold a second meeting at which Nuri Pasha’s views would be discussed and Dr. Magnes asked “to answer the charge” that he had given Nuri Pasha to understand that the Jews could be led to accept permanent minority status. This meeting has never taken place.

In conclusion, Dr. Magnes said there had been “no suite” of a private nature to the Beirut conversation, because Nuri Pasha had failed to answer his letter of February 23. His position, he added, [Page 925]was seriously prejudiced by this failure, even though he had been personally reassured as to Nuri Pasha’s correct understanding of his position by a specific assurance to that effect conveyed to the Bishop in a letter written by Dr. Tannous after talking with Nuri Pasha following the latter’s return to Lebanon at the end of March.

I trust I have not reported this matter in too great detail. It is, of course, interesting per se, but, on top of that it goes far towards confirming an impression I have gathered lately in a number of conversations with colleagues and British officials that any Zionist talk of having vainly extended or readiness to extend the hand of friendship to the Arabs is pure and simple “eye-wash”. Zionist leaders here, as I indicated above, have pretty clearly determined to press by every means in their power for a Jewish State in a part—the largest obtainable part—of Palestine as against the only obvious alternative, minority status in the whole. No one with whom I have talked doubts it is to endeavor to convince American Jewry of the soundness of that view that Dr. Weizmann left Palestine at this time with the avowed intention of visiting the United States.

A final point: In my last letter I mentioned a military intelligence report that Dr. Weizmann hopes to induce American Jewry to subscribe $10,000,000 for Palestine (Jewish) defense. In a subsequent conversation with Mrs. Rose Jacobs (American non-Zionist member of the Agency Executive) I obtained partial confirmation of this report. Her understanding, she said, was that Dr. Weizmann wanted some such figure subscribed but in the form of an underwriting of a Jewish State establishment loan for defense and other purposes.

Mrs. Jacobs is, of course, a convinced anti-Partitionist. She also left Palestine on June 2, on the same ship which bore Dr. Weizmann. She will spend her summer preaching her views in the United States, to strengthen what she described as a growing anti-Partitionist sentiment among a majority of American Jewry. Do, please, mention in your next letter whether you believe this last observation to be accurate.

Sincerely yours,

G. Wadsworth

The President of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem (Magnes) to the British High Commissioner for Palestine (Wauchope)

Dear Sir Arthur Wauchope: I have given much consideration to your suggestion to send you a statement on the present status of the conversations I have been having, as you are aware, on Jewish-Arab relations.

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I would prefer that this statement, which I am glad herewith to give, be for you personally, and not, as you were good enough to suggest, for transmission to the Secretary of State or to the incoming High Commissioner.

From our talks you know my attitude, and I know yours, and I am sure that your great desire for the peace of the Holy Land will continue to influence the course of affairs.

The Jewish Agency authorized me on December 6, 1937, to try to bring about a secret, unofficial, preliminary meeting with representative Arabs. The purpose of this meeting was to be, to find out if formal negotiations between Jewish representatives and Arab representatives could be entered into. It had been proposed by me to the Agency that the basis of discussion at this first preliminary meeting be a text that had been drawn up in London by Colonel Newcombe and Mr. Hyamson.

The Jewish Agency did not agree with all the points in this text. But they were ready to meet with it as the basis for discussion, provided the Arab representatives were also ready to do this.

You will find the text in the attached Appendix: Text No. 1.

As you are aware, Dr. Graham-Browne, Dr. I. Tannous and I had a number of meetings. Dr. Graham-Browne and Dr. Tannous also visited Beyrouth.

The upshot of this was the preparation of another text (Text No. 2 in the appendix) which gives the views of the Palestine Arabs in Beyrouth. These Arabs were ready to meet with the Jewish Agency, but only with this amended text as the basis of discussion.

The Jewish Agency refused to meet with this amended text as the basis of discussion, because the amendments had radically changed many important points, as a comparison of the two texts will show.

The Jewish Agency declared that in view of the attitude of the Arabs in Beyrouth, this document could no longer be considered by the Jewish Agency in any form.

Nevertheless, in my personal capacity I met with Dr. Graham-Browne, Dr. Tannous and Nouri Pasha Said in Beyrouth on February 6, 1938.

As a result of this long conversation, Nouri Pasha declared his willingness to be of every possible service.

He thought the original Hyamson–Newcombe text suitable as a basis for discussion. He proposed text No. 3 in the attached appendix.

I told Nouri Pasha that his suggestions in his paragraph No. 6 were an advance in the right direction, but that they were not yet good enough.

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The chief difference of opinion between Nouri Pasha and myself was as follows:

Nouri Pasha thought any agreement between Jews and Arabs must be permanent. He was opposed to a provisional agreement, which I called an Armistice. In his opinion the Jews should accept permanent minority status in Palestine. That would not only give them peace here, but also the open door for the settlement of many Jews in other Arab lands.

My contention was that the Jews would not accept permanent minority status. If a proposal could be made whereby at the end of 10 years the Jews could form 40% of the whole population, there was a chance of putting that through with the aid of those Jews in America, England, Palestine and elsewhere who were opposed to Partition.

I expressed the opinion also that this would carry among the Arabs as well.

You will notice that the Arabs in Beyrouth seem to be looking for some kind of outside “authorization” before they can bidge [sic] on immigration figures or land sales.

The question therefore is: How can that authorization be secured; and if secured, how can it be made of such a nature that the Jews also will fall in with it?

In my opinion this means: How can the neighbouring Arab States or Kings be influenced to propose to the Palestine Arab leadership an armistice between themselves and the Jews upon the basis of a 10 year agreement at the end of which the Jews could be no more than 40% of the population?

With my very best wishes for the complete restoration of your health, I am,

Sincerely yours,

[File copy not signed]
  1. Not printed.
  2. Neither printed; despatch No. 286 is missing from Department files.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.