The Under Secretary of State ( Welles ) to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: I transmit the original of a communication addressed to you by His Majesty Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia,2 regarding the Palestine situation and the attitude of this Government with respect thereto. The original letter, of which a translation prepared by the American Legation in Cairo is also enclosed, was handed to the American Chargé d’Aflaires in that city by the Saudi Arabian Chargé d’Affaires there, and transmitted by the former to the Department.

With regard to King ibn Saud’s remarks concerning the position of President Wilson in respect of self-determination and the sending of a “Commission of Investigation” to the Near East in 1919, it may be helpful, for convenient reference, to set forth briefly the chronology of events. It will be recalled that President Wilson, in the twelfth of his Fourteen Points,3 urged that “the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”. In line with the foregoing principle Article XXII of the Covenant of the League of Nations4 accorded provisional recognition as independent nations to certain communities in the former Ottoman Empire, and stipulated that in selecting mandatories for such nations the “wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration”.

With a view to carrying out that stipulation it was agreed at Paris that commissions should be sent to the Near East to inquire into the situation and to submit a report thereon. It will be recalled that the other governments concerned refrained from sending such commissions but an American section, headed by Mr. Charles R. Crane and Dr. Henry Churchill Bang, did visit the Near East during the summer [Page 695] of 1919 and submitted a report, dated August 28, 1919.5 It is to this report that King ibn Saud refers in the fourth from the last paragraph of his letter. For convenience of reference I quote those of the Commission’s recommendations regarding Palestine which Bang ibn Saud apparently had in mind:

“If that principle (self-determination) is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than upon this. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people’s rights, though it kept within the form of law.”6

The conclusions of the Commission on the question of Palestine read as follows:

“In view of all these considerations, and with a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause, the Commissioners feel bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist program be attempted by the Peace Conference, and even that, only very gradually initiated. This would have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish Commonwealth should be given up.”7

Although we have had numerous communications from Arab notables and organizations protesting that the attitude of this Government favored the Zionist cause and was consequently anti-Arab, this is the first letter which we have had from an Arab Chief of State. As you are aware, the special position of the Arab States neighboring Palestine with reference to that country has been recognized by the British Government on several occasions, the most recent of which was in connection with the forthcoming London Conference called by the British Government to effect a settlement of the Palestine question, to which the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Transjordan, Egypt and Yemen have been invited to send official delegates. In view of the special position of the Arab States in respect of the Palestine question, and in view of the position of King ibn Saud as the outstanding Arab ruler and as the person most qualified to speak on behalf of the Arab people, it would seem that something more than a perfunctory acknowledgment should be made of his present communication.

I enclose for your consideration and your signature, if you approve, a reply to His Majesty which has been drafted with the foregoing [Page 696] considerations in mind. If you have some particular views which you desire to have incorporated in this communication, I shall be grateful if you will indicate their nature.

Faithfully yours,

Sumner Welles

Draft Letter From President Roosevelt to the King of Saudi Arabia ( Abdul Aziz ibn Saud )8

Your Majesty: I have been greatly pleased to receive Your Majesty’s letter of November 29, 1938, which was delivered by the Saudi Arabian Chargé d’Aflaires in Cairo on December 6 to the American Chargé d’Aflaires there, with regard to the Arab cause in Palestine.

As Your Majesty is no doubt aware, the Palestine situation is one which has engaged for long the attention of the American people. It is therefore with particular interest that I have read Your letter devoted to that subject.

The interest which the American people have in Palestine is based on a number of considerations. They include those of a spiritual character as well as those flowing from the rights derived by the United States in Palestine through the American–British Mandate Convention of December 3, 1924.9

The position of the United States with respect to Palestine has been set forth in a public statement issued by the Department of State on October 14, 1938,10 of which it gives me pleasure to transmit to Your Majesty a copy. I may add that this Government has never taken any position different from that which it has maintained from the beginning toward this question.

Your Good Friend,

  1. Ibid., p. 994.
  2. Ibid., 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 15.
  3. Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, pp. 69, 93.
  4. Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xii, p. 751.
  5. Ibid., p. 793.
  6. Ibid., pp. 794795.
  7. Apparently the President approved this reply, for a copy was transmitted to the Chargé in Egypt as an enclosure to instruction No. 357, January 17, 1939 (not printed). It was presented to the Saudi Arabian Chargé d’Affaires in Egypt on February 15.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, p. 212.
  9. Ibid., 1938, vol. ii, p. 953.