The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

No. 2094

Sir: Referring to my despatch No. 2079 of February 11, 1939 in which I reported that the first business meeting between the Jewish Delegation and the British Government representatives at the Palestine Conference in London had taken place on February 8 and that on that occasion Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, outlined the Jewish position with respect to future policy, I have the honor to enclose the text of a communiqué30 issued last night summarizing the Jewish case as presented by Dr. Weizmann.

The burden of Dr. Weizmann’s argument is that a common meeting ground for Jews and Arabs can only be found on the basis of the Mandate, implemented in spirit and in letter; large-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine on the principle of economic absorptive capacity; an active policy of development; and effective safeguards for the Jews against minority status.

The Jewish representatives, Dr. Weizmann said, entered the present Conference with the desire to be helpful and with a full recognition of the difficulties facing the British Government. There were, however, vital interests which they had to safeguard, and rights which they could not surrender, least of all at this, the blackest hour in Jewish history.

At the root of the Jewish problem, Dr. Weizmann stated, lay the homelessness of the Jewish people who everywhere were a minority. They had preserved their identity because of their attachment to Palestine and of their hope of a return to Zion. The claim to Palestine had never been abandoned; the Jewish community there had never ceased to exist; in every age groups of Jews had worked their [Page 708] way back to Palestine; and for the past sixty years active resettlement had gone on. The Balfour Declaration, he said, recognized those historic facts; and in the Preamble of the Mandate international recognition was “given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Dr. Weizmann then reviewed developments connected with the Peel32 and the Woodhead Reports,33 pointing out that the central point of the former was the proposal to partition Palestine and to set up a Jewish State and an Arab State. The Jews, he said, did not regard the proposal to divide Palestine as fulfilling the original promise of the Balfour Declaration, but they had agreed to explore the possibility of cooperating on the basis of the report because two guiding principles underlay it, namely, the Jews should have sole control of immigration in their allotted territory and they should be guaranteed there against becoming a minority. Those principles, he submitted, retained their binding force.

Moreover, the Royal Commission, he maintained, was satisfied that when the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, it realized that a Jewish State might eventually be established in Palestine. That important statement, he asserted, ruled out any artificial restriction on Jewish immigration and any relegation to minority status. He could not conceive that after twenty years, the British Government should seek an interpretation of the Mandate which might curtail those fundamental Jewish rights. Such a departure from a moral position, he said, would shake the British Empire to its foundation, for the bonds which rivet it together are purely moral bonds, composed of mutual faith and belief in the security of promises. The terms of reference of the Woodhead Commission, he continued, contained the germs of destruction of the Peel Report and the main conclusions reached by the Peel Commission were later shelved so that all that remained was the “political high level” for Jewish immigration.

Referring to suggestions that at the time of the Balfour Declaration, large scale immigration to Palestine was not envisaged, Dr. Weizmann asserted that this was erroneous; that Jewish distress had always been one of the foundations of the Zionist movement; but that apart from this, the Movement was built upon the homelessness of the Jews, which had itself produced the Jewish problem; and that it was essential that there should be one place where Jews should not be a fraction, an adjunct to something else, but themselves, masters of their own destinies.

Dr. Weizmann dismissed as offering little immediate relief to [Page 709] refugees projects for founding Jewish territorial bases elsewhere than in Palestine. The success of Jewish colonization in Palestine, he held, was due to the national and religious fervor behind the effort there and sixty years of pioneer preparation. Palestine, he asserted, was capable of absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees, and if it could not take all, that was hardly a reason for refusing to allow it to take as many as it could.

Alluding to the alleged conflicting promises made to Jews and Arabs, Dr. Weizmann stated that the British Government had repeatedly acknowledged that no such conflict existed with regard to Western Palestine; that Sir Henry McMahon had stated this, and that Colonel T. E. Lawrence had placed on record that Mr. Churchill’s settlement of 1921–22 fulfilled all Britain’s promises to the Arabs “in letter and in spirit.” Where there might have been a conflict of promises—in Transjordan—it had been solved 100% in favor of the Arabs.

Turning to the Arab claim that Palestine was an Arab country and should have an Arab National Government, Dr. Weizmann contended that this claim was not capable of realization. The Jews, he said, already formed one third of the population, and were responsible for two-thirds or more of the country’s economic and cultural activity. The Arabs professed to fear Jewish domination. The Jews, he said, did not wish to dominate the Arabs, but would not allow themselves to be dominated.

A meeting ground beneficial to both, Dr. Weizmann believed, could, as stated, be found only on the basis of the Mandate; large-scale Jewish immigration as determined by the absorptive capacity of the country; an active policy of development; and effective safeguards against minority status.

The respective points of view of the Jews and the Arabs have now been fully set forth by the two delegations and I understand that tomorrow the actual work of negotiation will begin and that the British representatives will start discussions of the opposing claims with each delegation in an effort to ascertain where compromise is possible.

Respectfully yours,

Herschel V. Johnson
  1. Not printed.
  2. British Cmd. 5479: Palestine Royal Commission Report, July 1937.
  3. British Cmd. 5854, October 1938.