867N.01/1460

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Kennedy ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2138

Sir: I have the honor to report that on Friday last, February 17, the American Zionist leaders, Dr. Stephen S. Wise and Mr. Robert Szold, who are attending the current discussions in London on Palestine, called at the Embassy and discussed their impressions of the Conference.

Dr. Wise and Mr. Szold expressed concern over the trend which the discussions between the Jewish and British representatives had taken with respect to the problem of immigration into Palestine. According to Mr. Szold, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald had sought their reaction to a possible plan whereby the Jews would be granted a diminishing immigration quota for a term of years, at the end of which Jewish immigration would cease unless otherwise consented to by the Arabs. The figures would be determined on ‘the basis of Palestine’s economic absorptive capacity and political considerations as well.

The Jewish representatives, they said, had taken the position that any plan which meant a complete cessation of immigration would [Page 715] contravene the Mandate. They were, moreover, not disposed to accept a plan under which they would specifically commit themselves to remaining a permanent minority in Palestine.

There was some difference of opinion between Dr. Wise and Mr. Szold as to the precise terms of Mr. MacDonald’s suggestion and as to its exact significance. Dr. Wise regarded it as merely an idea for discussion, whereas Mr. Szold regarded it as representing what was more or less definitely in the British Government’s mind. Dr. Wise thought nevertheless that if it developed that such a plan were envisaged it might properly be brought to the attention of the Department of State in view of American interest in the Mandate.

It was suggested that in view of the importance of having the suggestion phrased with complete accuracy, Dr. Wise and Mr. Szold might let the Embassy have an informal memorandum on the matter. They indicated that they would be glad to do so.

Dr. Wise mentioned further that in the course of the discussions the British representatives had indicated that the strategic importance of a satisfactory settlement of the difficulties in Palestine was necessarily a paramount consideration at this time. Dr. Wise added that when he had later seen the Prime Minister on February 16, this point had been touched on and that Mr. Chamberlain had said that as British military strength increased with the execution of the Government’s rearmament program, the strategic aspect would assume diminishing importance.

Meanwhile Dr. Wise and Mr. Szold have thought better of the idea of providing the Embassy with the memorandum referred to last Friday. Mr. Szold called at the Embassy today and stated that Dr. Wise had been correct in his impression that Mr. MacDonald’s original suggestion had not been a proposal in any sense but merely an idea for discussion. Mr. Szold went on to say that since then Mr. Mac-Donald had advanced a further suggestion for a possible immigration scheme. Under this alternate scheme, the immigration quota for Palestine would be established for a term of five or ten years at a uniform annual figure. This would be worked out on a basis whereby at the end of the period the Jewish population of Palestine would not exceed a fixed percentage of the total, say 35 or 40 per cent. Under this scheme, Mr. Szold said, the annual figure would be smaller than under the previously discussed diminishing rate system, since the eventual cessation of immigration would not be provided for.

Mr. Szold added that the Jews were prepared to make concessions both as regards land purchases and immigration but that they felt that they could make little progress in working out the problem unless they could actually negotiate with the Palestine Arabs. They had in consequence made a definite proposal for a meeting with the Arabs. [Page 716] He believed that if such a meeting could be arranged, there was a possibility of coming to a working arrangement. He went on to say, however, that he felt that it had been a mistake to hold the present Conference while peace had not been restored in Palestine since any concessions which the Jews might be disposed to make would probably be taken by the Mufti as an encouragement to persist in his excessive demands.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Herschel V. Johnson

Counselor of Embassy