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

No. 2191

Sir: Referring to my telegram No. 279 of February 28, 5:00 p.m.,42 transmitting an outline of suggestions put forward on February 24 by the British delegation for a solution of the constitutional problem in Palestine and the text of a declaration of February 27 made by the Jewish delegation stating that it did not regard the British suggestions as forming a basis for further discussions, I have the honor to report that with those developments the Palestine Conference has entered upon a critical period and that while “formal” discussions between the British and Jewish delegations are in abeyance, “informal” discussions are still going on.

The British suggestions were first tentatively put forward in the second of the informal meetings between the British, Jewish and Arab States’ delegates which took place on February 24. That meeting was very brief. Less than half an hour after it began, Emir Feisal stated that he would not feel justified in commenting on the British suggestions until they had been submitted to the Palestinian Arab delegation. This view was supported by the other Arab delegates (Egyptian and Iraqi) and it was accordingly agreed that the British suggestions should be submitted to all the Arab delegations before future tripartite meetings should be held. On the other hand, parallel discussions by the British with each side were to be resumed on Monday, February 27.

The situation rapidly deteriorated over the week-end. The tenor of the British suggestions found their way into the press both in England and abroad. Moreover, the Executive of the Jewish Agency which was considering the British suggestions came to the conclusion that they did not form a basis for further discussion and this also became publicly known. The British press of Monday morning, February 27, carried reports that the Jewish delegates would not continue further formal discussions on the basis of the British suggestions; that the American Zionist leaders attending the Conference had tentatively [Page 721] booked passage to the United States for Wednesday, March 1; and that the Jewish delegates would not find it possible to be present at a luncheon scheduled for that day to which they had been invited by the British Government.

The aspect of breakdown led to discussion in the House of Commons that afternoon and in reply to a question Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, the Colonial Secretary, stated that the British delegation had laid before the Arab and Jewish delegations separately a series of suggestions and that they were still the subject of discussion with both groups. At the present stage, he said, he was not in a position to make any public announcement. Unfortunately, he added, incomplete and, in some respects, misleading press reports had been published. He desired to appeal to the House of Commons and to the wider public to withhold judgment until an authoritative statement could be made. This would be done when the negotiations, which were proceeding, were further advanced. They were still fluid.

While the Jewish delegation has declined to continue “formal” discussions on the basis of the British suggestions, “informal” conversations took place yesterday and another meeting is scheduled for to-day.

Meanwhile, the Arabs have been giving consideration to the British suggestions and are to give their considered reaction to them to-day.

A member of the Embassy staff yesterday discussed the general situation with Mr. C. W. Baxter, Chief of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office, who stated that the British authorities had been puzzled by the extreme reaction of the Jewish representatives. When the suggestions had been originally advanced on Friday, February 24, Dr. Weizmann and Mr. Ben-Gurion had apparently not regarded them as devoid of any basis for discussion. The suggestions, Mr. Baxter added, had not been meant to be final. The British Government had other suggestions to make. As for the Jewish objections that the suggestions made no mention of the Balfour Declaration or the Jewish National Home, the British Government had intended to make appropriate reference to those matters later.

Mr. Baxter made available a summary of the British suggestions and requested that they be kept confidential. A copy had previously been given the Embassy by Dr. Wise and was quoted in the Embassy’s telegram No. 279 of February 28, 5:00 p.m.

As the memorandum was restricted to the constitutional question, inquiry was made whether suggestions had also been put forward regarding the problems of immigration and land sales. Mr. Baxter said that those problems had been touched upon orally at different times. Nothing, however, had been put in writing.

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With regard to immigration, Mr. Baxter confirmed the general features of the schemes outlined in the Embassy’s despatch No. 2138 of February 22, 1939, though his observations were somewhat less precise.

With regard to land sales, he said that there had been discussion of the idea of dividing Palestine, for purpose of sales to Jews, into three areas in which such sales would be (a) forbidden, (b) restricted, (c) unrestricted. He indicated that no progress had been made with regard to acceptance of the principle.

The Conference has thus apparently arrived at an extremely difficult stage. The Manchester Guardian (February 28) suggests that there is still a hope that it may be nursed back to health by informal talks. While this may be a possibility, it is difficult thus far to discern any progress toward an agreed solution. The press has been remarkably restrained in its comments but one or two papers have suggested that it is already clear that the British Government will in the end have to impose a solution on its own responsibility.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Herschel V. Johnson

Counselor of Embassy
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