Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Murray) to the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

Mr. Welles: Thank you very much for letting me have the information contained in your attached strictly confidential memorandum of your conversation with Dr. Chaim Weizmann on December 4.31 It is very interesting and very thought-provoking.

I note from Dr. Weizmann’s attached letter to you of December 932 that he has requested you to designate someone from the Department who under your guidance would discuss with him the problems of Palestine. Any of us whom you might wish to designate for this purpose is of course entirely at your and Dr. Weizmann’s disposal.

I would refer first to Mr. Churchill’s desire to make Ibn Saud “boss of bosses” in the Arab World, with the understanding that this would be accomplished if Ibn Saud were willing to work out with Dr. Weizmann a sane solution of the Palestine question. Three thoughts occur to me in this connection:

(1) I wonder whether it is possible to “make” Ibn Saud “boss of bosses” in the Arab World, since he has already become the master of the heart of the Arab World in the Arabian Peninsula by his own [Page 554] strong right arm and not by design of the British. As you will recall, the British experts on Arabia during the last World War picked out Hussein, Sherif of Mecca, as the coming man and the leader in the Arab World. Hussein was made the King of the Hejaz, and this position of prestige and authority among the Arabs was very soon challenged by Ibn Saud, then merely the Emir of the Nejd. The British experts had assumed that Ibn Saud could be kept quiet on British subsidy and would be content to rule over his Wahhabi Brethren in the heart of Arabia and would not interfere with the protégés either along the Persian Gulf or in the Holy Cities and along the Red Sea. This was a bad miscalculation. In 1924 Ibn Saud started hostilities against King Hussein, drove him out of Mecca and Medina and into exile at Cyprus, where he died in 1931.

In subsequent negotiations between Sir Gilbert Clayton and King Ibn Saud, resulting in the Treaty of Jidda,33 the King voluntarily renounced any British subsidy and was recognized as a fully independent sovereign over his present domains in the Arabian Peninsula.

In view of this sequence of events, it is doubtful whether Ibn Saud would relish a suggestion that the British could advance him to a position of primacy, which, as I have stated above, he secured without their aid or subsidy.

If by the term “Arab World” Mr. Churchill had in mind all lands inhabited by the Arab people, it seems to me that any plans for making Ibn Saud “boss” of all those areas is entirely out of the question and Ibn Saud would be the first to say so. The Arab World in the larger sense would include Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, in addition to the Arabian Peninsula. Ibn Saud is a Bedouin king and has achieved mastery among the Bedouin Arabs. While he has extended his ascendancy to the more or less settled areas of the Hejaz and while he might conceivably consider an extension to include Trans Jordan, it is not believed that he would be receptive to so impractical a suggestion as would be involved in granting him the overlordship even over the Arab lands of the “fertile crescent”, including Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine. Ibn Saud, though unsurpassed as a ruler of the desert Arabs, is not qualified to rule the more settled and developed portions of the Arab world where the art of government is infinitely more complex than it is in Central Arabia. Moreover, while the town Arabs can afford to admire Ibn Saud from afar, there is a deep gulf between the town and desert Arabs.

(2) As for the possibility of King Ibn Saud’s reaching an agreement with Dr. Weizmann for a sane solution of the Palestine question, it [Page 555] seems to me that that depends very largely upon what Dr. Weizmann, an ardent Zionist, would regard as “sane”. Unfortunately, the problem of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews has become an Arab question as well as a Jewish one, and the British themselves are largely responsible for having permitted, and even encouraged, the Arabs to establish a vested right in that burning question. Not only have the Arabs in neighboring Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Yemen, and Egypt been drawn into this unfortunate dispute, but even the sympathy of the Mohammedans of India for their coreligionists in the Arab World has become involved.

Ibn Saud is not only a great temporal but a spiritual leader of the Wahhabis, a fanatical Arab Moslem sect. It will be recalled in this connection that during the height of the disorders in Palestine, resulting from the Arab revolt in 1936, King Ibn Saud, after much meditation, decided to address a strong appeal to President Roosevelt34 urging that he give sympathetic consideration to the Arab claims in Palestine. This communication brought nothing more than a perfunctory acknowledgment.

In view of the above circumstances, and King Ibn Saud’s far-reaching fame and prestige as a leader of the Arab World, it is difficult to believe that he would be prepared, under the present circumstances at any rate, to acquiesce in any arrangement regarding the national home for the Jews in Palestine that would be acceptable to Dr. Weizmann and the Zionists in their present state of mind.

On the other hand, bearing in mind the very friendly discussions and apparent understandings reached during the Paris Peace Conference between King Feisal and Professor Frankfurter, which unfortunately failed to materialize because the Arabs felt that promises made to them at that time had not been fulfilled, I see no reason why a fresh start at such conversations might not again be undertaken between King Ibn Saud and Dr. Weizmann, if important assurances of a political nature could be given in advance to the King. These assurances would almost certainly entail an undertaking to renounce political Zionism in the future and any thought of Jewish control over any large section of Arabs resulting from unlimited Jewish immigration into the area. Moreover, it would be dangerous to assume that Ibn Saud’s writ will run in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where prominent public men have long since taken their stand on the Palestine question. Those leaders would have to be brought into the picture, as in the past, unless it is the intention to impose Ibn Saud on the Arab World.

By the above I do not wish to give the impression that I do not believe a practicable solution could be reached whereby greatly increased [Page 556] immigration into the Arab World might not be facilitated with the consent of the Arabs themselves. I am, on the other hand, convinced that such a modus vivendi could only be worked out along the lines suggested by Dr. Magnes of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; namely, that in any area of the Arab World where the Jews might be admitted in large numbers, the Arabs will always be in the majority and consequently there must be established between these two Semitic races full confidence and a mutual give-and-take, rather than any thought that Jewish ascendancy can be achieved or maintained either by foreign bayonets or by the power of Ibn Saud himself.

(3) We are in possession of very precise information furnished by competent observers in the field in Saudi Arabia that Ibn Saud would not be disposed to enlarge his present dependence upon Great Britain. During the present war, he has been hard-pressed for money due to the disruption of the pilgrim traffic, and has been obliged to accept subsidies from the British which now total around ten million pounds sterling. The Arabian Peninsula is already entirely surrounded by areas under British control. Along the Arabian Gulf we have the Arab sheikdoms in close treaty relations with Great Britain. To the north we have Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine also in treaty relation with Great Britain. Along the entire western coast of the Red Sea all the areas are under British control. Along the Gulf of Aden the British are entrenched in the Aden Protectorate and in the Hadhramaut.

There are clear indications that Ibn Saud would welcome a far greater American participation in his country than exists at the present time. American oil companies have obtained and are exploiting as 100 percent American enterprises, the rich oil concessions on the island of Bahrein and at Dhahran nearby in Saudi Arabia itself.

We have at present under consideration the possibility of obtaining landing rights incidental to the present military operations in that area. Since the air routes of the future must necessarily take Saudi Arabia into account and since American civilian aviation will certainly be one of the most important in the post-war world, that is another reason why we should seek closer relations and understanding with Ibn Saud.

All in all, therefore, it seems to me that in any effort to facilitate an understanding between the Zionist and Arab leaders, such an undertaking should be a joint American-British one in order to realize any measure of success. Our reputation in the Arab World is solidly established on confidence and good faith in our motives. This is an asset no longer possessed by the British and one which they should therefore be glad to exploit jointly with us.

Wallace Murray
  1. Ante, p. 550.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Treaty of friendship signed at Jidda, May 20, 1927, League of Nations Treaty Series, Vol. lxxi, p. 131.
  4. Dated November 29, 1938; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1938, Vol. ii, p. 994; for correspondence regarding President Roosevelt’s reply in January 1939, see ibid., 1939, Vol. iv, pp. 694696.