The American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East (Landis) to President Roosevelt 12

Dear Mr. President: I have given much thought to your inquiry as to what you might say to King Ibn Saud in an effort to bring about a rapprochement to the Palestine problem.13

You must be warned in the first instance that Ibn Saud both personally and as a political matter feels very intensely about this subject. He has refused to date any suggestions emanating from emissaries of the United States that there might be some middle ground [Page 681]on this issue.14 Only recently he threatened in the presence of one of my people to see to the execution of any Jew that might seek to enter his dominion. One of his most important advisers, Sheik Izzidine Shawa, is a Palestinian Arab who spent his early life fighting the Jewish movement in Palestine and his later years in fleeing from the British because of these activities. Politically Ibn Saud represents the Moslem sect15 that is the spearhead of the true pan-Islam movement and that is unwilling to have any dealings with Infidels, not to say Jews. Indeed of recent years Ibn Saud has had to defend against increasing hostility his actions in being friendly with Christians and admitting them into the country.

I say this by way of introduction to indicate that no suggestion of yours with regard to Palestine that does not go to the root of the matter is likely to advance very far. For that very reason it may be wise for you to avoid the issue as much as possible unless you are prepared to make some far-reaching proposals. You will, of course, know best as to whether you are prepared to make such proposals. From my observations I do not believe that the State Department is yet prepared to do so. It does not seem to have concentrated on the possible solutions there are to this question and explored them, as it should in the first instance with some of the outstanding trustworthy Jews. A vacillating policy with reference to Zionism, as the past twenty years have proved, is the equivalent of no policy.

An approach to this problem must start from an insistence that the objective of the Jewish Commonwealth or the Jewish State as distinguished from the Jewish National Home must be given up. The political objective implicit in the Jewish State idea will never be accepted by the Arab nations and is not consistent with the principles of the Atlantic Charter.16 Nor is it demanded by the Mandate17 or the [Page 682]Balfour Declaration.18 But given an adequate conception of the Jewish National Home together with the political limitations that must be placed on that conception, it should be possible to sell that conception to the Jews and to the Arabs as well. The one great stumbling block is the question of immigration. That question at the present possesses a significance that it should not possess because of its relationship to the political as distinguished from the economic future of Palestine. In other words, if the extent of immigration can be related to the economic absorptive capacity of Palestine rather than to the political issue of a Jewish minority or majority, there is a hope of striking an acceptable compromise even on the immigration question with the Arabs. This is particularly true now for I believe that the economic absorptive capacity of Palestine has been grossly exaggerated.

Finally, Palestinian policy must become an international responsibility. The British cannot be asked to carry it alone, nor can a steadfast policy be set and adhered to without whole-hearted Russian support. Without that support rifts will immediately appear of which discontented Arabs or Jews will avail themselves and vacillation among the Great Powers will once again occur.

I have not tried to give you an essay on this issue or to do other than forward general suggestions as I believed you wanted only general ideas at this time. I hope they may be of some use to you. I envy you your trip to that area and only wish you had some need for someone to carry your seventeenth brief-case.

With every hope and every wish,

Sincerely yours,

James M. Landis
  1. Copy obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.
  2. Preparations were being made at this time for the tripartite conference between President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill, and Soviet Chairman (Premier) Stalin scheduled to begin at Yalta on February 4; for documentation concerning the Crimea Conference, February 4–February 11, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945. At the same time plans were being projected for President Roosevelt’s return trip which would include individual meetings between himself and King Farouk I of Egypt, King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, respectively; for documentation regarding these meetings which took place aboard the U.S.S. Quincy on Great Bitter Lake, February 13 and 14, see pp. 1 ff.
  3. In 1943 Lt. Col. Harold B. Hoskins undertook a special mission to King Ibn Saud at the direction of President Roosevelt to discuss this question; for documentation regarding this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iv, pp. 795 827, passim.
  4. From the mid-18th century the family of King Ibn Saud had supported politically the puritan creed of the Wahhabis, followers of Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab; in turn the Wahhabi tribesmen of central Arabia had supported the extension of the domain of the Saudi rulers in the latter’s evolution from Nedji nobles to kings of Saudi Arabia.
  5. Joint statement by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  6. The Palestine Mandate was awarded to Great Britain by the Supreme War Council on April 24, 1920, and its terms were defined by the Council of the League of Nations at London on July 24, 1922; for text, see ibid., 1924, vol. ii, p. 213. For documentation on the Convention between the United States and Great Britain regarding the Palestine Mandate, signed at London, December 3, 1924, see ibid., pp. 203 ff.
  7. For text of the letter concerning a Jewish national home in Palestine written by the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Arthur James Balfour, to Lord Walter Rothschild on November 2, 1917, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iv, p. 752, footnote 14. For documentation regarding the interest of the United States in the issuance of this statement of policy by the British Government, see ibid., 1917, supplement 2, vol. i, pp. 317, 473, and 483.