The British Embassy to the Department of State

top secret



During a conversation between Mr. Bevin2 and Mr. Marshall in London on the 17th December,3 Mr. Bevin said that the reactions of the Arab Governments to the recommendations of the United Nations on Palestine4 had been worse than he had expected, in spite of the efforts which were being made by British representatives in the Arab states to bring the Governments concerned to a more reasonable frame of mind. Mr. Bevin added that he was proposing to see Arab representatives in London, one by one, in order to steady them. The British Government feared that the situation in the Middle East might get out of control and seriously endanger the U.S. and British position there, which could only benefit the Soviet Union.

2. In amplification of Mr. Bevin’s remarks, and in the spirit of the recent conversations on the Middle East between United States and United Kingdom representatives,5 the following summary is provided, for the strictly confidential information of the State Department, of [Page 534]the views on Palestine which have in the last few weeks been expressed to British officials by Arab representatives in the countries concerned. These views were mostly elicited in conversations at which British representatives informed the Arab Governments in general terms of British plans for withdrawal from Palestine and urged that Arab leaders should take no action which might render the British task more difficult. The following were the main points which emerged.

All the Arab representatives were willing to give an assurance that they would avoid action of any kind likely to bring them into conflict with the British Government during the period of withdrawal; but it is clear that it would be dangerous to make any assumption that Arab opposition to partition is mainly wild talk.
The Arab Governments do not believe that they can restrain their nationals from volunteering for service in Palestine. This was mentioned, for example, by the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, by the Acting Prime Minister of Iraq, by Riad Sulh (Lebanon), by Jamil Mardam (Syria), and by Samir Pasha (Transjordan).6
There is much concern whether restraint is also being urged upon the Jews. This was mentioned, for example, by the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and by Yusef Yasin7 (Saudi Arabia). This concern is likely to be increased as a result of the recent disturbances in Palestine in which Arab casualties have been somewhat larger than Jewish casualties.
Considerable bitterness was expressed against the British Government for having adopted a neutral attitude in New York,8 and more especially against the United States Government for their more positive stand in favour of partition. Such criticism of the American attitude, which, was sometimes stated in terms of general references to “dollar diplomacy” and of the consequent need for friendship specifically with Britain, may in part have been actuated by a desire to play off Britain against the United States.
It is clear that any attempt to provide for mutual defence arrangements in the Middle East is likely to meet with great difficulties. Riad Sulh, for example, urged that the whole Middle East was changing and that the time had surely come for the British Government to consolidate their friendship with the Arabs. The British Government’s treaties with Iraq and Egypt9 were under consideration for revision, and what use could that with Transjordan be, if Palestine were lost? He considered that the British Government should come to some agreement with the Arabs as a whole and, as it were, capitalise their good will. He deplored any idea that Anglo-Arab relations should be exposed to too great a strain, through what would seem to the Arabs to be British support for partition, and he asserted that his sentiments were shared by all other Arabs.
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3. There are other indications, such as that mentioned in the following paragraph, that there is a general desire for some kind of formal understanding with Great Britain, without which Arab leaders fear that the situation may get out of hand. No Arab representative has yet stated in concrete terms what kind of a lead was required; their plea was in the form of: “Cannot you do something to help us?”

4. That this situation may have a bearing on one concrete and very important interest of the British Government (and of the United States Government)—namely a revised Anglo-Iraqi treaty—is indicated by the remarks of Tahsin Qadri, Master of Ceremonies at the Palace in Baghdad, which reflected the deep feeling shown in earlier conversations by Saleh Jabr10 and Nuri.11 He said that for the past thirty years the British had been able to give a line which the Iraqi Government had been able to follow with advantage to both countries, and he could not understand why they should now give the Iraqis no guidance at all except to keep calm. If the British would only give a line, moderate men would support the Regent and the Government in guiding the policy of Iraq. But without any word from the British the situation would go from bad to worse. The enemies of the Regent and of Great Britain would be able to say that the only result of a thirty years’ alliance was that, if only passively, the British were foisting Jews on the Arab world. The pressure on any Iraqi Government would be so great that the most desperate and dangerous steps would be taken, with disastrous effects on Anglo-Iraqi relations. The situation could not be held, Qadri concluded, unless the British came forward with concrete suggestions which showed that they really were prepared to help the Arabs. The danger to our treaty negotiations, which this situation represents, needs no emphasis and it is evident that this depth of feeling is shared by other Arab leaders.

5. There are a few other items of information which have a bearing on this question. The Transjordan Government is still interested in securing for itself the Arab portion of Palestine and appears to have some hope of doing a deal with the Jews. It does not want troops from other Arab States to pass through its territory, but it may cooperate to some extent with the other members of the Arab League as a result of their recent meeting. At this meeting, according to confidential information received by the British Government, it appears that quotas were agreed upon for the proportion of arms to be supplied by each member. But no decision was reached on the quota of volunteers, the actual number of which it was not felt possible to determine. The activities of the volunteers are to be controlled by Ismail Sawfat, who would be released from the Iraqi Army for this purpose, and there [Page 536]are to be local commanders in Palestine. But it was generally agreed that the open use of Arab armies against the Jews, even after the termination of the Mandate, was not practicable at present.

6. The remarks of Riad Sulh, as well as those of Tahsin Qadri, clearly indicate the effect which the Palestine problem may have upon future plans in the Middle East, even though the British Government continue to follow the course already marked out in the statements made by British representatives at Lake Success. They also clearly reveal the great obstacles which will for some time be set in the way of concerted Anglo-American action in the Middle East. It was agreed in the recent talks that Palestine presented special problems. But these Arab reactions again demonstrate that this issue will not only cause a further deterioration in the British position, but may well frustrate all plans for Anglo-American support throughout the area.

7. In the view of the British Government, the situation which is now developing over Palestine thus represents a grave threat to the position of both countries in the Middle East. While the British Government will in no way obstruct the execution of the decisions taken by the United Nations, they intend to do their utmost to preserve their position and influence in that area. In so doing they are working for ends which both Governments have decided, at the highest level, to be in their respective interests. They have already asked the Arab Governments to avoid precipitate action and to restrain their nationals. But counsels of patience should be offered, not to one side, but to both.

8. The British Government are sure that the United States Government realise the dangers to which attention has been drawn. They are sure, too, that the United States Government realise the need for the most careful handling of this most difficult problem and the need for viewing it against the wider international background, if all the efforts which have just been made are not to be in vain. They would therefore be grateful to learn whether the United States Government would be prepared to speak to the Jewish Agency in terms parallel to those of the British representations to the Arabs.12

9. It is the hope of the British Government that, as a result of this information, given frankly and in the spirit of the recent talks, the United States Government will share their view that it would be dangerous to underrate Arab resentment. The British Government believe it to be most urgent that, in the common interest of both countries, all possible steps should be taken by the United States Government, not only to reassure the Arabs, but also to persuade the Jews, even though it means the exercise by the latter of considerable restraint, to make good in deeds their words of friendship to the Arabs.

  1. Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  2. For British memorandum of this conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 1312.
  3. On November 29, 1947 the General Assembly had adopted Resolution 181 (II) recommending the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states; for the text of the Resolution, see the appendix, p. 1709.

    Two maps illustrating the boundaries proposed in Resolution 181 (II) are reproduced facing p. 1730. They are respectively entitled “Palestine—Plan of Partition with Economic Union” (United Nations Map No. 103 (b), November 1947); and “City of Jerusalem—Boundaries Proposed” (United Nations Map No. 104, November 1947).

  4. For documentation on Anglo-American talks in October 1947 concerning the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 485 ff.
  5. The three persons mentioned were Prime Ministers of their respective countries.
  6. Acting Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia.
  7. At the United Nations.
  8. See Part 1 of this volume, pp. 202 ff. and editorial note, p. 85.
  9. Iraqi Prime Minister.
  10. Nuri as-Said, Iraqi political leader and many times Prime Minister.
  11. Marginal notation by Loy W. Henderson, Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs: “We are doing so on every appropriate occasion.”