PPS Files, Lot 64 D 563, Near and Middle East, 1947–1948

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan) to the Secretary of State 1



On November 25, 1947 the National Security Council received a report from the Secretary of the Army on the problem of Palestine with the request that it be considered by the National Security Council.2

At the meeting of the Consultants of the National Security Council on December 12, 1947,2 it was agreed that the State Department should [Page 546] prepare, on a priority basis, the initial draft of a National Security Council report on the position of the United States with respect to Palestine, taking into consideration U.S. security interests in the Mediterranean and Near East areas and the recommendation of the UN General Assembly on the partition of Palestine.

I attach a paper3 prepared in the Policy Planning Staff in response to the above request.

This paper has been prepared in close collaboration with Mr. Henderson, and has his general approval. The tenor of the recommendations has also been discussed at length with Mr. Rusk, who has voiced no objection to their presentation by the Staff but has not seen the final draft or committed himself to it.

We have not thought it wise to attempt to draw outside consultants into the preparation of this paper; but it has been seen by Ambassador Grady4 and has his general approval. You may recall that Ambassador Grady was alternate to Secretary of State Byrnes on the President’s Cabinet Committee on Palestine.

I recommend that the paper be approved as the Department’s initial position for further discussion in the National Security Council.

George F. Kennan

Report by the Policy Planning Staff on Position of the United States With Respect to Palestine5

top secret


The Problem: 1. To assess and appraise the position of the U.S with respect to Palestine, taking into consideration the security interests of the U.S. in the Mediterranean and Near East areas, and in the light of the recommendation of the General Assembly of the United Nations regarding the partition of Palestine.


2. Palestine occupies a geographic position of great strategic significance to the U.S. It is important for the control of the eastern end of the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. It is an outlet for the [Page 547] oil of the Middle East; which, in turn, is important to U.S. security. Finally, it is the center of a number of major political cross-currents; and events in Palestine cannot help being reflected in a number of directions. For these reasons, and particularly in view of the Soviet pressure against the periphery of that area, and Soviet infiltration into the area, it is important that political, economic, and social stability be maintained there.

Because of the present irreconcilable differences between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, great danger exists that the area may become the source of serious unrest and instability which could be readily exploited by the USSR unless a workable solution can be developed.

3. The UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, recommended the partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish sovereign states, substantially as proposed by the majority report of the UN Special Committee on Palestine. The partition plan provides for an economic union of the two states, administered by a Joint Economic Board, and for the city of Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship. The mandate for Palestine would be terminated by August 1, 1948 and the newly created states and special regime for Jerusalem would come into” existence by October 1, 1948. Provision was made for a five-member UN Commission to take over progressively the administration of Palestine and to establish Provisional Councils in each new state.

4. The boundaries of the proposed new Arab and Jewish states do not satisfy Zionist aspirations from either the political or the economic viewpoint, and the whole plan of partition with economic union is totally unacceptable to the Arabs. Although frequent reference has been made to “sacrifices” accepted in the interest of compromise, the partition plan was strongly supported by the Jewish Agency for Palestine and by various Zionist organizations favoring the establishment of a sovereign Jewish political state in Palestine. It did not, however, have the support of the Irgun, the Revisionists or the Stern gang (the so-called leftist groups), whose influence among the Jews of Palestine appears to be increasing.

5. The Arabs of Palestine and the Arab states have uniformly and consistently maintained their unequivocal opposition to any form of partition. The Arabs of Palestine have indicated their determination not to establish a separate government in the Arab area of Palestine designated by the UN, and to boycott all activities of the UN Commission charged with the transfer of authority from the British to the new Arab and Jewish states. Even if partition were economically feasible, the Arab attitude alone renders it improbable that any economic union could be effected between the two new states.

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The General Assembly, in adopting the recommendation for partition, left unanswered certain questions regarding the legality of the plan as well as the means for its implementation. Nor did the General Assembly, in the circumstances prevailing at the time, have an opportunity to explore the last minute announcement by the Arab States on November 29 of their willingness to accept the principle of a Federal State in Palestine6 which they had previously opposed. There was no indication of any real effort by the UN toward conciliation between the Jews and the Arabs.

6. The U.S. and USSR played leading roles in bringing about a vote favorable to partition. Without U.S. leadership and the pressures which developed during UN consideration of the question, the necessary two-thirds majority in the General Assembly could not have been obtained. From this there has grown a belief that the United States has a heavy responsibility for seeing that partition works. It has been shown that various unauthorized U.S. nationals and organizations, including members of Congress, notably in the closing days of the Assembly, brought pressure to bear on various foreign delegates and their respective home governments to induce them to support the U.S. attitude on the Palestine question. Evidence to this effect is attached under Tab A.7

7. The decision of the U.S. Government to support the UN Special Committee’s majority plan was based primarily on the view, expressed to the GA by Secretary Marshall on September 18 [17], 1947, that “great weight” should be accorded the majority opinion of a UN Committee.8

8. Strong nationalistic and religious feelings were aroused throughout the Arab world as a result of the UN recommendation on Palestine. Widespread rioting has followed. In Palestine, the outbreaks have consisted of armed clashes between Arabs and Jews; in certain of the Arab states, there have been attacks on Jewish quarters and demonstrations directed primarily against the U.S. These manifestations of popular feeling have not so far represented organized Arab resistance to partition, although a “jihad” (holy war) against the Jews of Palestine has been proclaimed by Moslem leaders in most of the Arab states and has been joined by Christian leaders in Syria.

9. As British forces are progressively withdrawn from Palestine and as steps are taken with a view to implementing the UN decision, organized large scale opposition by the Arabs is to be expected. Irregular military units are now being organized in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Transjordan and Saudi Arabia to fight in Palestine. There are strong [Page 549] indications that at an appropriate moment at least some of these units will move into the Arab portion of Palestine as defined by the UN. That these forces will come into violent conflict with the Haganah or other Jewish military bodies operating from the Jewish state is probable.

10. In order to protect themselves and to secure the establishment of a Jewish state, Zionist representatives will seek armed support from the U.S., for without substantial external assistance the proposed Jewish state cannot be established or exist. This may take the form of an attempt (a) to obtain money, arms and volunteers in the U.S. and/or (b) to induce the U.S. Government to assist in organizing an international armed force under the UN to enforce partition.

11. The UN decision did not provide for outside armed forces to impose the partition scheme, either in maintaining law and order in the two new states or in affording protection to the five-member UN Commission which is to implement the decision. The UN Commission is almost certain to meet with armed Arab opposition in seeking to discharge its functions. Palestine police authorities have declined to assume responsibility for its safety outside of Tel-Aviv. There can be no assurance that in the present and foreseeable circumstances, local security forces will be able to maintain law and order; rather may their failure to do so be confidently predicted.

12. The U.S. has suspended authorization for the export of arms, ammunition and other war material intended for use in Palestine or in neighboring countries.9 If we resist pressure by the Zionists to alter this position, the question then arises whether we should send troops to Palestine as part of an international force under the UN. It may be assumed that the Soviet Union would, in certain circumstances, be prepared to contribute troops to such an international force. If the USSR should do so, it would be awkward for the U.S. to decline to take similar action. If Soviet troops are sent to Palestine, further opportunities would be provided for the exercise of Russian influence in the whole Near Eastern area.

13. U.S. support of partition has already brought about loss of U.S. prestige and disillusionment among the Arabs and other neighboring peoples as to U.S. objectives and ideals. U.S. support of the principles of self-determination was a basic factor in the creation of the Arab states out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. U.S. officials, missionaries, and educational institutions in the Near East have built successfully on this foundation, and U.S. businessmen have reaped the benefit of the widespread belief that the U.S. had no political motives in the area inimical to Arab welfare.

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14. The position of Saudi Arabia in the Palestine question is of particular importance. King Ibn Saud values the friendship between his country and the U.S. and recognizes the significant financial aid to Saudi Arabia derived from oil royalties. He is reluctant to sever political and economic ties with the U.S. Nevertheless, he is under strong pressure from other Arab states to break with the U.S. Prince Faisal, his son and Foreign Minister, departed for Saudi Arabia from the UN General Assembly in a bitterly anti-American mood and may give strength to a faction of less moderate elements which will force the King’s hand. Important U.S. oil concessions and air base rights will be at stake in the event that an actively hostile Government should come into power in Saudi Arabia.

15. In view of the evident determination of the Arabs to resist partition with all the means at their disposal, it may be anticipated that, if an attempt is made to carry out the UN decision (with or without U.S. assistance), the more moderate and intellectual leaders of the Arab states, most of whom have ties with the west, will be swept out of power by irresponsible elements. Leaders such as Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, would be displaced by extremists such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Hatred of the Zionists or of those identified with Zionism might be extended to include all westerners in direct proportion to the latter’s support of Zionist armies in general and of partition in particular.

16. Any assistance the U.S. might give to the enforcement of partition would result in deep-seated antagonism for the U.S. in many sections of the Moslem world over a period of many years and would lay us open to one or more of the following consequences:

Suspension or cancellation of valuable U.S. air base rights and commercial concessions, cessation of U.S. oil pipeline construction, and drastic curtailment of U.S. trade with that area.
Loss of our present access to the air, military and naval facilities enjoyed by the British in the area, with attendant repercussions on our overall strategic position in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
Closing or boycotting of U.S. educational, religious and philanthropic institutions in the Near East, such as the American University at Beirut established in 1866 and the American University at Cairo.
Possible deaths, injuries and damages arising from acts of violence against individual U.S. citizens and interests established in the area. Official assurances of the Arab Governments to afford protection to U.S. interests could not be relied on because of the intensity of popular feeling.
A serious threat to the success of the Marshall Plan. The present oil production of the Middle East fields is approximately 800,000 barrels a day. To meet Marshall Plan requirements, production must be raised to about 2,000,000 barrels a day, since no oil for Europe for this purpose could be provided from the U.S., from Venezuela, or [Page 551] from the Far East. Before the current disturbances, U.S. oil companies had made plans for the required development in the Middle East, with which it will be impossible to proceed if the present situation continues.

17. The USSR stands to gain by the partition plan if it should be implemented by force because of the opportunity thus afforded to the Russians to assist in “maintaining order” in Palestine. If Soviet forces should be introduced into Palestine for the purpose of implementing partition, Communist agents would have an excellent base from which to extend their subversive activities, to disseminate propaganda, and to attempt to replace the present Arab governments by “democratic peoples’ governments”. The presence of Soviet forces in Palestine would constitute an outflanking of our positions in Greece, Turkey and Iran, and a potential threat to the stability of the entire Eastern Mediterranean area.

18. It is not certain, however, that the USSR would choose to send its forces into Palestine. To do so would be to place those forces in an exposed position, far from a base of supply, and without suitable lines of communication. Rather than risk the enmity of the Arab world by such action, the Soviet Union might prefer to have U.S. forces bear the brunt of enforcement and incur the odium of the local population and Moslems everywhere as a result.

19. Other choices are open to the USSR besides the furnishing of troops. Evidence is accumulating that the USSR may be covertly or indirectly supplying arms not only to the Jews but to the Arabs, thus aggravating the friction in the Near East. From the Soviet viewpoint, it might be preferable to exploit in this manner the explosive character of the situation created by partition rather than to enter the area in a military sense.

Whether or not Soviet forces should assist in implementing partition, the UN decision is favorable to Soviet objectives of sowing dissention and discord in non-communist countries. The partition of Palestine might afford the USSR a pretext on the basis of “self-determination of minorities” to encourage the partition of areas in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Greece, with a view to setting up separate [Kurdish?] Azerbaijani, Armenian and Macedonian states enjoying the support of the USSR.

All in all, there is no way of telling in exactly what manner the USSR will attempt to turn partition to its advantage. It must be assumed, however, that Moscow will actively endeavor to find some means of exploiting the opportunity.

20. Various other factors would enter into the situation if an attempt is made to enforce the UN recommendation. The foregoing is intended merely to suggest the principal elements in the problem. So numerous would be the ramifications of mounting Arab ill will, of [Page 552] opening the door to Soviet political or military penetration, and of generally chaotic conditions in Palestine and neighboring countries that the whole structure of peace and security in the Near East and Mediterranean would be directly or indirectly affected with results impossible to predict at this stage in detail but certainly injurious to U.S. interests.


21. As a result of U.S. sponsorship of UN action leading to the recommendation to partition Palestine, U.S. prestige in the Moslem world has suffered a severe blow and U.S. strategic interests in the Mediterranean and Near East have been seriously prejudiced. Our vital interests in those areas will continue to be adversely affected to the extent that we continue to support partition.

22. The original U.S. premise in supporting the partition of Palestine was founded on the belief that, with certain modifications in the majority proposals of the UN Special Committee on Palestine, a just and workable plan could be devised immediately which would receive broad international support, provided always that there was cooperation between the parties concerned. A study of the present plan raises serious doubts as to its workability because of the artificial and arbitrary political subdivision of a complicated economic area. Events have demonstrated that the Arab inhabitants of Palestine will not cooperate even to endeavor to make the partition plan work. Therefore, one of the major premises on which we originally supported partition has proved invalid.

23. The United States should not send armed forces to Palestine, either on a volunteer or contingent basis, for the following reasons: (a) This would represent a political or military commitment of which the dimensions, both in time and space, cannot be calculated or foreseen and which might carry us into actions of a major character, out of all proportion to the foreign policy objectives involved; and (b) to do so would invite the possibility of the movement of Soviet armed forces to the strategic Near Eastern and Mediterranean area. For similar reasons, the U.S. should oppose the sending of armed forces of any nationality to Palestine.

24. While the governments in Arab countries have partially succeeded in restraining demonstrations against the Jews within their borders, in the case of open conflict major massacres of Jews in Moslem countries would seem to be inevitable, despite efforts of the governments of those countries to control popular feeling. Moreover, a basis would be provided for anti-Jewish agitation in other parts of the world. The process of assimilation or integration of the individual Jew in the life of the country of which he is a citizen, which has been strongly advocated by World Jewry in the past, would be made more [Page 553] difficult and lie would be singled out for attack as an alien political factor. In the U.S., the position of Jews would be gravely undermined as it becomes evident to the public that in supporting a Jewish state in Palestine we were in fact supporting the extreme objectives of political Zionism, to the detriment of overall U.S. security interests.

25. Unless an effort is made to retrieve the situation, the prestige of the UN itself will be at stake because of the notoriety and resentment attendant upon the activities of U.S. pressure groups, including members of Congress, who sought to impose U.S. views as to partition on foreign delegations. Furthermore, the probable abstention by the Arab states from active participation in many UN activities may further weaken the effectiveness of the UN and the U.S. position within the UN, as has Soviet abstention in certain other activities.

26. The U.S. Government should face the fact that the partition of Palestine cannot be implemented without the use of force, and that the U.S. would inevitably be called upon to supply a substantial portion of the money, troops and arms for this purpose. The British have made it clear that they would not accept any role in the enforcement of partition. No other nation except Russia could be expected to participate in such implementation to any appreciable extent.

26a. It must be concluded that the partition of Palestine will not be possible of attainment without outside assistance on a substantial scale. If the U.S. is determined to see the successful establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine (either as proposed or as may be geographically modified because of Arab noncooperation in the proposed economic union), the U.S. must be prepared to grant economic assistance, together with aid to the Jewish authorities through the supply of arms, ammunition and implements of war. Ultimately the U.S. might have to support the Jewish authorities by the use of naval units and military forces. It should be clearly recognized that such assistance given to the Jewish state, but withheld from the Arabs and the Arab States, would in Arab eyes be a virtual declaration of war by the U.S. against the Arab world. It is improbable that the Jewish state could survive over any considerable period of time in the face of the combined assistance which would be forthcoming for the Arabs in Palestine from the Arab States, and in lesser measure from their Moslem neighbors. The preparations now being made for intensive guerrilla warfare by the approximately 400,000 Arabs resident in the proposed new Jewish state are alone giving rise to serious doubt as to whether the Jewish people in Palestine could themselves control the situation.


27. We should take no further initiative in implementing or aiding partition.

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28. We should oppose sending armed forces into Palestine by the UN or any member thereof for the purpose of implementing partition. We should also oppose the recruitment of volunteers for this purpose.

29. We should maintain and enforce our embargo on arms to Palestine and neighboring countries.

30. We should endeavor as far as possible to spread responsibility for the future handling of this question, and to divest ourselves of the imputation of international leadership in the search for a solution to this problem.

31. When and if the march of events has conclusively demonstrated that the effort to carry out the partition plan as prescribed by the UN General Assembly offers no reasonable prospect for success without the use of outside armed force, we should then take the position that we have been obliged to conclude that it is impracticable and undesirable for the international community to attempt to enforce any form of partition in the absence of agreement between the parties, and that the matter should go back to the UN General Assembly,

32. Thereafter, our position in the UN should be that we would cooperate loyally in working out and implementing any proposals designed (a) to encourage pacific settlement between the Palestine Arabs and Palestine Jews or (b) to investigate the possibilities of any other suggested solution such as a federal state or trusteeship, which would not require outside armed force for implementation.

33. We should oppose referring to the International Court the question of the UN recommendation on Palestine on the grounds that the fundamental issue, i.e. whether the two communities involved will cooperate to make the partition plan effective, is not a proper question for the Court.10

  1. Addressed also to Under Secretary of State Lovett.
  2. See editorial note, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 1283.
  3. See editorial note, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 1283.
  4. Infra.
  5. Henry F. Grady, Ambassador to India. In June 1946, he had been appointed alternate for the Secretary of State on the Cabinet Committee on Palestine and Related Problems; see footnote 78, Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, p. 631.
  6. A marginal notation of February 19, 1948, indicates that this paper was returned to the Policy Planning Staff with a note from Secretary Marshall that he had “personally outlined my position on this Palestine matter to Mr. Lovett. He can therefore act for me.” The editors have found no record of the Secretary position as outlined to Mr. Lovett.
  7. See telegram 1274, December 1, 1947, from New York, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 1293.
  8. Not printed; for documentation on the subject of these pressures, see ibid., pp. 999 ff.
  9. See statement by the Secretary of State, ibid., p. 1151.
  10. See telegram Telmar 42, December 6, 1947, to London, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 1300.
  11. According to The Forrestal Diaries, edited by Walter Millis (New York, The Viking Press, 1951), p. 360, Mr. Lovett showed PPS/19 to Secretary of Defense Forrestal on January 21. The latter was said to have expressed the view that the United States was not committed to support the partition plan which was unworkable without the use of force; that it was against American interest to supply arms to the Jews while embargoing arms to the Arabs or to accept unilateral responsibility for carrying out the partition plan; and that the United States should attempt to have the plan withdrawn as soon as possible.