501.BB Palestine/1–2748

Memorandum by Mr. Samuel K. C. Kopper of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs

top secret

The Partition of Palestine and United States Security

[Here follows Section I on the aftermath of the General Assembly’s resolution of November 29, 1947. Mr. Kopper outlined five “significant matters not taken into consideration by the General Assembly in adopting the resolution,” namely the inadequacy of provisions for implementing the plan; various questions regarding the legality of the plan; the shift in the basic position of the Arab States on November 29, 1947, from one opposing the establishment of a Federal State in Palestine to an expressed willingness to accept that principle; “the failure of the United Nations to make any real effort to conciliate the two [Page 564]opposing groups.” (In this connection Mr. Kopper gave his view that “The abortive and utterly weak efforts of Dr. Evatt to bring conciliation to bear during the General Assembly session can hardly be classed as United Nations conciliation.”); and the growing realization that features of the plan relating to the Palestine Commission were partially or totally unworkable.

Mr. Kopper then noted ominous signs in the present situation which portended the total unworkability of the plan unless it were implemented by force, namely the Arab League decision at Cairo on December 17, 1947, to “support the Palestine Arabs in the form of arms, ammunition, funds and volunteers, i.e., everything short of actual participation by the states themselves”; the discontinuation of work on the western half of the Trans-Arabian pipeline; the attempts by the Arabs to obtain arms from any source; and the start of a tremendous Zionist drive for funds, arms and ammunition, and other assistance.

Mr. Kopper, in Section II, analyzed possible courses of action by the United States, namely to support fully the partition plan without regard for the ultimate cost; to assume a passive role; and to alter the policy of the United States away from support of partition. He rejected the first two courses and made it “an essential prerequisite that a determination be made as to the best method by which the United States could obtain renewed consideration of the Palestine matter by the U.N.”]


It is evident from the foregoing that there is no clear cut solution to the Palestine problem which would be completely acceptable to all parties. This has been pointed out in the UNSCOP report and is the unanimous view of all observers of the situation. However, it is also evident that certain solutions may be less costly than others. The growing tendency to refer to the recommendation of the General Assembly as a decision which must be carried out must not be allowed to divert our attention from the fact that the action of the General Assembly was only a recommendation. The United Nations has above all an obligation to preserve peace by peaceful methods so long as this is possible. The United Nations should retain a degree of flexibility and be able to alter its suggested solution of a matter when such is necessary in the light of changing conditions. There are serious doubts as to whether the Arabs of Palestine are under any obligations whatsoever, legal or moral, to be bound by the General Assembly recommendation. The situation is an anomalous one. The method of improving it is not to be found in forcing something on the peoples which is based on dubious grounds. Instead the United Nations should consider other possibilities which might be more acceptable. Accordingly, it is recommended [Page 565]that the United States should follow the following line of action.

When the Palestine case comes up in the Security Council we should seek to have the Council explore other avenues of a peaceful settlement of the problem.1 Specifically we should endeavor to bring about conciliation or arbitration of the matter.
Because of the vital interests of the United States in the Near East we should not permit ourselves to be drawn into any attack against British position on this matter.
We should now consider abandoning support of partition as being unworkable.
As a longer range objective we should seek a new solution in the form of (1) a transitional trusteeship or (2) a Federal State with liberal immigration provisions.2
We should not lift the arms embargo.
We should not participate in or advocate the sending of armed forces to Palestine (it would be impossible for the United States to advocate sending armed forces to Palestine without being itself willing to participate in such a venture).
Responsible leaders in Congress and in the Government should be thoroughly apprised of the whole situation well in advance of the announcement of such a fundamental change in United States position.
The United States Government should also make quite clear to leaders of the Jewish Agency, the Arab Higher Committee and to the Arab States themselves the reasons for the change in our basic position. Those American nationals associated with the Jewish Agency’s activities must be given complete and frank information on how our vital interests are being and will be adversely affected by support of partition. They should be informed that the administration will make renewed efforts to have the displaced persons problem handled more realistically but that the United States cannot afford at this juncture in history to let chaos develop in the Near East or to have a hostile Moslem World confronting us. Accordingly, major concessions must be made by the Jewish Agency.

If a determination is made that it is impossible to alter our policy now, then the next most preferable general line of action to follow would be to assume a passive role until our policy can be altered or until the situation makes or breaks partition as a solution. Active support of partition is the least preferable course of action and should be rejected outright at any time that it appears that:

The United States is unwilling to pursue it to its logical and ultimate extent.
The USSR, for one reason or another, appears to be willing to send forces (volunteer or otherwise) into the Palestine area, or [if3]
Communism appears to be gaining eve[n the3] slightest foothold in the proposed new Jewish State.
Hostilities on a major scale are imminent.4
  1. As an alternate suggestion, Mr. Kopper, on p. 22 of his memorandum, suggested that the United States “request the Secretary General to call a special session of the General Assembly to review the Palestine situation in the light of developments since November 29, 1947.”
  2. Mr. Kopper, on p. 29, suggested that up to 125,000 additional Jewish persons be accepted in the proposed federal state in Palestine over the next two or three years.
  3. Bracketed portions supplied by the editors because the pertinent piece of the record copy has been torn away.
  4. Bracketed portions supplied by the editors because the pertinent piece of the record copy has been torn away.
  5. Secretary of Defense Forrestal described in his diary a discussion of the Palestine problem by Defense Department officials and Messrs. Rusk and Henderson on the evening of January 29, 1948. According to Forrestal,

    “Henderson brought out the fact that:

    “1. The partition vote in the General Assembly took the form merely of a recommendation to the Security Council. In other words, that it is not a decision of the United Nations.

    “2. That the American support of this recommendation was predicated upon the assumption that it would be ‘just and workable’.

    “I asked whether there was sufficient evidence in the record to support a statement that unworkability of the proposed solution would justify a reexamination. Henderson replied in the affirmative.” (Diary entry for January 29, 1948, Forrestal Papers)