IO Files, US/A/AC.21/13

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John C. Ross 1

Participants: Mr. Moshe Shertok, Jewish Agency for Palestine
Mr. Lourie, Jewish Agency for Palestine
Mr. David Horowitz, Jewish Agency for Palestine
Major Aubrey Eban, Jewish Agency for Palestine
Mr. John Ross, United States Mission

Mr. Shertok had wanted to see Ambassador Austin whose schedule did not permit and I therefore saw him for the Ambassador. We had a quarter of an hour conversation this morning at which time Mr. Lourie accompanied Mr. Shertok, and continued for three-quarters of an hour this afternoon at Lake Success when Mr. Shertok was accompanied by Mr. Horowitz and Major Eban.

Mr. Shertok outlined as follows his presentation of the Jewish Agency’s views to the Palestine Commission over the past few days.

The most urgent need was to find a means of supplying the Jews in Palestine with arms so that they could defend themselves and prepare for the defense of the Jewish State.
Mr. Shertok realized the problems for national governments which this objective raises. It would be desirable, therefore, for the Security Council representing the United Nations to take action in this matter. Such action might be along the lines of the Security Council approving the export of arms to those who were supporting [Page 567]the decision of the Assembly and disapproving the export of arms to those who were defying the decision of the United Nations.
The Jews wanted to organize a militia. This would consist of a headquarters organization and five “brigade groups”. Each brigade group would be a self-contained unit possessing the various arms and services and would amount to five or six thousand men. (The total force envisaged was about thirty thousand.) Four of these brigade groups would be established in the four principal Jewish areas; a fifth would be held in reserve. The British apparently opposed the formation of such a militia and the Jewish Agency was willing to compromise on a minimum of the headquarters organization and one brigade group which, I gathered, would form a cadre for future expansion. The Haganah would eventually be absorbed into this militia.
In his presentation to the Palestine Commission Mr. Shertok had exposed “aggression” by the Arab States. I asked him about the probative value of his evidence. He felt that it would stand up without question. This factor of Arab aggression involving defiance of the United Nations was, of course, fundamental in the whole situation.
Mr. Shertok had then dealt extensively with the question of providing international forces for Palestine. He made the following points:
an international force was needed as a deterrent to further aggression and disorder. The Jewish Agency did not intend that this force would be a cloak for the Jewish militia. The Jews were more than willing to fight for themselves.
Such an international force would not have to be large (he mentioned the figure ten thousand men) but it would have to be a self-contained, effective force including air squadrons, artillery, and the rest.
Such a force was necessary to fulfill the international responsibility of the United Nations to repel aggression should this transpire. The Jewish forces would deal for the most part with local attacks. It might be necessary to call upon the international force for assistance in any large scale local attacks. Finally, the Jews would assist but would expect the international force to deal primarily with any incursions from outside Palestine. Mr. Shertok and his associates seemed to feel very confident that the political and psychological effect of a force of this size and character would be effective against any threat of major incursion from outside Palestine.

After reviewing as outlined above the position of the Jewish Agency Mr. Shertok moved on to his main purpose in our conversation. He expressed the hope that the United States would support the Jewish Agency position with regard to a finding of Arab aggression, with regard to an arms policy which would make it possible to provide arms to the Jews but not to the Arabs, and with regard to the establishment of international forces, when these various matters are brought before the Security Council.

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He went on to say that when the Commission report comes to the Security Council there will be an initial issue of procedure on which the Jewish Agency hoped it would have United States support, namely, whether the Jewish Agency would be admitted to the Security Council table as an interested party. The interests of the Arab States are represented by Syria’s membership on the Council. Egypt and the Lebanon had filed formal requests to participate in the Council deliberations and possibly other Arab States would make similar requests. The Jewish Agency, of course, feels that it is as much an interested party as any of these. It feels further that its position has been established in view of the fact that the Special Session last spring admitted the Agency as an interested party and that this has been continued through UNSCOP, the ad hoc committee during the last Assembly and the Palestine Commission.2

In conclusion Mr. Shertok said that the element of time was all important. The situation in Palestine was deteriorating every day. It had taken more time than anticipated to organize the Palestine Commission. The Commission had been working thus far for three weeks without any very tangible results. If he were to say that the British were not being helpful it would be the grossest understatement. On the 19th of January the Commission had asked the British a series of thirty odd questions. They had received answers, and negative answers at that, to only four or five of these questions. When this matter reached the Security Council it would be subject unquestionably to various filibusters. In addition there would, of course, be the necessity of the various representatives consulting their governments.

The most important consideration was to avoid a vacuum. If through lack of leadership and decisiveness the United Nations failed to meet its responsibilities this would mean a vacuum in Palestine when the British withdraw. This would have a catastrophic effect on the peace of the entire Middle East.

At the beginning of our conversation I made clear to Mr. Shertok that the United States Government was of course following this matter with close attention but that I was not in a position at this time to express any views to him. I would be very glad, on the other hand, to have him tell me as much as he cared to about the views of the Jewish Agency. In concluding our conversation I thanked Mr. Shertok for his very clear and complete account of the views of the Agency and invited him to communicate to me at any time any further views [Page 569]he might have. He said that he would do so and that meanwhile he would send me copies of the various memoranda on the subjects referred to above which he had presented to the Palestine Commission.

John Ross
  1. Deputy to Ambassador Austin.
  2. The Department, on January 30, suggested to Ambassador Austin that “US should support request of Jewish Agency to be admitted and heard pursuant to Rule 39 of SC Rules of Procedure in SC discussions Palestine question. Arab Higher Committee should likewise be heard on same basis if request made to SC.” (Telegram 37 to New York, 501.BC/1–3048)