Learn about the beta

501.BB Palestine/5–548

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State 1

Participants: S—The Secretary
Dr. Judah Magnes
UNA—Mr. Robert McClintock

I received Dr. Magnes, the President of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, at his request at 2:30 this afternoon. We exchanged complimentary remarks on Sir John Dill, who at one period of his career had been High Commissioner in Palestine and for whose character, charm and integrity we both had the highest regard.

I told Dr. Magnes that the essence of the problem in Palestine was [Page 902]the absence of trust between the parties at issue. Neither side would believe the other and this, coupled with the fact that the problem was overlaid by side issues and affected by politics, made the matter one of immense difficulty. I said that on the military side I could clearly foresee what was going to happen. The Jews had won the first round and were encouraged by their successes. At this point Dr. Magnes said that time was on the side of the Arabs. The Jews were short on time. They sought to strike quickly, without realizing that the Arabs could afford to wait and would eventually overwhelm them.

Dr. Magnes said that the first of the points he desired to make was that great pressure could be brought to bear on both Arabs and Jews if the United States would impose even partial financial sanctions. He pointed out that the Jewish community in Palestine is an artificial development and that, although the work of the Jews had resulted in many beautiful accomplishments such as farms, universities, and hospitals, which resulted from contributions from the United States, the money now contributed to the Jewish community was being used solely for war “which eats up everything.” Dr. Magnes said that the Hagaimah costs $4 million a month to run. He was certain that, if contributions from the United States were cut off, the Jewish war machine in Palestine would come to a halt for lack of financial fuel.

On the Arab side Dr. Magnes said that Syria was in very shaky financial straits, and that the situation in Iraq was also precarious. I asked him if his proposed embargo would apply to all financial relations with Palestine and the Arab States, or only to contributions. He said that at this juncture he thought it should refer to the latter and not to ordinary commercial transactions.

Speaking of the truce, Dr. Magnes greatly doubted that a truce could be worked out by the United Nations, operating some six or seven thousand miles distant from the scene. He thought a real truce could only be developed on the spot in Palestine. As for the nature of a truce, there were two possible alternatives. There could be a voluntary truce, which Dr. Magnes thought was now almost out of the question, or an imposed truce, which would call for the use of force. It seemed from the debates at Lake Success that no country was willing to take up the American offer to send troops to implement a trusteeship provided other governments did likewise. Accordingly, the prospects for an imposed truce—unless this could be accomplished by financial sanctions—did not seem bright.

Dr. Magnes then turned to the problem of Jerusalem. He said he had lived in Jerusalem for 25 years. He knew its people, both Arabs and Jews, perhaps as well as any living man. He assured me with great conviction and intensity that the populace of Jerusalem—Arab and Jew alike—is heartily sick of the situation in which they find themselves and that their burning desire is peace.

[Page 903]

Dr. Magnes said that if the United Nations could send some man of integrity and character to Jerusalem, preferably a man from a religious call of life, he thought that the populace of Jerusalem would gather behind such a leader to provide a regime of peace for the Holy City. He said that there were both Arab and Jewish municipal councils and that there were separate Arab and Jewish police forces, each numbering 300 men. It would be necessary for the United Nations Commissioner to do something immediately to enable the populace to restore certain public services, particularly the water supply. However, Dr. Magnes was certain of success if such a United Nations Representative of the proper qualifications were sent. In response to a question he said that there was always the danger of physical violence, since the young Jewish zealots believed fanatically in their cause and were truly idealistic in the thought that they had a mission to restore the land of the Jews to its people. However, a small bodyguard—and Dr. Magnes said it was beyond his province to estimate its number—would suffice to ensure the physical safety of the United Nations Representative.

When asked if Dr. Magnes had any names in mind for the Jerusalem post, he said that he thought either Dr. Bromley Oxnam, a prominent Methodist divine who was formerly President of the Federal Council of Churches, or the present President of that organization, Mr. Charles Taft, of Cincinnati, would be ideally qualified for the task.

On the broader question of sending a United Nations Representative to establish a truce for all of Palestine, Dr. Magnes thought that this man should have perhaps other qualifications. He should be a man of action and capable of rapid decisions. He thought someone like Lord Louis Mountbatten would be the type of man for this task. I remarked that I thought Lord Mountbatten would probably not be available, as he had about reached the limit of his endurance after a variety of difficult tasks, and we agreed that his British nationality would probably militate against him for such a post. After discussion of several other possibilities, McClintock mentioned the name of Lt. General Mark Clark, with the comment that he now had little to do after having accomplished some very impressive jobs, and that the fact that he was half Jewish might in this particular situation be useful. Dr. Magnes said that he had not known that General Clark was half Jewish and this fact alone indicated that General Clark could not be regarded as pro-Zionist. I said that the suggestion had considerable interest.

Dr. Magnes stressed his belief that, even if fighting had broken out in Palestine between Arabs and Jews, the United Nations should still send representatives to Jerusalem and all of Palestine. He cited the [Page 904]example of Indonesia where, although hostilities were in progress, the United Nations Consular Commission, succeeded by the Good Offices Committee, had succeeded in securing observance of a cease-fire order and principles of agreement.

Dr. Magnes said he would be frank in remarking that he thought American spokesmen at Lake Success had been too apologetic in putting forward our trusteeship proposals. He said there was no solution for the Palestine problem outside of trusteeship at the present time. Trusteeship could take a variety of forms. It could be made up of states, as in the federal union, or it could consist of cantons or provinces inhabited by Jews and Arabs separately. He said that our phrase that the temporary trusteeship should be without prejudice to the eventual settlement, should be amended to read “without prejudice to that settlement which will be worked out by the Arabs and Jews”. He said he was absolutely certain that there could be no settlement of the Palestine problem unless the Arabs and Jews sat down to work out their own solution.

As for the government of the trusteeship, Dr. Magnes felt that the British had made a mistake in their government of the Palestine mandate. In none of the important offices of government were there any Arabs or Jews in posts of responsibility. The British had implanted a foreign regime on the people of Palestine. If the United Nations should implant a regime which was made up of the populace, drawing equally on Arabs and Jews, the trusteeship might develop into a more lasting settlement.

I told Dr. Magnes that this was the most straightforward account on Palestine I had heard, and asked him if he had an appointment to see the President. He replied that he had not but very much hoped it would be possible to call at the White House. I asked McClintock to make arrangements for Dr. Magnes to see the President.

As Dr. Magnes was leaving, he asked permission to direct a very blunt question: “Do you think there is any chance to impose a solution on Palestine?”. I replied that imposition of a regime implied the use of force. It was clear as daylight that other governments were eager to sidestep and leave Uncle Sam in the middle. I did not think it was wise for the United States alone to take the responsibility for military commitments in Palestine but I would be glad to give this matter further thought.2

  1. Drafted by Mr. McClintock; initialed by the Secretary of State.
  2. A memorandum of May 5 toy McClintock to Carter indicated that the ribbon copy of this memorandum of conversation, marked “Preliminary Draft”, was sent to Clifford for the President’s information prior to his meeting with Magnes that morning. (501.BB Palestine/5–548. The ribbon copy is in the Truman Papers, President’s Secretary’s File.)

    Magnes’ account of his meeting with the President, as subsequently related to McClintock, is contained in a memorandum by McClintock to Secretary Marshall, May 5 (501.BB Palestine/5–548).