501.BB Palestine/5–1248

Memorandum of Conversation, by Secretary of State1

top secret
Participants: The President
The Secretary of State
The Under Secretary of State
Messrs. Clark Clifford, David Niles, Matthew Connelly—The White House
Fraser Wilkins (NE)—State Dept.
Robert McClintock (UNA)—State Dept.

The President said that he had called the meeting because he was seriously concerned as to what might happen in Palestine after May 15.

[Page 973]

Mr. Lovett gave a lengthy exposition of recent events bearing on the Palestine problem. He recalled that on the preceding Saturday, May 8, the Political Representative of the Jewish Agency, Mr. Moshe Shertok, had called upon the Secretary and himself, accompanied by Dr. Epstein. Mr. Shertok had related that the British Minister for Colonial Affairs, Sir Arthur Creech Jones, had told him that Abdullah, the King of Transjordan, might enter the Arab portions of Palestine but that there need be no fear that Abdullah’s forces, centered upon the British subsidized and officered Arab Legion, would seek to penetrate Jewish areas of Palestine. Furthermore, Mr. Shertok told the Secretary that a message, a week delayed in transmission, had been received from the Jewish Agency in Palestine, recounting overtures by a Colonel Goldy, an officer of the Arab Legion, suggesting that a deal could be worked out between Abdullah and the Jewish Agency whereby the King would take over the Arab portion of Palestine and leave the Jews in possession of their state in the remainder of that country.

Mr. Lovett said that this intelligence had obviously caused an abrupt shift in the position of the Jewish Agency. Only a week before, the Jewish Agency had officially communicated to the Security Council its charges that Arab armies were invading Palestine. Likewise, only a week before, Mr. Shertok and other representatives of the Jewish Agency had seemed seriously interested in proposed articles of truce. Now, however, their attitude had shifted and they seemed confident, on the basis of recent military successes and the prospect of a “behind the barn” deal with Abdullah, that they could establish their sovereign state without any necessity for a truce with the Arabs of Palestine.

I intervened at this juncture to recall what I had told Mr. Shertok on May 8. I had stressed that it was extremely dangerous to base long-range policy on temporary military success. There was no doubt but that the Jewish army had gained such temporary success but there was no assurance whatever that in the long-range the tide might not turn against them. I told Mr. Shertok that they were taking a gamble. If the tide did turn adversely and they came running to us for help they should be placed clearly on notice now that there was no warrant to expect help from the United States, which had warned them of the grave risk which they were running.

Later during the conversation a telephone call was received from General Carter2 stating that a UP press despatch from Tel Aviv reported that following two interviews with me by Mr. Shertok the latter had flown to Tel Aviv bearing a personal message from me to Mr. Ben Gurion, who was styled in the press despatch as the forth-coming [Page 974] President of the Jewish State.3 The despatch likewise was reported as saying that Shertok had informed me of the intention of the Jewish Agency to establish a sovereign state on May 16.

I directed, with the President’s concurrence, that no comment be made on this press story. In actual fact, no message had been sent to Mr. Ben Gurion, and I did not even know that such a person existed. Furthermore, Shertok had not told me of any intention to establish a Jewish State on May 16.

Resuming his summary of the situation, Mr. Lovett read a telegram just received from New York City, indicating that, while the United Kingdom Government was prepared to support our draft resolution, it desired that the United States give further consideration to the possibility of a commission being appointed by the General Assembly to deal with the administration of Palestine, this commission to be made up of Belgium, France and the United States.

It was generally agreed that the British had played a lamentable, if not altogether duplicitous, role in the Palestine situation and that their last-minute approaches and indications of a change in heart could have no effect upon our policy.

The President then invited Mr. Clark Clifford to make a statement. Mr. Clifford said that he had three main suggestions to offer, based upon consultation with colleagues of the White House staff.

Mr. Clifford said that he objected to the first article of our draft resolution which would place the General Assembly on record as reaffirming support of the efforts of the Security Council to secure a truce in Palestine. He said this reference was unrealistic since there had been no truce and probably would not be one. He said that on March 24, Mr. Rusk at a White House conference4 had estimated that a truce could be negotiated within two weeks but this goal was still not in sight. Instead, the actual partition of Palestine had taken place “without the use of outside force”.

Mr. Clifford’s second point was strongly to urge the President to give prompt recognition to the Jewish State after the termination of the mandate on May 15. He said such a move should be taken quickly before the Soviet Union recognized the Jewish State. It would have distinct value in restoring the President’s position for support of the partition of Palestine.

Mr. Clifford’s third point was that the President, at his press conference on the following day, May 13, should make a statement of his intention to recognize the Jewish State, once the provision for democratic government outlined in the resolution of November 29, had been complied with, which he assumed would be the case. The proposed [Page 975] statement would conclude: “I have asked the Secretary of State to have the Representatives of the United States in the United Nations, take up this subject in the United Nations with a view toward obtaining early recognition of a Jewish State by the other members of the United Nations”.

The rebuttal was made by Mr. Lovett. With regard to Mr. Clifford’s reference to the article on truce, Mr. Lovett pointed out that the Security Council was still seized of this matter under its resolutions of April 1, April 17 and April 23. The United States in fact was a member of the Security Council’s Truce Commission on Palestine, Surely the United States could not by its unilateral act get the Security Council to drop this matter and it would be most unbecoming, in light of our activities to secure a truce.

On the question of premature recognition, Mr. Lovett said that it would be highly injurious to the United Nations to announce the recognition of the Jewish State even before it had come into existence and while the General Assembly, which had been called into special session at the request of the United States, was still considering the question of the future government of Palestine. Furthermore, said Mr. Lovett, such a move would be injurious to the prestige of the President. It was a very transparent attempt to win the Jewish vote but, in Mr. Lovett’s opinion, it would lose more votes than it would gain. Finally, to recognize the Jewish State prematurely would be buying a pig in a poke. How did we know what kind of Jewish State would be set up? At this stage Mr. Lovett read excerpts from a file of intelligence telegrams and reports regarding Soviet activity in sending Jews and Communist agents from Black Sea areas to Palestine.

Mr. Lovett also failed to see any particular urgency in the United States rushing to recognize the Jewish State prior to possible Soviet recognition.

I remarked to the President that, speaking objectively, I could not help but think that the suggestions made by Mr. Clifford were wrong. I thought that to adopt these suggestions would have precisely the opposite effect from that intended by Mr. Clifford. The transparent dodge to win a few votes would not in fact achieve this purpose. The great dignity of the office of the President would be seriously diminished. The counsel offered by Mr. Clifford was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem which confronted us was international. I said bluntly that if the President were to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice and if in the elections I were to vote, I would vote against the President.

Mr. Lovett and I told the President that naturally after May 16 we would take another look at the situation in Palestine in light of the facts as they existed. Clearly the question of recognition would have to be gone into very carefully. A paper presenting the legal aspects [Page 976] of the problem had been prepared in the Department and would be promptly sent to Mr. Clifford.

The President initialed the draft resolution and the underlying position paper of May 11, and terminated the interview by saying that he was fully aware of the difficulties and dangers in the situation, to say nothing of the political risks involved which he, himself, would run.

  1. Drafted by Mr. McClintock.
  2. Marshall S. Carter, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.
  3. David Ben Gurion, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, in fact became the first Prime Minister of Israel.
  4. See Mr. Clifford’s memorandum of March 24, p. 755.