501.BB Palestine/11–1848: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Douglas) to the Secretary of State, at Paris

top secret   us urgent

892. 1. I talked with Prime Minister Attlee at length yesterday regarding the Palestine situation which at its present stage is the most serious problem in US–UK relations which has arisen during my mission here.

2. As a matter of reporting only—it is clear to me that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet feel that the US, by adopting inflexibly the criteria set forth in Telmar 148, November 11 [10] to Paris, and in particular the October 24 statement to the effect that modifications defined by resolution of November 29, 1947 “should be made only if fully acceptable to the State of Israel,” has in substance undermined the common ground worked out by US and UK so laboriously in connection with Palestinian question and especially re Bernadotte’s proposals.

3. The Prime Minister told me yesterday that because UK considers the Bernadotte proposals weighted against the Arabs the UK only accepted these proposals in first instance in order that it might stand shoulder to shoulder with US and thus through joint cooperation obtain a two-thirds vote in UNGA for a workable Palestine settlement. The British Government feels that US has, in effect, put situation back to November 29, 1947, and that UK is so formally committed to the Bernadotte proposals, having urged Arab acquiescence to them so strongly, that it cannot now abandon or greatly modify British support for these proposals. Paris 1282, November 17 gives a very clear picture of British attitude.1

4. Committed as UK is to Bernadotte proposals, Prime Minister reaffirmed to me the sincere desire of the UK to maintain US–UK cooperation in achieving a settlement in Palestine.

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5. I take it that our general objective in the light of “recent developments” (paragraph 4 Telmar 148) is that Israel should receive everything granted it under the Bernadotte proposals plus the most useful part of the Negev. If there is any bargain to be struck with the British it will be with regard to what if any part of the Negev should go to Israel. Such bargaining, which perhaps could be carried out most usefully in Paris although I am ready to do my share here, cannot, of course, begin or receive UK support until we are prepared to take a firm and unvacillating position in regard to any US–UK mutually agreed upon demarcation of frontiers. Assurance that once we reach agreement with UK we will not thereafter shift our position is almost the kernel of the nut.

6. To obtain British agreement to making the southern frontier of Israel either alternatives, (a) or (b) in paragraph 4 Telmar 148 will be no easy task. It would involve overcoming deep-rooted British objections on the following grounds:

Negev north of 31 degrees includes virtually all arable land in Negev and would leave to Palestine Arabs only the desert waste and the limestone hills and terraces which form the spine of Palestine. Some criticism would apply to alternative (a) in paragraph 4 Telmar 148 to lesser degree. …
Before flight of Arabs in fear of Jews Negev was largely Arab populated excepting portion north of Gaza–Beersheba road and lying between these two points. Even here Jewish population was in clear minority.
To give so large a portion of Negev to Israel would rob Arab leaders and particularly Abdullah of any concessions which they could present to their home populations. This, in British view, would probably result in downfall of Arab governments with consequent confusion and disorder and intrusion of Soviet into Arab states.
Giving part Negev to Israel would recreate hourglass frontier and destroy the integrated homogeneity of Bernadotte Plan frontiers.
Negev (see map) is like a dagger blade dividing Arab world. British feel strongly that it would be great mistake for this to be in Jewish hands because:
Arabs are … in no position to protect their interests without UK assistance which could be afforded if Negev went to Transjordan or Egypt.
While British JCS hopes PGI will be friendly it has concluded that it would be unsafe to rely upon PGI to give British air installations in Negev with free access thereto.
Arabs and Transjordan should have undisputed access to Mediterranean and to Gulf of Aqaba with sufficient territory to secure this access from hostile attack.
UK difficulties with Egypt re treaty expiring 1956 and UK uncertainties re Cyrenaica trusteeship (2 just above) make Negev especially important at this time, although even with Cyrenaica importance of Negev territorial sovereignty resting with a British ally or allies is vital to British and US strategic plans.

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7. Notwithstanding above British objections, it is my tentative view that the UK might be persuaded to use their influence on the Arabs to accept through the Frontier Commission a southern line of Israel which would fall more or less at Gaza–Beersheba road at the same time leaving Israel all or most of Western Galilee provided that:

Location this southern frontier should not be left to parties to negotiate for reasons paragraph 3 Embassy’s 4908, November 17 (repeated Paris as 887), and
US without possibility of deviation is prepared to support without qualification these proposals in conjunction UK.

8. At this juncture I believe we are faced with a major crisis in US–UK relations. I am fully cognizant of the President’s commitments in regard to PGI. I am inclined to believe, however, that since the statement on October 24, events have occurred in Palestine which justify in all good conscience and without infidelity to campaign utterances a re-evaluation by the President of the statement he then made. A commitment which may have been appropriate under one set of circumstances does not, it seems to me, require the same faithful observance under a different set of circumstances. I doubt that the President intended to give Israel carte blanche to take military action in defiance of UN and its servants, to go beyond the November 29 frontiers as in Galilee and then to cite the President’s October 24 statement as a bargaining counter against the Arabs for the best of two worlds and the best of two plans.

9. Now that Committee One is considering Palestine we have reached the parliamentary stage and perhaps through dexterity of maneuver by US and UK delegations it may be possible to obscure for a time the essential divergence of US–UK thinking re a Palestine settlement. It would, however, be a mistake to imagine that the British Government will easily forget their impression that US has “let, them down” in connection with the Bernadotte proposals. Moreover, I believe personally that time will show that it is a delusion to believe that Arab-Jewish negotiations, unless conducted within fairly precise limits of a plan endorsed by UNGA, will bring peace to the Holy Land. Alternatively US and UK should have firm agreement between themselves as to boundary demarcation which they would be prepared to recommend to Conciliation Commission and to stand on. The latter is far less likely to produce peace than the former.2

Sent Paris for GADel for Secretary 892; repeated Department for Lovett 4922.3

  1. This was a repeat of telegram Delga 797, p. 1603.
  2. Filed with this telegram is an information copy bearing an undated marginal notation by Mr. McClintock: “Sent to Key West for President”.
  3. This telegram is printed from the copy sent to the Department as Embassy London’s 4922.