501.BB Palestine/1–549

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State1

top secret
Participants: The Acting Secretary, Mr. Lovett
The British Ambassador, Sir Oliver Franks
Mr. Bromley, First Secretary of the British Embassy
Mr. Satterthwaite—NEA
Mr. Wilkins—NE
Mr. McClintock—UNA

Sir Oliver Franks said that he had been instructed personally to thank the Acting Secretary of State for the prompt and effective intervention which this Government had made with the Provisional Government of Israel and which had resulted in instructions being given by the Israeli Government for the withdrawal of its forces from Egypt.

The British Ambassador said that Mr. Bevin, in view of the very great strategic interests of both the United States and Great Britain in the Near East and in the light of the necessity for an adequate defense in depth of the Suez Canal, very much hoped that the American Government might find its way clear to exert pressure on the Israeli Government to withdraw to the lines in the Negev established by the Acting Mediator after the adoption by the Security Council of its resolution of November 4, 1948.

I told the British Ambassador that for a variety of reasons I did not feel that we could accede to Mr. Bevin’s request. While, in an exceptional case such as that when the incursion by Israeli forces into Egypt threatened a much more grave conflict outside the boundaries of Palestine, we had been willing to make strong representations, our general line of policy was to operate through the United Nations. It did not seem proper for the United States to take on itself the responsibilities of the Security Council and apply them unilaterally. Furthermore, we had found in practice that strong representations, to be effective, should be used sparingly; otherwise notes often were merely interesting documents for the archives but useful for no other purpose. Finally, we had our position on the Conciliation Commission to consider. The Israeli authorities already believed that two of the Members of the Commission were prejudiced in favor of the Arabs, since Turkey was a Moslem country and France not only had 25 million Mohammedans living under its jurisdiction but also had not voted for Israel in last month’s sessions of the Security Council. If we were [Page 612] to achieve anything as an impartial member of the Commission we could not jeopardize that position by taking a line which would cause the Israelis to feel that even the third Member was against them. Meanwhile, of course, we continued to share the British anxiety over the situation in Palestine and were not stinting our efforts to do the utmost to bring about a cessation of hostilities. In fact we were this afternoon addressing new representations to the Governments of Israel and Egypt, based on a report received last night from the Acting Mediator, to the effect that Egypt had said it was willing to undertake negotiations all across the board with Israel under United Nations auspices, provided Israel accepted a cease-fire by 1400 hours GMT today. The deadline was so short that we were inclined to be Suspicious whether the, offer was bonafide but we thought that a representation was warranted by our desire to do everything possible to facilitate a cessation of hostilities.

Sir Oliver said that the second main point which Mr. Bevin wished to make was that with the continued stress of warfare in the Near East conditions in the Arab countries would become, as he put it, deliquescent, or, to use the more graphic aphorism of the Foreign Secretary, “We should have another China on our hands”. Accordingly, it was of the utmost importance that the United States and Great Britain, whose strategic interests were so involved in that area, do their utmost to compose this dangerous situation. Mr. Bevin wondered if the American Member of the Conciliation Commission might not be instructed by his Government to keep in mind the strategic interests of the United States and the United Kingdom and to use his good influence to further those interests. I said that, while naturally we would give background information to Mr. Keenan, our Representative on the Commission, we had no choice but to do our utmost to play the role of a true conciliator. Mr. Keenan and his colleagues had the task of trying to find some common ground for agreement which would be acceptable to all the parties concerned. If they could get agreement between the parties we would be bound to accept such an arrangement. However, Mr. Keenan of course would comport his action to the main lines of policy which had already been made public to the world by Dr. Jessup in his speech before Committee 1 on November 20.2 I briefly recapitulated our main points, including the fact that if the Israeli Government desired to benefit by the territorial provisions of the resolution of November 29, 1947, it should be expected to relinquish such areas as were awarded to the Arabs [Page 613] by that resolution but were now occupied by Israel, as Jaffa and western Galilee. In other words, they could not have it both ways. As for the strategic implications of the situation, I said that Mr. Keenan would be briefed before he went. The British Ambassador seemed to to be satisfied with this answer.

Sir Oliver then said that he had received permission to tell us that shortly British reinforcements would be sent to the Gulf of Aqaba.3 He did not, however, wish to inform us officially of this fact if we had no desire for such intelligence from his Government. In response to questioning the Ambassador intimated that the British reinforcements would be sent from outside by sea and that they numbered three companies in strength. (Mr. Bromley, however, murmured that he thought something like a battalion was being sent to Aqaba.)

I said that we had already received similar reports from other sources, including the press. I did not think that this Government wished to be officially appraised of the Ambassador’s information. As a matter of friendly comment, however, we wished to raise a little red flag and point out that if the troops indeed came to Transjordan from outside the Near Eastern area their arrival would be construed in many quarters as a violation of the Security Council truce resolution of May 29, which explicitly forebade the movement of military personnel into Palestine or the neighboring countries.

The interview concluded with Sir Oliver handing me a written statement of his Government’s views on the situation in China and a memorandum of its views with respect to the IRO.4

  1. Drafted by Mr. McClintock.
  2. See editorial note, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. v, Part 2, p. 1617. Philip C; Jessup was the spokesman of the United States on questions involving Palestine at the Third Session of the General Assembly at Paris.
  3. The British Foreign Office communiqué on this matter, issued on January 8, read as follows: “His Majesty’s Government have received a request from the Transjordan Government under the terms of the Anglo-Transjordan treaty of March 1948, to send a British force to Aqaba. His Majesty’s Government have acceded to this request.” (telegram 91, January 8, from London, 841.2390i/1–849)
  4. Chargé Holmes, on January 5, cabled the Department concerning the instructions sent to Ambassador Franks on January 3 for his conversation with Acting Secretary Lovett. He noted that Mr. Bevin had personally drafted the instructions, which in part called for the Ambassador “to refer to identical lines of policy regarding Middle East worked out between US and UK in fall 1947, and to say that all British actions Middle East are based on this policy and nothing else. British Government understood US views general Middle East problems have not altered since 1947. … Franks told to urge USG to participate in resolute effort with UK to arrive at firm conclusions which US and UK can support as Palestine solution. Instruction stated three things necessary to accomplish this:

    “(a) Fix frontiers Israel which US and UK could support;

    “(b) UK recognition PGI;

    “(c) Strong advice to Arabs if not to accept at least to acquiesce in agreed frontiers and to cease fighting.”

    The Ambassador was instructed “to urge that US and UK come to ‘Very firm conclusions’ and fix definite boundaries and thus arrive at final settlement which will save Middle East’.” (Telegram 47, 867N.01/1–549)

    Regarding the “identical lines of policy” agreed upon at the “Pentagon Talks of 1947,” see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 485 ff.