501.BB Palestine/2–2849: Telegram

The Consul at Jerusalem (Burdett) to the Secretary of State


172. Palun 57. For Acheson from Ethridge. Since refugee problem is key to peace negotiations, would like Department’s views on my tentative ideas of approach to question.

It must be considered for some time relief problem for which money must be forthcoming, even after present commitments have run out. Would be most useful if US would quickly make available its own appropriation and indicate in some other way additional concern for 700,000 homeless people living largely in tents under most distressing circumstances in this weather. My own feeling is that the United States has accumulated an enormous moral and even financial responsibility in the situation in our justifiable zeal for creation of a state. Nevertheless these people have been displaced either by force, or terrorism or have fled because of their own fear. Even if the American public has not been told about Deir Yassin massacre,1 all Arabs know about it and all Arabs with whom Commission has talked have either implicitly or directly blamed US and UN for displacing 700,000 persons. Personally I feel that important element in our friendly relations with Arab states is to indicate active concern with refugees as humanitarian, political and social problem in which US must be vitally interested. Not least of our concern should be political repercussions of having so many people homeless in an already politically shaky part of the world.
From standpoint of work of Commission, first step in peace negotiations is to get from Israeli Government some gesture of agreement in principle [garble2] resolution re refugees and if possible even more specific commitment as to number Israel will take back and method of indemnification of others.
Second step would be meeting with Arab states3 to make them realize:
That not all refugees will go back,
That they must help find homes for those to be resettled outside Israel.
Provide, through experts, plan for resettlement and proposal for financing resettlement which would involve indemnification from Israel to Arab Governments, rather than individuals, roughly on basis of number taken in by each Arab state with allowances, of course, for variations in value of property held by individual Arabs in Israel, and outside help either through loans or contributions, from UN member states or both Commission more than two weeks ago asked UN for qualified expert who would be able to work out plan with technical help of engineers but has received no reply. Vitally needed as soon as possible particularly since refugee problem will require long time in solution.
Obviously when time comes for agreement on refugee settlement, all Arab Governments and perhaps Israel will ask: How can we finance resettlement? It is question Commission must face. Has Department any views on it or is the American Government prepared to make any commitment either of sponsoring loans or of making direct loans? It would be most helpful if I could have some commitment to be used at proper time in negotiations. Abdullah, for instance, has said he is willing to take all refugees. In view of his state’s bankruptcy that is fantastic financially even if it is feasible technically. But it may turn out that he will have to take most of them since all other Arab states have so far indicated unwillingness and inability to take any. Commission can press other states to absorb some refugees but Dept is aware through airgrams from Missions of reluctance of any state except Transjordan to add to its problems. I have impression beyond what has been reported in airgrams that part of reluctance is due to realization that Palestinian Arabs, having lived through 30 [Page 780] years of political strife and having enjoyed somewhat higher standard of living than most Arabs, are more politically aware and more demanding as to living standards and would, therefore, constitute core of agitation. In view of great reluctance to absorb refugees, Arab states must be compensated with loans for projects designed to raise all living standards rather than create new problems. [Ethridge.]

  1. For information on this subject, see telegram 431, April 13, 1948, from Jerusalem, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. v, Part 2, p. 817.
  2. Presumably the word “toward” was intended.
  3. Mr. Ethridge, on February 28, advised the Department of State that “On February 27 Commission agreed to invite Arab States to send representatives to meeting at Beirut on March 21 with Commission. Invitations just going out but all states except Egypt indicated to us on our tour that they would accept.” (telegram 174, identified also as Palun 60, from Jerusalem, 501.BB Palestine/2–2849)