501.BB Palestine/3–1449: Telegram

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

top secret

222. [Palun 82?] For Acheson’s eyes only from Ethridge. All members of Commission remaining here have strong feeling that work of the Commission has been seriously prejudiced by:

Aqaba incident because although technically no border may have been violated at least new territory has been occupied and a SC order flouted. Furthermore it appears evident purpose to take Negev without exchange in contravention US position as stated in GA.
Ben Gurion’s statement on Jerusalem previously reported to Department in ConGen telegram 216, March 11.
Failure or refusal of Israeli Government to make any statement re refugees that would put Commission in position to find a key for peace negotiations, despite representations made by Department (see Palun 811).

We are not in possession of any assurance that could be given Arabs that any settlement on any question will be respected. As previously reported, this was a major theme of Arabs during our tour of capitals.

Above situation obviously prejudices success Beirut Conference. We have informally discussed calling off conference but my own feeling is that whether it fails or not we must (a) make the effort, (b) get the situation out into the open before there is further deterioration. Consequently we are going ahead with it. If the Department can [Page 826] do anything useful during Shertok’s visit to induce him to make one conciliatory gesture it may save the situation. Arabs have constantly impressed upon us that they regard the refugee question as test of Israeli good faith.

The second point they have made as I have previously reported, is that they want guarantees. I have consistently replied that the only assurance in which I can encourage them is through UN. When they see it flouted and the Commission treated as unwelcome interlopers they are not likely to regard that as great assurance. Indeed unless strong action of some kind is taken now Palestine may become even holier as the burial place of the UN.

My own feeling is that if Beirut Conference fails there is little left for us to do but to call for direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab states and present a plan for the internationalization of Jerusalem that will be academic. Seems to me therefore, that Department is faced with major decision—whether it should or will try to enforce position that if Israel takes the Negev it should make exchange of territory elsewhere. If the decision is to insist upon that it will require the strongest representations at the earliest possible moment. On the other hand Stabler expressed feeling Sunday that Transjordan would be willing to negotiate peace on almost any basis.

Some of us have the feeling that one reason for Shertok’s hasty departure might be desire to avoid showdown with Commission on refugee problem. Whether true or not, I hope the Department will consider the possibility that2 exists for turning his visit to our advantage. I am sure that he considers Washington more friendly than the Commission and has not been sufficiently impressed with US interest in UN settlement. I wish he could be shown that this is not the case. [Ethridge.]

  1. Identified also as telegram 221, March 14, from Jerusalem, not printed, but see footnote 3, p. 806.
  2. At this point in the text appears “(Palun 82).” It is the opinion of the editors that Palun 82 is the same as telegram 222 from Jerusalem. This designation, therefore, has been deleted here and placed in brackets, with question mark, at the beginning of the message.

    In the “Summary of Daily Meeting with the Secretary” of March 15, Mr. Rusk, who became Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs on February 8, is said to have “reported that the Palestine situation is getting more serious. He asked the Secretary whether he had read telegram no. 222 from Ethridge. The Secretary said that he had not but would. Mr. Rusk said we should send this along to Key West at once with an indication that the Department will have some recommendations to make to the President in regard to it but that we desired the President to have this information immediately.” (Secretary’s Daily Meetings, Lot 58 D 609. This lot is a chronological collection of the records of the Secretary of State’s daily meetings with top Department of State officials for the year 1949–1952, as maintained by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.)