Draft Letter From the President to Francis Cardinal Spellman, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York 1

My Dear Cardinal Spellman: Thank you for sending me in your letter of April 292 an account of your conversation with Dr. Weizmann and Mr. Eban on the status of Jerusalem.3 As you know, this is a question which deeply interests me.

I wish to assure you that the United States Government firmly supports the principle of the internationalization of Jerusalem. The United States delegation voted for the General Assembly Palestine resolutions of November 29, 1947, and December 11, 1948. The latter resolved that the Jerusalem area should be placed under effective United Nations control and instructed the Palestine Conciliation Commission to present to the Fourth Regular Session of the General Assembly detailed proposals for a permanent international regime for the Jerusalem area which would provide for maximum local autonomy for distinctive groups consistent with the special international! status of the Jerusalem area.

In view of your deep concern with the matter, a brief account of some of the basic problems connected with the establishment of an international Jerusalem enclave will be of interest to you. Competent officials of this Government have estimated that the annual cost of a 4,000-man police force to maintain order in Jerusalem would be in excess of $30,000,000. Such a police force would of necessity have to be a well-organized and efficient body, particularly in view of the [Page 1016]fact that a large segment of the inhabitants of Jerusalem is strongly opposed to the established [establishment] of an international regime which would [have] complete authority to regulate the daily activities of the populace. It is also of considerable importance that, under the Mandate, Jerusalem was not self-supporting but depended upon revenues from the rest of Palestine, revenues which would not be available to Jerusalem as an international enclave.

Experts of this Government who have appraised the likelihood of the contribution by the different nations of the large sums necessary annually for the administration of Jerusalem as an international enclave conclude that the countries most directly concerned would be unable or unwilling to provide the funds required. The international community is much interested in the status of Jerusalem because of concern for the free access to and protection and preservation of the Holy Places, but there are indications that the nations are not convinced of the necessity of establishing the kind of international regime which would exercise complete control over the day-to-day existence of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Under these circumstances, and in view of the fact that the General Assembly resolution of December 11, 1948, states that an international regime for Jerusalem “should provide for maximum local autonomy for distinctive groups consistent with the special international status of the Jerusalem area”, the United States Government has come to believe that it should be possible to work out an arrangement whereby Israel and Transjordan could accept a large share of governmental responsibility in the Jerusalem area under the overall supervision of some representation of the United Nations. This representation would be placed over the entire Jerusalem area, but its primary concern would consist of controlling the Holy Places and providing for their preservation and protection, and free access thereto. The United States Government has not reached a final decision on the question, and its attitude in this regard will in large measure be determined by the proposals to be made regarding the status of the City by the Palestine Conciliation Commission, upon which the responsibility for this task has been placed by the General Assembly.

Officers of the Department of State have, in discussing the status of Jerusalem with representatives of the Government of Israel, mentioned as one possible type of international regime for Jerusalem the establishment of a joint Israeli-Transjordan trusteeship under the United Nations trusteeship system. The discussions in question were, however, general and exploratory, and, as I have stated the final position of the United States Government will not be taken until the recommendations of the Palestine Conciliation Commission on Jerusalem have been made.

I certainly agree with you that there is considerable contrast between [Page 1017]Dr. Weizmann’s readiness to admit some degree in internationalization for Jerusalem and Mr. Ben Gurion’s reported remarks concerning the City. However, I am sure you will have noted that Mr. Eban, in his statement before the ad hoc Political Committee of the General Assembly on May 5, admitted the possibility of an international regime applicable to the whole City of Jerusalem. In view of the attitude taken by Dr. Weizmann and Mr. Eban, it seems to me possible that Mr. Ben Gurion’s words may not have reflected the final position of the Israeli Government on this question.

Dr. Weizmann’s statement that any Arab refugee who so desired might return to Israel is difficult to reconcile with the position taken by Israeli representatives in discussions of the refugee problem with representatives of this Government. The former have been consistent in maintaining that the best solution of the refugee problem lies in resettlement outside of Israel. This Government believes that agreement by Israel to the repatriation of a good member of the refugees is essential to a lasting peace in Palestine. In his statement at Lake Success on May 5, Mr. Eban seemed to accept the principle of repatriation, and it is my earnest hope that when a final Palestine peace settlement is reached a sizeable number of the refugees will be repatriated.

The United States Government is profoundly indebted to Mark Ethridge for his outstanding patriotism in accepting the difficult assignment as United States Member of the Palestine Conciliation Commission. He has certainly been doing a splendid job.

I am grateful to you for giving me the benefit of your thoughts on the Palestine problem. I am fully aware of the extremely important Christian interest in Jerusalem, and I am, of course, in complete agreement with the desire of the Christian world for assured free access to the Holy Places and for their protection and preservation.

With my most sincere best wishes,

Sincerely yours

Harry S. Truman
  1. Prepared in the Department of State and transmitted to President Truman by Secretary Acheson in his memorandum of May 17. The President sent the letter to Cardinal Spellman, presumably as drafted, on May 19.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Cardinal Spellman’s letter of April 29 to President Truman described his conversation with these Israeli spokesmen, who had been his dinner guests the previous evening. The guests had spoken of a type of internationalization of Jerusalem quite different from the one the President and the Cardinal had discussed at an earlier but undisclosed date. At that discussion, the letter stated, the President and the Cardinal had envisaged creation of an international enclave under United Nations rule, as decreed by the resolution of the General Assembly on November 29, 1947, and confirmed at the Paris session of the General Assembly in December 1948. The Cardinal expressed himself as being somewhat puzzled, therefore, at the information imparted to him by his guests that the Department of State had suggested to them what the Cardinal termed “a mitigated—so called ‘indirect’—internationalization” under which Jerusalem would be divided into two parts as trusteeships of the United Nations, with Israel and Transjordan as administering authorities.