Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Stuart W. Rockwell of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs



Status of Conversations between Israel and Jordan
Report that Israelis Preparing to Sell Sequestered Arab Refugee Property.

Participants: The Jordan Minister, Dr. Yusuf Haikal
NEA—Mr. McGhee
ANE—Mr. Berry
Mr. Rockwell

Problem: King Abdullah very concerned by Israeli refusal to meet Jordan desires re land connection between Jordan and Mediterranean; also worried by report Israelis preparing to sell Arab refugee property in areas under Israeli control.

Action Required: To ascertain whether Israel taking steps to sell sequestered Arab refugee property.

Action Assigned to: ANE

[Page 700]


Mr. McGhee received the Jordan Minister at the latter’s request. Dr. Haikal stated that he had been instructed by King Abdullah to take up the following points.

1. Status of Israeli-Jordon Conversations—Dr. Haikal reviewed the course of the secret conversations between Israel and Jordan, from the first approach to King Abdullah by Mr. Novomeysky1 of the Palestine Potash Company to the present stalemate over the question of Jordanian access to the sea. The Minister stated that his King had instructed him to inform the Department of all these developments and to convey to Amman such statements as officials of the Department might care to make on the present situation. He maintained that Jordan, in making a request for a substantial section of the Negev in order to insure solid access to the Mediterranean, had been guided by President Truman’s message of last spring to King Abdullah2 in which the President set forth the US policy that if Israel desired to retain territory beyond that granted to her by the 1947 partition resolution, Israel should make appropriate territorial compensation.

Mr. McGhee expressed gratitude for the King’s courtesy in making available to the Department the information conveyed by Dr. Haikal. He said that the territorial policy which the Minister had referred to had been, and was still, the general policy of the United States Government concerning a territorial settlement in Palestine. He emphasized, however, that this policy was a general one and did not refer to specific pieces of territory or to the specific nations to which territory might be allotted. He further pointed out that this policy was an entirely unilateral one which unfortunately seemed to have had little effect on the Israeli Government.

Mr. McGhee went on to say that the United States Government, through its participation in the Palestine Conciliation Commission and through American participation in the Economic Survey Mission, had sought to bring about conditions which might facilitate the establishment of peace between Israel and the Arab states. The recommendations of the ESM, in particular, were designed to alleviate the burden placed upon the Arab states by the refugees and to enable the Arab states to consider the question of a final settlement without having to place so much emphasis on the refugee problem. In general, however, the question of a final settlement in Palestine was a matter of which the United Nations was seized, and the United States Government [Page 701] could not take a unilateral role in bringing about a settlement. Mr. McGhee thought that the question of exactly what was involved in an Israeli-Jordan settlement was a problem which would have to be solved by Israel and Jordan alone, without interference from outside parties. Each of the two states knew best what it considered vital to its interests, and the important thing was not to allow the all-important issue of a peace settlement to be obscured by issues which were not vital.

Mr. McGhee then inquired how large a strip of territory Jordan needed to assure access to the sea. The Minister replied that the King was asking for a substantial part of the Negev but that Israel offered only a narrow corridor. Jordan needed a real seacoast, said the Minister, not just a port. Mr. McGhee said that he personally did not consider a corridor to be a very feasible proposition but if Jordan desired a whole section of the Negev, he could understand the difficulty which Jordan and Israel were having in arriving at an agreement on this particular point. He wondered whether Jordan had given full consideration to the economic burden of establishing a seaport. The Minister maintained that while it would take a good many years for Jordan to build a port, this would eventually be done and a port was absolutely vital to Jordan.

The Minister said that as usual the Israelis were trying to obtain an agreement by not giving up anything themselves. From the tone of the King’s letter he judged that the King, who really desired an agreement, was very much discouraged. The Minister said that if Jordan was not able to reach an agreement with Israel no other Arab state would dare to try to do so. He outlined the manner in which the present unsettled situation in the Near East was advantageous to the Soviet Union and to Communist agents, and expressed the personal hope that the United States Government would be able to do something with the Israelis in order to persuade them to change their attitude.

Mr. McGhee said that the United States Government deeply appreciated the cooperative attitude taken by King Abdullah toward the Palestine problem. The United States Government also appreciated the courage the King had shown in beginning the talks. However, he did not think the situation was as discouraging as the Minister portrayed it. The fact that Jordan and Israel desired a peace settlement was an encouraging factor. So was the fact that Israel, which had always stated that it would not agree to a corridor, had offered Jordan one, even though it was very narrow. Mr. McGhee said that negotiations like this always take a long time. He felt that it was definitely possible that the talks would recommence and that a compromise position might be achieved. Perhaps there were other pieces of territory upon which agreement could be reached. Mr. McGhee said once more [Page 702] that the United States Government was not in a position to intervene, believing that the matter was one which would have to be worked out by Jordan and Israel alone.

2. Sale of Arab Refugee Property in Israel—The Minister said that King Abdullah was much disturbed by reports in the Arab press that the Israelis were preparing legislation which would authorize the sale of immovable sequestered Arab refugee property. He inquired whether we knew anything about this. Mr. McGhee said that he had heard no report of this nature and that we understood that the Israel Alien Property Custodian was authorized to rent sequestered Arab real estate, not to sell it. He added that we would inquire of our Embassy in Tel Aviv concerning this reported development, and would get in touch with the Minister as soon as we had received a reply.

  1. Moses A. Novemeysky was founder and Managing Director of the Palestine Potash [Company?] Ltd. The editors have been unable to discover in the files of the Department of State any documentation concerning the nature of his approach to King Abdullah or the time of his approach.
  2. For President Truman’s message of March 28, 1949, to King Abdullah, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 878.