Department of State Policy Statement 1



a. objectives

United States policies regarding Israel derive from the following objectives:

The achievement and maintenance of peace, general stability and economic progress of the Near East as factors essential to world peace;
Acquisition for the United States in particular and the West in general of the friendship and support of people and governments of the area.

b. policies

US objectives toward Israel must be considered in terms of objectives toward the Near East as a whole, because: 1) under present circumstances, the strategic nature of the area as a whole determines to a large extent the policies toward its component parts; and 2) primarily as a result of the Palestine problem, actions taken with regard to Israel are likely to have strong repercussions throughout the area.

Within Israel itself the United States is confronted with two major policy problems: first, Israel’s economic viability and hence its political stability; and second, Israel’s support of the West as against the Soviet bloc.

[Page 571]

The combined circumstances of large-scale immigration and the Arab economic blockade have produced serious economic conditions within Israel. To date the political stability of Israel has not been threatened to any significant degree, but economic pressures are growing inexorably. It is in our interest that Israel’s stability be maintained and consequently US policies must be directed to this end. The most obvious means to meet the economic problem in Israel is the extension of financial assistance to Israel by means of loans and other assistance within the framework of economic assistance to the area as a whole. Point IV funds are available and the Israelis should be encouraged to make use of them.2

The United States must support United Nations efforts to persuade Israel and the Arab states to settle their differences, since this would obviate the economic blockade. Consideration should be given to fostering limited agreements of a commercial nature between Israel and the Arab states, although the prospects of such agreement being concluded in the immediate future are not bright.

Meanwhile the economic blockade of Israel prevents that country from obtaining from the neighboring states relatively plentiful and inexpensive supplies of oil and foodstuffs. Oil is essential to Israel’s growing economy. If the Iraqi Government would permit oil to flow to Haifa through the Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline or the Egyptian Government would allow goods destined for Israel to move freely through the Suez Canal, significant progress would be made toward alleviating Israel’s most serious shortages and improving its precarious economic position. The Egyptian-Israel Mixed Armistice Commission is presently considering an Israel complaint against Egypt’s “blockade” of the Suez Canal. We believe the Mixed Armistice Commission is competent to deal with this Israel complaint and hope that the Mixed Armistice Commission will be able to persuade the Egyptians to cease their restrictive practices against trade through the Canal.

With respect to immigration, it has been and should continue to be the Department’s policy to counsel Israel that the inflow of population should be coordinated with the economic capacity of the state. Consideration should be given to the extent which the United States by loans or other economic assistance is prepared to underwrite the Israel Government’s policy of encouraging continuing large-scale immigration into Israel when the absorptive capacity of the country is approaching exhaustion.

There are indications that Israel is departing from its previous policy of strict neutrality and committing itself more openly to support [Page 572] of the West. Statements by government officials, the Prime Minister in particular, and confidential offers of support made to this country, point in this direction. Another indication is the recent withdrawal of Histadruth, Israel’s all-encompassing labor union, from the WFTU. This trend should be encouraged, but care should be taken that the United States is not unduly committed in return to the economic, military or political support of Israel. It would be desirable that Histadruth join the ICFTU, but there should be no overt pressure to this end which might embarrass the pro-West elements in Israel with respect to their opposition.

The presence of five million American Jews in the United States, the majority of whom in varying degrees favor active US economic and political support of Israel, is a factor in our relations with Israel and the Arab states. Political pressure which organized Jewish groups are able to bring to bear upon the United States Government, while not necessarily productive of significant modifications of US policy, nonetheless convinces the Arab states that the United States is primarily interested in Israel’s problems to the disadvantage of the Arabs. Unguarded public statements by prominent Americans made at the behest of these groups are cited by the Arabs as evidence of the correctness of their charges. We should attempt to discourage public comparisons between Israel and the Arab states prejudicial to the latter and at the same time work to achieve a balance between statements concerning Israel and statements concerning the Arab states. As the occasion arises, we should demonstrate to the American public, Israel and the Arab states that the policy of the United States Government is one of equal friendship and impartiality as between Israel and the Arab states.

A further US objective with respect to Israel is winning an increasing measure of firm popular support for the American point of view over the significant minority of Israelis who are pro-Soviet in their outlook. Strong left-wing socialist beliefs brought with them from Europe incline this minority toward Soviet propaganda and techniques. USIE by expanding its activities can make available more information about this country to all sections of the Israel population. A special USIE target should be the socialist communal settlements. Personal visits of Americans, both official and unofficial, to these settlements and elsewhere throughout the country should help the informational program.

As measures for the economic improvement of Israel and for encouraging its alignment with the West, Israel should be urged to consider adhering to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade3 and joining the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A treaty of Friendship, Commerce, [Page 573] and Navigation will shortly be signed between Israel and the United States which should facilitate the investment of private US capital in Israel and generally stimulate trade between the two countries.4

Fundamental to the achievement of US objectives in Israel is the resolution of the many problems arising from the recent hostilities in Palestine. Although the hostilities themselves were brought to an end during the first half of 1949, with the signing of armistice agreements between Israel and the four neighboring Arab states, the following major problems remain:

800,000 Arab refugees from Palestine still live under intolerable conditions in nearby Arab countries or in parts of Palestine remaining under Arab control. Israel has been willing to permit the return of only very few of these refugees to their homes, and is, in reality, in no position to permit any large degree of repatriation. Israel has only recently given indications of being willing to consider payment of compensation outside the framework of negotiations with the Arab states looking toward a general settlement of all outstanding questions.
The Arab governments maintain an economic and political blockade of Israel which not only is having serious effects upon the economy of that country but also prevents the progressive improvement of Arab–Israel relations which more normal intercourse would tend to bring about.
Unsettled border conditions lead to frequent incidents which are a continuous cause of ill-feeling and which could develop into more extended conflict.
The question of establishing an international authority in the Jerusalem area to provide protection for and free access to the Holy Places is a problem which has been of continuing concern to the United Nations and to the United States as a member of the United Nations. The principal difficulty lies in creating an international regime which will be acceptable to Israel and Jordan by not interfering appreciably in their alleged sovereignty over their respective sections of the City, and which at the same time will satisfy a majority of the international community.

Of these problems, the most serious is that of the refugees. The existence of this large body of homeless and jobless people is not only a continuing cause of Arab bitterness toward Israel and a drain on the local economies, but is a source of unrest and an invitation to Communist infiltration. The United Nations is providing direct relief for the refugees, but the reintegration of these people into the Near East economy has been prevented by Israel’s refusal, based on its inability, to permit their return to their former homes and by its refusal until recently to consider the payment of compensation to the refugees outside [Page 574] the context of an over-all peace settlement and the reluctance of all Arab governments, excepting Jordan, to agree to their resettlement elsewhere. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, set up by the General Assembly in 1949 to administer relief and to undertake development projects for the employment of the refugees, has concluded that the only hope of reintegration for any substantial number of these people lies in resettlement in the Arab countries. The recommendation that the United Nations establish a fund to be used for this purpose and for whatever repatriation proves to be practicable was approved by the General Assembly on December 2, 1950.5 We should continue to support this approach by contributing to the fund, by emphasizing to the Arab states that resettlement is the only realistic solution and by urging Israel to accept some repatriation, and to compensate, in one way or another and without waiting for a general settlement, those Arabs who do not choose to return to their homes.

With regard to this and other problems related to the Palestine dispute, the United Nations has attempted to bring the parties into negotiations looking toward a general settlement. Neither side, however, has evidenced a willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve such a comprehensive agreement. Therefore, while the United States should collaborate in United Nations efforts to urge this course upon Israel and the Arab states, emphasis should be given in our direct relations with these countries and in the United Nations to the gradual extension of areas of cooperation on specific problems as they arise and to the general easing of tensions in the Near East. To this end, every effort should be made to strengthen the machinery which has been established for the purpose of settling disputes of a local character. Of particular importance are the Mixed Armistice Commissions and the Special Committees, established by the Armistice Agreements.

Another aspect of this problem of tension and distrust has been that of the shipment of arms to the countries in the Near East. It was recognized at the time the Security Council lifted the embargo on such arms shipments, on August 11, 1949, that conditions existed which might bring about an arms race in the area, and the representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom and France stated the opposition of their governments to competition of this sort. This country subsequently decided to permit the export of reasonable amounts of military material to Israel and the Arab states, with the condition that these shipments should be limited to such equipment as we might consider necessary for the maintenance of internal security and for legitimate defense.

Early in 1950, it was determined that further and more positive measures should be taken to reduce tensions in the Near East. As a result, on May 25, 1950, the governments of the United States, the [Page 575] United Kingdom, and France issued a tripartite declaration6 wherein they redefined their arms policy, and gave certain guarantees and assurances regarding the security of the area. The three governments stated that applications for arms or war material for any of the Arab states or Israel would be considered in the light of the recognized need of these countries to maintain a certain level of armed forces for the purpose of assuring their internal security and their legitimate self-defense and to permit them to play their part in the defense of the area as a whole. In particular they declared that should they find that any of these states was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines they would, consistent with their obligations as members of the United Nations, immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violations. This declaration appears to have done much to stabilize the situation.

Unless a major revision of the general policy set forth in this declaration should be indicated by military considerations, the policy should be continued in an effort to increase the feeling of security and confidence in the future on the part of the states recently party to the Palestine hostilities. Further consideration might well be given to circumstances in which the tripartite declaration should be invoked and to the means of carrying out the guarantees contained therein.

Another problem which has resulted from the establishment of the State of Israel, but which has been dealt with separately, is that of Jerusalem. In recognition of the unique religious character of the city, the United Nations has attempted to provide an international regime for Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, but it has been unsuccessful, due largely to the unwillingness of either Jordan or Israel, the states presently controlling the city, to accept such a plan. In view of the evident impracticability of complete internationalization, the United States has and should continue to support the establishment of a less comprehensive arrangement for an international regime which would still provide for the protection of the legitimate rights of the world community in Jerusalem. While the United States would support any arrangement in Jerusalem which was agreed to by Israel and Jordan and a majority of the international community, it is assumed that such an arrangement would generally conform to one which the United States would consider desirable for the area.

A special policy problem has developed as a result of the United Nations concern with Jerusalem. The Israel Government has proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, an act which, while not specifically prohibited by the United Nations, is in clear violation of [Page 576] the spirit of the special status recommended for the city by the General Assembly. The Department advised the Israel Government against moving its capital to Jerusalem, but without effect. There is thus created the problem of whether the establishment of the capital in this city should be recognized by moving the United States Embassy, which has remained in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem. Since the UN General Assembly has reach no definite decision on Jerusalem, consideration should be given to moving the Embassy to Jerusalem after consultation with other appropriate nations.

A difficult factor in the Palestine dispute is that the Arab states regard anything favorable to Israel as being unfavorable to themselves. The Department is endeavoring to convince the Arabs of US impartiality as between them and Israel, and care should be taken in dealing with Israel to avoid giving an impression of favoritism which would be resented by the Arabs. It is, of course, equally important for Israel to realize that the United States intends to treat it with neither more nor less favor than it does the Arabs.

Relations with States other than the Arab Countries:

USSR—Until recently, Israel’s policy regarding the USSR on the one hand and the United States on the other has been one of strict neutrality. The Israeli Government’s natural sympathies lay in general with the West, but the presence of more than two million prospective Jewish immigrants in the USSR and its satellites, together with well organized pro-Soviet elements in Israel, made neutrality seem the wisest policy. Continued refusal by the Soviet Union to permit Jewish emigration has weakened enthusiasm for the Eastern bloc, however, and while Israel-Russian diplomatic relations are correct, Israel leaders have not hesitated to attack Communism violently on occasion or to indicate general sympathy with Western policies in such instances as the Korean war.

Great Britain—During the past year British relations with Israel have greatly improved, due largely to a substantial change in British policy toward Israel. As a result, Great Britain is in a position to exert its influence usefully upon Israel and has done so on a number of occasions.

Middle Eastern States—Israel has been at considerable pains to develop its relations with the non-Arab states of the Middle East, and has been recognized by Turkey, Greece, Iran and India. Only with Turkey does it enjoy full diplomatic relations, however, although Greece and India are believed to be favorably disposed on this question. Iran, on the other hand, recognized Israel primarily because of the presence of Iranian refugees in the latter country, and is not generally on friendly terms with it.

[Page 577]

If Israel is successful in developing its relations with these and other non-Arab states in the area, the economic and political results could be important, though it is doubtful whether such relations could substitute for normal intercourse with Israel’s immediate neighbors.

Policy Evaluation:

US policy toward the Palestine dispute has been one, primarily, of urging the parties, through the United Nations, to negotiate in order to reach an agreed solution of all the issues which exist between them. That this policy has been almost completely unsuccessful is due to: 1) the profundity of Arab-Israel disagreement; 2) Israel has so far refused to make any substantial concessions to the Arabs; and 3) the Arab states neither desired nor found it politically expedient to negotiate without at least a promise of such concessions. The United States should take appropriate opportunities to point out to Israel and the Arab states that our policy is one of equal friendship and impartiality toward all of the states in the area; that it is our view that Israel exists and will continue to exist, and that the Arab states should recognize this fact in order that more normal conditions may return to the Near East.

The present emphasis upon gradual improvement of working relations between the countries, coupled with high level negotiations on separate aspects of the Palestine problem, is probably a fruitful one, but certain elements of danger exist as well. As an example, increasing numbers of incidents along the armistice lines and frontiers have brought about a deterioration in Israel-Arab relations recently, particularly between Israel and Jordan. It is thus proposed that the mechanism set up for the handling of such local disputes be strengthened so that the period of armistice may be one of increasing cooperation and trust looking toward the time when all major problems can be resolved. Further consideration must be given to means of providing this mechanism with increased strength and prestige.

A more successful aspect of US policy with respect to Palestine has been that regarding arms and security. A serious arms race has apparently been averted, and fears on the part of Israelis and Arabs that the other side was planning large-scale aggression have greatly diminished over the past few months. Further problems may arise, however, if the decision is made to increase supplies of arms to the Near East for purposes of area defense, and great care should be exercised to insure that instability is not increased by such an operation.

On the economic side, continuing consideration should be given to measures looking to the maintenance of economic stability in Israel and the other states of the Near East.

  1. Department of State Policy Statements were summaries of policy toward a country or region. They were prepared in the responsible geographic offices of the Department. The Policy Statements, which were intended to provide information and guidance for officers in missions abroad, were referred to appropriate diplomatic missions for comment and criticism. The statements were revised periodically.
  2. For text of the General Agreement for Technical Cooperation, which was signed at Tel Aviv, February 26, 1951, and which entered into force that same day, see 3 UST (pt. 1) 379.

    The Department’s press release issued on the date of signature is printed in Department of State Bulletin, March 26, 1951, p. 500.

  3. Concluded at Geneva October 30, 1947. For text, see 61 Stat. (pts. 5 and 6).
  4. File 611.84A4 for 1951 contains documentation on the negotiations for the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the two countries, which was signed in Washington, August 23, and which entered into force April 3, 1954. For text, see 5 UST (pt. 1) 550.

    For the Department’s press statement released the date of signature, see Department of State Bulletin, September 3, 1951, p. 382.

  5. Reference is to a provision of Resolution 393 (V).
  6. For text of the Tripartite Declaration regarding security in the Middle East, issued May 25, 1950 by the Governments of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, see Department of State Bulletin, June 5, 1950, p. 886. For documentation regarding its formulation, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, pp. 975990 and 10271031; and ibid., vol. v, pp. 131168.