Conference files, lot 59 D 95, CF 156
Memorandum of Conversation, Prepared in
the Embassy in Israel1
- United States
- Mr. John Foster Dulles
- Mr. Harold E. Stassen
- Mr. Francis H. Russell
- H. E. David Ben Gurion, Prime Minister
Prime Minister Ben Gurion expressed hope that the Secretary’s mission, including objective of winning Arab friendship, would prove success, and commented as follows on Soviet threat, Israel’s potential role in Middle East defense, United States role in Middle East and Israel-Arab relations.
Soviet threat: The Prime Minister agreed with Foreign Minister Sharett in meaning Soviet peace offensive, saying no change in [Page 37] fundamental Soviet objective of world domination, and peace overtures merely tactics to divide and weaken free world. Stated war could be avoided through strength and unity free world and stressed need for “spiritual and military preparedness”.
Israel’s role in Middle East defense: The Prime Minister stated Israel historically, culturally and spiritually part of free world; was only country in area besides Turkey willing and able to fight for freedom and determined defend its democratic way of life regardless prospects of victory. In this connection contrasted “faith and determination” displayed by Israelis in fight for independence with failure Egyptians resist invasion in two world wars. Also claimed Israel only country in area besides Turkey with effective military potential based on scientific intelligence, skilled population, modern industry and well trained army. Recalled that during last war had supplied allied armies and suggested that an independent state with developed military industry could now make greater contribution. Argued that Israel, aside from Egypt was only country linking Mediterranean with Indian Ocean. Suggested in this connection that road from Haifa to Elath important not only to Israel but to free world as substitute for Suez. Deploring lost opportunity last two years urged some kind of arrangement (“form not important”) whereby Israel would not fight alone and immediate steps strengthen Israel military and industrial potential.
United States role in Middle East: Argued that in “Arab Middle East” which is product of long history and where despite surface appearances fundamental changes slow, essential United States have constructive long-range policy to match long-range Soviet policy. Asserted that recent revolutions, changes of leadership promised reforms (“which are more difficult implement than inflaming people against Israel”) had left areas historical problems of poverty, ignorance, disease rates, etc. untouched and as result Arab regimes continue shaky. Described root of difficulty as mass misery. To destroy present vacuum in Middle East improvement in conditions mass of population needed. Jet planes and arms, he stated, would not do it. (Argued that Arabs “as they are now” will not use arms against USSR but against Israel). What Arab countries need, he urged, was economic development, education, health. Expressed hope United States would play historic role by embarking on long-range program to raise living standards of Arabs and by encouraging “liberal element in Arab countries who understand that problem is poverty and ignorance”. Added he knew United States could not dictate to Arabs, that his suggested solution difficult, would take time, require patience and a constant goodwill.
Israel-Arab relations: Stating Arabs still desire “multilate” Israel by returning to 1947 partition resolution, reviewed Israel fight for [Page 38] independence after Arabs refused accept partition, human and monetary cost of fight, Arab exodus “as part of plan evacuate Arab population for all-out fight against Jews”. Cited changes in Israel since fighting and asserted “what was done cannot now be undone”. Arabs, he felt, have land area 36 times Israel, have water and oil. Hence do not need additional territory (and in apparent reference to Negev) “or additional deserts”, which he suggested “are best left to Israel with whom won’t remain desert”. Claimed that if area problem only between Israel and Arab states would not be serious. But how tension anywhere will end these days difficult foresee. Stated that despite Armistice Agreement hundreds killed on Jordan and Egyptian borders, economic hostilities (such as Suez blockade) continued. Expressed fear area tension not merely local affair, but like Korea Middle East might become ground new international outbreak. Minimum required in interests world peace in cessation all hostile acts—military, political, economic and psychological. Israel, Prime Minister stated, will make contribution resettlement Arab refugees in Arab states, and is prepared for economic, cultural and even military cooperation with Arab states if Secretary finds Arab desire for positive cooperation. If Arabs not prepared for formal peace agreements, hoped United States could be helpful in obtaining cessation hostile acts in area, possibly through extending scope of present armistice agreements.
In reply to Prime Minister, Secretary stated he had come to listen and learn, was familiar with Israel’s history and present creative activity, admired both and felt they created feeling of common debt in which was more binding than formal treaty of alliance. Agreeing Soviet peace overtures merely tactic, which could hardly be otherwise in view Soviet ideology and belief that harmony only possible in wholly Communist world, Secretary urged need to be on guard, particularly against danger permitting Soviet tactics divide free world. While United States believes in testing willingness USSR make concessions and is prepared workout accommodation with Soviet Union, does not believe few kind words change Communist doctrine. Citing absence assurances of armistice in Korea, attack on Indochina, indications from disposition Soviet Forces of potential buildup in East Germany, Secretary stressed that situation still dangerous and confronts free world with problem matching Soviets strength without losing essential freedoms. In this connection, underscored that nothing United States is doing should be interpreted as reflecting United States belief Soviet threat less dangerous. United States carrying forward planning started last December prior Stalin’s death. Basic objective that planning, Secretary pointed out, misuse of United States productivity to sustain military strength over long period without weakening [Page 39] economy. Decisions taken at NATO were consistent with that objective: In order eliminate possibility economic collapse, costs reduced by concentrating on buildup of quality rather than quantity.
Regarding the Prime Minister’s opening remarks, Secretary stated he was impressed with good wishes for success of mission in winning friendship of Arabs and wished to comment frankly. Expressed conviction that without goodwill and confidence of Arabs United States would not be able to play useful role in area. Explained that Arabs feel Roosevelt and Truman administration so subject to Jewish influence that Arab viewpoint ignored. Decisions often taken under pressure United States Jewish groups which felt they had right exercise influence because of contributions to election victory. New administration, Secretary pointed out, was elected by overwhelming vote of American people as whole and neither owes that type of political debt to any segment nor believes in building power by cultivating particular segments of populations.
Called attention to belief President Eisenhower that while United States policy must continue support for Israel as great creative achievement which has evoked sympathy of American people, must also make Arabs realize United States concern for them. States his belief Prime Minister would agree best interests Israel would be served by healthier, friendlier United States-Arab relations. One of major obstacles to improving environment United States-Arab relations, Secretary indicated, was group in United States which feels anything done for Arabs is necessarily contrary Israel interests. Because of activities this group and of pro-Arab group there is strong feeling that United States policy must either be pro-Israel or pro-Arab and cannot be both. Referring to Foreign Minister Sharett’s remarks previous day on kind of peace Israel sought, Secretary stated that while there might be disagreement on tactics and details there appear to be no fundamental differences; United States sympathetic and would like to see Israel obtain substantially kind of peace it sought. But suggested would be futile in view fanatical emotionalism of Arabs for United States to support such peace merely as advocate of Israel. Arabs feel that new administration is opportunity improve relations with United States and one of purposes of trip is to indicate United States interest in them. Ability accomplish this purpose may depend on understanding of United States Jews, Secretary stated, and suggested that Prime Minister might be able to help United States to help Israel in this regard.
Summing up United States approach Secretary indicated United States not trying set right all wrongs of world, did not desire interfere where not wanted and where cannot be helpful. But United States had influence, was concerned with peace in world, with conflicts [Page 40] in non-Communist world which could weaken free world in face Communist threat, and would like to see breaches healed. Urging confidence in friendly attitude United States and reaffirming United States sympathy for Israel, Secretary indicated that “if United States efforts to be of assistance in area are considered unfriendly to Israel, if they are misunderstood by United States Jews, if they lead to internal difficulties in United States,” then United States “would have to permit events in area to take their course”. Prime Minister closed by saying that if Secretary accomplished his mission with Arabs, he (Prime Minister) would see what he could do about problem raised by Secretary.
In conversation with Sharett at dinner previous evening, Secretary expressed hope Foreign Ministry would not be moved while Secretary on trip designed improve climate in area. Sharett said it would not. Secretary added he would, of course, have to reserve United States’ position on Jerusalem for some time subsequent.
- This conversation took place in the office of the Prime Minister, in Jerusalem.↩