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MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH MAHMOUD FAWZI BEY
August 27, 1948
After a preliminary exchange of courtesies during which I commented on Fawzi Bey’s impending departure for Cairo, he said that he wished to discuss three subjects with me. These subjects were the problem of Palestine in general, the problem of the Arab refugees, and question of Arab representation in the United Nations.
Fawzi Bey briefly stated that he and other Arab officials had been thinking of what could be practically done to solve the situation in Palestine. He said that time was an important factor. Two things which cause the Arab leaders concern at this moment are the aspirations and plans of the Zionists and the threat of Communism in the Middle East. He believed that it was most essential to find a solution to the Palestine difficulties which could permit the Near Eastern states to resume a more normal life. He pointed out that projects and plans which had been developed by the Arab states had come to a standstill. It was essential that they be started again as soon as possible. Before offering any suggestions as to how the Palestine situation could be improved Fawzi Bey turned to the other two matters he wished to discuss with me.
Fawzi Bey remarked that the problem of the Arab refugees was becoming a serious question. The Arabs believed that these peoples were entitled to return to their homes. He cited the opinion of Count Bernadotte that the refugees should be allowed to return without the imposition of any conditions. He said that there was a universal belief among the Arab states that something would have to be done very soon since the refugees were becoming a great burden upon the adjacent Arab states.
Turning to the question of Arab representation on the United Nations the Egyptian representative spoke chiefly about the vacancies which will occur on the Security Council at the end of this year. While he did not announce Egypt’s candidacy for the Security Council, he left no doubt in my mind that Egypt would be a candidate and would have the support of Syria. He expressed appreciation for the support which the Arab states had received from the United States in the past for election to the various United Nations’ Councils and Commissions. He thought that it would be a valuable demonstration of the good faith of the United Nations if they elected an Arab state to the Security Council this year. In addition it would have a very salutary effect in the Arab world.
Fawzi Bey then came back to the question of Palestine. He said that if it were possible to find some solution based on principle taking into account political realities, we might be nearer to a solution which could, in the long run, be acquiesced in by the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. He suggested that the principle of self-determination might be utilized on the basis of Jewish and Arab population in separate districts in Palestine. He thought it would be realistic to accept as a fact the presence of Jews in Palestine who had come there in the last twenty-five years even though the great majority of them were non-Palestinian. He believed that if it were possible to delineate boundaries on the basis of population areas a major step toward peace would have been achieved. The second important step, the relationship between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, could be settled thereafter. Whether it would be in the form of entirely separate states, or in the form of a dual government like the Austro-Hungarian Empire or a federal state would be left for future determination.
I then responded to the points raised by Fawzi Bey along the following lines:
(a) Displaced Arab Refugees—There were two aspects to this problem. First, there was the question of immediate relief required to prevent a catastrophe. Secondly, there was the long range question of what could be done to return the displaced persons to their homes. With regard to the first aspect, the request of Count Bernadotte to the United States for assistance had been more than met by contributions from various organizations in the United States.2 The Red Cross had sent medical supplies valued at over $200,000. The Church World Service had sent over 35,000 pounds of clothing. The request for DDT had also been met while the oil companies had given monetary contributions amounting to $200,000. The Red Cross had authorized an additional $200,000 for medical supplies and there were other contributions both in money, clothing and medical supplies which had brought the amount contributed from the United States above that requested by Count Bernadotte. The United States had also supported allocation of the ICEF [International Children’s Emergency Fund] for the relief of Near Eastern children. We did not know what other govern¬ments had done. As regards the long range problem we under¬stood it would cost two or three million dollars a month to provide for the refugees. This, however, would simply keep them from starving or dying from disease. We could not say exactly what steps should be taken to effect a permanent settlement since there would be enormous difficulties confronting us. Among these would be whether the homes of the displaced Arabs had been destroyed or occupied by people who had recently arrived in Palestine. However, we would give our support to the Mediator in his efforts to secure a settlement of this matter.
(b) Arab Representation in the UN—I was familiar with the representation on the United Nation Councils. The United States had not come to any conclusion on whom it would support to fill the vacancy which would be created by the expiration of Syria’s term this year. However, with regard to Egypt the United States would of course have to note the fact that Egypt was a party to two cases on the Council’s agenda i.e. the Anglo-Egyptian case and the Palestine question.3
(c) Palestine—I told Fawzi Bey that I would give thought to his suggestion regarding the possibility of working out a solution to the difficulties there on the basis of self-determination. At the present moment the United States was giving full support to Count Bernadotte. I said that I knew Count Bernadotte was being subjected to some criticism but nobody had suggested to me any person who could do a better job. He has a most difficult job as the Palestine Mediator. I could speak from my experience in China on the difficulties which mediators have to confront.
With regard to the positions of the Arabs and Jews Bernadotte was facing a very difficult situation. It was now apparent that the Israeli forces had achieved a certain degree of military success and were being more difficult to deal with. Some months ago the situation was the reverse. When I had talked with Arab leaders in New York, they were quite polite but there was an unmistakable note in their tones that they would rely on force in the event they were unable to achieve their desires by other means. It is a serious error to imply that force will be used to settle matters, particularly if one’s military potential is not adequate to support the threat. By this I did not mean that it was an error to have a force in hand.
An additional difficulty in the situation is the fact that leaders of both sides have permitted the public to be misled and inflamed by sanctioning intransigent statements which do not accord with the facts. Count Bernadotte would have a very difficult time dealing with the question as long as the leaders of both sides did little to exert a calming influence. The situation requires great statesmanship from both the Israeli and Arab leaders.
In connection with Fawzi Bey’s remark about the concern of the Arab leaders about the entry of Communism in the Middle East I said that this was also a cause of concern to the United States. I hoped that the leaders in the Near Eastern areas would recognize the necessity for stabilizing conditions in order that Communism might not spread.
I then reviewed briefly some of the problems which confront the United States in other parts of the world as well as in the Near East. I mentioned China, Japan (where we were spending a billion dollars a year) and Europe. I said that we were very hopeful that the European Recovery Program would be successful at an early date. This would be beneficial to the Near East and Asia.
NA/RG 59 (Central Decimal File, 867N.01/8–2748)
1. Mahmoud Fawzi Bey was the Egyptian representative to the United Nations. Also in attendance were Anis Azer, the chargé d’affaires of the Egyptian embassy, Raymond A. Hare, the acting director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, and his special assistant, S. K. C. Kopper, who drafted the memorandum.
2. For details on American aid to Palestine in response to Count Bernadotte’s call for assistance, see Marshall to Lovett, August 20, 1948, pp. 000–00.
3. Egypt had in July of 1947 requested that the Security Council overturn the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and order Britain to evacuate its military forces from Egypt and the Sudan.