Truman’s secret Note to Ben-Gurion

On May 28, 1949, President Truman of the USA wrote a strongly worded but secret Note to David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, protesting the rigid Israeli attitude at the Lausanne Conference, which was then in progress under the auspices of the UN Conciliation Commission. The conference was attempting to bring about a peace agreement following the 1948-49 war between Israel and the Arab states.

The following is my transcript of the Note taken from the journal series US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1949, vol.6, 1072:

My own explanatory comments appear within square brackets.

501.BB Palestine/5-2849: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Embassy in Israel

Pres desires you deliver following note classified secret immediately to Ben-Gurion.
Excellency: I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that the Pres of the US has instructed me to inform the Govt of Israel as fols: 

The Govt of the US is seriously disturbed by the attitude of Israel with respect to a territorial settlement in Palestine and to the question of Palestinian refugees, as set forth by the representatives of Israel at Lausanne [where a peace conference was being held under the auspices of the Palestine Conciliation Commission] in public and private meetings.

According to Dr. Eytan, the Israeli Govt will do nothing further about Palestinian refugees at the present time, although it has under consideration certain urgent measures of limited character. In connection with territorial matters, the position taken by Dr. Eytan apparently contemplates not only the retention of all territory now held under military occupation by Israel, which is clearly in excess of the partition boundaries of Nov 29, 1947 [UNGA Resolution 181, recommending the Plan of Partition with Economic Union], but possibly an additional acquisition of further territory within Palestine.

As a mem of the UN PCC [Palestine Conciliation Commission – the other two members were France and Turkey] and as a nation which has consistently striven to give practical effect to the principles of the UN, the US Govt has recently made a number of representations to the Israeli Govt, concerning the repatriation of refugees who fled from the conflict in Palestine. These representations were in conformity with the principles set forth in the resolution of the GA of Dec 11,1947 [Resolution 194 setting up the Palestine Conciliation Commission], and urged the acceptance of the principal of substantial repatriation and the immediate beginnings of repatriation on a reasonable scale which would be well within the numbers to be agreed in a final settlement. The US Govt conceded that a final settlement of the refugee problem must await a definitive peace settlement. These representations, as well as those made concurrently to the Arab States concerning the resettlement outside of Palestine of a substantial portion of Palestine refugees, were made in the firm conviction that they pointed the way to a lasting peace in that area.

In the interests of a just and equitable solution of territorial questions the US Govt, in the UN and as a mem of the PCC, has supported the position that Israel should be expected to offer territorial compensation for any territorial acquisition which it expects to effect beyond the boundaries set forth in the res of the GA of Nov 29, 1947 [Resolution 181, recommending the Plan of Partition with Economic Union]. The Govt of Israel has been well aware of this position and of the view of the US Govt that it is based upon elementary principles of fairness and equity.

The US Govt is deeply concerned to learn from Dr. Eytan’s statements that the suggestions both on refugees and on territorial questions which have been made by it for the sole purpose of advancing prospects of peace have made so little impression upon the Govt of Israel.

The US attitude of sympathy and support for Israel has arisen out of broad American interest and principles, particularly out of its support for the UN and its desire to achieve peace and security in the Near-East on a realistic basis. The US Govt and people have given generous support to the creation of Israel because they have been convinced of the justice of this aspiration. The US Govt does not, however, regard the present attitude of the Israeli Govt as being consistent with the principles upon which US support has been based. The US Govt is gravely concerned lest Israel now endanger the possibility of arriving at solution of the Palestine problem in such a way as the contribute to the establishment of sound and friendly relations between Israel and its neighbors.

The Govt of Israel should entertain no doubt whatever that the US Govt relies upon it to take responsible and positive action concerning Palestine refugees and that far from supporting excessive Israeli claims to further territory in Palestine, the US Govt believes that it is necessary for Israel to offer territorial compensation for territory which it expects to acquire beyond the boundaries of the Nov 29, 1947 res of the GA.

The Govt of Israel must be aware that the attitude which it has thus far assumed at Lausanne must inevitably lead to a rupture in those conversations. The US Govt must state in candor that it considers that the Govt of Israel must provide a basis for a continuation of such talks under the auspices of the PCC and that a rupture arising out of the rigid attitude of the Govt of Israel would place a heavy responsibility upon that Govt and people.

If the Govt of Israel continues to reject the basic principles set forth by the res of the GA of Dec 11, 1948 and the friendly advice offered by the US Govt for the sole purpose of facilitating a genuine peace in Palestine, the US Govt will regretfully be forced to the conclusion that a revision of its attitude has become unavoidable.


About David Gerald Fincham

Retired academic scientist.
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