22 September 1947

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume V: Near East and Africa, Pages 1153-1158, 501.BB Palestine/9-2247

With profound sympathies for Arab state interests and a highly vocal advocate for the US cultivating those and greater Moslem interests for a wide ranging number of political and economic reasons, Henderson was passionately anti-Zionist. He willingly admitted his anti-Zionist attitudes in interviews he gave after leaving the State Department in the mid-1950s.  He was totally against the establishment of a Jewish state, against the partition of Palestine, and in favor of Palestine being administered as a trusteeship, perhaps under joint US and British direction, or under US administration.  This particular letter sent to Secretary of State Marshall summarizes those views. It was sent two months before the UN approved creating Arab and Jewish states in Palestine, Until the British left Palestine in May 1948, Henderson vigorously advocated against a Jewish state. 

Ken Stein, April 2021


   Dear Mr. Secretary: I went to New York on September 15 with General Hilldring at the request of Mr. Lovett to present our views as to what you might say in your speech of September 17 with regard to Palestine. I had just returned from Greece and was not really prepared to enter into a full discussion as to the attitude which we should assume with regard to the UNSCOP report. I am afraid, therefore, that I did not give the views of my office, which are also those nearly every member of the Foreign Service or of the Department who has worked to any appreciable extend on Near Eastern problems, in the manner in which they should have been presented. 

   The attitude which we assume towards the Palestine problem during the proceedings of this Special Session may have far-reaching effects upon our relations with the peoples of the Near East and with Moslems everywhere. It may greatly influence the extent of success or of failure of some of the efforts to promote world stability and to prevent further Soviet penetration into important areas free as yet form Soviet domination. I consider, therefore, that it is my duty briefly to point out some of the considerations which cause the overwhelming majority of non-Jewish American who are intimately acquainted with the situation in the Near East to believe that it would not be in the national interest of the United States for it to advocate any kind of a plan at this time for the partitioning of Palestine or for the setting up of a Jewish State in Palestine. 


   1. An advocacy on our part of any plan providing for the partitioning of Palestine or the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish state would be certain to undermine our relations with the Arab, and to a lesser extent with the Moslem, world at a time when the Western world needs the friendship and cooperation of the Arabs and other Moslems.

   Without at least a degree of Arab cooperation we shall encounter numerous difficulties in connection with any support which we may give to the efforts of the British to find bases which will enable Great Britain to remain as a stabilizing power in the Eastern Mediterranean. We shall need the confidence and cooperation of the Arabs in the near future if we are to achieve any success in forestalling violent Arab nationalists uprisings against the French in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The resources and geographical position of the Arab countries are of such a character that those countries are necessarily factors of importance in the international economic field. Arab friendship is essential if we are to have their cooperation in carrying out of some of our vital economic programs. During the next few years we are planning to draw heavily on resources of the area, not only for our use, but for the reconstruction of Europe. Furthermore, we are intending to make important use of the communications facilities in the area. Already, partly as a result of our policies regarding Palestine, the attitude of the Arab Governments towards American firms has changed sharply and their demands on the firms are becoming more and more truculent and extravagant. Loss of confidence in the sense of justness and in the impartiality of the United States has been accompanied during the last two years in the Arab world by a growing suspicion of our overall motives and by increasing doubts as to our national integrity. Although the Arabs have in general no use for Communism, they feel so emotional with regard to the problem of Palestine that if an attempt should actually be made to set up a Jewish State in Palestine in pursuance of decisions supported by us, they may consider the United States as their foremost enemy and enter into at least temporary cooperation with the Soviet Union against us just as we cooperated with the Russians during the war years against common enemies. 

   If we press for a Jewish state, we shall undoubtedly weaken the position of moderate Arabs who are friends of the western world and strengthen that of the fanatical extremists. Just last week, for instance, one of the moderate Arab leaders was slain in Palestine by followers of the fanatical Mufti. 

   2. If we advocate a plan providing for partitioning and the setting up of a Jewish State, we shall certainly be expected to make major contributions in force, materials and money to the implementation of such a plan if it is adopted

  We are under tremendous pressure at the present time to advocate such a plan. If we do, and if the plan is adopted, we shall be under still greater pressure to contribute to its implementation. We shall be lacking in courage and consistency, it will be argued, if after a plan supported by us has been adopted we do not do our part in carrying it out. Furthermore, we shall be expected to bear the main burden of implementation. We have shown more interest in the Palestine problem than any other great Power, except Great Britain, and Great Britain is beginning to weary of the Palestine burden. Furthermore, the execution of a partition plan such as that in the majority report will be a task lasting over a period of many years. Differences arising from attempts to carry out such a plan will arise to plague every session of the General Assembly. As one of the sponsors for the execution of the plan, we shall be the target for bitter attacks by both Arabs and Jews. 

   3. Any plan for partitioning Palestine would be unworkable

   Of all the previous committees which have ever studied the Palestine problem, on the Royal (Peel) Commission of 1937 recommended partition as a solution. 

  The Partition (Woodhead) Commission set up in 1938 to carry out the Peel proposals was unable to devise a practicable plan for partition, so the Peel recommendation fell to the ground. The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, composed of six prominent Britishers and six well-known Americans, stated in their report of April 20, 1946: 

   “Partition has an appeal at first sight as giving a prospect of early independence and self-governance to Jews and Arabs, but in our view no partition would have any chance unless it was basically acceptable to Jews and Arabs, and there is no sign of that today. We are accordingly unable to recommend partition as a solution.”

   If complete partition would be unsuccessful unless acceptable to Jews and Arabs, how much chance of success in the face of fierce Arab opposition has the UNSCOP majority plan which provides for and economic union of the two states—a union which cannot possibly succeed without Arab-Jewish friendship and cooperation? Irrigation ditches, railways, roads, telephones and telegraph lines, etc. must pass through both states. These facilities cannot function if the population of one state is hostile to that of the other. If political partition providing for the incorporation of 400,000 Arabs in a Jewish State is forced on the population of Palestine, this hostility will exist and will increase. 

   4. The UNSCOP Majority Plan is not only unworkable; if adopted, it would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future. 

   Some of the reasons for the unworkability of the Majority Plan are: 

   (a) It is not possible for the two states to have political individuality and economic unity if the population of one or both of these states objects to such a partnership and refuses to cooperate; 

   (b) In case economic unity is found to be unworkable, it would not be possible to have complete economic individuality since the terrain of the country and the nature of the communications are such that the two states are inextricably meshed economically; 

   (c) In spite of the arguments advanced to the contrary in the report, an Arab state of the type envisaged would not be viable even if subsidized by receiving half of the revenues derived from the customs and other services; 

   (d) The cost of policing, in view of both extreme Arab and Jewish irredentism, would be more than the combined national budget could bear. 

   5. The Majority Plan does not dispose once for all of the Palestine problem because: 

   (a) It provides for an economic union to be presided over by a Joint Economic Board, the members of which shall consist of three representatives of each of the two States and the foreign members appointed by the Economic and Social Council. An organ of the United Nations must, therefore, indefinitely act as an economic umpire between these two states. Will representatives of the Great Powers serve on this Board? If so, will an American serve? In case important Jewish interests are involved, is the American Government to be put under constant internal political pressure to order its representative to side with the Jewish State? Is the Soviet Union or a Soviet satellite to be represented by one of the three members? If so, what kind of a role such a representative be likely to play? 

   (b) The majority plan provides that if either of the two states should fail to take the steps suggested in the plan, including the calling of a constituent assembly, the setting up of a provisional government, the making of a Declaration, etc., the fact will be communicated by the United Nations for such action by the General Assembly as may be deemed proper. 

  It is likely that the Arab State will not take the steps suggested and that, therefore, the whole Palestine problem will be back on the doorstep of the General Assembly within two years. 

   We are convinced that no plan can be found which will completely dispose of the Palestine problem so far as the United Nations is concerned at this session. I have stressed the fact that the majority plan does not rid us of this problem merely because there has been some thinking in the Department to the effect that if it is adopted, we can finally wash our hands of this disagreeable matter. 

   6. The proposals contained in the UNSCOP plan are not only not based on any principles of an international character, the maintenance of which would be in the interests of the United States, but they are in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based. 

   These proposals, for instance, ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and even go so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine. We have hitherto always held that in our foreign relations American citizens, regardless of race or religion, are entitled to uniform treatment. The stress on whether persons are Jews or non-Jews is certain to strengthen feelings among both Jews and Gentiles in the United States and elsewhere that Jewish citizens are not the same as other citizens. 

   The United States is undoubtedly honor bound to take steps that make sure that the Jews in Palestine are not discriminated against and that they participate on at least an equal basis with other peoples in the Government of Palestine. We are under no obligations to the Jews to set up a Jewish State. The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate provided not for a Jewish State, but for a Jewish national home. Neither the United States nor the British Government has ever interpreted the term “Jewish national home” to be a Jewish national state. 

   7. Tactics which the United States should pursue in the handling of the Palestine problem before the present session of the General Assembly

   In our opinion, there is no ready solution of the Palestine problem to which both Jews and Arabs would acquiesce to such an extent as to render it workable. Any kind of an imposed solution opposed by the majority of either Arabs or the Jews is bound to result in failure, involving much loss of property and bloodshed and loss of prestige to the supporters and executers of the plan, as well as to the whole United Nations. If a solution is found which is workable, it will, we believe, be evolved only after long and protracted discussions during the course of which the moderate Jews and moderate Arabs would find common ground. If we are the beginning either take the Arab or the Jewish side of the controversy, it will be extremely difficult for either the moderate Arabs or the moderate Jews to get together. 

   Our Government has already stated that we will give serious weight to the majority of proposals. On an early occasion, we should repeat this statement, making it clear at the same time that our minds are by no means closed and that we shall also give due weight to the views of other nations and particularly of the interested parties. 

   During the debates regarding the merits of the various plans, we should not play too active a role. We should create the respect of all fair-minded persons by being, so far as possible, strictly impartial. We should concentrate our efforts primarily on working out agreements of all parties with regard to as many points as possible. It seems to us that there is a possibility that the moderates in both camps might be led to acquiesce in a sufficient number of points to enable the setting up of a trusteeship for a period of years which would be instructed to function in such a neutral manner as not to favor either partition or a single state. At the conclusion of this term of years, there could be a plebiscite on the question of partition, in light of which the General Assembly could make its final decision on this fateful question. Any kind of temporary arrangement should probably provide for immediate Jewish immigration of at least 100,000 persons. 

   It may be impossible even to work out a delayed solution such as that outlined above. If so, the Palestine problem will probably become even more of a world problem than at the present time.  

   It is realized that the tactics outlined above are not likely to appeal to those of us who prefer to approach all problems with energy and decisiveness. There are times, however, when energy and decisiveness are appropriate.