A historical Survey of Proposals to




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Weizmann's Letters

Weizmann wrote a great abundance of letters, thousands in the course of his Zionist career! In a number of his letters written at the period of the publication of the Peel Report, he naturally discussed the population transfer proposal advocated by this Report.

A few days prior to his meeting of 19 July, Weizmann had written to Ormsby-Gore asking him for "authoritative information on certain points." He said, "Among these points, I will cite here first the vital question of transfer. The proposed boundaries of the Jewish State are so narrow that the policy to be pursued as regards transfer will be one of the primary considerations determining the decision of the Jewish people." He then asked what the intentions of the British Government were with regard to the paragraph in the Report recommending transfer, compulsory if necessary. (4)

At the end of September, Weizmann wrote a long letter to Jan Christiaan Smuts, the Prime-Minister of South Africa during the previous decade, who was a supporter of the Zionist cause. In this letter, he used much more guarded and cautious language. "Transfer of Population. The very restricted area of the proposed Jewish State makes some arrangement for the gradual transfer of its Arab population absolutely essential. This will be a difficult and delicate process; its desirability is mentioned by the Royal Commission, but definite and precise arrangements with the Mandatory Power and with the Arab State would be necessary for its successful execution." (5) In the two and-a-half months between writing the letters to Ormsby-Gore and Smuts, there had been some hostile reactions to the population transfer proposal. This may be the reason for Weizmann's more guarded language when writing to Smuts. However, even in this letter, Weizmann in no way withdraws his support for a compulsory transfer.

From a letter written by Weizmann in mid-July to Professor William Rappard of Geneva, who was a member of the Permanent Mandates Commission we can see that Weizmann was pleasantly surprised by the Peel Commission's recommendationfor population transfer. He wrote that there were many disappointing features in the Peel Commission Report when compared with his expectations "but several things are somewhat better; the most important of them all is : Galilee and the question of transfer of population - a very difficult and delicate problem." (6)

Both the twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich and the Geneva sessions of the Permanent Mandates Commission took place during the first half of August. On 14 August, towards the end of the deliberations of these two bodies, Weizmann wrote to Pierre Orts, the President of the Permanent Mandates Commission, saying that he would like to summarise several points to which the Zionist Congress attached the highest importance, in order to complete the notes and verbal explanations which he had given to Orts. (7) A footnote in Weizmann's published volume of letters states that these notes could not be traced.

One of the points concerned the transfer of population. "The Transfer Commission. My

1 / Weizmann, Papers, vol.2, paper 52, p.428 fn.

2 / Private Luncheon Conference called by Dr. Chaim Weizmann, 25 May 1941, op. cit., pp.13-14. 3 / Ibid., pp.15-19.

4 / Weizmann to Ormsby-Gore, 14 July 1937, (PRO CO 733/352 F 75718/21) ; Weizmann Letters, vol.xviii, op. cit., no.139, pp.154-55.

5 / Weizmann to Smuts, 29 September 1937, p.8, (WA) ; Ibid, no.200, p.220. 6 / Weizmann to Rappard, 18 July 1937, (WA) ; Ibid., no.156, p.167.

7 / Weizmann to Orts, 14 August 1937, p.1, (WA) ; Ibid., no.168, p.185, (English translation).

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

colleagues and I attach the greatest importance to this question and we do not delude ourselves as to its difficulties. But the many concrete advantages, which the transferring body offers to us, to the Arabs and to the cause of peace between the two peoples and the two states, lead us to hope that the solution suggested by the Peel Commission be not dismissed out of hand, and that the instrument designed to put it into effect be formed according to this principle. Of course we do not propose to have recourse to constraint or to exercise any coercion whatsoever: only those who wish will be transferred and those who prefer to stay will stay." Weizmann suggested that after the creation of a Jewish State, many of the Moslems and other indigenous persons would wish to leave, in the same way as after the conquest of the Caucasus by Russia, many of the Moslems preferred to emigrate to Turkey. He then wrote about the liquidation of property and the economic life of the Jewish State following transfer. (1)

One immediately notices from this letter that Weizmann is talking about a voluntary transfer of Arabs. Up to now, in his letters and private memoranda, he talks about the "crucial importance" of implementing the Peel Commission's recommendation on transfer - a recommendation which included compulsion, if necessary. Furthermore, in his letter of 14 July, Weizmann specifically queries the Government's intentions regarding the implementation of "Paragraph 43 of Chapter xxii of the (Peel) Report" - the paragraph dealing with compulsory transfer. Why then this change of heart?

We can only suggest the following reasons. This letter was written to the President of the Permanent Mandates Commission, which was at that time at an advanced stage of its deliberations on the Peel Commission's recommendations on Palestine. Early on in these proceedings, the President himself had asked Ormsby-Gore to confirm "that in the event of the creation of the two new states, the proposed transfer of the rural Arab populations would only be effected if those populations freely consented." In other words, at that stage the President was against a compulsory transfer of population. [It seems that when he summarised all the evidence at the end of the sittings of this Commission, he arrived at the conclusion that a transfer would have to be compulsory.] Weizmann, who was a politician with several decades of experience, therefore realised that it would not be prudent to ask the President to put a compulsory transfer into effect.

Another possibility is that Weizmann is not speaking only for himself in this letter but for "My colleagues and I". Since some of his colleagues were against a compulsory transfer, Weizmann spoke of a voluntary transfer.

Nearly two years later, in early 1939, the British convened a conference of Jewish and Arab leaders at St. James's Palace in London. The Arabs, however, refused to meet with the Jews and the British were thus forced to negotiate in separate sessions with the Jewish and Arab leaders. However, some unofficial contacts did take place between the Jewish leaders and delegates from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In one of his letters, Weizmann wrote that during the course of these unofficial meetings with the Iraqis, he had on several occasions put forward a proposal regarding transfer and had "more than once struck a responsive chord". He added that "one of the Iraqi delegates with whom I became rather friendly indicated that he would be prepared to take an active part in helping such a project forward." Weizmann also felt that this transfer suggestion "would be received particularly favourably if the initiative came from America." (2) Weizmann did not state who this Iraqi delegate was but it was quite possibly Tewfiq Suwaidy.

A meeting had also taken place between Pinhas Rutenberg and Suwaidy, and at a meeting of the Jewish Agency in London which was held in late March of that year, Rutenberg delivered a report on it. He had tried to enlist Tewfiq'sapproval for an extended building plan and "hinted also on the possibility of population transfer." Tewfiq reportedly replied, "You come to conquer a land which is not yours; this will not take place and will never be." (3)

Weizmann, however, thought that Suwaidy would be amenable to influence. He said

1 / Ibid., pp.3-4 ; Ibid., pp.186-87, (English translation).

2 / Weizmann to Goldman, 28 April 1939, (WA) ; Ibid., vol.xix, no.52, pp.54-55.

3 / Moshe Shertok, Handwritten Diary entry 22 March 1939, (CZA S25/198/1) ; The Diaries of Moshe Sharett, vol.iv, (Tel- Aviv, 1974), p.186.

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

that "Suwaidy was ready with his colleagues to create a movement by which Palestinian Arabs would go to Iraq, provided the Jews would help develop that country." Rutenberg replied that although "it would be useful to make an effort with Suwaidy", he himself did not believe that Suwaidy could deliver the goods. Weizmann said that he would continue his conversation with Suwaidy in Egypt. (1)

About three weeks later, Weizmann, together with Dr. Dov Joseph, arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. That day, a Sephardi Jewish lawyer from Paris, named Metrani, visited them and had a private conversation with Weizmann. Following this conversation, Weizmann briefly reported on its substance "which related to Tewfiq Suweidi's readiness under certain conditions to assist in the promotion of a project for the settlement of Palestinian Arabs in Iraq."

Joseph then drew Weizmann's attention to the "importance of any such project being presented to the Arab public as a purely Arab project put forward because of the interest of Iraq in increasing its population and developing its vast uncultivated areas." Putting it forward as a Jewish project would cause the Arabs to boycott it. If however, Iraqi government leaders "could be persuaded to commence propaganda among the Arabs of Palestine to move to Iraq" then the Jews could take part in the project and then start buying land in Palestine. Joseph urged that payment should be made in a number of instalments so that it could be stopped if it were to be found that the Arabs were not living up to their agreement.

That evening, when Weizmann met with Tewfiq, their discussion included "the question of the settlement of Palestinian Arabs in Iraq." During this conversation, Tewfiq said that it did not matter what the Mufti thought. Provided that the arrangement was considered by the Arab states to be reasonable, the Arabs of Palestine would accept it.

On the following evening, Metrani came to see Weizmann. They discussed "Tewfiq Suweidi's attitude to the proposed scheme of transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq." ( 2)

As we shall see later, at about the same period, in a letter to an American Zionist leader, Solomon Goldman, Weizmann stated that there was a possibility of acquiring a large tract of land from the Druze community in northern Palestine and transferring the Druze living there to outside Palestine.

From all this we can see that although the British had officially abandoned the Peel Commission partition proposals, which included the transfer of population, Weizmann was still actively working on the idea of the transfer of the Arab population from Palestine.

Weizmann's Hints at Transfer

On no fewer than four further occasions during the 1930s and 40s, Weizmann, in meetings with prominent non-Jews would drop strong hints or make mild proposals on the desirability of transfer of the Arabs from Palestine; (as we can see, in private he was much more forthright!):

1. In 1933, Weizmann put forward in a letter to Alexis Leger, a non-Jew, a cautious proposal regarding transfer of Arabs. In a project which he had prepared and despatched to the French authorities, who were at the time the Mandatory power for Syria and Lebanon, Weizmann wrote, "On the attached plan I have indicated, approximately, two small areas of land adjoining Lake Tiberias and Lake Huleh, [both on the Syrian side of the border] respectively, which we are interested in acquiring (privately) in order to reserve them for Jewish settlement or, perhaps, to transfer there at a later moment a certain number of Arabs from northern Palestine, if they themselves would want this." Weizmann trusted that Henri Ponsot, the High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon, would have no objection to such a transfer, provided that a cordial agreement was concluded with the Arabs concerned. (3)

2. As early as 1931, Weizmann had proposed the transfer of Arabs from Western

1 / Minutes of Jewish Agency Executive, London, (henceforth J.A. Exec., London), 22 March 1939, p.3, (CZA

Z4/302/23).

2 / Dr. Joseph's Diary Notes, 10 April 1939, pp.3-4, 7, (CZA S25/43).

3 / Weizmann to Leger, 17 June 1933, (WA) ; Weizmann to Leger, 15 June 1933 (Rough draft in English), (WA) ; Weizmann Letters, vol.xv, (Jerusalem, 1978), no.426, p.461, (English translation).

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

Palestine to Transjordan. When in 1936, the Peel Commission came to Palestine and took testimony from a number of people, Weizmann gave some of his testimony in camera. On 26 November, he brought up the question of Transjordan and strongly hinted at the possibility of it being the destination for transferred Arabs. Weizmann had claimed that he had repeatedly been asked that the Jews help in the development of Transjordan. He then stated, "There is no question that there should be any mass immigration [of Jews] into Transjordan, or that there should be any desire artificially to induce Arabs in Palestine to go to Transjordan. It could happen in a perfectly natural way." He explained that if an area of Transjordan adjacent to Western Palestine were to be developed, this might produce an "infiltration" of Jews and Arabs into Transjordan. (1)

3. In a memorandum written by Weizmann to the High Commissioner, Sir Harold McMichael, regarding the status of the Woodhead Commission, he referred to the proposal by the Peel Commission for the transfer of Arabs and then wrote, "The possibilities offered by the Peel scheme thus become substantial, assuming that certain modifications could be secured, and that the transfer scheme could, with the help of H. M. Government, be made effective, and carried out within a reasonable period of time." In the months following the publication of the Peel Report, the British Government changed its attitude towards transfer. Weizmann observed that the British Government had announced "that the transfer would in any event be a very slow process" and that when "defining the frontiers of any proposed Jewish area, great care must be taken to include as few Arabs as possible within them." Weizmann held that this retreat from transfer by the British Government was harmful, and wrote that "these statements [by the British] lend themselves to all kinds of interpretation" and arouse the Arabs from making peace. (2)

4. At the end of an meeting held between Weizmann and the American Assistant UnderSecretary of State, Sumner Welles in December 1942, Welles asked Weizmann whether the Zionists were thinking of the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. As was usual with Weizmann when asked this sort of question by some outsider, he gave a vague woolly answer! "I am thinking more in terms of development, and if the development is real, and done on a large scale, there is enough room for everybody, and there may be a voluntary transfer of Arabs from congested areas to less congested areas, when they have been developed. But we would not speak of it. If it comes spontaneously, well and good." (3)

We might mention here that just a few months later, a different assessment of the Zionist intentions in this matter was given by General Patrick J. Hurley, who had been appointed by President Roosevelt to observe and report directly to him on the general conditions prevailing in the Middle East. Naturally, unlike Weizmann, Hurley did not mince his words, and in a letter written by him to Roosevelt in May 1943, he wrote, "For its part, the Zionist organization in Palestine has indicated its committment to an enlarged program for (1) a sovereign Jewish State which would embrace Palestine and probably Transjordania, (2) an eventual transfer of the Arab population from Palestine to Iraq." (4)
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