Palestine

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 1947.

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Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich 12:00 am, 11th December 1947

I have quoted to my hon. Friend from Lord Rothschild, Mr. Balfour and Mr. Harold Laski. They seem to be conclusive.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) on his speech, which I thought was a very brave speech indeed. I agree with almost everything he said, which is not always the case in this House, and particularly with his appeal to the Arab States. The thing that always fills me with horror about imposing any form of partition is the fear that even now may be realised—I hope it will not—that there should be a religious war. I join with the hon. Member in the hope that every effort will be made on the part of our Arab friends to see that no injustice is done to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in towns on the coast of Africa and in Bagdad, and who have lived there for years with the Arab population. Once a religious war breaks out, God help them. I hope, with my hon. Friend, that every kind of effort will be made to see that that does not happen.

My hon. Friends the Members for Luton (Mr. Warbey) and East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) seemed to indicate that they have seen the red light. They have thought, quite erroneously, what lots of people have said to me, that the Arabs would in the end not fight and would accept partition. There is going to be very considerable and prolonged resistance to that proposal, however it is introduced or proposed. It comes ill from them, after the confidence that they showed, that they should ask the Government to turn round on their own terms with the Arabs. Let us make no mistake about the matter. The Arabs are convinced that His Majesty's Government mean what they say that we shall have no part in imposing a solution which is not acceptable to Arabs and Jews. There is no question that the proposal for partition is not acceptable to the Arabs.

I understood the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) to say that we should facilitate the implementation of this policy. I would like to be quite clear what he means by facilitate. If he means that we should hand over the books in good order and show the other people the way into the countryside and that we should not just drop everything and run, or show them how to find their way about, well and good. If by facilitate he means keeping order in such a manner in the country as it is kept today so that the Jewish police can do what they like and the Arab police are prevented from doing what they think is right, it will not be a good idea at all.

I read into the speech of the hon. Member for East Coventry the idea that we should use force to deal with the Arabs, who have never accepted the Mandate or the Balfour Declaration. They have certainly never accepted this partition and they are prevented from taking such steps as they think fit to defend what they regard as their interests. I agree with the right hon. Member for West Bristol that we should get out as soon as possible, and the sooner the better, even if it should be necessary to leave some of our stores.

What puzzled me about the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol—I know that he is an ardent partitionist—was that, at the same time as demanding partition, he was also demanding greater unity. That seemed to me a curious course to follow. I do not see how greater unity can be achieved by indulging in partition. There is no use at the present time talking past history to any considerable extent. I hope that whatever the Government may decide, they will turn a completely deaf ear to the clamours of the armchair strategists who are so anxious that the Government should reverse their policy and indulge in the imposition of force. I hope the Government will not do anything of the kind. I shall not mention any names, but it always seems astonishing to me that people who have not done very much fighting always seem very keen on having a nice war. I am confident that the general feeling of the public in this country is that the sooner our men are out of Palestine the better, and I hope that the Government will adhere to that policy and get our men out as soon as possible.

While I say it is no use harking back to the past, in justice to our Arab friends I think it is useful to recapitulate one or two points, and particularly the point to which I have already referred in connection with the Jewish settlements in the bazaars on the north coast of Africa—namely, that the Arabs in Palestine and elsewhere have always lived at peace with the indigenous Jews. The quarrel is with the European. It is not the fact that the European who happens to come in is a Jew that the Arab dislikes, but the idea that he is going to be kicked out of his country and dominated by a foreign invader.

I must remind the House that the Arabs are the only group of nations who really offered sanctuary to the Jews. They have excepted Palestine, I agree, but the Arab nations themselves have always said that they will join with others in solving the problem of displaced persons, particularly the Jews, and will accept them in all the Arab territories with the exception of Palestine. It has nothing whatever to do with the Arabs that the Jews were persecuted in Europe. Why the Arabs should be asked to find a solution to the problem I fail to understand. It certainly is not just. While I do not want to harp on this problem of the persecution and the horrors which were perpetrated in Central Europe, may I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester that my co-religionists lost as many people in gas chambers as his own. That fact is not always recognised as often as it should be.

I would like to say one or two things about the present partition proposal. What staggers me is, first, that anybody should think it will work, because it will not; and secondly, that anybody should think it is just. How can one possibly envisage areas which are almost 50 per cent. Arab being handed over to the Jews? So far as I know—my right hon. Friend or anybody else can correct me if I am wrong—the population concerned consists roughly of 450,000 Arabs under Jewish control. If one leaves out Tel Aviv altogether, in which there are about 170,000 Jews and 5,000 Arabs, under this partition there will be 445,000 Arabs dominated by 380,000 Jews. How can you say that such an arrangement will work satisfactorily or can be considered just? I am sure that it will not make for peace, but that it will make for war and the frightening situation which we have already discussed. Whatever else you may say about the Arabs, it is true that they have always sought a peaceful solution. Right up to the very end at U.N.O. they threw everything into the pot and tried hard to find some sort of federal system which would be acceptable, but the intransigents among the Zionists made it out of the question.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said that there are some interests in this matter, and I think there is something in that suggestion. The Dead Sea salt is one of those interests. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of there being 33,000 million tons of it. I remember asking questions in the House and eliciting the information that on the 1925 valuation—and there is no difficulty in getting it if one goes about it in the right way—it was worth £240,000 million, and it would be worth double that amount today. That does not take into account gold and other minerals. There is another point which the House ought to know. The Arabs have been told—and I myself was told by one of the most prominent Arabs, King Ibn Saud—that the American Zionists' plan for the Arab peninsula is to get a foothold in Palestine and then spread and take all the surrounding areas. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but that is the official doctrine as preached to the Arab leaders by the Americans who say that that is the American Zionist policy. One can understand why the Arabs are very loth to agree to any partition.

A great deal has been said about what has happened at U.N.O., of how fair the decision was, and that, because the decision had been taken, we ought to put our wills, consciences and intelligence into the locker under the bed and just do what we are told. I never realised when I became a supporter of U.N.O. that that would be expected of me. I agree that I expected that I should have to abide by the majority decision, and I am prepared to do so, but it does not make me change my view because the majority of an organisation like that take a certain decision. The question is whether the decision was fairly taken. It is well known in Arab circles that the State Department gave the most specific assurances of complete neutrality, and that they would do nothing whatsoever to persuade the nations at the Council of the United Nations to vote one way or another. According to my Arab informant, had the votes been taken on 26th November, partition would have been defeated by 30 votes in favour, and 18 votes against, because there would not have been the necessary two-thirds majority; whereas three days later, on 29th November, it was carried by 33 votes to 13, giving the necessary two-thirds majority.

I want to quote from the "Philadelphia Record" of 3rd December, 1947: Only a few people knew it, but President Truman cracked down harder on his State Department than ever before to swing United Nations votes for the partition of Palestine. Truman called acting Secretary of State Bob Lovett over to the White House on Wednesday and again Friday, warning him he would demand a full explanation if nations which usually line up with the United States failed to do so on Palestine. Truman had in mind the fact that such countries as Liberia"— which, incidentally, was anti-partitionist on 26th November— wholly dependent on the United States; Greece, which would fall overnight without American aid;"— she voted against partition— Haiti"— which was against partition one night and for it the next— which always follows Washington's lead; and Ethiopia, also indebted to the United States, were stepping out of line on Palestine. Half a dozen Latin-American countries were doing likewise, and Truman had inside word that the reason was secret sabotage by certain State Department officials. Mrs. Roosevelt was among those who urged Truman to get busy … In the end, a lot of people used their influence to whip voters into line. Harvey Firestone, who monopolises the rubber plantations of Liberia, got busy with the Liberian Government. Adolph Berle, Adviser to the President of Haiti, swung that vote, Frieda Kirchwey, Editor of the Nation, called Foreign Minister Cal Berenson of New Zealand on the Trans-Pacific telephone and won New Zealand's vote. China's Ambassador Wellington Koo warned his Government that he would resign if China failed to take a stand on Palestine. He did not succeed. French Ambassador Bonnet pleaded with his crisis-laden Government for partition, despite Moslem threats in North Africa which face harrassed France. He did succeed. However, the two men who swung the most important influence were Foreign Minister Evatt of Australia, who was defeated for the Presidency of the United Nations, and his friend Oswaldo Aranha, who defeated him—both of whom worked together to put acrsos Palestine partition. Had the vote been taken on 26th November partition would have been defeated. It was delayed until 29th November while the pressure was put on, and so it was carried through. That is the background of what is supposed to be a fair and proper decision. When it was discussed whether the United Nations could legally decide this problem the vote in favour of United Nations legality was only carried by 21 votes to 20. In other words, very nearly 50 per cent. of the nations really thought that U.N.O. had no legal right to come to a decision at all.

The Arab peoples, of course, merely think they have been let down—as it seems to me they have—and they have no intention whatever of accepting the proposal. For further American opinion on this subject I will quote another extract, written on 20th November, 1947, from the "New York Times," signed by Mr. Harold Hoskins, who was for a considerable time President Roosevelt's adviser in the Middle East during the war years, and some nine or ten other people whose names I do not remember. This is what Mr. Harold Hoskins and his friends wrote: The Jewish national home already established"— meaning as it is, and as we know it —" can continue, but if the United Nations permit mass immigration, and if the Jews establish their own sovereign State, bitter war in the Middle East is inevitable. The 40 million inhabitants of the Arab League States regard Palestine as vitally important to their renascent heritage. It is 20 years too late to consider the partition of Palestine.

Having said that, and put that on record, let me say that the Arabs still want a peaceful solution. They still believe that if somebody would take the lead, a way would be found out of the difficulties. They have offered every kind of federalisation, and they have offered security to the Jews, with whom they intensely desire to live at peace; but they are not going to agree to partition of any kind whatever, and they wonder if it is not possible for an approach to be made between the Americans and the Arabs or the Arabs and the Jews, even at this late hour, in order to prevent what will certainly be a long and bitter period of bloodshed.

If there is no alternative to partition, then I do wish to add my own voice to those who have already expressed their desire that the Government should clear out quickly. The example has been set in the way in which Tel Aviv has been handed over to a Jewish police force working with the British Police. There is no reason whatsoever why, in other parts of the country, similar arrangements should not be made with both parties. If my right hon. Friend is not satisfied that they have enough strength or organisation to do this, surely there would be no difficulty in suggesting to the Arab States that they should lend a hand? I want our troops out as soon as possible. I do not want to see them left there until 15th May or 1st August. The sooner we get out the better for everybody.

It must be made abundantly clear to everybody—to the Arabs, in particular—that our method of handing over is a fair one. If, as a result of circumstances, unlimited Jewish immigration takes place, then that clearly, will be non-fulfilment of our promise. If, as a result of our trying to keep control until 15th May, what we call illegal immigration goes on at ever increasing speed, then the Arabs will consider themselves completely and utterly betrayed. Whatever anybody may think about the findings of U.N.O., in my view U.N.O. committed political suicide when it came to this decision. I think it has killed itself stone dead already, and that is absolutely deplorable. I hope some solution other than a Holy War along the whole of the North Coast of Africa and eastwards may be prevented, and that some sort of federalisation, even at this late hour, between the Arabs and the Jews may be found as a possible solution.