Harry St John Philby (father of the spy Kim Philby), was a British soldier and archaeologist, who during the First World War served in the Arab Information Office in Cairo. For a long period, he acted as representative for various British companies in Saudi Arabia and was also an advisor and confidant of King Ibn Saud.
The Plan and Initial Contacts
In May 1939, the British Government brought out its White Paper, which among other things severely curtailed Jewish immigration into Palestine. Jews and many non-Jews criticised and rejected the contents of this White Paper. Philby, however, considered that the British could not, or would not go back on the National Home aspect of their Palestine policy and that it was therefore essential to devise a formula “for spreading the contingent benefits of a suitable settlement of the Palestine issue over every section of the Arab world” and to find an intermediary who was willing and competent to secure general acceptance of such a formula. He felt that the only candidate for this role was Ibn Saud, the ruler of Saudi Arabia.(168)
Philby's plan, which included a considerable transfer of Arabs form Palestine contained three stages. “The whole of Palestine should be left to the Jews. All Arabs displaced therefrom should be resettled elsewhere at the expense of the Jews, who would place a sum of 20 million pounds sterling at the disposal of King Ibn Saud for this purpose. All other Asiatic Arab countries, with the sole exception of Aden, should be formally recognised as completely independent in the proper sense of the term.” These arrangements were to be proposed by Britain and America to Ibn Saud, as the principal Arab ruler and guaranteed jointly by both countries.(169) Throughout the course of Philby's efforts, he attached great importance to the part to be played by Britain and America.
The expression “all Arabs displaced therefrom” which was contained in his plan, was spelt out more clearly by Philby in a meeting with various Zionist leaders at the beginning of October. On this, Namier wrote, “Philby's idea was that Western Palestine should be handed over completely to the Jews, clear of Arab population except for a `Vatican City' in the old city of Jerusalem.”(170)
[Lewis Namier was an English historian and Zionist who had served as political secretary to the Zionist Executive between the years 1927-31. In 1930, he had been an intermediary in obtaining the MacDonald Letter which in effect cancelled the Passfield White Paper.]
From this plan, one might suppose Philby to be an ardent non-Jewish Zionist. In fact, the opposite was the case. After setting out the details of his plan, he wrote, “I have always held and still hold that the Jews have not a shadow of legal or historical right to go to Palestine.” He added that he had not failed to realise that both Britain and America had “from the beginning been firmly minded to ride roughshod over all considerations of right and justice in favour of Zionism.”(171) Why, therefore, should such a rabid anti-Zionist put forward such a plan. Philby had looked at the situation in a pragmatic way and considered that his plan would be in the Arabs' best interests.
In contrast, however, to this assessment, Nur Masalha in his book entitled “Expulsion of the Palestinians” considers that “Namier's assertion that Philby made the initial proposal of Arab transfer and suggested the sum to be paid to Ibn Saud must be examined critically.” He also feels that “the idea of a complete transfer save for a 'Vatican City' in the old city of Jerusalem seems less likely to have come from Philby, a convert to Islam, than from Namier.”(172) We should however bear in mind that reading through Masalha's book, we see that his thesis is to show that any proposal for Arab transfer put forward by non-Jews was in fact a result of Zionist lobbying!
Philby worked strenuously on his plan and on 24 September 1939, he had a chance meeting with Namier at the Athenaeum Club in London. Philby there explained that since the war would “interfere with Moslem pilgrimages to Mecca” thus reducing Ibn Saud's income, he would “need more money from outside for armaments.” Philby then asked Namier whether since five hundred million pounds was to be raised for Jewish settlement, it would not be possible to use 20 million pounds of it “to buy Palestine.”(173)
Philby feared that the difficulty would be “to persuade England and France to grant complete independence to the Arabs and that France should withdraw from Syria.” At that time, Syria was under a French Mandate and Philby did not know how to force France to withdraw. Namier, however, had a solution. As a result of the war, the Jewish refugee question would become more acute and greater pressure could be brought to bear on the Western countries to facilitate a solution. The only solution was Palestine, and it could only be given to the Jews on condition that there was a union between Syria and the other Arab countries.(174)
In his book, Philby writes of a meeting with Weizmann and Namier on 28 September, 1939. At this meeting Philby discussed the general tenor of his plan with them and their reactions were “positive and favourable.”(175) No other evidence of such a meeting taking place on this date can be found and it is quite possible that Philby confused it with the meeting which took place on 24 September. Weizmann was definitely not present on the 24 September, since at this meeting, Namier had suggested that Philby meet with Weizmann. Philby accepted this proposal and asked that Namier arrange a date for such a meeting.(176)
After his meeting with Namier, Philby met with Arnold Lawrence, brother of T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and Arthur Lourie, the Political Secretary of the Jewish Agency in London, in order to explain his plan. Lawrence felt that to request the whole Western Palestine for the Jews, including the wholly Arab areas was “a bit too much”, but Philby disagreed with Lawrence on this.(177)
A meeting between Weizmann, Shertok, Namier and Philby took place on 6 October at the Athenaeum Club. Originally it had been planned for the previous day, but had been postponed to enable Shertok (who arrived in London on 6 October) to attend. On the way to this meeting Namier put Shertok in the picture, and informed him of the contents of his meeting with Philby nearly two weeks earlier.(178)
At the meeting of 6 October, Philby's plan was discussed in greater detail. In the first stage, Philby envisaged “the handing over to Saudi Arabia of Syria and various small states on the Red Sea.” He did not, however, define what the future relationship should be if Ibn Saud to Transjordan and Iraq, but he suggested that of all the Arab states were to be granted full independence, a proper settlement would be reached.(179)
With regard to the financial side, Philby pointed out that in order to go to Ibn Saud, he must have something concrete. Weizmann replied that “if we receive all of Western Palestine it will be possible to talk about 10 to 20 million pounds.” Philby naturally took the higher figure. Weizmann explained that if, while in the United States, he received word that Ibn Saud was prepared to consider such an agreement, he would turn to the President with the suggestion that the American Government assist in financing the scheme which would help solve the refugee problem “by means of the establishment of a Jewish State and the transfer of the Arab population.” Philby was enthusiastic over this idea.(180) However, linking the United States with the financing of this scheme was to lead to some embarrassment and unpleasantness.
Namier was less confident than Weizmann of the possibility of obtaining such an amount in cash. He therefore emphasised that such sums would have to be paid in goods. If, for example, Ibn Saud wanted arms, they could be supplied over a period of time from Jewish armament works in Palestine. Shertok suggested that part at least of this twenty million pounds should be used “for development in connection with the transfer of the Palestine Arabs to other Arab countries.”(181)
After Shertok and Weizmann had left, Philby asked Namier, whether the Zionists “would be prepared to give bribes to the Mufti and some people in Ibn Saud's entourage so as to prevent a campaign against this proposed settlement.” Namier replied that, if necessary, the Zionists would supply the money, provided they were sure that the recipients would do what they promised.(182)
In his book, Philby concluded that at this meeting, his plan received the “cordial approval” of both Weizmann and Shertok, who agreed to use all their influence with the British and American Governments to persuade them to accept and implement the plan.(183)
Shertok commented in his diary that the entire plan seemed to him “unrealistic in the extreme.” He added, however, that it contained one important political point, namely the appearance of Philby before Ibn Saud “with the suggestion to deliver all of Western Palestine to the Zionists and to remove the Arabs from it.” In order to implement this, Shertok felt that Philby should be allowed to proceed without having obstacles put in his way.(184)
In her biography of Philby, Elizabeth Monroe wrote that during the course of the London Conference held towards the beginning of 1939, Philby “evolved a fresh `Philby plan' for solving Britain's Palestine problem”, which he then put to Ben-Gurion and Weizmann at a secret lunch party.(185) Norman Rose, the biographer of Namier understood this to mean that Philby had already put forward his transfer plan in February 1939.(186) This explanation is, however, open to grave doubt since Philby himself said that Weizmann had had knowledge of his transfer plan since September 1939.(187) According to Professor Yehoshua Porath, the “plan” of February 1939, referred to by Monroe, was for the Arabs to agree to the immigration of 50,000 Jews into Palestine in the course of the subsequent five years in exchange for Jewish recognition of Ibn Saud's son Feisal as King of Palestine.(188)
In a report given by Ben-Gurion to the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem in November 1939, Ben-Gurion commented that they had obviously heard about Philby's plan. After summarising the details he informed them that Philby had travelled to Saudi Arabia with his plan. “Our office in London,” continued Ben-Gurion, “is now occupied with the preparation of explanatory material with regard to the transfer of population.” Ben-Gurion then said that he “did not believe in compulsory transfer, but believed that it was also possible to transfer part of the Arabs from Palestine by agreement.”(189) This would seem to be a complete volte-face, since a year and-a-half earlier, Ben-Gurion had stated to the same Executive, “I favour compulsory transfer.” However, Porath understood Ben-Gurion's statement of November 1939 to mean that “he did not believe in the possibility of compelling the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, but he did hold that some of them would agree to do this voluntarily.”(190) Thus, Ben-Gurion, according to Porath, was assessing the situation from a practical point of view and was not giving his personal views on transfer. Support for Porath's interpretation of Ben-Gurion's statement comes from an entry made by Ben-Gurion in his diary, a few days earlier. Ben-Gurion felt that compulsory transfer was not possible for the simple reason that the British Government would not implement it. “I don't believe in a compulsory transfer,” wrote Ben-Gurion, “not because it could not take place, but because the English will not do it.”(191)
Ben-Gurion then pointed out that there was also a group of Englishmen headed by Arnold Lawrence, who opposed Philby's plan. They wanted a federation of Palestine with Syria and Transjordan. The Jewish State under this plan would comprise the area designated under the Peel plan plus the Negev and the el-Jezireh area across the Jordan. Ben-Gurion and Namier had met with this group on 17 November and had explained that they would forgo the el-Jezireh area. In view of the fact that the British would not implement a compulsory transfer, Ben-Gurion felt that it was possible to establish “a Jewish State in the whole of Western Palestine even without transfer - a voluntary transfer would suffice.”(192)
A report on the progress of the Philby plan was also given to the Political Committee of Mapai in November 1939. Berl Locker who had returned from London gave details of the plan to this forum. He then reported that in answer to Philby's question whether the Zionists would be able to raise 20 million pounds, Shertok had said “that it would not be easy since 20 million pounds was a vast sum.” Weizmann had said that if Philby would get the agreement of Ibn Saud, he would go to Roosevelt and tell him that if you want to solve the Jewish refugee problem in Europe, help us raise a loan for this purpose. Locker also reported on Philby's condition that France give up Syria, and on Arnold Lawrence's opinion that “this programme, and in particular the removal of the Arabs from Palestine to be impossible”. Lawrence however, would not interfere but he would also not assist.(193) We thus see that Locker's assessment of Lawrence's negative reaction towards the Philby plan was less severe than the assessment by Ben-Gurion.
Philby's plan was again mentioned in the same forum a few weeks later in a report given by Ben-Gurion on his visit to London. He said that Weizmann's thoughts on a Jewish State in Western Palestine rely mainly on Philby's plan which is just a “curiousity”. Ben-Gurion felt it was good that Philby should speak to Ibn Saud, but it could not be considered sound political theory.(194)
As stated earlier, Weizmann and Shertok had promised Philby that they would use their influence with the British and American Governments to gain acceptance and implementation of the plan. Weizmann first turned to Churchill, who at the beginning of the war had been appointed “First Lord of the Admiralty.” Weizmann gained access to Churchill via the Conservative member of Parliament, Brendon-Bracken, who was a personal friend and strong supporter of Churchill. Brendon-Bracken reported to Churchill on Weizmann's meeting with Philby in which Weizmann stressed that Palestine could bloom as a Jewish State and that for twenty million pounds, Ibn Saud would offer the Arabs a far better home than they had ever had in Palestine.(195)
On 17 December 1939, Weizmann met with Churchill. From the notes of the interview,(196) we see that Philby's plan was not discussed at this meeting. However, in his book, Philby writes that Weizmann discussed his plan “in general terms” with Churchill at this meeting,(197) but Philby does not give the source of this information.
Philby in Saudi Arabia
At the beginning of January 1940, Philby returned to Saudi Arabia and on the 8th of the month communicated his plan to King Ibn Saud. Philby said that although there had been nothing whatsoever to prevent Ibn Saud from telling him “there and then that it was an impossible and unacceptable proposition”, the King had agreed that “some arrangement might be possible in appropriate future circumstances” and had said that he would give him a definite answer at the appropriate time. He warned Philby meanwhile “not (to) breathe a word about the matter to anyone” especially any Arab.(198)
At his meeting with Philby in the previous October, Weizmann had asked that in the event of Ibn Saud's giving his assent and support for the plan, Philby should send word to Namier. Namier in turn would contact Weizmann who by then would be in America.(199) On 6 February 1940, Weizmann in New York sent a one-sentence letter to Philby, “Am interested to know whether you are proceeding further with proposal we discussed.”(200) A week later Philby replied by telegram, “Progressing slowly.”(201) Philby also wrote to his wife who was in London and she in turn wrote to Namier informing him that her husband's plan had “been accepted in principle and he will think out how it can be worked.” She also stressed that it had to be “treated as absolutely confidential” and should anything be leaked out Ibn Saud would “have no hesitation in denying the whole thing.”(202)
On 6 February 1940, Weizmann had a meeting at the U.S. State Department with the Secretary of State and Walter Murray. During the course of this meeting, Weizmann reported that he had recently met with Philby in London and the latter had informed him “that he would like to take back with him to Saudi Arabia some basis of settlement which the King might be willing to support.” Weizmann had answered Philby “that the only thing the Jews had to offer was money” and if “the price of the King's support of a scheme whereby the Arabs of Palestine would be voluntarily transferred to Trans-Jordan and Iraq” was three to four million pounds, Weizmann would be prepared to raise such a sum. Philby had promised Weizmann that he would convey this offer to the King, but Weizmann “had no means of knowing whether anything would come of it.” Weizmann concluded by saying that at that time he was waiting for information from Philby “as to Ibn Saud's reactions to the discussions.”(203) It is not clear whether the letter he sent Philby on the day of this meeting was sent before the meeting or as a result of the meeting.
Two days later, Weizmann met with President Roosevelt, but the notes of their conversation show that they did not specifically discuss the Philby plan.(204) Despite this, however, Philby wrote in his book that the two had discussed the plan at their meeting.(205)
On 3 April, Dora Philby wrote to Weizmann pointing out that her husband had written to her stating that “he hadn't had much opportunity to see the king alone to discuss your proposition again.”(206)
Two weeks later, Philby wrote a message to his wife to be passed on to Weizmann. Philby pointed out that Ibn Saud “still won't say yes and won't say no. The truth is that he himself is quite favourably inclined towards the proposal and is just thinking out how it can be worked without producing a howl of anger among certain Arab elements.” He said that the Saudis were afraid that the Jews would not be able to “perform their part of the contract,” but he had assured Ibn Saud that they would be able “to work that through their influence in America” and that Weizmann could “work up the American side of the scheme.” Philby apologised that his plan was moving so slowly.(207) In reply Weizmann wrote that since the plan was so important and complex, it was not surprising that it was moving so slowly. He agreed with the suggestion that “some indication should come from America as to the feasibility of the proposal” and said that on his next trip to the States he would try to do something to satisfy Philby on this point.(208)
About this time, Philby reminded the King that the latter had not given him a definite reply to his proposition. Philby reported Ibn Saud as saying that whilst “he was convinced of my genuine desire to help him, he found it very difficult to help me to help him to achieve his ends!”(209) Despite this answer, Philby did not drop his plan, but sounded out some of the King's principal advisers. The first one was Yusuf Yasin, who was hostile to the plan but respected Philby's confidence. Later, he spoke to Bashir Sa'dawi, whose ideas he found “unexpectedly favourable.” However, within an hour, Sa'dawi had informed the King of his conversation with Philby and that same afternoon the King rebuked Philby.(210) Years later, Philby was still referring to his conversation on this matter with Sa'dawi as an error on his part.(211)
In May of that year, Philby again pressed the King, but was again kept waiting for an answer.(212) At that time, Weizmann sent a message to Philby asking him for news of progress and assuring him of full confidence in his ability to secure acceptance of the plan. Philby replied that “positive results might still be expected in the event of the materialisation of the initiative envisaged in our original arrangements.”(213)
From the summer of 1940 until the spring of 1941, Philby was detained by the British under the defence regulations. The reasons for his detention were not divulged. However, “The New York Times” suggested that the reason for his internment may have been the British Government's desire to prevent Philby “from exposing its present Arab policy, which he says led to the trouble in Iraq, which never would have arisen if his suggestions had been followed.”(214) After his release in the spring of 1941, Philby was in frequent touch with Namier and they invariably discussed his plan which Namier and his friends “had by no means given up as hopeless.”(215)
Discussions with British Officials
Immediately on his return to Britain from the United States in July 1941, Weizmann had two consecutive meetings with Lord Moyne, who a few months earlier, following the death of Lord Lloyd, had been appointed as Colonial Secretary. At their second meeting, Weizmann told Moyne of Philby's talks with Ibn Saud and with himself. Weizmann said that he “believed that the Jews would be willing to advance between fifteen and twenty million pounds to Ibn Saud for development purposes.” Moyne replied that “some Arabs would have to be transferred, and wondered whether this could be done without bloodshed.” Weizmann answered “that it could be done if Britain and America talked frankly to the Arabs.” Moyne then remarked “that if transfer were to take place, he would like it to be done without friction.”(216)
A week later Moyne wrote to Sir Harold MacMichael, the High Commissioner of Palestine, about this meeting. He reported that Weizmann hoped that in return for this development loan to Saudi Arabia, “Ibn Saud would persuade his fellow Arabs to accept a Jewish enclave (more than a mere token state) in Palestine, displaced Arabs being resettled with Jewish money in Iraq or elsewhere.” Moyne continued that he believed that Weizmann “got some sort of vague encouragement for his ideas from the Prime Minister (Churchill) some months ago.”(217)
MacMichael replied that he did not see Ibn Saud “taking a `loan' of fifteen or twenty million pounds as an inducement to further Jewish designs in Palestine.” He then referred indirectly to the element in Philby's plan regarding the transfer of Arabs and said that this scheme “for resettling displaced Arabs in Iraq is no doubt closely related to that prepared ... by Edward Norman.”(218)
At the beginning of November 1941, at the request of Weizmann, John Martin, the Prime Minister's Private Secretary agreed to meet Philby. The information and analysis which Philby presented to Martin at this meeting was very similar to that contained in the reports of Weizmann on his meetings with Philby at the beginning of the war, although in this meeting Philby was more decisive on the attitude of Ibn Saud. According to Martin, Philby said that Ibn Saud “was ready to agree to give Palestine to the Jews on condition that as quid pro quo he received control over all the remaining Arab countries.” After presenting the details of his plan to Martin, Philby “suggested that the transfer would be substantially reduced if the Jews could be persuaded to accept the excision of part of northern Palestine (containing some quarter of a million Arabs), which would naturally go with Syria: they might be compensated if the Egyptians would agree to give up Sinai.” Martin had “gained the impression” from Weizmann that Philby had more up-to-date news from Saudi Arabia, but in the course of his conversation with Philby, it became clear to him that Philby had not been in contact with Saudi Arabia since the beginning of 1940. However, Philby told Martin that he was convinced that the stand of Ibn Saud had not changed since then.(219)
In his diary, Oliver Harvey, private secretary to Anthony Eden, after referring to this meeting wrote that he knew that Churchill “is much attracted by such a plan.” It had been referred to many Middle Eastern capitals for a report, but the British representatives had said that they did not think it was feasible due to the “jealousies and mutual mistrust of the Arabs.”(220)
Incidentally, Oliver Harvey was himself a strong proponent of transfer of Arabs. A few months earlier he had written “I am still firmly convinced that Palestine should be a Jewish State as part of an Arab Federation of States if necessary and the Palestine Arabs should be paid to go away.”(221) Again towards the end of 1942, he put forward this idea. “The only solution is a Jewish Palestine, which should be a British Palestine, the Arab inhabitants being transferred across the frontier and re-established there. There is plenty of room in Syria, Transjordan, Iraq and Arabia for the Palestine Arabs.”(222)
In his autobiography, Weizmann writes about a meeting which he had with Philby towards the end of 1941. At this meeting they had spoken about Palestine and Arab relations and Philby had made a statement which Weizmann had noted down “but which had seemed incomprehensible to me (Weizmann) coming from him (Philby).” Philby had stated that two requirements were necessary to solve the Zionist problems. These were firstly, that Churchill and Roosevelt should tell Ibn Saud that they wished to see the Zionist programme carried through; secondly, that they should support his overlordship of the Arab countries and raise a loan to enable him to develop his territories.(223) It is very difficult to understand Weizmann's comment that this statement seemed “incomprehensible” to him coming from Philby. Surely Weizmann could not have forgotten his earlier meeting with Philby which had been followed by contact with Brenden-Bracken and correspondence with Philby and his wife?! Again, two years later, something of a similar nature happened. At the beginning of December 1943, Weizmann reported to the Jewish Agency Executive in London that the Prime Minister had propounded the Philby scheme to him “and it had come as a complete surprise.”(224) Yet less than two weeks later the same Weizmann was to write, “When Mr. Philby first discussed this scheme with me in the autumn of 1939.”(225) For some “reason” (which is not difficult to guess!), Weizmann was reluctant to admit that he had already known about and discussed Philby's plan as early as the autumn of 1939.
Meetings between Weizmann, Namier and Philby were reported by the last-named to have taken place on 9 March and 17 March, 1942.(226) Philby did not state what was discussed at these meetings, but presumably his plan featured in the conversations. Incidentally, in his autobiography, Weizmann wrote that he had left for America on 11 March.(227) However, in view of his meeting with Philby on 17 March, and a meeting with the new Colonial Secretary, Viscount Cranborne on 18 March, Weizmann's quoted date of 11 March is obviously an error. At this meeting between Weizmann and Viscount Cranborne, Weizmann pointed out that he had been “immensely attracted” by the Philby plan. He added that if the British Government “showed willingness to adopt such a solution”, world Jewry would certainly make available the suggested sum of 20 million pounds. He himself proposed to say nothing about this plan for “directly he mentioned such a proposal publicly, it would become part of the propaganda of the Zionist Movement and would as a result become anathema to the Arabs.”(228)
Discussions by the Jewish Agency Executive
The section of Philby's plan dealing with transfer of the Arabs from Palestine was discussed at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in London in November 1942. The minutes report Namier as saying that “on the problem of transfer he agreed with Mr. Philby: it was necessary to have transfer in order to avoid friction”, adding that Philby thought he could get Ibn Saud to agree to transfer, provided the Arabs were to be given independence elsewhere. Both Lord Melchett and Berl Locker, two members of the Executive were opposed “to putting forward compulsory transfer.” Locker explained that by doing so “they would get the odium of having put it forward,” but he thought that “with the agreement of Iraq, fairly large numbers of Arabs could be transferred.” Namier asked whether, if they obtained the memorandum from Philby dealing with compulsory transfer, “they would be able to put it forward without in any way committing themselves.” Melchett was more cautious and felt that “they should see the memorandum first.” Simon Marks, another member of the Executive, and Chairman of the Board of the multiple chain store of Marks and Spencer, felt that they should ask for the establishment of a Jewish State within the British Empire and the “voluntary transfer of Arabs, with financial assistance, to neighbouring Arab States, particularly to Iraq.” In reply, Namier commented that the conservatism of the peasants should not be underrated, but on the other hand, “there would be so much compulsory transfer of populations in Europe itself that it was bound to affect their problem.” The Executive agreed that Namier should ask Philby to prepare a memorandum on this subject.(229)
Earlier at this same meeting, Harry Sacher, a lawyer and a British Zionist leader, had asked whether the Executive were “in favour of transfer of the Arabs either by compulsion or persuasion.” Melchett commented that instead of “sucking people from the desert into Palestine” the stream should be diverted in the opposite direction. He felt that for this purpose ten million pounds would be required so that “Palestinian Arabs could be settled in the Euphrates areas, Iraq etc. and by emigration and transfer, the minority status of the Jews would rapidly change.” Namier, however, doubted “whether it would be possible to get the consent of the Palestinian Arabs.” Agreement by the Great Powers would be easier to obtain. Sacher answered that the problem of minorities was not limited to Palestine, but it was a European problem. He stated that “he was prepared to proceed on the basis of compulsory transfer of - say - half a million people.” Locker was worried that talking about compulsory transfer might lead to Arab disturbances. He felt that a partial transfer might be possible by agreement with the various Arab States, “but if they had to wait for the consent of the Palestine Arabs he was afraid they would never achieve anything at all.”(230)
At a meeting of the same Executive, held at the beginning of 1943, Namier asked whether now that the Arabs were “losing their nuisance value” the Executive should not press for a statement by Churchill and Roosevelt on the lines of the Philby scheme.(231) In a similar vein, at a meeting held two days later, Shertok said that Philby wanted Weizmann to take up the question with Roosevelt.(232)
About a week later, Weizmann, who had been in the United States since the previous March, had a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles. During the course of this meeting Weizmann informed Welles that he would like to travel to Saudi Arabia to put his solution of the Palestine problem to Ibn Saud. Although Weizmann did not refer to Philby, he detailed a plan which closely resembled Philby's. After observing that Arabs who desired to remain in Palestine would receive the same rights and privileges as the Jews, he said that “he also envisaged the possibility of granting compensation to such Arabs as desired voluntarily to leave Palestine so that they might resettle in other parts of the Arabian world.”(233) As we saw earlier, Philby's plan involved the removal of almost all the Arabs from Palestine, whereas Weizmann spoke of “such Arabs as desired voluntarily to leave Palestine.” Possibly Weizmann's ideas on this subject in 1943 were different from those of Philby's. Perhaps, however, it was a matter of pragmatism. The financial situation of Saudi Arabia was considerably better in 1943 than it had been in 1939, and as a consequence Ibn Saud was in far less need of the twenty million pounds. The bargaining power of the Zionists was thus considerably reduced, hence Weizmann had to moderate the proposals on transfer.
In fact, just a few months later, Ibn Saud was to send a strongly worded letter to Roosevelt, against Zionism and the Jews, in which he condemned any proposal to transfer Arabs from Palestine. “What a calamitous and infamous miscarriage of justice,” wrote Ibn Saud, “would ... result from the world struggle if the Allies should, at the end of their struggle, crown their victory by evicting the Arabs from their home in Palestine, substituting in their place vagrant Jews, who have no ties with this country, except an imaginary claim.”(234)
Colonel Hoskins' Visit to Saudi Arabia
At a meeting held in June 1943 between Weizmann, President Roosevelt and Sumner Welles, the last-named asked the President whether he would like to send someone to Ibn Saud in order to prepare the ground for a possible conference. Welles then suggested that Hoskins might serve the United States well in this capacity.(235)
About a week and-a-half later, a meeting was held between the American Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles and Stephen Wise and Nahum Goldmann. At this meeting Goldmann complained about a memorandum written by Hoskins after his visit to the Middle East a year earlier. He described this memorandum as “subjective, one-sided and definitely hostile.” He felt that Hoskins was unsuitable for such a mission since he was “prejudiced against the Zionist program” and in any case was not the right person to be sent to speak with Ibn Saud. Goldmann also complained that Hoskins had been propagandising Senators and Congressmen with his personal views; to this Welles answered that Hoskins had no right to speak to Senators on this matter.(236)
Harold Hoskins was born in Beirut and reached the United States as a teenager. A textile executive by profession, he later became chairman of the Board of the American University of Beirut. During the Second World War, Hoskins undertook diplomatic missions in the Middle East on behalf of the United States Government.
At the beginning of July 1943, the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull gave Hoskins a directive from Roosevelt ordering him to proceed to Saudi Arabia to ascertain whether Ibn Saud “would enter into discussions with Dr. Chaim Weizmann or other representatives selected by the Jewish Agency for the purpose of seeking a solution of basic problems affecting Palestine acceptable to both Arabs and Jews?”(237) In August, Hoskins arrived in Saudi Arabia and entered into daily conversation with Ibn Saud. At the end of a week the King gave Hoskins “clear and categorical refusals” to meet with either Weizmann or a Jewish Agency representative. He went on to explain that during the first year of the war “Weizmann had impugned his character and motives by an attempted bribe of 20 million pounds sterling” using Philby as the intermediary.(238) [Incidentally, stories of this nature die hard and several months later, the story that Weizmann had tried to bribe Ibn Saud was still making the rounds in England.(239)] Ibn Saud also told Hoskins that he had been informed that this twenty million pounds was being guaranteed by President Roosevelt and this “incensed” him.(240) When, on his return to the United States, Hoskins reported to the President on his meetings with Ibn Saud, Roosevelt “expressed surprise and irritation that his own name as guarantor of payment” had been mentioned. The only thing that “even bordered on this subject” said Roosevelt was “in a talk that he had had with Dr. Wise several years ago in which he had suggested that if the Jews wished to get more land in Palestine they might well think of buying arable land outside of Palestine and assisting Arabs financially to move from Palestine to such areas.”(241) Roosevelt had obviously “forgotten” the various proposals he had made over the past few years on this subject; had forgotten also his letters to Brandeis and his meeting with Morgenthau!
In a report to a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in London, Namier explained that Philby had been under a misconception when he attached the President's name to his plan as guarantor of payment.(242) Weizmann echoed this in a letter to the (recently resigned) Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles,(243) also pointing out that when Philby had first discussed his plan with him and with Namier, they had replied that “Jewry, however impoverished, will be able to meet the financial burden.”(244)
Hoskins later came to London and on 7 November met with Weizmann.(245) In the course of his report to Weizmann, Hoskins stated that as a result of this attempted bribe “Ibn Saud, had driven out Mr. Philby, and would never let him into Saudi Arabia again.”(246) Four days later Weizmann and Namier met with Philby who told them “the story was nonsense. He had never been driven out; on the contrary when he wanted to leave Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud had tried to keep him, saying he might come to grief if he left.”(247) A few days later, (probably 13 November), Hoskins had a further conversation on this subject with Weizmann and Namier in which “he appears to have modified to some extent his earlier remarks to Dr. Weizmann.”(248) After this meeting Namier reported on its contents to Philby.(249) On 15 November, Philby met with Hoskins on the grounds “that it was only fair” that Philby should “be given an opportunity of hearing disparaging criticisms” of himself which were being made “under the cover of official privilege.”(250) During the one and-a-half hour discussion between them, Philby pressed Hoskins to recollect as exactly as he could what the King had said about Philby. Had he, for example, said that he “had sent him away” or that he “would on no account ever allow him to return to Arabia”? Hoskins admitted that the King had not used any of these phrases, but from his comments to the proposals put to him by Philby, he gained the impression that Philby would be a persona non grata in Saudi Arabia.(251)
Why did Hoskins' mission to Saudi Arabia, fail? The first reason could have been his unsuitability for this task. As Weizmann pointed out in a letter to Sumner Welles, he had been from the outset against the choice of Hoskins as an emissary to Ibn Saud as Hoskins was “in general out of sympathy with our cause.”(252) The second reason for Hoskins' failure was that he knew nothing whatsoever about the plan that Philby had put to Ibn Saud in 1940. Hoskins first heard about Philby's plan from the King himself!(253) It is true that Hoskins' mission to Saudi Arabia was not directly connected with the “Philby Plan”. Nevertheless, it is essential to brief an emissary fully if one is hoping for success.
Further Discussions by the Jewish Agency Executive
Following the Hoskins debacle, Namier informed the Jewish Agency Executive in London, that “he knew all the difficulties of the Philby scheme but if they were going for the whole of western Palestine... they should press for the Philby scheme.” Weizmann then asked if Philby would be “prepared to go to Ibn Saud without having anything definite to offer in order to neutralise Colonel Hoskins' visit.” Namier answered this in the negative.(254)
Nearly two months later, a full discussion on the subject was held by the same Executive. Namier said that “they could still use the Philby Scheme with advantage. The proposal that Palestine should be reserved for the Jews and the Arabs transferred to Transjordan could be utilised as a counter-proposal to partition.” An attempt should be made to verify whether Ibn Saud was still prepared to discuss the Philby plan. Namier considered that “the scheme had never been sufficiently pressed” and that Ibn Saud might be in favour of it since only half of Arabia was under his influence. It might be worth his while to forgo Palestine in order to gain the rest of Arabia. Namier was “in favour of pressing the scheme without making it dependent on Ibn Saud.” Weizmann agreed that they should not put Ibn Saud in the forefront “but rather foster the idea of transfer to Transjordan.” It had been suggested that if this were to be done in an orderly manner by the organisation of homesteads, for example, eighty per cent of the Arabs would agree.
Namier observed that if Philby who was one of the greatest experts on Arab affairs could propose such a scheme, it was bound to make “a deep impression on British public opinion.” Namier recommended that they “put the proposal forward again and again.” Dr. Goldman asked “whether they really meant to make transfer an essential point of their scheme” since he considered that this “would mean a departure from the line taken hitherto.” Weizmann then disingenuously suggested that “they might perhaps begin by saying that a piece of land should be bought in Transjordan and developed into homesteads, so as to attract the Arabs there.” Namier pointed out that although the “idea of transfer might be unpopular now, it would work in the post-war period in other parts of the world, and would thus become more acceptable.” Goldman disagreed.(255)
It was during this period that civil servants at the British Foreign Office came out strongly against Philby's plan. As one civil servant wrote, “It has of course always been Mr. Philby's idea that we should give up our position in the Middle East as part of the bribe to Ibn Saud... It is evidence of Mr. Philby's pig-headedness that he should attribute Ibn Saud's rejection of the plan namely to the fact that it was presented in a bungling manner.” Another civil servant wrote, “Anyone who thinks that Ibn Saud will look at this hair-brained scheme after what he has said about it, must be quite cracked.”(256)
Following these comments, Sir Maurice Peterson of the Foreign Office, in a communication to Sir Ronald Campbell, the British Ambassador to the United States, wrote, “Weizmann is still trying to press Philby's fantastic plan for Palestine.” Peterson felt that “nothing but harm” to British interests could come from further efforts to press this plan on Ibn Saud, and instructed Campbell to take every opportunity to discourage such efforts.(257)
According to the minutes of the Jewish Agency Executive in London, at this point, “Professor Namier said that Mr. Philby was depressed because he felt that his scheme was petering out.” At their last meeting, Philby had told Namier that their friends were letting them down and that he had thought that the Jews had a “much greater influence in America.”(258) Weizmann offered to meet with Philby and at the beginning of February 1944, a meeting took place. Apart from the fact that Philby handed Weizmann a letter in Arabic from Ibn Saud, no further details of the meeting or even of the contents of this letter are recorded.(259)
In a letter written by Weizmann to Jan Christiaan Smuts on 12 June 1944, Weizmann observed “Mr. Philby, as I told you, still regards the scheme as feasible.”(260) We thus see that in June 1944 Philby was still concerning himself with his transfer plan. After that date however, there seems to be no record of attempts to advance Philby's plan.
Real Attitude of Ibn Saud towards the “Philby Plan”
What was the real attitude of Ibn Saud to the “Philby Plan”, a plan which included the removal of almost all the Arabs from Palestine? Did his attitude towards this plan change between 1940 and 1943? When Philby first put his plan to Ibn Saud, the King did not turn it down but said that he would give him a definite answer at the appropriate time. Three years later in a letter to Roosevelt, Ibn Saud wrote about an “infamous miscarriage of justice” that would arise from the eviction of the “Arabs from their home in Palestine, substituting in their place vagrant Jews.” A few months after that he was to describe the twenty million pounds for the transfer of the Arabs as an “attempted bribe” and to give Hoskins the distinct impression that Philby was a persona non grata in Arabia.
How can we explain this apparent deterioration in Ibn Saud's attitude towards Philby and his plan? Two different answers to this question seem to emerge.
The first, brought by both Hoskins(261) and Elizabeth Monroe(262) suggests that Philby misinterpreted Ibn Saud's silence as consent when the plan was first put before him in January 1940. [The term “silence” is used by both Hoskins and Monroe in the sense of no definite answer.] Hoskins was convinced that “there never was any possibility of acceptance and there is none today (August 1943).” According to this view, there was no change in Ibn Saud's attitude towards the plan. He was always against Philby's plan, but was unwilling to express his disagreement until 1943.
On the other hand, Namier held that Ibn Saud had in fact changed his mind once. He therefore recommended that the proposal be put before the King repeatedly in the hope that Ibn Saud would change his mind again.(263) It has been suggested that Saudi Arabia's changed financial position played a major role in the King's changed attitude to Philby's plan. One of the effects of the Second World War was to interfere with the Moslem pilgrimages to Mecca, hence causing a reduction in Ibn Saud's income from that source. He therefore required new sources of income.(264) By 1943, however, his financial situation had improved, since oil was playing an important role in his country's revenues. In fact, Weizmann who also held that Ibn Saud had changed his mind, attributed this change in attitude “to the intervention of certain representatives of the oil companies which hold important concessions in Saudi Arabia, and which must provide Ibn Saud with a considerable income.” In Weizmann's experience, the activities of such companies in the Middle East were usually anti-Jewish.(265) On this basis, Ibn Saud's change of mind in 1943 becomes quite clear. Weizmann still felt, however, “in spite of Colonel Hoskins' adverse report, that properly managed, Mr. Philby's scheme offers an approach which should not be abandoned without further exploration.”(266)
Philby explained the reactions of Ibn Saud differently. In January 1940, Philby first put his plan to the King and for the subsequent six and-a-half months remained as a guest of the King. Ibn Saud then made him a gift of a newly-built house and when Philby wanted to leave the country, begged him to stay.(267) It goes without saying that all this is inconsistent with a display of royal displeasure.
When in the summer of 1943, Ibn Saud heard that he was being visited officially by an emissary of the United States Government, he naturally assumed that the official was coming to make him a firm offer on the basis of the “Philby Plan”. However, at their meeting, the emissary made no such offer, so the King “fully accustomed to the tortuous ways of diplomacy” remained silent. Since at a subsequent meeting, held a few days later, Hoskins still made no mention of the plan, the King realised that it had “not won acceptance” by the American and British Governments and in a fit of temper made derogatory comments about Weizmann and Philby.(268) Philby was still of the opinion that should the British and American Governments make a firm offer on the basis of his plan, Ibn Saud would accept.(269)
These conflicting interpretations of Ibn Saud's behaviour reflect more on the attitude towards Zionism of those proffering these interpretations, than on the King's behaviour. Those who were hostile to Zionism held that Ibn Saud was consistently against the Philby Plan, whilst those who were pro-Zionist felt that he had had a change of heart. The exception to this was, of course Philby, who for other obvious reasons was highly subjective in his interpretations of Ibn Saud's actions.
The Namier - Baffy Plan
Soon after his meetings with Philby in the autumn of 1939, Namier and Blanche Dugdale (Baffy) put forward their own plan for Palestine which very closely resembled Philby's plan.
They discussed the problems that would, at the end of the war, confront millions of East and Central European Jews who had been uprooted from their homes. [At the time of this plan, the Holocaust was still a thing of the future.] Only Palestine could offer a satisfactory solution for these Jews. They felt that from the Jewish point of view “the most desirable solution would be to obtain the whole of Palestine west of the Jordan with a transfer of the Arab population for re-settlement in other Arab countries.” They considered that for this, World Jewry could provide the finance and that the transfer would result in a great improvement in the economic conditions of both the transferees and the host countries. It would seem that like Philby, they intended the transfer of almost all of the Arabs from Palestine.
Namier and Baffy said that should all this prove impossible, the next best thing would be a Jewish Palestine within the frontiers suggested by the Peel Commission plus the Negev and considerable Jewish settlement in the el-Jezireh region (north Syria). “This would imply much smaller transfers of Arab population”, they wrote.
As compensation for providing a solution to the Jewish problem in Europe and satisfying Jewish historic claims and aspirations, they suggested that the Arabs be given the most extensive help with a view to establishing their political unity and independence.
In conclusion, they considered that should a Arab-Jewish programme be worked out on these lines it would gain overwhelming support from both British and American public opinion, with the added advantage that British strategic interests could be fully safeguarded within the Jewish State in western Palestine.(270)
There is no indication as to whom this plan was submitted and what reactions there were to it.
About two years later, in September 1941, an article written by Baffy appeared in the “Congress Weekly”, a newspaper published by the American Jewish Congress. In this article she discussed the Mandates question and its effect on the political future of Palestine. She felt that the Mandates system would come to an end although it had not broken down. However she considered that the machinery for protecting minorities had broken down. In order to prevent the problem of minorities from becoming a threat to world peace, she said that it was necessary to reduce it “physically as far as possible”. Baffy's solution was “exchange of populations... provided always that it is carried out carefully, gradually, and humanely”(271). One should note that she was discussing this question generally and did not specifically mention Palestine in this connection.