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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
UK archives reveal Palestine plan

By Rick Fountain
BBC, London

Winston Churchill
Secret archives reveal an angry exchange of letters

Secret wartime discussions about Palestine between Winston Churchill and the future Israeli President Chaim Weizmann led to an icy exchange with Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, according to official papers just released at the National Archives at Kew, London.

A top-secret Colonial Office file from 1943 shows that Mr Churchill favoured a plan to try to bribe King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, with 20m and the leadership of a new Arab confederation, in exchange for the Saudi monarch's help in handing over Palestine to the Jews.

As Mr Eden pointed out to his boss, such a move would be the opposite of British official policy.

'Glacial'

The idea was put to Mr Churchill by Dr Weizmann, at that time head of the Jewish Agency, the body which acted for the Jewish community in Palestine in the years of the League of Nations mandate.

Mr Churchill was sympathetic to the Jewish cause and had long been a supporter of the 1917 Balfour Declaration which proposed a national home for the Jews.

But the usually emollient and diplomatic Mr Eden was angered when he heard from Washington that Dr Weizmann, talking to one of President Roosevelt's foreign policy advisers, Sumner Welles, had referred to the project as "the PM's plan".

Mr Eden wrote glacially to Mr Churchill: "I do not know how far Dr Weizmann has authority to speak in your name but I am a little worried about the danger of confusion arising in Washington.

"Our present Palestine policy has been accepted by Parliament.

"I know well your personal feeling on this but there has been no discussion suggesting that the US government should be approached as regards the possibility of modifying it.

Eden's anger

"I must also record my view that Ibn Saud would not be willing to receive Dr Weizmann to discuss the future of Palestine nor would he agree to recommend to the Arab world any scheme remotely resembling present Zionist aspirations."

Mr Eden pointed out that the 1939 London White Paper on Palestine was unequivocally against letting it become a Jewish state.

In his reply, a day or so later, Mr Churchill wrote: "Dr Weizmann has no authority to speak in my name. At the same time, I expressed these views to him when we met some time ago and you have often heard them from me yourself."

Mr Churchill acknowledged however that even if the King, then aged 67, was persuaded, he might not live long enough to carry it through.

"The great difficulty is the age of Ibn Saud," he wrote.

Perhaps aiming to soothe his foreign secretary's anger, Mr Churchill added: "I regard all discussion on these points as premature at present and only liable to cause dissension."


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