At­tlee cabi­net was split over Pales­tine

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JC RE­PORTER

ROWS BE­TWEEN Bri­tish lead­ers over the with­drawal of troops from Pales­tine at the end of the Man­date in May 1948 have been re­vealed in se­cret gov­ern­ment pa­pers.

Files held by the Na­tional Ar­chive in Kew, West Lon­don, show that as fight­ing be­tween Jewish and Arab forces reached a peak in the run -up to Is­rael’s in­de­pen­dence there was dis­ar­ray in the gov­ern­ment.

Some politi­cians and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, des­per­ate to dampen the vi­o­lence, sug­gested giv­ing the Jews early con­trol of Tel Aviv.

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s High Com­mis­sioner for Pales­tine, Gen­eral Sir Alan Cun­ning­ham, urged de­layed with­drawal from Jerusalem to safe­guard the city. Both pro­pos­als were re­jected.

There were also sharp dif­fer­ences among the mil­i­tary’s top brass over whether to stage an early with­drawal.

Some sug­gested it was time to ex­tri­cate troops while oth­ers warned an early pull-out would re­sult in mil­i­tary hard­ware be­ing left in the wrong hands.

Th­ese con­flict­ing sug­ges­tions came against a back­drop of deep di­vi­sions in the Labour gov­ern­ment of Cle­ment At­tlee. The doc­u­ments show that th­ese came to the sur­face dur­ing a se­cret cabi­net meet­ing, also at­tended by chief of staff Vis­count Mont­gomery, just a week be­fore Is­rael de­clared its in­de­pen­dence

Con­fi­den­tial min­utes re­vealed that there was a par­tic­u­larly bit­ter at­tack on the per­for­mance of the army by For­eign Sec­re­tary Ernest Bevin, fol­low­ing its fail­ure to stop the Ha­ganah — Is­raeli’s fledg­ling army — from seiz­ing con­trol of Haifa on April 23, 1948.

Mr Bevin said he felt “let down by the [Bri­tish] army in Pales­tine” and de­plored the “leak­ing” of in­for­ma­tion about the sit­u­a­tion by the War Of­fice

Protests from Vis­count Mont­gomery were dis­missed by At­tlee, who said that “plain speak­ing is the or­der of the day in a con­fi­den­tial meet­ing”.

Mr Bevin pointed out that Haifa was the main em­barka­tion point for Bri­tish troops leav­ing Pales­tine. He said: “We should not have lost con­trol over the perime­ter of Haifa. This has al­lowed so many Arabs to have been driven out of the city.

“We had large forces there and it was a blow to Bri­tish pres­tige that it ap­peared the Jews could do as they liked. Res­o­lute ac­tion by the army had been needed.”

Vis­count Mont­gomery de­nied the army had lost con­trol of Haifa. It was a “big place and for some time troops there had been un­sure of the date of with­drawal”.

The high com­mand, he said, had urged with­drawal be­fore the sched­uled date of May 15.

Ear­lier, in a top se­cret cable to the cabi­net, Sir Alan said: “I feel bound to say that if the Jews con­tinue in their pol­icy of blow­ing up in­no­cent Arabs, as spon­sored by the Ha­ganah, the sit­u­a­tion will worsen.

“I can­not say that we will not be able to ex­tri­cate our­selves but it will be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.”

As for Jerusalem, he said, “I feel it can­not­beleft­with­out­pro­tec­tion.Weshould not leave it un­til some ar­range­ment is made for the se­cu­rity of the city.”

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Calm be­fore the storm: Prime Min­is­ter Cle­ment At­tlee, flanked by Ernest Bevin, wel­comes Arab del­e­gates to the Pales­tine Con­fer­ence at Lan­caster House in Lon­don in Septem­ber 1946

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