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The behind-the-scenes struggle in 1948 between the President and the State Department
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
Then, in October, 1945, bedeviled by the Palestine issue, London invited the United States to participate in a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to study and report on the problem of the Jews in British- and American-occupied sectors of Germany. The President accepted the invitation, but set as his price assurance that the British would accept Palestine as the central Jewish refuge. Again, however, the NEA (as I shall now call the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs) did its best to uphold the British pro-Arab position and to thwart the President’s intentions. Their methods left a good deal to be desired. Thus, the NEA voiced opposition to the appointment of Bartley Crum, publisher, lawyer, and proZionist, to the committee, on the grounds that Crum was “associated with a number of Communist or semiCommunist organizations.” I knew Crum, and this statement was untrue. As shall be seen, however, it was consistent with the NEA’s pattern in future months and years to establish a link between Communism and the Zionists. In any event, Crum was appointed to the committee and served on it conscientiously.
When, finally, the Anglo-American Committee issued its report on May I, 1946, it stated that there was no reasonable sanctuary for the Jewish survivors except in Palestine. The report then urged the admission of 100,000 Jews into Palestine immediately and a political solution for the Holy Land that would ensure substantial future immigration there. President Truman was pleased by this consensus and publicly endorsed it, recommending that its immigration provisions be implemented forthwith. Matters were not to be that simple. British Foreign Secretary Bevin objected to the committee’s recommendations, and insisted rather on yet another joint governmental committee to consider the problems implicit in putting the report into effect. Somewhat reluctantly, the President agreed to the establishment of a special body under the joint chairmanship of Britain’s Herbert Morrison and of Dr. Henrv Grady, an American assistant secretary of state.
As the President should have known, feedine a State Department official to the British was like feeding a Christian to the lions. The group issued its report at the end of July, and it became clear that Grady and his associates had fully swallowed the British position. Under the report’s provisions, Palestine would have been transformed into a trusteeship of Jewish and Arab provinces, in which the Jewish sector, the smallest, would include only 17 per cent of the country. Although 100,000 Jews would be proposed for admission into this postage-stamp entity, even this figure would be dependent upon Arab and British approval. If the Zionists furiously rejected the report, President Truman was hardly less outraged. The “province” offered the Jews, he insisted, was little more than a territorial ghetto. As he wrote later: “I studied the plan with care, but I was unable to see that anything would come out of it except more unrest.” Determined to give strength to his sentiments on the refugees, the President then issued a statement-of greeting to the American Jewish community on October 4, the eve of Yom Kippur. It affirmed his personal support of partition as the best solution to the Palestine question, then urged once again that “substantial” Jewish immigration into Palestine be allowed forthwith. Although the British—and revisionist historians—have described this Yom Kippur statement as a play for the Jewish vote, those of us close to the President knew better. It expressed his deepest convictions on the sheer human tragedy of the Jewish refugees. Indeed, the President had repeatedly made clear to us that only through the partition of Palestine into viable Jewish and Arab states could the fate of the Jewish survivors be solved in a decent and enlightened way.
Apparently the British, too, recognized by then that they were unable to cope with the festering Palestine issue on their own. In April, 1947, Attlee and Bevin somewhat despairingly turned the whole matter over to the United Nations. Thus, the following month, the UN General Assembly selected a committtee of eleven member states—UNSCOP—to investigate, study, and recommend a comprehensive solution for the Palestine imbroglio.
On August 31, 1947, UNSCOP issued a majority report fully endorsing the concept of partition. The President was quietly gratified. At his orders, therefore, Secretary of State George Marshall on September 17 addressed the UN General Assembly and announced American support for the partition solution. Again, the President’s approach was consistent. Partition struck him not only as humanitarian to the Jews, and fair to the Arabs, but in the long run as the most logical course for peace in Palestine. As he saw it, there was little valid alternative to the partition plan. Both Arabs and Jews had insisted that they would not accept the UNSCOP minority report, with its involuted scheme for a federalized Palestine. Thus, partition claimed the support of a least one of the parties to the dispute, the Jews. The President hoped a surgical act of partition would resolve the issue in the swiftest and least painful way.