- Historic Sites
The behind-the-scenes struggle in 1948 between the President and the State Department
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
In any case, the Zionist leadership in Palestine categorically rejected any notion of a trusteeship. David BenGurion announced that he and his colleagues already were laying plans for a provisional Jewish government, and that they would not be deterred. I suspect that Truman was privately pleased by this unequivocal response. Admittedly, the likelihood of major warfare in the Holy Land was becoming a near certainty by April, 1948. The Arab governments had declared their intention of invading when the British withdrew. Personally, I believed that the Jews had the resourcefulness and strength to defend their position on their own. It was a view that was not generally expressed by our diplomatic and military “experts”—not even when the Jews succeeded in blasting open a supply route to Jerusalem and capturing Haifa. On the contrary, the State Department people were now in a state of despair at the emerging Jewish reality in Palestine. McClintock suggested that the United States call for the temporary suspension of partition and ask instead for an AngloAmerican-French “naval patrol of the Palestinian coast to prevent illegal immigration.” Another State Department representative described the situation as one where “the Jews will be the actual aggressors against the Arabs … [and] Arab armies from outside Palestine [will] cross the frontier to aid their disorganized and demoralized brethren who will be the objects of Jewish attack.” It was not until May 6 that Undersecretary Lovett, discerning the emergent pattern of events in the Holy Land, ordered the department’s staff to desist from all further efforts to suspend the partition resolution.
But the basic attitude of the department remained the same. On May 11 one of its senior officers,* Editor’s Note: This individual is identified as Dean Rusk on page 967 of Volume V, Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1976 by the U.S. Government Printing Office. in a telephone call to Jessup and Ross in New York, made the comment that the Jews in Palestine were running their own affairs, which “was not according to plan.”
The major question now confronting the President was the decision regarding the recognition of the new Jewish state. The President called a meeting for May 12 so that the issue could be discussed in detail. Those present from the State Department were Marshall, Lovett, McClintock, and Fraser Wilkins, the latter a member of the NEA desk. David Niles and I were there at the President’s request.
President Truman opened the meeting by declaring that the new Jewish state would become a reality on May 14 and that he desired a full exposition of the views of those present. Marshall said that recognition would be a wholly inappropriate course of action and called upon Lovett to give the reasons. He did so with support from McClintock. I was then asked to respond. In considerable detail I presented what I knew to be the strong attitude of President Truman. The President also asked that I read a statement which we had drafted setting forth American policy on the issue.
This document reviewed recent diplomatic efforts on Palestine, and then, conscious of the historic overtones of the original Balfour Declaration, it added that the United States should declare the next day that it looked “with favor on the creation of a Jewish State in accordance with the provisions laid down in the [UN] Resolution of November 29.” I emphasized that early recognition of the Jewish state was consistent with the President’s policy from the outset, and that a Jewish state in fact already existed for all practical purposes. Considering the efforts expended on behalf of a Jewish homeland since the President assumed office, I argued that prompt recognition by this government would be an act of simple humanity and entirely symbolic of what this country should represent in world affairs. Indeed, there was no alternative to this course, a fact recognized by a majority in the United Nations; the State Department proposal for a truce and postponement of Jewish statehood would never be accepted by the Jews. On the contrary, it would encourage the Arabs to enlarge the scale of their violence.