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Documents Disclose Role of U.S. in Palestine Partition Effort

November 22, 1976
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The documents covering 1197 pages were released yesterday by the State Department as part of its Foreign Relations Series that has been published continuously since 1861 as the official record of U.S. foreign policy.

The volume of memoranda, messages, reports and instruction of the utmost secrecy begins in the aftermath of the partition resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly Nov. 29, 1947 and continues through the following year that saw Israel born, but the attempts within the Administration to stifle it continue right up to Truman’s astounding election victory in November, 1948.

The publication includes material that the State Department said has only recently become available in the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri and “elsewhere.”


The bitterness of the opposition to Clifford may be measured by Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s words to the President on May 12, 1948–three days before Truman’s recognition of Israel. In his top secret memorandum on the White House meeting that day, Marshall wrote he warned Truman that Clifford’s counsel was “wrong.” He added: “I said bluntly that if the President was to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice and if in the election I were to vote, I would vote against the President.”

Five months later, on Oct. 30, Acting Secretary of State Robert Lovett in an “eyes only, personal” message to Marshall in London, forecast a “substantial” majority for New York Gov. Thomas Dewey against Truman in the impending election.

Then, pointing to the “increasingly belligerent attitude” of the Israelis who, he charged, were violating the truce, Lovett urged Marshall to confer with John Foster Dulles, later to be Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration, for “some firmly agreed course of action between any succeeding Administration and our present one” to counter Israel because the platforms of both major parties “strongly support Israel.”

Heads of the Departments of Defense, State and the Central Intelligence Agency and a host of sub-Cabinet officials and ambassadors desperately sought to prevent Israel’s birth, the documents show. They expressed fears of setback in strategic interests and losses of oil revenues by antagonizing the Arabs. Israel was seen as a Communist satellite aiding the Soviet penetration of the Middle East. Tactics were advanced to divide world Jewry and intimidate American Jews from supporting Zionism.


Marshall depended heavily on Lovett and Loy Henderson, chief of the State Department’s Near East Affairs, for his Palestine policy. In a secret memorandum July, 21. 1948. nine weeks after Israel had become a State. Lovett noted the “Irgun and the Stern gang were still active in Palestine.” He “stressed the fact that premature de jure recognition of the provisional government of Israel might, unless we were satisfied to its ability, place the United States government in the position of having relations with a government under Soviet Influence.”

Henderson, on March 24 in a memorandum to Marshall, urged that the U.S. government decide “once and for all that it will not permit itself to be influenced by Zionist pressure” and that “informal undertakings be obtained” from Republican and Democratic leaders that “Zionism and Palestine will not be made an issue in the coming presidential campaign.”

Henderson urged, “we should take the lead in calling upon all American citizens” to “refrain from taking any action which might encourage the continuation of violence in Palestine” and said “it is possible that a carefully planned campaign might result in freeing many American Jews from the domination of Zionist extremists.”

While contending the Palestine problem was international and not domestic. Marshall appeared unfamiliar with important facets of it. In a memorandum May 12, three days before Israel’s birth. Marshall noted press reports from Tel Aviv said that he had sent a personal message to David Ben Gurion “who was styled in the United Press (news agency) dispatch as the forthcoming President of the Jewish State.” Marshall added: “I directed with the President’s concurrence, that no comments be made on this press story. In actual fact no message had been sent to Mr. Ben Gurion and I do not even know that such a person existed.”


A climacteric on the infighting within the Administration was the May 12 White House meeting Truman called to determine America’s course after the British Mandate terminated May 15. The Israelis had already said they would establish a sovereign state that day.

Marshall’s memorandum of that meeting reported that Clifford “strongly” urged the President to give “prompt recognition to the Jewish State” and “before the Soviet Union did so.” Truman’s timing, Clifford held, “would have the distinct value of restoring the President’s position” for the Palestine partition which had been clouded by oppositionists.

Rebutting Clifford. Lovett was reported by Marshall as observing “it would be most unbecoming” to recognize Israel when the U.S. had sought a truce in Palestine. Recognition would be “a very transparent attempt to win the Jewish vote.” Lovett said. “To recognize the Jewish State prematurely would be buying a pig in a poke.” he argued. “How do we know what kind of Jewish State will be set up?” he asked.

Lovett read excerpts from intelligence reports “regarding Soviet activity in sending Jews and Communist agents from Black Sea areas to Palestine.” (The turnabout in U.S. official views was shown in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s statement after the Presidential election Nov. 2. 1976 on the importance of Israel in U.S. strategy.)

Previously, Cufford argued that “American security and its oil interests” in the Middle East depend on effective support of the partition decision. Permitting war between Jews and Arabs with Palestine undivided under a trusteeship is the anti-Israeli element wanted was “the certain way for Russia to move into the Arabian peninsula” he said. “In terms of military necessity, political and economic self-preservation will compel the Arabs to sell their oil to the United States. Their need of the United States is greater than our need of them,” Clifford said.


The State Department’s position made the U.S. appear “in the ridiculous role of trembling before threats of a few desert nomadic tribes,” Clifford said. “This has done us irreparable damage. Why should Russia or Yugoslavia, or any other nation, treat us with anything but contempt in light of our shilly-shally treatment of the Arabs. After all, the only successful opposition to the Russian advance has been in Greece and Turkey (because of the Truman Doctrine).”

In another outline of tactics to prevent Israel’s statehood, Samuel Kopper of Henderson’s office suggested on Jan. 27, 1948 “abandoning support of partition as being unworkable” and to maintain the arms embargo to Jews while Britain continued to arm the Arabs. “Those Americans associated with the Jewish Agency’s activities,” Kopper concluded, “must be given complete and frank information on how our vital interests are being and will be adversely affected by support of partition.”

Ambassador to Iraq, George Wadsworth, reported to Henderson on Feb. 4, 1948, after meeting with Truman, that U.S. failure to find a way to reconsider the UN partition resolution by establishing an Anglo-American Commission resulted from “British bullheadedness and the fanaticism of our New York Jews.”

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