Middle East History: It Happened in September; Truman Overrode Strong State Department Warning against Partitioning of Palestine in 1947

By Neff, Donald | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Middle East History: It Happened in September; Truman Overrode Strong State Department Warning against Partitioning of Palestine in 1947


Neff, Donald, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN SEPTEMBER; Truman Overrode Strong State Department Warning Against Partitioning of Palestine in 1947

By Donald Neff

It was 47 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1947, that Loy Henderson strongly warned Secretary of State George C. Marshall that partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states was not workable and would lead to untold troubles in the future. Henderson was director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs and his memorandum, coming less than a month after a United Nations special committee had recommended partition, stands as one of the most perceptive analyses of the perils that partition would bring.

Henderson informed Marshall that his views were shared by "nearly every member of the Foreign Service or of the department who has worked to any appreciable extent on Near Eastern problems." Among the points Henderson made: 1

"The UNSCOP [U.N. Special Committee on Palestine] Majority Plan is not only unworkable; if adopted, it would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future."

"The proposals contained in the UNSCOP plan are not only not based on any principles of an international character, the maintenance of which would be in the interests of the United States, but they are in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the [U.N.] Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based."

"These proposals, for instance, ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and even go so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine. We have hitherto always held that in our foreign relations American citizens, regardless of race or religion, are entitled to uniform treatment. The stress on whether persons are Jews or non-Jews is certain to strengthen feelings among both Jews and Gentiles in the United States and elsewhere that Jewish citizens are not the same as other citizens."

"We are under no obligations to the Jews to set up a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate provided not for a Jewish state, but for a Jewish national home. 2 Neither the United States nor the British Government has ever interpreted the term `Jewish national home' to be a Jewish national state."

Although the State Department reflected Henderson's anti-partition views, Harry Truman's White House was supporting partition because of strong political pressures. Truman was so unpopular at the time that there was speculation he might not be able to win the Democratic Party's nomination, much less the presidential race. 3 As the vote in the General Assembly on partition approached, Henderson made another effort to change Truman's mind. On Nov. 24, he wrote that "I feel it again to be my duty to point out that it seems to me and all the members of my Office acquainted with the Middle East that the policy which we are following in New York at the present time is contrary to the interests of the United States and will eventually involve us in international difficulties of so grave a character that the reaction throughout the world, as well as in this country, will be very strong."

"These proposals ignore such principles as selfdetermination and majority rule."

He continued: "I wonder if the President realizes that the plan which we are supporting for Palestine leaves no force other than local law enforcement organizations for preserving order in Palestine. It is quite clear that there will be wide-scale violence in that country, on both the Jewish and Arab sides, with which the local authorities will not be able to cope....It seems to me we ought to think twice before we support any plan which would result in American troops going to Palestine." 4

Under Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett was so impressed with the memo that he personally read it to President Truman. …

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