Destabilizing the Middle East: U.S. Policy toward Palestine, 1943-1949
Moore, Jason Kendall, Journal of Church and State
Abundant literature on U.S. policy toward Palestine acknowledges the overriding influence of domestic support for a Jewish state. President Harry S. Truman's electoral concerns as well as outrage over the Holocaust naturally affected his decisions, and well-funded Zionist organizations were positioned to shape public opinion in the United States and finance the struggle of immigrants to transform the Holy Land into their biblical homeland. Historians agree on these generalities, although their interpretations span a continuum from praise to outrage, many expressing resignation to these events as the by-product of America's system of democratic governance.1
William R. Polk presents the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 as far more disruptive than suggested by its small scale relative to European conflicts, considering the large number of Arab refugees whose plight remains unresolved to this day.2 L. Carl Brown credibly portrays the displaced Palestinians as victims and suggests some parallel between their plight and the Holocaust.3 Relativism notwithstanding, the White House's pivotal support for the creation of Israel thwarted the Department of State's objective to preserve regional stability.4 America's commitment to a Jewish homeland held great significance for Truman, and the government's consistent support for it ever since the 1917 Balfour Declaration became a touchstone for public opinions It was unsurprising, as Thomas G. Patterson writes, that the president largely ignored advice from the Department of State,6 instead adopting an approach that Dan Tschirgi dismisses as quixotic.7
Truman related to the Zionist refugees for a variety of reasons, many of which incorporated elements of Judeo-Christian mysticism. The Congress, like the diverse populace it represented, envisioned the Jewish state as serving as a periscope for U.S. interests in a hostile part of the world. This viewpoint grew out of somewhat questionable religious and cultural assumptions. Though obviously more Western than the Arabs, the earliest Israelis came disproportionately from Eastern Europe, and indeed courted Soviet sponsorship for their armed struggle. While the Cold War had not yet gained full momentum by this period, the Department of State appreciated that Middle Easterners viewed Zionism and communism with equal, not always distinguishable dread.
Blurring the nature of Jewishness itself was that a majority of Jewish Palestinians did not practice their religion. Whether or not Muslims were more devout, a significant minority of Arabs did practice Christianity. The United States abandoned its ideal of separating church and state for a secular state whose existence would provoke fundamentalist extremism, itself based on politics rather than religion. Melvyn Leffler sympathetically portrays the president and his advisers as facing tremendously complex decisions in Palestine, conscious that any might fail.11 Undermining his otherwise superb treatment of the Cold War is that, although Truman did alter his stance on Palestine at some junctures, he did so without prescience. His stance varied only in its degree of pro-Zionism. At no point did it promote alternatives that the Middle East considered satisfactory.
U.S. policy toward Palestine during and after the Second World War became a de facto policy toward Israel long before its declaration of statehood. Truman's decisions, regardless of their popularity, alienated the Arab world as was foreseeable and foreseen by personnel within his administration. Gabriel Kolko notes the tendency of historians to portray U.S. foreign relations as more coherent than policymakers actually approached them at the time.9 The case of Palestine marks a departure from this insofar as it has led to portrayals of Truman as unduly aware of the strategic consequences of his policy or, as Michael J. Cohen insists, resistant to Zionist demands when he believed they contradicted America's objective national interest. …