After the recent Israeli elections, many Americans and people around the world are keen on the myths and stories of the founding Israel in 1948. The Harry Truman Presidential Library documents Israel's founding, and shows the acceptance by the provisional Israeli government that the new state would abide by the map set out in United Nations General Assembly resolution 181, often commonly known as the partition resolution.
It is being widely reported that President Obama is reassessing U.S. policy towards Israel, but President Truman, the man who recognised Israel's founding in 1948, was the first U.S. President to do so and largely for the same reasons.
Most students of Middle East history understand that after the second world war there was a move afoot as a result of the horrible condition of the war's refugees; that there was an enormous problem to be solved for all the refugees, but Jewish refugees were a priority.
The establishment of a newly formed state was paramount to Jews, but others in the U.S. State Department and other parts of the U.S. government, including President Truman, were mindful that setting down a completely new entity in the midst of a people who already lived there was fraught with problems.
All the way back to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (this was also codified in the San Remo Conference in 1920) it was clearly understood from the very beginning, nearly a quarter century before Israel was founded, that Palestine's indigenous population and their rights must be respected.
Letters and other documents on file at the Truman Presidential Library reveal that early on, there were concerns about the new state of Israel staying within its borders, and it being liable for compensation if it strayed out of those borders, and that if the nascent state of Israel continued to "reject friendly advice" in 1949, then the relationship would be reassessed.
"So far as practical conditions in Palestine permit, the Jewish people there have proceeded along the lines laid down in the United Nations Resolution of November 29, 1947 [UNGA 181]. Tomorrow mid-night May 15th, the British Mandate will be terminated, and the provisional government of the Jewish state, embodying the best endeavors of the Jewish people and arising from the Resolution of the United Nations, will assume full responsibility for preserving law and order within the boundaries of the Jewish state; for defending that area against external aggression; and for discharging the obligations of the Jewish state to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law."
Eliahu Epstein, an authorised agent for the nascent Israeli government, wrote President Truman in a letter dated May 14th, 1948:
"I have the honor to notify you that the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within the frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution of November 29, 1947 ... the Act of Independence will become effective on the evening of 14 May 1948, Washington time."
Chaim Weizmann recommended to President Truman on May 26th, 1948 that "...we have designated Mr. Eliahu Epstein, who is now acting as the representative of the provisional government in this country [the United States], as the prospective Minister in Washington."
After President Truman changed language in a press release, he added the word "provisional" and he crossed out the word Jewish in the last sentence. The official corrected announcement from President Truman was as follows:
"This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional government thereof.
The United States recognises the provisional government as the de facto authority in the new state of Israel."
The Truman Palestine Policy
On August 3rd, 1948, Sol Bloom, a Democrat and recent chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, wrote to President Truman and said:
"We affirm our pride, too, the the United States, under the leadership of President Truman, played a leading role in the adoption of the Resolution of November 29, 1947 by the United Nations General Assembly for the creation of a Jewish state."
On October 24th, 1948 in a response to the Republican candidate for President Thomas Dewey, President Truman reiterated not only the position of the Democratic Platform but also US Foreign policy saying:
"We approve the claims of the State of Israel to the boundaries set forth in the United Nations' resolution of November 29 and consider that modifications thereof should be made only if fully acceptable to the State of Israel ... We continue to support, within the framework of the United Nations, the internationalization of Jerusalem and the protection of the holy places in Palestine."
A verbatim telegram dated May 27th, 1949 from President Truman during the Lausanne Conference of 1949, was directed to Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. It was made clear that territorial expansion beyond the borders already accepted by Israel were ill-advised. The President said:
"In connection with territorial matters, the positions taken by Dr. [Walter] Eytan apparently contemplates not only the retention of all territory now held under military occupation by Israel, which is clearly in excess of the partition boundaries of Nov 29, 1947, but possibly an additional acquisition of further territory within Palestine...
In the interests of a just and equitable solution of territorial questions to the US Govt, in the UN and as a member of the PCC, has supported the position that Israel should be expected to offer territorial compensation for any territorial acquisition which it expects to effect beyond the boundaries set forth in the resolution of the GA of November 29, 1947. The Govt of Israel has been well aware of this position and of the view of the US Govt that it is based on the principles of fairness and equity...
If the Govt of Israel continues to reject the basic principles set forth by the resolution of the General Assembly of Dec 11, 1948 and the friendly advice offered by the US Govt for the sole purpose of facilitating a genuine peace in Palestine, the US Govt will regretfully be forced to the conclusion that a revision of its attitude toward Israel has become unavoidable."
All the way back to 1948, when Israel was first founded, the evidence from the Truman Library demonstrates that there was a bipartisan consensus that the state of Israel's territorial borders were widely accepted to be the borders as suggested by UN General Assembly resolution 181. And as far as U.S. Presidents' admonishing Israel for a policy towards Palestinians beyond those borders, President Truman beat President Obama by sixty-five years.
Note: Dr. Walter Eytan was head of a delegation in peace talks between the Israelis and Arabs at Lausanne in 1949.