US policy in Israel / Palestine: 1948 – The forgotten history

23 May 2011 | By Irene Gendzier – Middle East Policy, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 2011 –  — Israeli Occupation Archive

Irene Gendzier

Irene Gendzier

Does history matter?[1] Over the course of the past few months the Obama administration has abandoned its putative efforts to engage Israel and the Palestinians in peace talks after their collapse in the face of Israel’s continued settlement building on the West Bank. At the popular level and in the mainstream media, the response was one of familiar frustration with the allegedly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Writing in its editorial page on October 10, 2010, The New York Times reflected these sentiments, albeit critical of Washington’s excessive generosity in offering the Netanyahu government yet more arms. Urging the resumption of talks, the Times proposed an agenda that included borders, “land swaps,” security and Jerusalem. To this, it added that Palestinians were insistent on the “right of return for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war — a core peace issue along with borders, security and Jerusalem.”[2]

In practice, the core issues have remained the same for over 60 years, with the role of the United States and U.S. interests, including defense industries — major components in perpetuating the conflict — expanding over the course of that period.

But when did it all begin? The mainstream media provide few answers to such questions, as they have been complicit in maintaining a high level of ignorance about Israel, the Palestinians and, more generally, the Middle East and U.S. policy in the region. Under the circumstances, public understanding of what lies behind conditions in Gaza and the Occupied Territories virtually disappears.

The internet has radically altered this situation for interested readers, but other U.S. government sources predating Wikileaks provide indispensable information on the origins of U.S. policy in Palestine/Israel and the Middle East. What such sources reveal for the formative period of U.S. policy in 1945-49 speaks directly to the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the roots of the Israeli-U.S. relationship in 1948, and its connection to U.S. interests in the region.

For example, following President Truman’s recognition of Israel, both the State and Defense Departments made a major shift in their evaluation of the new state.  This was based on their enhanced appreciation of Israel’s military capacity after its unchallenged territorial expansion beyond the lines proposed by the 1947 UN Partition Resolution exposed the military inferiority of Palestinians and surrounding Arab states.  Israel came to be viewed as a potentially significant ally in protecting U.S. regional interests, including oil.  This, as early as 1948.

To date, mainstream accounts ignore the combination of factors that explain the evolution of this past history, which weighs so heavily on the present.

In a draft memorandum prepared in 1945 for President Truman, the Coordinating Committee of the State Department offered a succinct summary of what it regarded as urgent problems requiring attention at the highest levels of the administration. Among them were those regarding Saudi Arabia and Palestine. “In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.”[3] But, as Gordon Merriam, chief of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), who drafted the above memorandum, warned in the same passage, the king was in need of urgent economic and financial assistance “until the exploitation of the concession on a practical commercial basis begins to bring substantial royalties to Saudi Arabia.”

Turning to Palestine, Merriam observed:

Whatever short- or long-range solution is put forward, unless it is associated with the expenditures of large sums in connection with the carrying out of a far-reaching development plan applied not only to Palestine, but also to neighboring countries, will surely result in bitter altercation and bloodshed. It will also result in domestic political repercussions, and heavy pressure from the Near Eastern countries.[4]

The above memorandum described the Palestine question as “probably the most important and urgent at the present time. Unless our attitude in regard to it be clarified in a manner which will command the respect and as far as possible the approval of the peoples of the Middle East, our Middle East policy will be beset with the gravest difficulties.”[5]

In 1948, the Special Subcommittee on Petroleum of the House Armed Service Committee echoed this position, indicating that it could not discuss Saudi Arabia’s importance to U.S. oil interests without considering the question of Palestine.[6] U.S. oil interests, on the other hand, were also aware that the chief oil-producing state of the Middle East was unprepared to jettison its profits, even as it sought to distance itself from U.S. policy in Palestine, which it routinely condemned.

The question of Palestine was taken up in a 1946 memorandum by Loy Henderson, then director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, who was openly critical of U.S. policy in Palestine as reflecting a bias toward “people of Jewish blood.”  He argued that Washington risked backing “a political program in Palestine which is opposed by two-thirds of the people of that country, and by the neighboring countries.”[7]

In the year prior to the passage of the UN Partition Resolution of November 1947, the State Department as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA were joined in a general alarm as to the risks of such a move. The CIA warned of the increasing militancy of Arab nationalist movements and their position on Palestine, while predicting that the Zionists would settle for nothing less than all of Palestine and even Transjordan.[8] Britain’s increasing difficulties in Palestine led it to contemplate withdrawal, which is what occurred in May 1948. From Washington’s perspective, this was an alarming step that intensified existing risks.

In February 1948 (PPS/23), George Kennan, head of the policy planning staff, was among those critical of the politics of partition or the prospects of a Jewish state.  He was blunt in expressing his concerns about pressures leading Washington to accept responsibility for such a state in Palestine. Should this occur and the United States send troops or agree to the recruitment of international forces, he warned, Washington would be forced to reconsider its planning for the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Throughout the spring of 1948, State Department officials courted those they considered Zionist and Arab moderates, in an effort to forestall the chaos and violence they feared would follow Britain’s departure from Palestine. At the same time, U.S. consular officials were sending the secretary of state evidence of the consequences of such violence in the form of the flight and expulsion of refugees, as in the village of Deir Yassin, in Haifa, with its major refinery for Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), and in Jaffa and the districts surrounding it.

It was Thomas C. Wasson, U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, who sent Secretary of State Marshall a confidential report on what had transpired in the village of Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village lying west of Jerusalem, where “attackers killed 250 persons of whom half, by their own admission to American correspondents, were women and children. Attack carried out in connection battle now still in progress between Arabs and Jews on roads leading to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.”[9] After this, Wasson reported, chances of a ceasefire and truce would be remote.  In fact, Wasson was involved in the subsequent efforts to achieve a truce, but his life was cut short on May 23, when he was assassinated.

On April 24, Secretary of State Marshall received a cable concerning alarming developments in Haifa, whose oil refinery had been the scene of past struggles and was now in the hands of Jewish forces.[10] The prospect of the Haifa refinery becoming the scene of active conflict alarmed London as well as Washington because of its connection with the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), whose oil was refined there. More can be said about this, but suffice it to point out that on June 23, the U.S. consul in Haifa, Aubrey Lippincott, reported to Marshall that he had learned of the screening procedures to which Arabs resident in Haifa were being subjected by Jewish authorities. “Arabs who return Haifa are considered illegals. These also required taking oath allegiance Jewish state. Result is remaining Arabs determined leave.”[11] At the end of April, a major attack on Jaffa led to further flight and expulsions.  The U.S. minister to Lebanon, Lowell C Pinkerton, only reported on these events the following April. At that time, he submitted material documenting the experience of the Executive Committee of the Jaffa and District Inhabitants Council, who represented Jaffa, Ramleh and Lydda and the Arab villages that formed part of the surrounding district.[12]

Evidence of the above expulsions has been reported in far greater detail by Israel’s “new historians” and Palestinian historians,  in the work of Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, Walid Khalidi and Nur Masalha, among others.[13]

But it is significant, while little known, that U.S. sources provided contemporary confirmation of the same phenomena, which makes a mockery of apologetic explanations of the flights and expulsions of Palestinians as uniquely produced at the orders of the Arab Higher Committee, a theme common to many accounts of this period. As Simha Flapan wrote, “The recent publication of thousands of documents in the state and Zionist archives, as well as Ben-Gurion’s war diaries, shows that there is no evidence to support Israeli claims. In fact, the declassified material contradicts the ‘order’ theory, for among these sources are documents testifying to the considerable efforts of the AHC [Arab Higher Committee] and the Arab states to constrain their [the Palestinians’] flight.”[14]

Ten days before Britain’s exit from Palestine, U.S. officials in Palestine faced the Jewish Agency’s rejection of a truce as well as a trusteeship arrangement to replace what the State Department and the White House conceded to be the failure of the partition plan. In evaluating the situation, Robert McClintock, a special assistant to Dean Rusk, then director of the Office of UN Affairs, deliberated over the implications of these developments. It may well be, he speculated, that Washington would soon be confronted with a situation created by Jewish military forces, including the Haganah, the Stern Gang and Irgun, in which it would have to determine whether a “Jewish armed attack on Arab communities in Palestine is legitimate or whether it constitutes such a threat to international peace and security as to call for coercive measures by the Security Council.”[15] Washington would face what McClintock called an “anomalous situation,” in which “the Jews will be the actual aggressors against the Arabs. However, the Jews will claim that they are merely defending the boundaries of a state which were traced by the UN and approved, at least in principle, by two-thirds of the UN membership.”

Less than a month after Israel’s declaration of independence, the UN-appointed mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, identified the dual question of refugees and territorial compromise as key to any solution of the conflict. While U.S. officials increasingly distanced themselves from Bernadotte’s proposals on territorial exchanges, for the most part, they were adamant in support of a solution for the refugee crisis and critical of Israel’s position on the question, which they regarded as intransigent.  But there were exceptions, among them, Philip Jessup, the U.S. delegate to the United Nations, and James McDonald, Washington’s first special envoy and subsequently U.S. ambassador to Israel. In CIA quarters, the concern regarding refugees extended to Israel’s lack of control over its terrorist groups, which the Agency considered alarming, as “a continuing threat to peace in Palestine is the possibility of independent action by extremist groups on both sides, particularly the Jewish Irgun Zwai Leumi (IZL) and Stern Gang.”[16] It expressed skepticism over the Israeli government’s ability to contain them, although it reported the provisional government’s efforts as well as its fears, lest they undermine the government and fledging state.

As to the status of Arab countries, the same report suggested that, while Arab governments were in control, this might not last.  When their populations grasped the nature of the situation they faced, including “the full economic and emotional impact of the refugee problem, demonstrations may become so violent as to defy control.”[17]

On the basis of the above illustrations, it seems plausible to argue that Washington, internally recognized as a formidable friend of the new state, was nonetheless prepared to criticize Tel Aviv. But there was another parallel dimension of U.S. policy that was to supersede it.

Israel’s emergence was recognized as having fundamentally altered the military balance of power in the region.  The need to integrate the implications of this into U.S. Middle East policy planning was integral to Washington’s reassessment of its policy.  Within two weeks of Israel’s declaration of independence, the policy planning staff “agreed that we should begin immediately to develop a paper on Palestine and its overall policy implications, particularly with respect to the Middle East, for submission to the Secretary [of State] and Mr Lovett and eventual clearance through the National Security Council,” which had recently been formed.[18]

The Policy Planning Staff that had been identified with George Kennan’s position now found itself in a different environment. It deferred to Israel on questions of compromise over land, and it adopted positions on other critical issues that were compatible with Israel’s, such as those pertaining to an independent Palestinian state linked to Israel by economic union, as recommended in the UN Partition Resolution. Washington was to favor another position, involving King Abdullah’s takeover of Palestinian land in agreement with Israel. Whether or not Washington was aware of the prehistory of such arrangements is immaterial.

McClintock of the UNA made it clear that Washington not only recognized the provisional government of Israel; it would seek Israel’s consent before making any recommendations for changes in territorial control. Loy Henderson, director of the State Department’s NEA, long viewed as an inveterate critic of the Jewish state, reinforced the same position.

In late June 1948, McClintock reviewed what had transpired since the UN Partition Resolution of 1947 and concluded that “there will be no separate Arab State and no economic union as envisaged in the General Assembly resolution.”[19] Under the circumstances, he suggested new boundaries that involved an “exchange” of populations. The result would be that “the State of Israel would contain most of the Jews of Palestine and the Arabs would reside in purely Arab areas.”

In the midst of this, a very different message was conveyed to McClintock and the secretary of state by a figure U.S. officials courted as the preeminent moderate among Zionists, Judah Magnes, then president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He urged the United States to impose financial sanctions on Arabs and Jews in an effort to bring to a halt the ongoing fighting that threatened the prospects of resolving the conflict.  No such action was taken.

On the contrary, while U.S. officials regularly denounced violence and no doubt feared it, there was an increasing sense that the balance of power had shifted in a way that held out new possibilities advantageous to Washington. First, there was a reassessment of military forces in the field with a clear understanding of where superiority rested. The myth of a David versus Goliath in the struggle over Palestine was put to rest. In short, “the demonstration of Israel’s devastatingly effective military strength,” as Avi Shlaim has written, “increased American admiration for Israel and underscored her value as a potential ally.”[20]

Prior to May 1948, it was assumed that the numerical superiority of the surrounding Arab states would nullify the prospects of a Jewish victory in Palestine.  This changed with the Jewish forces’ acquisition of illegal arms, chiefly from Czechoslovakia, but also from other Eastern European states, such that from mid-May 1948, the Israel Defense Forces emerged in a superior position with respect to men and arms despite Arab reinforcements.[21]

In a report prepared for the office of the secretary of defense, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that “Israel benefited greatly from the previous truce period in improving its military potential.”[22] Referring to the truce that lasted from July 9-18, the CIA argued that “Jews may now be strong enough to launch a full-scale offensive and drive the Arab forces out of Palestine.”[23] By comparison, Arab gains were minimal.[24] The CIA assessment of the overall position of the Arabs was that they were so weak that they could not endure for more than two or three months. It was evident that such results were unexpected.  The Agency conceded that “events during the truce, and the enormous increase in Jewish strength resulting from them, considerably change the previously held estimate of the probable course of the war in Palestine.”[25]

The above report included an estimate of Arab and Israeli forces.  Arab forces “in Palestine” were estimated to number approximately 27,000 and those “near Palestine” were reported to be 19, 800, yielding a total of 46,800.  Israeli forces were divided among the Haganah, consisting of a “Mobile striking force” of 17,000; a “Semi-mobile (Local operation)” force of 18,000; and a “Garrison or Defense (settlers-urban militia)” of 50,000.  The Irgun was described as having increased its forces from 7,000 to 12,000 in the preceding months, while the Stern Gang had also seen a rise in its numbers, now estimated to be from 400-800, bringing total Israeli forces to 97,800.[26]

Following Israel’s emergence, some U.S. officials were openly prepared to jettison the Partition Resolution as obsolete. Philip Jessup, a member of the policy planning staff and the deputy U.S. representative on the Security Council in the summer of 1948, was one of them. He was not the only one who believed that the Resolution was no longer applicable; that its proposal for a Palestinian state and an economic union with Israel was unlikely; and that Israel and the United States would be better served by promoting an increased role for Transjordan’s King Abdullah in Palestine.

Jessup’s remarks are of particular interest in this context. The U.S. deputy concluded that “if fairly treated, [Israel] could become a force operating to our advantage and to advantage of Arab countries.”[27] “Our advantage” frankly rested on Israel’s importance in U.S. strategy in the Middle East. There would be no advantage to Arab countries, save those whose regimes Israel would support in accordance with U.S. interests. As to broader U.S. interests in the region, Jessup was candid in underlining the prime U.S. economic interest in the Middle East, going so far as to suggest that without it, neither Palestine nor other countries in the Near East would be of consequence. Its consideration, however, as Jessup was not reluctant to concede, directly affected our judgment on the Palestine question.

From the strategic viewpoint we assume that Palestine, together with the neighboring countries, is a major factor presumably in any future major conflict this region, would be of vital importance to U.S. as a potential base area and with respect to our lines of communication. Presumably also the oil resources of the area are considered vital. It is our feeling that this last point may not perhaps have been dealt [with] adequately and frankly enough in official and public discussion of the Palestine question.

From the economic viewpoint it is probable that with the exception of oil, our trade and other economic relations with Palestine and the other Near East countries are not directly of any substantial importance. Indirectly, however, the economic stability and developing prosperity of Palestine and the Middle East area under peaceful conditions could make a very substantial contribution to the economic recovery of the world generally and thus contribute to the economic welfare of the U.S. With respect to oil, we recognize that the oil supply from the area is of great importance in the European recovery program. Were it not for this factor, however, and the strategic importance of oil we should probably not allow the economic importance of this commodity to condition our judgment substantially with regard to Palestine [italics mine].[28]

Aside from Jessup, Aramco officials and their allies in the State Department were acutely aware of Saudi Arabia’s importance in such overall calculations. They must have surely approved the secretary of state’s gesture in sending a secret memo to King Ibn Saud, to express gratitude for the “conciliatory manner in which Ibn Saud has consistently approached [the] Palestine question.”[29]

Defense Department officials concluded by the early spring of 1949 that Israel was the second state after Turkey in terms of its military capacity and potential in U.S. strategic planning for the region.  Undersecretary of State Lovett had earlier concluded that “the state of Israel would be the most dynamic, efficient and vigorous Government in the Near East in the future.”[30] On March 7, 1949, a memorandum by the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force to the joint chiefs of staff on “U.S. Strategic Interests in Israel,” concluded as follows:

The power balance in the Near and Middle East has been radically altered. At the time the state of Israel was forming, numerous indications pointed to its extremely short life in the face of Arab League opposition. However, Israel has now been recognized by the United States and the United Kingdom, is likely soon to become a member of the United Nations, and has demonstrated by force of arms its right to be considered the military power next after Turkey in the Near and Middle East.[31]

According to the above source, “as a result of its support to Israel, the United States might now gain strategic advantages from the new political situation.” In that light, the Air Force chief of staff called for a study of “U.S. strategic objectives touching Israel,” in addition to recommending that military training and assistance be considered and that, above all, Soviet influence in Israel be blocked.

Several weeks later, on March 24, there was discussion on precisely this possibility of involving Israeli and Arab officers in U.S. training missions. The recommendation was to send “officer student training missions from Israel and the Arab states, in reasonable numbers, consistent with the ability of the various services to handle such missions.”[32] On April 30, 1949, the secretary of defense received a request, accompanied by a letter from the undersecretary of state, regarding the training and provision of technical assistance to the Israeli military. The secretary of the Army concluded that the most likely form such assistance would take would be a military mission.

The chief of naval operations considered the possibility of providing technical assistance but delayed it until the risk of ensuing conflict had sufficiently abated so as not to implicate the United States in the fighting. But above all, “at the end of April 1949, the American CINCELM (commander in chief of U.S. naval forces, East Atlantic and Mediterranean) pressed the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) to allot the highest priority to ensuring Israel’s friendship.”[33] As Michael Cohen observes, among the reasons for such a policy was recognition that “a hostile Israel” would adversely affect plans for “the construction of forward airfields on her territory, and the free movement of forces and equipment along their planned lines of communication.”[34]

The signing of armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors in 1949 facilitated such moves.  As the memorandum to the secretary of defense indicated:

Because of United States strategic interests in Israel, it would be desirable for her orientation toward the United States to be fostered and for her military capability to be such as to make her useful as an ally in the event of war with our most probable enemy. [illegible due to word: VOID printed over text]…of  these points justify favorable consideration of eventual establishment of a United States military mission to Israel.[35]

U.S. sources made the “corrected” version of the same declaration public. It contained no surprises, as it simply affirmed that “because of United States strategic interests, it would be desirable to foster the orientation of Israel toward the United States. This may justify favorable consideration of eventual establishment of a United States military mission in Israel.”

By May 16, 1949,  the U.S. secretary of defense candidly explained the U.S. military’s interest in Israel as a function of its location, its bases and the nature of its  military forces, which would serve U.S. interests in keeping the USSR out of the Middle East.

First, then, there was the matter of location:

The direct land routes (road and rail) between Turkey and the Cairo-Suez area pass through Israeli territory. In addition, the main land routes from the Caspian area of the USSR and from Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to Egypt and the Levant pass through or near Israel’s territory, as do the pipelines from the Middle East oil areas to the Mediterranean. Israel controls the land approaches to the Cairo-Suez area from the east, the border between Israel and Egypt being about one hundred and fifty miles east of the Suez Canal.[36]

Second, there was the question of bases. Although the U.S. military did not envision Israel as the location of a major base, there was reported to be a high grade, if limited, “system of well-developed airfields and air bases. In our hands, these air installations would be most useful in the interdiction of the lines of communication from the USSR to the Middle East oil resources with medium and short-range aircraft.”[37]

Third, there was the importance of Israel’s “indigenous military forces, which have had some battle experience,” and, as the joint chiefs contemplated, could be important to “either the Western Democracies or the USSR in any contest for control of the Eastern Mediterranean-Middle East area.”[38] Hence, in the face of a Soviet attempt to “secure or neutralize the oil facilities of the Middle East and to operate against the Cairo-Suez base area,” Israel’s position and its forces would be critical. “Should Israel ally herself with the Western Democracies in the event of war with the USSR, full advantage could be taken of defensive positions in that country and of Israel’s forces for the defense of the Cairo-Suez area and for land operations to defend or to recapture the Middle East oil facilities.”[39]

The above considerations were based on the axiom that “the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is of critical importance to the future security of the United States.”  This, in turn, assumed that the “stability of the Middle East, including assurance that the peoples of this area will not turn to the USSR and against the United States, is a vital element in United States security.”[40]

Fourth, parallel with the growing appreciation of the Israeli military, was the continuing concern in Washington that Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians could undermine U.S. interests in the region. Truman as well as State Department and NSC officials were aware of the urgency of resolving territorial questions as well as the Palestinian refugee problem, though they readily abandoned the former as unlikely, focusing on the latter with no greater success. But the issue did not fade. In June, the U.S. delegate on the Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC), Mark Etheridge, was sharply critical of Israel’s rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return and what he regarded as its failure to define the bases of coexistence of Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Israel.  Etheridge subsequently resigned.

In July 1949, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and African Affairs George McGhee attempted to impress Israel with the urgency of recognizing “the principle of territorial compensation for areas held by Israel outside the 1947 Palestine Partition lines and the repatriation of a substantial number of Palestine refugees without reference to territorial acquisition,” in order to avert a change in U.S. policy — or, more accurately, a change in the U.S. attitude toward Israel.[41]

In the fall of 1949, the National Security Council issued a report (NSC 47/7) in which it expressed concern about the risks of the continuing crisis over the Palestinian refugee problem.  But, in this instance, the NSC did not focus exclusively on Israeli responsibility; it included Arab states as accepting the resettlement of Palestinian refugees within their own borders. The risk, as far as the NSC was concerned, was the same: the potential radicalization of the Arab world.

Yet, in the very same report in which the NSC voiced its concerns, it recognized Israel’s comparative advantage with respect to its Palestinian and Arab neighbors.

Israel’s military establishment, although small, is a relatively modern and effective fighting machine which has proved itself adequate to resist the poorly equipped, ill-trained and badly led armies of the Arab League states in the course of recent hostilities and to occupy considerable territory beyond that awarded under the partition plan. It can be expected that the future effectiveness of the Israeli Army will increase with the implementation of current plans for training and reorganization.[42]

Under the circumstances, Admiral Richard Connolly, commander-in-chief of U.S. Naval forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, envisioned the possibility of coordinating strategic planning in the Mediterranean with Turkey, Egypt and Israel.  This collaboration was sought in order to develop “suitable airfields, the expansion of radar facilities, the storage of aviation, and the stockpiling of essential equipment.”[43] Connolly’s plans envisaged the containment of the Soviet Union in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

In May 1950, Truman met with the head of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Jacob Blaustein, who was also in charge of the oil company Amoco.  Blaustein was interested in promoting Israel’s acquisition of arms from the United States, reminding Truman that his defense secretary, Louis Johnson, had reported that the president, with Acheson’s agreement, was in accord with providing arms to Israel “for defense purposes.”[44]

But it was not only in Washington that there was a reassessment of the Middle East in the light of Israel’s military victory over its neighbors.  Israeli analysts, such as Michael Assaf, adviser to Ben-Gurion, had an acute sense of its long-term implications for Israeli-U.S. relations, and more generally for those of Israel and the West.  What he wrote in an editorial in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz in 1951 was to prove prophetic. Assaf reviewed the precarious situation of Arab regimes in the face of nationalist movements, both secular and religious, concluding that the states in question were weak militarily.  In this context, he considered the impact of Israel’s strengthening, which he described as “a rather convenient way for the Western Powers to keep a balance of political forces in the Middle East. According to this supposition Israel has been assigned the role of a kind of watchdog.” In that capacity, if  the “Western powers will at some time prefer, for one reason or another, to shut their eyes, Israel can be relied upon to punish properly one or several of its neighboring states whose lack of manners towards the West has gone beyond permissible limits.”[45]

Washington could not have disagreed. The U.S. Defense Department recognized Israel’s potential in the protection of U.S. oil interests, and both State and Defense Department officials understood that such protection ultimately rested on the curtailment of those “whose lack of manners towards the West has gone beyond permissible limits.”  And this as a result of 1948.

To reconfigure the analysis of U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the terms suggested above constitutes a paradigmatic shift in our interpretation of U.S. policy and an epistemological breakthrough in the dominant U.S. interpretation of the conflict itself.  The findings which undergird such a claim are open to inspection.

Irene Gendzier is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Boston University; she is also a member of the IOA Advisory Board.


[1] The documentation cited in this essay is drawn from my forthcoming study, Dying to Forget: The Foundations of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East, Oil, Palestine/Israel, 1945-1949, to be published by Columbia University Press.

[2] “Enough Game-Playing,” The New York Times, October 30, 2010, p. A18.

[3] Report by the Coordinating Committee of the Department of State, Annex, May 2, 1945, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) Volume VIII, p. 45.

[4] Ibid., p. 47.

[5] Ibid., pp. 37-38.

[6] House Special Subcommittee on Petroleum, Committee on Armed Services, Report of Investigation of Petroleum in Relation to National Defense (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948), p. 6064.

[7] Memorandum from the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson), in “Aspects of Thinking in the Department of State on Political and Economic Policies of the United States in the Near and Middle East,” FRUS, 1946 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969), Vol. VII, p. 4.

[8] Central Intelligence Agency, The Consequences of the Partition of Palestine, November 28, 1947, p. 8,

[9] Consul at Jerusalem (Wasson) to the Secretary of State, April 13, 1948, FRUS 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 817.

[10] See Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel, (Pantheon Books, 1987),  p. 89; Major R.D. Wilson, “The Battle for Haifa, April 21-22, 1948,” in Walid Khalidi, ed., From Haven to Conquest, (Beirut, 1971), pp. 771-774; Walid Khalidi, “Special Feature, The Fall of Haifa Revisited,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXXVll, No. 3, Spring 2008, pp. 30-58.

[11] Consul at Haifa (Lippincott) to the Secretary of State, June 23, 1948, FRUS 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 1138.

[12] Irene Gendzier, “The Memorandum Submitted to the Government of the United States of America,” by the Jaffa and District Inhabitants Council, was included in the dispatch sent by Lowell C Pinkerton, American minister in Beirut, to U.S. Secretary of State Marshall, April 11, 1949, reproduced in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol.  XV111, No. 3, Issue 71, Spring 1989, p. 103.

[13] See the discussion of the contribution of Israel’s “New Historians,” in Avi Shlaim, “The Debate About 1948,” op. cit., pp. 171-193; as well as Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, The War for Palestine, Rewriting the History of 1948.

[14] Simha Flapan, “The Palestinian Exodus of 1948,”Journal of Palestine Studies, 4, Summer 1987, pp. 4-5.

[15] Draft Memorandum from the Director of the Office of United Nations Affairs (Rusk) to the Under Secretary of State (Lovett), May 4, 1948, FRUS 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 894.  While this memo was drafted by McClintock, it appears that it was not sent.

[16] Central Intelligence Agency, Possible Developments from the Palestine Truce, Addendum to ORE, August 31, 1948, pp. 3, 38-48,

[17] Ibid., p. 3.

[18] Minutes of the Policy Planning Staff, June 2, 1948, FRUS 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 1088.

[19] Memorandum from Robert McClintock, June 23, 1948, FRUS, Vol. V, part 2, p. 1135.

[20] Avi Shlaim, “Britain and the Arab-Israeli War of 1948,” op. cit., p. 70.

[21] Avi Shlaim, “Israel and the Arab Coalition in 1948,” in Avi Shlaim and Eugene L Rogan, eds., The War for Palestine, p. 80.

[22] Central Intelligence Agency, Possible Developments from the Palestine Truce, op. cit. p. 5. The same report may be found in FRUS 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 1244.

[23] “Possible Development From the Palestine Truce,” Central Intelligence Agency, July 27, 1948, p. 9;

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 10.

[27] The Acting United States Representative at the United Nations (Jessup) to the Secretary of State, FRUS, July 1, 1948, V, part 2, p. 1183.

[28] Ibid., p. 1181.

[29] The Secretary of State to the Legation in Saudi Arabia, FRUS, August 17, 1948, Vol. V, part 2, p. 1318.

[30] Cited in Avi Shlaim, “Britain and the Arab-Israeli War of 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XVl, No. 4, issue 64, Summer 1987, p. 70-71.

[31] Memorandum by the Chief of Staff,  U.S. Air Force to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on U.S. Strategic Interest in Israel, March 7, 1949, in Records of the JCS, Part 2, 1948-1953 [sect B], the Middle East, p. 181. Film A 368 [B] Reel 2.

[32] Memorandum by the Secretary of State, Conversation with the President, FRUS, March 24, 1949,  Vl, p. 864.

[33] Cited in Michael J. Cohen, Fighting World War Three From the Middle East Frank Cass, 1997, p. 204.

[34] Ibid., p. 205.

[35] Enclosure, Draft Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, JCS/1892/15.

[36] Ibid., p. 1010.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., p. 1012.

[41] Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and African Affairs (McGhee) to the Secretary of State, FRUS, July 19, 1949, Vl, p. 1236.

[42] NSC, FRUS, Oct. 17, 1949, op. cit., p. 1434.

[43] Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War (Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 287.

[44] May 10, 1950, Jacob Blaustein to Truman, Personal, Harry S. Truman Library, Papers of Harry S. Truman, President’s Secretary’s File.

[45] Op-ed article, “The Harlot from the Cities Overseas and We — Thoughts on the Eve of [Jewish] New Year 5712,” Ha’aretz, September 30, 1951, cited in Moshe Machover, “Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution,” Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust Annual Lecture, November 30, 2006, p. 13-14.


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