Documentation and Access to the creation of the State of Israel: Israel Information Center Ithaca.

Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: The U.S. Recognition of the State of Israel

Background

In  1917 Chaim Weizmann, scientist, statesperson, and Zionist, persuaded the British  government to issue a statement favoring the establishment of a Jewish national  home in Palestine. The statement, which became known as the Balfour Declaration,  was, in part, payment to the Jews for their support of the British against the  Turks during World War I. After the war, the League of Nations ratified the declaration  and in 1922 appointed Britain to rule Palestine.

This course of events caused Jews to be optimistic about the eventual establishment  of a homeland. Their optimism inspired the immigration to Palestine of Jews from  many countries, particularly from Germany when Nazi persecution of Jews began.  The arrival of many Jewish immigrants in the 1930s awakened Arab fears that Palestine  would become a national homeland for the Jews. By 1936 guerrilla fighting had  broken out between the Jews and the Arabs. Unable to maintain peace, Britain  issued a white paper in 1939 that restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine.  The Jews, feeling betrayed, bitterly opposed the policy and looked to the United  States for support.

While President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared to be sympathetic to the Jewish  cause, his assurances to the Arabs that the United States would not intervene  without consulting both parties caused public uncertainty about his position.  When Harry S. Truman took office, he made clear that his sympathies were with  the Jews and accepted the Balfour Declaration, explaining that it was in keeping  with former President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of “self-determination.”  Truman initiated several studies of the Palestine situation that supported his  belief that, as a result of the Holocaust, Jews were oppressed and also in need  of a homeland. Throughout the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the Departments  of War and State, recognizing the possibility of a Soviet-Arab connection and  the potential Arab restriction on oil supplies to this country, advised against  U.S. intervention on behalf of the Jews.

Britain and the United States, in a joint effort to examine the dilemma, established the “Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry.” In April 1946, the committee submitted ten recommendations covering topics such as “The European Problem,” “Refugee Immigration Into Palestine,” “Principals of Government,” “United Nations Trusteeship,” “Equality of Standards,” “Land Policy,” “Economic Development,” “Education,” and “The Need for Peace in Palestine.” [For the complete text, see The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/anglo/angtoc.htm]

British, Arab, and Jewish reactions to the recommendations were not favorable.  Jewish terrorism in Palestine antagonized the British, and by February 1947 Arab-Jewish  communications had collapsed. Britain, anxious to rid itself of the problem,  set the United Nations in motion, formally requesting on April 2, 1947, that  the U.N. General Assembly set up the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP).  This committee recommended that the British mandate over Palestine be ended and  that the territory be partitioned into two states. Jewish reaction was mixed–some  wanted control of all of Palestine; others realized that partition spelled hope  for their dream of a homeland. The Arabs were not at all agreeable to the UNSCOP  plan. In October the Arab League Council directed the governments of its member  states to move troops to the Palestine border. Meanwhile, President Truman instructed  the State Department to support the U.N. plan, and, reluctantly it did so. On  November 29, 1947, the partition plan was passed by the U.N. General Assembly.

At midnight on May 14, 1948, the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed  a new State of Israel. On that same date, the United States, in the person of  President Truman, recognized the provisional Jewish government as de facto  authority of the Jewish state (de jure recognition was extended on January  31, 1949). The U.S. delegates to the U.N. and top-ranking State Department officials  were angered that Truman released his recognition statement to the press without  notifying them first. On May 15, 1948, the first day of Israeli Independence  and exactly one year after UNSCOP was established, Arab armies invaded Israel  and the first Arab-Israeli war began.

The telegram reproduced here  is from decimal file 867n.01/5-1448, Records  of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records  Administration, Washington, DC. The press  release is from the records of Charles G. Ross, Alphabetical File, Handwriting  of the President at the Harry S. Truman  Presidential Library, Independence, MO. The Library is part of the Presidential  Libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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