General Articles

HOW THE U.S. BUNGLED PALESTINE

In its search for votes, oil and bases against Russia, Washington has treated Palestine and the U.N. shamefully, declares this writer

SUMNER WELLES July 15 1948
General Articles

HOW THE U.S. BUNGLED PALESTINE

In its search for votes, oil and bases against Russia, Washington has treated Palestine and the U.N. shamefully, declares this writer

SUMNER WELLES July 15 1948

HOW THE U.S. BUNGLED PALESTINE

General Articles

In its search for votes, oil and bases against Russia, Washington has treated Palestine and the U.N. shamefully, declares this writer

SUMNER WELLES

(FORMER U. S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE)

THE POLICY of the United States in the case of Palestine has been devoid of vision and devoid of principle.

It has been devoid of principle in that justice and the struggle for freedom of a bitterly afflicted people have been prostituted to the shabby exigencies of local politics and of powerful domestic interests and subordinated to the influence of militarism.

It has been devoid of vision in that the cause of collective security, by whose triumph alone the United States can ensure its lasting safety, has been sacrificed to short-sighted and selfish expediency.

American policy with regard to Palestine has in the past at times been governed by idealism, by humanitarian considerations and by an enlightened grasp of the factors that make for world peace.

In dealing with the problem both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt had the broader viewpoint. They saw that the establishment of a National Homeland for the Jewish people, as promised by the Balfour Declaration, was not only an act of justice but that it would also serve to relieve economic and social pressures that were stimulating the growth of anti-Semitism in the Old World.

For far the greater part of the past 31 years, however, the policy of the United States toward Palestine has responded to the influence of politics or to that of large financial interests. Most recently it has been determined by the American armed services.

The Lobbies at Work

AFTER the Second World War, President L Truman’s policy failed to contribute to the solution of the problem. His early demands for the immediate admission into Palestine of 100,000 refugees could hardly be ot her than barren. When these were supplemented by announcements that American troops would under no conditions be employed to maintain peace in Palestine and that the American Government would share none of the other burdens that Britain would have to bear if the doors of Palestine were opened to large-scale immigration, the President’s demands merely served to increase the obstinacy of Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, and to arouse general British irritation.

When the British Government at last decided to transfer the Palestine question to the United Nations, three influences that were destined to play a potent part in deciding American policy began to make themselves felt in Washington.

The first was that of the highest officials in the Department of Defense, to whom Palestine was nothing more than a problem in strategy. They saw tihe Near East as a probable base for future military operations against the Soviet Union and as an area which contained perhaps as much as 40% of the oil resources of the world. Long before the conclusion of the war, the initiative had been taken by the Navy Department, strongly backed by Harold Ickes while he was Secretary of the Interior, in proposing the construction of pipe lines to carry the oil produced in the Arabian fields to Mediterranean ports. To the strategy planners these pipe lines seemed to be American life lines. Any policy that might induce the Arab Governments to refuse

their co-operation to the United States or to hinder American access to this oil seemed to them criminally stupid. A policy which demanded a Palestine solution that would fulfill the pledges given to the Jewish people, which would solve the otherwise insoluble problem of the European refugees, which would strengthen the authority of the United Nations and at the same time settle a controversy that was threatening the peace of all of the Near East, was to them wholly mistaken so long as it might result in Arab disfavor and endanger American control of the oil fields.

It is hardly necessary to add that the lobbies maintained in Washington by the oil companies that had obtained concessions from the Arab Governments were giving enthusiastic support to the military standpoint.

The third influence was that of a number of officials in the Department of State. I have worked with some of these officials over a period of many years. I have complete faith in their integrity and respect for the sincerity of their beliefs. Mistaken as I believe them to be in their insistence that the friendship of the Arab world is of more value to this country than a just and lasting settlement of the Palestine controversy, I am confident that their views are based solely upon their conviction that the policies which they have so strongly urged upon the President and the Secretary of State are in the national interest.

In the opinion of these officials it is essential, in view of the aggressive intent of the Soviet Union, that no step be taken by the United States that would alienate the

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Arab peoples. They consequently maintain that the United States should adopt as its own the policy of the British Government. They urge that no solution of the Palestine problem be imposed and that no plan of settlement be sponsored by the United States unless it has been previously accepted by both Jews and Arabs. It is their viewpoint that in a Third World War Arab support is essential to the West and that the only way in which that support can be obtained is by our permitting the Arabs to block any Palestine settlement which does not meet with their approval.

The First Change of Heart

When the problem of Palestine was presented to the Special Session of the Assembly of the United Nations in the spring of 1947, these three influences had already had some effect upon our policy.

When the regular session of the Assembly met, however, Secretary Marshall stated in his opening address that the United States gave “special weight.” to the recommendation for partition contained in the majority report of the Special Commission. The United States thereupon began to evidence a sudden change of heart.

On Oct. 12, Herschel V. Johnson, an American delegate, declared that while his Government favored certain geographical and technical amendments it nevertheless fully supported “the basic principles of the unanimous recommendations” of the Special Commission “and the majority plan which provides for partition and immigration.”

In his address of Nov. 22 before the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly, Mr. Johnson’s statement of policy was still more categorical and much more far-reaching.

It differed from this Government’s position four months before in its categorical assertion that the United States believed that the partition plan recommended by the General Assembly was “most practicable and most just present solution of the Palestine problem.”

The explanation for the change in the attitude of the Administration is that public opinion had made it self felt. The rt*com mend a t io ns formulated by the Assembly had won a wide measure of popular support. It was realized that any prolonged continuation of chaotic conditions in Palestine would involve a very real danger of open warfare. In that case the Soviet Union might legitimately insist upon using armed force to end hostilities in a region

adjacent to her own sphere of interest, on the ground that her security was endangered and that the United Nations had taken no restraining measures. There was widespread recognition that clear-cut action by the United Nations would be the most likely means of procuring a lasting settlement and of forestalling any entrance by Russia into the Mediterranean.

The advocates within the Congress of such a settlement were numerous and influential. Together with certain of his personal advisers, they represented to President Truman the need for a positive policy. Nor can it be denied that politics played a considerable part in determining the action of the White House. While Americans of the Jewish faith were still divided, many Jews who had previously opposed the objectives of the Zionists now believed that the settlement recommended by the Assembly offered the one hope of providing new homes for the European refugees. Jewish support for the partition plan became overwhelming. In several of the larger cities the political influence of this body of American citizens was considerable and their allegiance was a matter of more than passing concern to a President whose desire for re-election was well-known. Neither the objections of the armed services nor those coming from the Department of State were for the moment able to prevail. To all appearances the decision reached by the President was final. There was every reason for foreign governments and for American public opinion to believe that the United States would assume the same kind of forthright leadership in implementing the partition plan as that which it had undertaken in persuading the Assembly to adopt that plan.

The Military Reasons

A material change had, however, already taken place behind the scenes. During the brief time since the Assembly had approved the plan, relations between the Soviet Linien and the United States had rapidly deteriorated. The decision of the Kremlin to sabotage t he European Recovery Pro! gram, the campaign conducted by the j Communists in Italy and in France, ! Soviet activities in Scandinavia, China, | Korea and Iran, the elimination of the j last vestige of popular government in the Balkans, Soviet support for the rebellion against, thé, „constitutional government of Greece, climaxed by the seizure of Czechoslovakia and the demand upon Finland for a military alliance, all combined to make it seem that the Soviet program for aggressive expansion was being accelerated, and accelerated to a point where resistance by the United States and by the

Western European Powers might before long have to be made evident by more than mere words of reprobation.

To the arguments earlier advanced by the Prasident’s military and naval advisers against American support for the partition plan, there were now available the added arguments that because of Arab resistance partition could only be imposed by force; that since the Security Council had as yet no international police force at its disposal, only the British, the Russians and the Americans could supply the troops needed, and that the Soviet Union would unquestionably demand equal participation with the Western Powers if the United Nations sent an armed force to Palestine. It was pointed out that, were American and Russian troops both dispatched to Palestine, precisely the same difficulties would arise as those already encountered in Korea and that once Russian troops were in Palestine there was no means of knowing when, if ever, they might withdraw, or how much further they might try to go. It was further argued that in view of the new crisis the United States must be assured that the territory of Palestine would be available as a base for the air and ground forces of the Western Powers.

These arguments were on their face quite plausible. They were, of course, bolstered by the views of the Department of State and by the representations of the «American oil companies that, if the United States continued to press for partition, the oil of the Near East would be unavailable for our national defense and equally unavailable to the countries of Western Europe that must have access to this source of supply if the European Recovery Program was to succeed.

To an Administration which had no

convictions with respect to the ethical values that Palestine represented, that neither then nor later showed any sign of grasping the broader implications inherent in the settlement of the Palestine problem, and that had long since been dominated by the military mentality, the arguments so advanced finally proved conclusive. The climax came after the Palestine Commission rendered its special report to the Security Council on Feb. 16, when it urgently pointed out that conditions in Palestine had reached such a pass that the Commission had no hope of carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it unless the Security Council provided the force by which peace could be restored to Palestine.

A week later Warren Austin, the American delegate, addressed the Security Council. He there maintained that although the Council was required by the Charter to act should it determine that there was any “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” in Palestine, the Security Council was not empowered by the Charter to enforce partition.

To the man in the street this represented a reversal of policy. But when the American delegate to the United Nations, the Secretary of State and the President of the United States were once more asked whether this Government was withdrawing its support from the partition plan, the replies given were once more categorical: the United States had no thought of modifying, much less of reversing its announced policy.

On March 5 the Security Council agreed to an American proposal that the five major powers consult. But in their discussions it was soon plain that the United States not only had no suggestions to offer for the implementation of the partition plan but that, by urging that avenues of conciliation between Jews and Arabs should be once more explored, its chief objective was further delay. This impression was strengthened when it became known that due to American pressure within the Trusteeship Council, consideration of the draft statute for the proposed international zone of Jerusalem had been suspended for six weeks, although under the provisions of the Assembly resolution the final date for the approval by the Trusteeship Council of such a statute had been fixed for April 29.

The Excuses Begin

The representations made to the White House and to the Department of State that the prestige of the United States was at stake, that the course pursued by the Jewish Agency and by the other more moderate elements in Palestine had been followed only because of their trust in the good faith of this country, and that at this late date a reversal of its policy by the United States would gravely undermine popular confidence throughout the world in the United Nations, were scarcely heeded.

On March 19 in a new declaration to the Security Council, Mr. Austin made the remarkable pronouncement that “a unilateral decision by the United Kingdom to terminate the Palestine mandate cannot automatically commit the United Nations to responsibility for governing that Country. We think it clear that the United Nations does not succeed to administrative responsibility for Palestine merely because the latter is a mandate . . .”

Leaving aside for the time being the effect upon the authority of the United Nations which this exposition of the American interpretation of the Charter must have if, as the American delegate

stated, the United Nations had assumed no responsibility for Palestine when Britain announced her decision to terminate her mandate, why had the Assembly a year before decided to recommend a settlement? Why, after protracted investigation and full debate, had it undertaken to approve by a large majority a plan for the partition of Palestine? Why had the United States exercised the full measure of its influence in order to secure the approval of the Assembly for the partition plan? And why had Mr. Johnson, speaking in the name of the United States, declared to the Assembly only four months before: “The United Nations is the

proper forum for the solution of this question ... No further period of tutelage is required in the case of this class of mandate . . . We are dealing here with the means by which the United Nations might facilitate the transition of Palestine from the status

of an international mandate to independence”?

The basic issues could not have been more cogently stated than they were by the New York Times, a newspaper traditionally opposed to Zionism, on March 21:

“Three things need to be said and to be said at once concerning the present shift of American policy on Palestine, The first is that it comes as a climax to a series of moves which has seldom been matched for ineptness in the handling of any international issue by an American Administration. The second is that it is a plain and unmistakable surrender to the threat of force. And the third is that it holds little promise of being able to avoid the very hazards which it is intended to circumvent.”

Truman’s Story

In a vain attempt to still the evermounting tide of criticism. President Truman issued a public statement on March 26. He said:

“We could not undertake to impose this solution on the people of Palestine by the use of American troops both on Charter grounds and as a matter of national policy.

“The United Kingdom has announced its firm intention to abandon its mandate in Palestine on May 15. Unless emergency action is taken there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Largescale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result. Such fighting would infect the entire Middle East and could lead to consequences of the gravest sort involving the peace of this nation and of the world ... If the United Nations agrees to a temporary trusteeship we must take our share of the necessary responsibility. Our regard for the United Nations, for the peace of the

world, and for our own self-interest does not permit us to do less.”

Such a statement, incoherent, contradictory, and inaccurate as it must be regarded under even the most favorable interpretation, increased popular confusion and dismay.

Surely the chief reason why, as the President said, there would be no public authority in Palestine on May 15 which could preserve law and order, was this Government’s failure, when the partition plan was adopted, to take steps to see that the Security Council created an international police force to keep the peace when the British mandate ended. If the United States, according to the President, was in its own view prevented “on Charter grounds” from co-operating in the enforcement of the partition plan, why should the United States he free to co-operate in imposing the establishment of a trusteeship? Yet the President declared, “we must take our share of the necessary responsibility” if a trusteeship were imposed. If “violence and bloodshed” were to descend upon

the Holy Land if partition was imposed, why was a far greater measure of violence and bloodshed not to be expected if the United States joined in imposing a trusteeship upon Palestine? For if partition were enforced the Jews of Palestine would support the plan of settlement recommended by the Assembly and would actively co-operate in seeing that it was carried out. If a trusteeship were imposed, however, the forces that might be sent to Palestine would be met not only by Arab resistance but also by Jewish resistance, for the Jews had at once declared that they would oppose by force any plan of settlement that did not immediately give them their promised independence.

What could have been done to make possible a peaceful settlement?

Why Not a U. N. Force?

The Security Council, because of

Russian intransigeance, had not yet been able to agree upon the establishment of the permanent international police force required by the Charter. To meet the request of the Assembly some temporary force would have to be created. The simplest solution, a force combining contingents from the major powers, was clearly unacceptable. The joint occupation of Korea by the Soviet Union and the United States had already proved that only increased tension could be anticipated from a repetition of that experiment. With the ever-growing contest for supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union could be expected to agree to the policing of Palestine by an expeditionary force of the other. France had few t roops available, nor would the Soviet Union have agreed if she had. The British Government; had declared repeatedly that under no conditions would British troops be used to impose any settlement by force and that in no event would British troops remain In Palestine aft er Aug. 1, 1948.

Under these circumstances only one solution was feasible. That solution was the creation by the Military Staff Committee of the Security Council, under its technical command, but subject to the orders of the Palestine Commission, of a force composed of contingents from the regular military establishments of a sufficient number of the small nations that had no direct interest in Palestine. This solution would have required the payment by the major powers of the costs involved. It would, however, not have been subject to political or strategic objections. It would have presented the intermediary and lesser powers in the United Nations with an opportunity to assume their share of responsibility for solving a problem which threatened world peace and for maintaining the authority of the United Nations upon which their own future security so greatly depended. The assumption of these responsibilities might not have been welcomed. But such nations, for example, as Brazil and Mexico, Sweden and Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium could have well afforded to make the relatively small sacrifice that this might have represented.

Had the United States made any serious attempt, as the delegation of New Zealand so earnestly did, before the Assembly adjourned on Nov. 30, to convince the other member nations that the task of the Assembly could only be regarded as half-finished unless it came to some definite understanding with the Security Council upon a method of enforcing partition, should enforcement prove necessary, there can be little doubt that the creation of such a constabulary as that suggested could have been agreed upon. There is

no valid ground for the assertion that the Soviet Government would at that time have vetoed the establishment of such an international force. There is no basis for the presumption that the small powers would have proved recalcitrant. There is every reason to believe that had the Arabs known that such an international force was in process of creation, and would be dispatched to Palestine to replace the British troops as these were withdrawn, the Arabs would neither have committed the acts of aggression of which they were later guilty, nor have dared openly to defy the United Nations.

It is reported that the failure of the United Stales to take a step which foresight demanded was due to its belief that, it could still persuade the British Government to continue its military occupation of Palestine and maintain order until the partition plan had been carried out and that this arrangement, would avoid many undesirable complications. The defense authorities in Washington of course also insisted that any military force composed of small contingents from several nations, trained under diverse military systems and speaking different languages, would have proved unwieldy and ineffective. This was surely anot her instance of where the perfect is the enemy of the good. Such a solution would necessarily present many difficult technical problems. But if no other solution could he found, was it not, far better for such a force, with all of its possible defects, to be employed by the Security Council, than for the United Nations to appear impotent, to have the tragedy of Palestine become daily more desperate and to have the United States find itself in a position as profoundly humiliating as any in its history?

Those who are directly responsible for the American reversal of Palestine policy tell us that the oil produced in the Near East must he available to the countries of Western Europe if the European Recovery Program is to succeed, and that the oil resources available to the United States are so depleted that Near Eastern oil is indispensable if she has to take part in a new war.

Taken by themselves, there is much in these assertions that is not open to contradiction. But when they are used as a justification for the reversal of this nation’s declared policy, the individual citizen is entitled to subject them to careful analysis.

Arab Loyalty

Should the present tension between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers result in hostilities, what reason have we to assume that the United States or any other Western Power could still have access to this oil? The existing British military forces in the Near East, even if the United States were able to reinforce them quickly, could hardly prevent the Soviet, Union from rapidly occupying Iran and Iraq, and from thereby securing these countries’ oil resources as well as control of the air over the rest of the oil-producing areas of the Near East. Even though the American plan for a Palestine trusteeship may have envisaged the utilization of Palestine as a base for t he air and ground forces of the Western democracies, it is improbable that those forces could prevent the success of a major effort by t he Soviet Union to occupy Mesopotamia and Arabia. It might well be that later on the United States and its allies, if they kept control of North and East Africa, could recapture these areas from the Russians. But certainly by then the

oil wells and their equipment would have been wrecked and rendered unproductive.

American policy makers, in their plans of global strategy, seemed to be assuming that, by abandoning partition they would win the loyal support for the United States and its western allies of the Arab world. Great Britain has for many generations tried to obtain that support. She has catered to Arab ambitions and to Arab prejudices. She has continued heavily to subsidize Arab governments at times when she could ill afford it.. Yet. the history of the past three decades demonstrates conclusively that when Arab leaders have believed that their own interest would thereby be better served they have usually defaulted in their obligations to Great Britain. The Iraqi revolt in the spring of 1941, when the fate of Great Britain hung in the balance, backed though it may have been by Nazi agents, was a genuine Arab movement. The persistent attempt of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to help the Axis defeat the British and to obtain control of the Near East was widely supported, and is even today enthusiastically endorsed in many Arab countries.

Where Would They Stand?

The notorious Syrian, Fawzi Bey Kawkji, now playing a leading part in the Arab aggressions in Palestine, was in German pay during the time he served as the Mufti’s chief guerilla leader in the Arab revolt in 1936 and fled from Palestine with the Mufti in 1939. He was a key figure in the Iraqi revolt of 1941. He was in Berlin conspiring with the Nazi leaders during the later period of the war. He has recently been a prime director in the resistance of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations.

It is true that the British Foreign Office still hopes for an alliance with members of the Arab League as a means of securing British interests and of checking Russian penetration. But it is surely wishful thinking on our part to imagine that in any conflict between the West and the East the Arab countries would support the western cause if the inducements from

the other side seemed at any moment to be more tempting.

By using all of our influence to prevent the birth of an independent Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine until it. had become a fuit accompli, we Americans were preventing the creation of the one Near Eastern state that would prove to be a true democracy and a democracy that, because of the manner of being of its people, as well as bee su -of their own self-interest, would unquestionably he an unswerving supporter of the western cause.

The Jewish Rights

During recent, months I have received several thousand letters which refer to Palestine. This is typical of the opinion expressed in many of these letters: “There is no equity in the

aggression represented in seizing land from peoples who have inhabited it for 2,000 years and turning it over to a set. of invaders just because these are persecuted in Europe.”

Such charges as this show a surprising unfamiliarity with the history of our own times.

The Roman devastation of Palestine in 135 A.D. ended some 1,200 years of Jewish history in that land, with the slaughter or expulsion of most of the Jews. Palestine then became successively a part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Subsequently it was occupied for three centuries by the Arabs. After these were conquered by the Seljuk Turks, Palestine passed from the hands of one conqueror to those of another. For almost a hundred years after 1095 A.D. it was under the control of the Crusaders. But from 1517 A.D., when the Ottoman Turks conquered it, until the close of the First World War, Palestine was continuously a province of the Turkish Empire. Except for the Egyptians and some of the other peoples of North Africa, none of the present Arab nations obtained their freedom from Turkish rule until Turkey was defeated by the Allies in the First World War.

On Aug. 10, 1920, the victorious Allies compelled Turkey to sign the peace treaty of Sèvres. By the terms of that treaty Turkey was forced Lo cede to the Allies her province of Palestine.

Under international law Palestine thus became subject to whatever disposal the Allies might decide to make of its inhabitants and territory.

By common agreement, sovereign jurisdiction over Palestine, including the territory now known as Transjordan, was vested by the Allies in the League of Nations. In 1920 the League granted a mandate over Palestine to Great Britain. In 1947 Great Britain notified the United Nations, as successor to the League of Nations, of her decision to terminate her mandate.

For the last 30 years the right to determine the destiny of Palestine has consequently been vested in the organized society of nations first known

as the League of Nations and now termed the United Nations. There is no valid ground upon which that right can be challenged. Nor is there any ground in law or in equity upon which the Arabs can base their claim to possess the right of sovereign jurisdiction over Palestine. Of the 3.000 years that have passed since the Israelites first entered the Holy Land, the Jews have been a dominant force in that region for some 1,200 and the Arabs but some 400 years. Since it became a Turkish province, Jews as well as Arabs have always inhabited Palestine. The Arabs never by their own efforts won their independence from Turkey. While the Holy Places are sacred to Jews,

Moslems and Christians alike, Palestine has never been the spiritual and historic homeland of the Arabs as it has ever been that of the Jews.

How Much More . . .?

In the light of these facts the charges that, are made that the Jews who seek a haven in Palestine are “a set of invaders,” or that a determination by the United Nations that the highest interests of both Jews and Arabs, as well as the cause of world peace, require the partition of Palestine is an act of “aggression,” are as unfounded as they are absurd.

How much more suffering must

humanity endure before it finally learns to put the whole before the part; to understand that only in the safety of the community of the nations can any nation find its own safety?

At this climactic moment in history the future destinies of Western civilization rest in t he hands of the American people. If we Americans will only see that when our Government weakens the structure of collective security it thereby weakens our capacity to help to build a new world order under which this nation can safely live, and under which all peoples can advance toward freedom and security, we need not fail to meet the challenge that fate has offered us. it