2/2/09 - acheson and palestine

In today's excerpt - in the late 1940s the possible establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine quickly became the most intractable foreign policy issue for President Harry Truman, for legendary U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and for the United States and United Nations diplomatic corps. The immediate issue involved whether to support a plan to partition Palestine between the Arabs and Jews, which would lead to a Jewish state or endorse the British plan to hand their mandate over Palestine to the United Nations:

"Acheson was never sympathetic to the establishment of a Jewish state, fearing that the mass emigration of Jews from postwar Europe into Palestine would lead to protracted war with the Arabs.

"Acheson ... believed that an Arab-Israeli conflict would then threaten American interests in the region and could lead to an American military involvement there. ... Nonetheless ...Truman was becoming committed to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In the wake of the Nazi persecutions of Jews, the moral issue was paramount for the president. ...

"In 1946, when Truman met with America's Middle East diplomats who warned him of the threat to American prestige because of statements indicating sympathy with Zionism, Truman responded: 'I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.'

"As undersecretary of state, Acheson had to contend with the Department's almost overwhelming opposition to American support for a Jewish state [yet] ... on Yom Kippur, October 4, 1946 ,Truman declared his ... support [for] 'the creation of a viable Jewish state in control of its own immigration and economic policies in an adequate area of Palestine.' In effect, he supported the idea of partition. Acheson ... helped him prepare the statement. ...

"For Truman, what was most pressing was to make sure that the British let one hundred thousand refugees emigrate to Palestine. ... Once Israel was created in May 1948, Acheson came to believe that the unstinting efforts of the UN mediator Ralph Bunche to dampen the conflict through cease-fire and negotiations was the only viable American policy. Soon after he became secretary [of state] he offered Bunche the job of heading the Middle East desk as an assistant secretary; Bunche, however, declined the invitation, tired of struggling with unsolvable problems. 'His most heartfelt wish,' Acheson reported 'was for relief from them, not deeper involvement.'

"Acheson fully sympathized with him, commenting in later years, 'How often I was to remember and echo his wish.' "


James Chace


Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World


Simon and Schuster


Copyright 1998 by James Chace


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