Impressions of Palestine, 1 April 1946: Pessimist Perspectives

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Private Memo by Evan M. Wilson (U.S. State Department)

William M. Mathew

Evan M. Wilson (1910-84), graduate of Haverford College and Oxford University, was in the employ of the U.S. State Department between 1937 and 1961, serving as Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern and African Affairs in 1946-47, and, specific to this account, as one of the two American secretaries attached to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Palestine 1945-46 – the work of which he described in his book A Calculated Risk:  The U.S. Decision to Recognise Israel (Cincinnati, 2008; orig. Decision on Palestine [Stanford, 1979]) as `The Abortive Attempt at Anglo-American Cooperation`.  The Inquiry had been effectively the last hope for a joint U.K.-U.S. attempt at political resolution in Palestine in advance of the termination of the British Mandate in May 1948 (its efforts briefly examined in my earlier post of 4 May 2019, `The U.S. Recognition of Israel, 14 May 1948, Part II/C `).

Ben-Gurion testifying before Anglo American Committee of Inquiry.

Wilson also had direct diplomatic experience abroad between 1937 and 1946, working, sequentially, in Guadalajara, Cairo, Mexico City, Tehran, Beirut, and, as American consul-general, in Jerusalem.  In September 1956 he was a member of the U.S. delegation at the Second London Conference on the Suez crisis.

As a secretary for the Anglo-American Committee, he travelled with its twelve members from Washington to London, Vienna,  Cairo, Jerusalem, Valletta, and Lausanne between 4 January and 20 April 1946 – his time in Palestine and  the neighbouring Middle East extending from 28 February to  24 March, in the course of which he helped record the testimonies of scores of individuals on both sides of what he termed the `gulf between the two communities`, Arab and Jewish.  These four weeks also afforded him time and opportunity to travel, observe, and  converse  around Jerusalem and beyond. 

Broadly, but with reservations, Wilson shared the anti-Zionist perspectives of the State Department.  Bartley Crum, an American member of the Committee, recounts a conversation he had with him on the sea journey from the U.S. to the U.K. (Behind the Silken Curtain [New York, 1947]).  `With Evan Wilson, of the  State Department`s Near East Desk, I was climbing the stairs of the Queen Elizabeth on the sun deck to attend our first meeting aboard ship.  As we discussed the ramifications of the Palestine problem, Wilson used the phrase “an aroused Arab world”.  He spoke of Britain`s life line, and as he spoke I heard in my mind again the colorful words of Loy Henderson [Wilson`s superior at State].  Wilson, echoing him, was carrying his warning one step further: “If the committee reaches a decision which could be interpreted as too favorable to the Jews, an aroused Arab world might turn to the Soviet Union for support.  That”, he was saying, “is a matter the committee must discuss seriously.…I can tell you that our concern is shared by the British Foreign Office and the British Colonial Office”`. At the same time, however, alert to pro-Zionist sentiment and lobbying in the U.S., he thought it had to be made clear to the Arabs that his country could not be expected `to carry water on both shoulders in defiance of a very strong tendency in American opinion in favor of one of the two sides`.  Therein lay the dilemma affecting the official mind in Washington.

It was at the very end of the Committee`s 105-day journey, in Lausanne, that Wilson penned his `Impressions ` – these published in the Decision on Palestine and Calculated Risk volumes cited above. (The subtitle `Pessimist Perceptions` is my addition.) Beneath its temperate, diplomatic language, it was a decidedly pessimistic account –  exposing as it did the fundamentals of a conflict that, by 1946, was  seen to be quite beyond any attempts at  peaceful resolution.  His observations seemed to him prescient  when he chose to  include them in  his book decades later, in 1979.  They remain  so to the present day.

 `My own impressions were summarized in a memorandum which I prepared in Lausanne under date of April 1 and circulated among the members of the committee and, later, among my colleagues in the [State] Department.  On re-reading the paper after a lapse of more than thirty years, I must confess that it seems to me that the conclusions I reached were not only pertinent to the situation prevailing at the time, but also have considerable relevance to subsequent developments in the Arab-Israel problem generally,  I therefore venture to reproduce this memorandum in full`.


The gulf between the two communities and the two points of view with regard to the basic issue is complete.  The Arab and Jewish positions have hardened to such a point that absolutely no middle ground exists between these positions.

Economically the situation is characterized by the existence of two economies side by side.  Socially, ten years ago, Jewish and Arab leaders would meet on common ground, as at government receptions, but now they form distinct groups and do not mix.  The Jews tend to despise the Arabs and the Arabs to fear the Jews.  In the rural areas and villages there are of course frequent and sometimes friendly contacts between individuals on both sides, but these are rendered very difficult at present by the boycott.  The ordinary Arab or Jew moreover finds it hard to maintain amicable relations with his Jewish or Arab neighbor, as the case may be, so long as the rights and wrongs of the Palestine controversy continue to be hotly and endlessly debated by the leaders on both sides and by the press.  Every Jewish settlement has at least one member (usually the Mukhtar [village head]) who speaks Arabic and is in regular contact with the Arabs of the neighbourhood but this does not ordinarily apply to other members of the settlement.

The basic issue in Palestine today is not so much the future form of the state as the question who is to constitute the majority and so dominate the state. The issue centers about the question whether the Jews shall be allowed to go to Palestine and settle on the land, because both Jews and Arabs realize that the decision on this question will determine the fundamental issue.  Many Zionists, of course, insist that in order to ensure the attainment of a majority they must have the Jewish State now.  Some Zionist leaders will even go so far as to put the question of the state ahead of the rescue of refugees, like Ben Gurion (David, b.1886; as head of Jewish Agency, de facto leader of Jewish community; later first prime minister of Israel) when he told the Committee (Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Regarding the Problem of European Jewry and Palestine, January-April 1946) in evidence that he would not give up the idea of the state in exchange for getting the one hundred displaced Jews into Palestine.  Not all Jews, not even all Palestinian Jews, feel so strongly, but they are overwhelmingly convinced of the  necessity of having immigration in such numbers as to achieve a majority.  The Arabs say there must not be one further additional Jewish immigrant, not even the elderly and the infirm.  Nowhere in the questioning of representatives of the Palestine Arabs was the Committee able to shake them from this completely intransigent stand.  In London the Committee elicited from Faris Al-Khoury (b.1877, nationalist prime minister of Syria 1944-45, 1954-55) , after some pressing, a concession to the effect that once the people of Palestine (meaning the Arab majority) were given control over their own affairs, it might be possible to reconsider the question of further immigration.

No such admission was made by the Palestinian Arabs who testified in Jerusalem.  Even the sheikh of the Arab village adjoining Mishmar Ha`Emek (kibbutz in northern Israel, founded 1923) , who was obviously on cordial terms with the Jews of the settlement, and who might have been expected to be more friendly disposed towards Jews in general than most Arabs, was adamant on this point.  It should be borne in mind that many Arabs demand not only the immediate cessation of Jewish immigration but the repeal of the Balfour Declaration and the liquidation of the Jewish National Home.  One has to understand this in order to appreciate how the official Arab witnesses who came before the Committee could describe as a compromise solution their proposal for the immediate independence of an Arab Palestine but with the maintenance unimpaired of the existing Jewish population and Jewish National Home.

The Jews, on the other hand, assert with complete determination that there is no power which can prevent any Jew from coming `home` to Palestine and settling freely there.  They assert that so long as attempts are made to prevent this, they will oppose such attempts with all the forces at their disposal.  In a community as richly organized and well disciplined as the Jewish Community of Palestine, this attitude is something to be reckoned with most seriously.  The Jews are completely united on this point (even Dr. Magnes [Judah Leon, b.1877; Reform rabbi;   advocate of a bi-national state] has openly espoused illegal immigration) and their ardor borders on the fanatical,  In trying to understand their state of mind one must constantly bear in mind the fact that practically every Jew in Palestine has lost one or  more members of his family in the European Holocaust.   The effect of this experience upon the Jewish Community has been cataclysmic and has driven many of the Jews to despair.

Their determination to bring the surviving remnants of European Jewry to Palestine at all costs is so strong and their disillusionment with the policy followed by the British government in recent years is so profound that they have lost virtually all respect for the normal forces of law and order. This explains why 90 to 95 percent of the Jews of Palestine are back of the terrorists and will do nothing to aid the government in suppressing terrorism.   The terms `Jewish State`and `Arab State` as they are constantly used in this controversy are misleading.  What each side really wants is a state in which it will be the majority.  The Jews have taken great care to lay down the most complete guarantees for the Arab minority in their Jewish State, and the same is true for the guarantees which the Arabs contemplate for the Jewish minority in their Arab State. Both sides are careful to deny any intention of moving the minority out, and these denials can in all probability be taken at face value.  It is quite clear, however, that the minority in each instance, e.g., the Arabs in the Jewish State and Jews in the Arab State, would really be second-class citizens, no matter what their paper guarantees might be.  This is only natural but it casts serious doubts on the desirability of having either an Arab or a Jewish State.

What it comes to, then, is that both the Arab State and the Jewish State, as envisaged by their respective protagonists, are really bi-national states, the essential difference being who constitutes the majority and who the minority.  As Mr. Shertok (Moshe, b.1894; political ally of Ben-Gurion; first Israeli foreign minister; second Israeli prime minister) pointed out in his supplementary evidence to the Committee, the term `Jewish State` simply means a state in which the majority would be Jewish and which would be a Jewish State only in the sense that Iraq or Syria are Arab States.  The familiar argument that the age-old homelessness of the Jewish people makes it necessary for them to have a state which they can call their own is naturally seen in a new light when it is realized that, paradoxically enough, the Jewish State will inevitably have so large a non-Jewish element that it cannot really be described as Jewish.  Moreover, if  the calculations of Professor Notestein (Frank Wallace, b. 1902; American demographer) are correct – and there seems good reason to believe that they are – the rapid rate of increase of the Muslim Arab population will in all probability render it impossible for the Jews to maintain a majority in Palestine even if they were to achieve it temporarily as a result of large-scale immigration.

The advocates of compromise in both camps are of completely negligible influence.  Magnes has only a handful of supporters among the Jews, and no Arab whatever came forward to support him.  He himself received threats on his life for daring to testify before the Committee.  Bentov (Itzhak, b.1923; Czech-born member of Israeli Science Corps;  rocket designer) and Hashomer Hatzair (socialist-Zionist youth movement and political party, founded 1913) are in favor of a bi-national state, but only on the basis of the immediate admission of two million Jewish immigrants, which would be completely inacceptable to the Arabs.  The Arabs in fact regard Magnes and Bentov as more dangerous than the official Zionist spokesman.  They know that in any scheme of bi-nationalism on a party basis they will tend to be out-maneuvered by the more aggressive, more efficient Jews and so they oppose all such proposals quite as vigorously as they do to the Jewish State.

A corollary of the foregoing is that while a solution of the basic problem wholly acceptable to either side will of course be resisted by the other side and will have to be imposed on that side by force, a solution inacceptable to both sides, i.e., a compromise solution, will require even more force to implement it, since both Arabs and Jews will oppose it vigorously.  Partition would be wholeheartedly rejected by the Arabs but would probably be accepted by the Jews if they were convinced they could get their Jewish State in no other way.  Weizmann (Chaim Azriel, b.1874; principal Zionist leader, though of declining influence;  first president of Israel), Goldmann (Nahum, b.1895; co-founder and president of World Jewish Congress 1936;  advocate of diplomatic entente with Arabs in advance of independence), Ben Gurion, Shertok, and Kaplan (Mordecai Menahem, b.1881; rabbi, essayist, educator; founder of conservative Reconstructionist Zionism 1920s) all admitted as much previously to various members of the Committee.  Their eventual acceptance of course would be predicated upon there being the type of partition which would be acceptable to them.  This means that partition is now the real objective of the Zionists and that any discussion from now on of a Jewish State in all of Palestine is virtually pointless.


Everywhere among the Arabs there is an almost complete identification of the United States with Zionism.  This is true of the leaders and also of the inhabitants of the remotest village.  Whenever the United States is mentioned in connection with the Palestine question, it is taken for granted in Arab circles that we are pursuing a pro-Zionist line.  The wonder is that they should be as well disposed towards us as they are. This raises some fundamental questions regarding the policy which the Department of State should follow with regard to the Arab world on the question of Palestine.  In the Department we like to think we have a policy which is neither pro-Arab nor anti-Arab, pro-Zionist nor anti-Zionist, but pro-American.  But if it is simply a question of not appearing in Arab eyes to be pro-Zionist – and conversely not appearing to the Jews to be pro-Arab – that battle has already been lost long since, in so far as the Arabs are concerned.

What the Arabs want to know about America`s attitude on Palestine is very simple:  are we in favor of letting any more Jews into Palestine or not?  There is, of course, only one answer to this question: We are.  Even if the Department of State were to try to assert that the protection and promotion of American interests in the Near East required us to base our Palestine policy on the principle that no more Jews at all should be allowed to go to Palestine – which is the Arab policy – the Department would receive absolutely no support from the White House, Congress, any segment of the Jewish community in the United States, or the public at large.  We may as well face the fact that according to the Arab definition the entire American people – with the possible exception of the Arab Americans – have Zionist sympathies.  This brings us to the distinction, on which we sometimes tend to lay considerable stress in the Department, between the differing attitudes of the Zionist, non-Zionist, and anti-Zionist Jews on the question of the Jewish State.

Once it is realized that the fundamental issue in the Palestine controversy is the question not of the state but of immigration and settlement, all these distinctions become utterly meaningless in so far as our relations with the Arab world are concerned.  The same reasoning applies to Congressional resolutions and party platforms which omit the reference to a `Jewish` state but still call for unrestricted Jewish immigration.  It might be argued that such resolutions are relatively innocuous as they simply give expression to our widespread humanitarian desire to do something for the refugees, but at the same time avoid the delicate political issues.  Nothing could be further from the truth as far as the Arab reaction is concerned. To the Arabs, such resolutions are different only in degree, not in kind, from say a proposal to settle three million Jews in Palestine at once, move all the Arabs to Iraq, and declare an immediate Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan.

The conclusion to which the foregoing leads is, that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from sending carefully worded assurances to a few Arab leaders pointing out that while it is true that President Roosevelt told Rabbi Wise (Stephen Samuel, b.1874; despite being a Reform rabbi, was prominent advocate of political Zionism;  friend of Roosevelt) the U.S. Government had never approved the White Paper (U.K. 1939, severely restricting Jewish immigration), it is equally true that we had never taken any position on that document, and that in any event we believe Arabs as well as Jews should be consulted before there is what we would regard as a basic change in Palestine.  In the first place, such explanations do not reach the ordinary Arab, who will continue to get his impressions of American policy from what he hears in the bazaar or reads in his newspaper.  Secondly, even if they did receive the fullest publicity, they would not convince the Arabs in the face of continuing and inevitable manifestations of support for Zionism in our country.  And finally, all such explanations contain an element of intellectual dishonesty.  No matter how carefully they are worded, they cannot gloss over the fact that there is a real sympathy for Zionism – on any definition – in our country and that this sympathy is constantly making itself known.  At best, these explanations succeed only in conveying to a few persons at the top level in the Arab world the impression that the Executive branch of our Government – and sometimes the Department alone – is trying to carry water on both shoulders in defiance of a very strong tendency in American opinion in favor of one of the two sides.  At their worst, the explanations give rise to an easily understandable impression that we are trying to conceal from the Arabs the true state of affairs in our country.

In other words, such Palestine policy as the Department has adopted in recent years does nothing to create good will in the Near East, maintain our prestige, or promote our interests.  Nor does it answer the questions the Arabs want answered.  To perceive the futility of this line of approach, one has only to ask oneself:  how many Arabs, in their testimony before the Committee, or in discussions with members, based their case upon, or even referred to, the assurances they had received to the effect that they would be consulted regarding a settlement of the Palestine question?  Of course, not one, but they all declared their opposition to Zionism and their belief that we were supporting the Zionists.  It would seem a more logical as well as a more realistic approach to take for our basic assumption, in formulating our Palestine policy, the indisputable fact that there is a sincere and widespread sympathy in the United States for the Jewish National Home and for the idea that Jews should not be prevented from going to Palestine.

We should, of course, make it clear to the Arabs that we understand their point of view. But we should seek not to make the Arabs think we are backing both sides at once – which is impossible – but rather to explain to them the humanitarian reasons which impel us to give our support to Jewish aspirations and the advantages which in the long run can accrue to the people not only of Palestine but of the whole Near East, from the continuing development of the Jewish National Home.   Our point of view, moreover, should not be made known to a few leaders only but should be given the widest possible publicity.  This, of course, no more means that the United States should pursue a wholly pro-Zionist course than that it should pursue a wholly pro-Arab course.

The foregoing is based on the assumption that it is in the interests of the Arabs and Jews themselves, of Palestine, of the Near East as w hole, and of the United States, that there should be a settlement of the Palestine question under which neither Arab nor Jew will be able to dominate the other.  But pending such a settlement, and indeed in any case, the policy of our Government should take more cognizance of the realities of the situation than it has in the recent past.  In connection with our Palestine policy, the Arabs of Palestine are resentful of the importance which seems to be attached by the United States Government to King Ibn Saud (b.c1880; first monarch and founder of Saudi Arabia;  had conference with Roosevelt, Great Bitter Lake, Suez Canal, February 1944)  as a spokesman for the Arab cause.  The Palestine Arabs of course feel great affinity for the Arabs of Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.  Ibn Saud, however, they tend to regard as an uncivilized desert marauder who has for many years harbored aggressive designs on part of Trans-Jordan and southern Palestine and who has been kept on his throne chiefly by British subsidies.  They expect a rapid disintegration of his kingdom and a sharp decline in its influence in Arab and world affairs as soon as the King dies. 

In many ways it is of course natural that the more educated Arabs in Palestine, for example the graduates of the (American) University of Beirut (founded as Syria Protestant College 1863; renamed 1920; language of instruction English after 1887), should adopt a somewhat scornful attitude toward the Bedouin Arabs.  It is also to be expected that they would incline towards the Hashemites rather than the Saudi dynasty.  The feeling, however, goes deeper, and takes the form of dissatisfaction that there has been so much discussion of  Palestine by American and British leaders with Ibn Saud, rather than with the people of the country.  The influence of the American University of Beirut has been of invaluable assistance to the United States and is probably responsible more than any other single factor for such prestige as our country has retained in the Arab world.  It seemed that everywhere we went in Palestine, even in the smallest villages, we found one or two graduates of the University and they were always proud of that fact.

As a final commentary on our Palestine policy, the obvious fact might be pointed out, as far as the reverse side of the medal is concerned, that the Department has been even less successful  in convincing the Jews that it is not pro-Arab.  This point is too familiar to require any elaboration but it makes a frank restatement of our policy all the more desirable. Furthermore, the Department, and particularly the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, should have much closer and more cordial relations with the Zionists.  Too often in the past these relations have taken on the character of a duel, with the Department`s Near Eastern officers being put in the position of parrying each Zionist thrust in such a manner as invariably to appear anti-Zionist and pro-Arab.  There should be far more frequent contacts and both sides should make a genuine effort to discuss common problems in a frank and sympathetic manner.  But if the Department is to cultivate good relations with the Zionists they for their part must give up their irritating practice of going over the heads of the Near Eastern officers to the Secretary or the President when they want to get things done. 


The Arabs of Palestine are badly organized and lacking in leadership.  In this they present a sorry contrast to the Jews.  The idea of impressing the Committee with their case seemed to lie more in the direction of a sumptuous luncheon at Katy Antonius` or a ceremonial visit to a large estate rather than any systematic marshalling of facts and figures to make a convincing presentation.  An exception of course is Albert Hourani (b.1915; British historian of Lebanese descent; authority on Arab nationalism) who made a much better impression on the Committee, both in the written material that he prepared and in his oral testimony, than the older Arab spokesmen.  For the most part the Arab leaders did not appear to take much interest in the Committee`s proceedings which one might have thought would be a matter of life and death to the Arabs of Palestine – and in fact the members of the Arab Higher Committee (established 1936 on initiative of Haj Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem; outlawed 1937;  reconstituted 1945;  latterly main political organ of Arab Palestine under Mandate) often did not bother to fill the seats which had been reserved for them at the hearings – and this when hundreds were being turned away daily for lack of space.

The educational facilities accorded to the Arab population are simply shocking. Out of a population of one and a quarter million, about twenty boys graduate every year from each of the two technical schools provided for the Arab population.  In a town the size of Nazareth, only two or three boys a year (and no girls) are able to go on to advanced schools in other cities.  The rest of the boys finish their education at about fourteen.  For girls the situation is worse and only about half the girls of Nazareth are able to go to school at all.  In Haifa, out of eight thousand Muslim children, the schools can accommodate only four thousand and the remainder roam the streets.  In the villages, conditions are even worse.

On the Jewish side, Dr. Weizmann gave the impression of a tired old man who knew he no longer commanded the allegiance of his followers.  There seems to be some support for the theory that at the Zionist Congress this summer he will be succeeded by Rabbi Silver, rather than Ben Gurion as might be expected, although Nahum Goldmann may be selected as a compromise between Silver and Ben Gurion.  It is probably true that Weizmann does not know all that is going on in the Agency, especially with regard to terrorism, and the Haganah (Jewish paramilitary organization 1921-48;  subsequently core of Israel Defense Force).  Out of the Jewish Agency (founded 1929 to assist Jews worldwide to settle in Palestine) budget of £4 million a year, roughly one fourth, or £1 million, goes to the Haganah and other illegal organizations and activities.  This money, however, is raised from inside Palestine rather than out, according to an official of the Agency speaking privately.  It is thus only indirectly that American Jews are contributing to these activities.

The Jews justify their illegal organizations as being a direct consequence of the policy of the British Government.  While Ben Gurion may in public disclaim any connection with the Haganah, in private Jewish leaders will argue that they have been driven to adopt this course.  They will also admit privately that they have not really done much to improve the living conditions of the Arabs, but will justify this on the grounds that their whole accomplishment in Palestine has been an up-hill climb in the face of Arab hostility and Government indifference – or worse – so that it has been all that they could do to hold their gains and look out for their own people.  One must not give too much weight to reports that there is much dissatisfaction among the Jews with the general lines of the Agency`s policies or that any substantial number of persons want to leave the country.  There are undoubtedly some elements in the community who object to certain policies and who are prevented in various ways from making their opposition felt.  But on the main issues the Agency commands the support of almost [all] the new Jewish community and the number of Jews wishing to leave is probably quite small.  It is, however, indisputable that pressures of various types are brought to bear on these individuals. 

Certain tendencies in the Jewish community are very disturbing, notably the inward-looking nature of the Jewish national institutions, the way in which the young people are being brought up, and the bad relations prevailing with the mandatory authorities.  The Jews have brought many advantages to Palestine but these have been almost entirely for the exclusive benefit of the Jews themselves. Out of thirty thousand patients treated per year in Jewish hospitals, over twenty-nine thousand are Jewish and only one-thousand non-Jewish.  The Jews have a fine University (Hebrew University of Jerusalem; founded 1918; main campus  transferred to Mount Scopus 1935;  Judah Magnes [see above] first chancellor) but the instruction is in Hebrew, which effectively bars Arab students apart from the most exceptional instances.    The Arabs see the Jews coming to what they have always regarded as an Arab country and bringing in a lot of improvements (desperately needed by the Arab community) for the use of the Jews alone, and they are naturally resentful.  The raising of the young people among the Jews gives rise to the most serious alarm, especially as their parents seem to have very little influence over them.  Boys and girls in their teens are absent from home for days at a time, return exhausted as though from marching across country, and refuse to say where they have been because the parents wouldn`t understand.  Most of the terrorists are under twenty years of age and a remarkably high proportion are girls.

The lack of friendly relations between the Jews and the British officials is also distressing.  As Ben Gurion told the Committee, the Agency decided some time ago to stop cooperating with the authorities.  The result is that the relations between the Jewish community and the government are not unlike, say, the relations which existed during the war between the inhabitants of some German-occupied country and the Nazi occupying force.  The telephones of government officials are tapped, documents disappear from government offices, and the ever-present possibility of assassination or violence of some sort is uppermost in every official`s mind.  In such atmosphere there can be no relaxation, and there is none.  Socially there is virtually no contact and while one is apt to encounter a few Arabs at parties given by officials in their homes one never sees a Jew there.

The chief impression of the Jewish community that one takes away is one of vitality.  In the United States we are sometimes inclined to think of Zionism as a dying force, as a movement which is on the decline.  We are even told that the high point of the movement was reached some time ago, before the virtual annihilation of the Jewish communities in Europe, and that as a result of the drying up of that reservoir of potential manpower the driving force behind the urge to continue the upbuilding of the Jewish National Home is largely spent.   There could be no greater misconception as far as the Jewish community in Palestine is concerned.  Zionism in Palestine today is a thriving, vibrant movement that is going places in a big way.  Its leaders know exactly what they want and how to go about getting it. As they have solidly behind them a people of great talents and great potentialities whose pride in what they have already achieved is matched only by the zeal with which they tackle their next objectives.  The Jews of Palestine are at a high pitch of tension and if, as seems inevitable, their hopes are in any way to be frustrated, the effect on the Jewish community will be shattering.

This does not mean, of course, that the Arabs of Palestine are any less fervent in upholding their side of the case.  But after all, the Arabs are on the defensive.  It is the Jews who are on the attack and whose aggressiveness is thus more noticeable.  On their side, the Arabs do not have the powers of organization, the monetary resources, or the military equipment that the Jews of Palestine possess.  If an armed conflict were to occur between the two alone, the Jews would probably occupy the whole country at first, but eventually the Arabs would almost certainly push them into the sea, if allowed free rein.  This, however, is not the type of conflict that is likely to take place in Palestine so the point is purely hypothetical.  What is of importance as a matter of practical politics is the completely unyielding, passionate way in which both parties adhere to their respective positions.   


First publishing these informal notes in his Decision on Palestine book of 1979, Wilson went on to reflect on the failure of the generally anti-Zionist State Department to prevail politically in the lead-up to Israeli independence in May 1948.   The weakening of State influence on Palestine (the Department headed by General George Marshall, January 1947-January 1949) was absolutely vital to the success of Harry Truman`s late-developed policy of recognition (as dealt with in Part III/A  of my post of 4 May 2019, `The U.S. Recognition of Israel, 14 May 1948`).

The professionals in the State Department did not exert a dominant influence on Presidential decision making, especially from mid-1945 on, when control over Palestine policy passed from the State Department to the White House.  Under the system prevailing in Washington, this was probably inevitable, since not all the factors that went to make up the final decision were in the province of the career men,

The information that the professionals gave the Presidents, however, was complete and their advice was sound.  Subsequent events have borne them out.  It is no exaggeration to say that our relations with the entire Arab world have never recovered from the events of 1947-48, when we sided with the Jews against the Arabs and advocated a solution in Palestine which went contrary to self-determination as far as the majority population of the country was concerned.  Both President Roosevelt and President Truman were aware of these potential consequences but discounted them.  The record (as I have reviewed our diplomatic correspondence in preparing this book) shows that the career men, with a few exceptions, managed to preserve their objectivity, at the cost of being attacked by both sides.  The volume and high degree of excellence of my colleagues` reporting was matched only by their dedication. 

In many ways the experience of these officials in connection with the Palestine question paralleled that of the Foreign Service officers who were dealing with China in these same years (referring to the fortunes of the `China Hands`, favouring the Communists over the Nationalists, who, by McCarthyite accusation, `lost China`).  In both cases, the Presidents heard what they wanted to hear and ignored many of the recommendations of the professionals.  In both cases, a powerful lobby often exerted decisive influence in the White House and the Congress.  Those of us who were concerned with the Near East were at least fortunate in not suffering the fate of some of our colleagues in the Far Eastern Division who were pilloried for their beliefs and even forced out of the service.  For this we can be thankful, but some of us were scarred by the Palestine experience.

I have already told how the Zionists all but succeeded in having our chief, Loy Henderson, replaced by a man (General Hilldring [John Henry, b.1895; Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas July 1946-September 1947; in latter month appointed alternate U.S. delegate to the U.N. General Assembly, becoming principal U.S. spokesman in 1947 Palestine debates]) who was completely sympathetic to their point of view.  Shortly after the events related in this book the time came for Henderson to go back to the field.  The Department wanted to have him appointed ambassador to Turkey but some members of the Senate committee informally objected, having been persuaded by the Zionist lobby that an alleged anti-Zionist ought not to be sent to a country so close to the Arab-Israel complex.  He was sent to India instead.  Gordon Merriam, who bore the brunt of the day-to-day work on Palestine longer than any of us in NE, developed ulcers and took an early retirement in 1949.  James E. Keeley, an outspoken critic of Zionist policy whose reports while serving as Minister to Damascus had made him unpopular in certain circles, was relegated to a consular post at Palermo, Sicily.

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