Israeli History through Palestinian Eyes

Rashid Khalidi (2020) The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine

A Review by Howard Adelman – Part VII  1946-1947

The major crisis that impelled the support for Zionism’s claim to Palestine was not guilt over the Holocaust. Nor was it guilt over the immigration policy of the Roosevelt era in closing off immigration to Jews during that period, though that may have been a factor. The need to resettle the Jewish refugees after WWII who had no place to go motivated most political leaders.

The Harrison Report, another of a series of reports on the Palestine Mandate, this one a sole American initiative, was instigated by President Harry Truman shortly after he took office in April 1945. It recommended that 100,000 Jewish refugees be permitted immediately to migrate to Palestine. Harry Truman communicated this message directly to British Prime Minister Clement Atlee: “no other single matter is so important for those who have known the horrors of concentration camps for over a decade as is the future of immigration possibilities into Palestine,” he wrote. The Americans had taken the diplomatic lead in resolving the disputes over the Mandate.

The Americans also acted. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, even before Truman’s instructions, set up separate camps for the Jewish refugees and increased their rations. Not guilt over the Holocaust, but a deep and sincere concern over the plight of the refugees, and to demonstrate a clear contrast with the Nazi oppression, became a prime motivating factor for a resolution more compatible with Jewish needs and priorities.

Eisenhower had received intelligence about the content of the Harrison Report and was insulted by the assertion that Harrison had made that U.S. soldiers were now filling in for Nazi guards. “Mr. Harrison’s report gives little regard to the problems faced, the real successes attained in saving the lives of thousands of Jewish and other concentration camp victims and repatriating those who could and wished to be repatriated, and the progress made in two months to bring these unfortunates who remained under our jurisdiction from the depths of physical degeneration to a condition of health and essential comfort.” But why were they still even in camps? The answer: almost no country would let them in.

In 1946 to 1947, the Jewish survivors from the war as refugees were forbidden from immigrating to Palestine. The numbers grew from 200,000 to 300,000. Further, western countries remained largely closed with respect to Jewish immigration. In response, the sympathy for Zionism and migrating to Palestine within the camps grew from a bare majority to a very large majority. At the same time, North America identification and support for Zionism had become central to the life of the Jewish diaspora. Further, sympathy for the Zionist cause and support for the idealism of many of the pioneering settlements also grew. Though in the last fifty years, the belief had been concretized and even consecrated that guilt over the Holocaust was widely extant and contributed to support for the Zionist cause, there is little evidence for this in 1946-7.

To resolve the impasse between the Americans and the British as well as between the Arabs and the Jews, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, a joint American-British endeavour that followed the Harrison Report, was constituted to look into what was known as the DP problem and the capacity of Palestine to respond in 1946. Ernest Bevin expected that the examination of the realities on the ground would bring the Americans around to understand that Palestine was not the solution to the refugee problem. The Americans, however, had amended the terms of reference of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to add: “and to make estimates of those who wish, or will be impelled by their conditions to migrate to Palestine or other countries outside Europe.”

David Niles, Truman’s aid in the White House, had maneuvered to get Bartley Crum, a California lawyer from San Francisco and a committed Zionist, on the committee. The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry began its work in January 1946. Its mission to examine political, economic and social conditions in Mandatory Palestine as they bear upon: a) the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement, b) the well-being of the peoples currently resident in Mandatory Palestine, c) to consult Arab and Jewish organizations in the Mandate, and d) to make interim recommendation towards a recommended permanent solution. The goal of the British was to undermine the thrust of the Harrison Report.

The British war with the Jews of Palestine broke out in earnest in 1946 in light of the series of reports and recommendations emanating from the British government that reduced the amount of land allocated to the Jewish state, increasingly severely limited immigration and even limited the autonomy of the new proposed Jewish state by the defence interests of Britain. The British clearly wanted to retain perpetual control over a swath of the territory which included Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, with a wide corridor to the sea, thereby splitting the small proposed Jewish state in two. Units of the Irgun and Lehi blew up British aircraft in a series of raids on the Lod, Qastina and Sirkin airports in February of 1946, undercutting much of the defence argument for the British retaining a large Enclave in Palestine under British rule.

In March, King Emir Abdullah negotiated independence for Transjordan which Zionists interpreted as meaning that the eastern part of the Mandate, about 73% of the territory, would be annexed to Transjordan as a part of an independent Arab state as the mandate wound down and the recommendations of the Woodhead Commission were followed. In April, the war with the Jews heated up further when Lehi killed seven soldiers in Tel Aviv guarding a military facility.

Harry Truman was more concerned with the imperative to resolve the Jewish refugee problem than with the war between the British and the Zionists. The British White Paper was no longer the guide for the Americans. It was the obstacle. The Americans put pressure on the Brits to allow the Jewish refugees to go to Israel. In appreciating that the plight of the Jewish refugees in Europe necessarily would breach the recent regulations governing Jewish immigration to Palestine, Britain informed the Arabs that if such a breach was necessary, it would only be an interim measure. The Arabs remained adamantly opposed. If America was committed to their resettlement, why thrust the burden on the Arabs? Why not admit them to America? (In August of 1946, a desperate Truman did consider that option.)

The Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine was published on 20 April 1946. Note it was not a report on the Arabs in Palestine. When the report was tabled, it infuriated the British because it accepted the recommendation of Harrison that 100,000 Jewish refugees be immediately permitted to migrate to Palestine. It went further. A program of regular Jewish immigration should be created. The restrictions on land purchases in 95% of the Mandate by Jews should be rescinded.

When Truman received a draft of the report recommending abrogating the 1939 British White Paper and allowing the immediate (by the end of April if physically possible) entry of 100,000 Jews into Palestine, Truman telegrammed his support. The limitations on land purchases were also to be rescinded. However, the Zionist quest for a Jewish state was not endorsed and a continuation of the British mandate was requested. This meant, for the British, that they would have to absorb the military and personal costs of an action that would incite a tremendous backlash among the Arabs and be of no benefit to Britain, especially since implementation according to a committee recommendation entailed disarmament of both the Arab and the Jewish underground.

Ben Gurion was apoplectic. The Arabs in Palestine were apoplectic. Here is where the difference in responses between the Arabs and the Jews was telling. The latter were convinced by David Horowitz, the liaison person to the committee, to endorse the recommendations, but with the exception of the recommendation on the continuation of the British colonial regime. Even American hardline Zionists like Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver saw the benefit of the short-term gain while saving their ammunition for the longer-term imbroglio. The Arab response was an absolute and unconditional rejection.

There was a problem, however, on the ground. The 100,000 had grown to 250,000 and would soon reach 300,000. Using this and every other argument they could muster, the State Department with Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the lead tried by every means except a direct confrontation with the President to undermine the committee’s recommendations, but without success.

To resolve differences between the British and the Americans and to create a practical implementation plan, the Morrison-Grady partnership was formed. It would be led by British Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison and Henry F. Grady, a career U.S. Diplomat. Grady understood his marching orders. Get the immigration certificates for the 100,000 ASAP. America would pay for their transportation costs. But do not involve the U.S. in participating in the mandate of in supplying troops to enforce the solution.

Morrison proposed a federal solution with semi-autonomous Jewish and Arab provinces, a proposal widely greeted as eminently sensible by a wide swath of interested observers, excluding, of course, both the Zionists and the Arabs. Most importantly, Morrison proposed that implementation await the endorsement of all sides to the plan. The Americans recognized this was a non-starter – literally. They wanted the movement of DPs to Palestine to begin immediately. Further, they rejected closing off the promise of a Jewish state in Palestine. They launched an all fronts lobbying campaign on Truman. They succeeded – but in alienating him from the Zionist cause as he agreed to rescind his endorsement of Morrison-Grady. Domestic political consideration fought Truman’s stubborn independence to a draw.

What now? The Zionists had effectively declared war on the British, but by the Fall of 1946 the fears had grown among Zionists that this rebellion would end as badly as the Arab one did in the thirties, especially as the British sought revenge for the Irgun blowing up their command and intelligence headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946. At the same time, the camp population of Jews was approaching 300,000.

To break the Gordian knot, a key moderate wing of the Zionists endorsed partition and the Morrison-Grady plan. Jews could move to the Jewish “province.” These moderate Zionists brought Truman on board, especially when Truman learned that Dewey would endorse Jewish immigration to Palestine in early October of 1946. Truman preempted Thomas Dewey with a Yom Kippur announcement supporting the immediate issuance of 100,000 immigration certificates and expressing American support for partition, that is, “a viable Jewish state in control of its own immigration and economic policies in an adequate area of Palestine.”

Exasperated at the failure to bring the U.S. onside to support the British position, Britain made one last stab. Britain had proposed the Bevin Plan for a five-year British trusteeship and then a permanent solution as agreed to by the parties. Both sides immediately rejected the offer. Britain decided to refer the matter to the United Nations to request a recommended solution in February 1947.

What is reasonably clear from the above is that domestic politics combined with the personality of Harry Truman and not international imperial interests were the main motivational force on the Americans. Imperial interests were powerful forces behind the British position – but that position was then strongly against the Zionists – but the British no longer had the imperial power to pull off their preference. Given the litany over this period, it is hard to support Khalidi’s conviction that Jewish colonizing backed up by imperial support enabled the Zionists to achieve their state. The creation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine offered further evidence to undercut Khalidi’s thesis.

Khalidi claims that, “The postwar realignment of international power was apparent in the workings of UNSCOP and in its majority report in favour of partitioning the country.” False! UNSCOP operated, as it was intended, independently of great power influence. UNSCOP also operated independently of the foreign affairs departments of the states from which each of the eleven representatives came, with the exception of Holland and Australia, but given the interests of their foreign affairs departments and ministers, those representatives were instructed to favour the pro-Palestinian position. The conclusion favouring partition came in spite of the initial propensities of most state representatives to oppose partition. UNSCOP was a clear case of the evidence gathered and a demand for coherence influencing the result.

Parallel to all these efforts, Rashid Khalidi’s father, Ismail Raghib al-Khalidi, was sent by his older brother (by twenty years), Dr. Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi, the former mayor of Jerusalem who had spent WWII in a British military prison on the Seychelles Islands, to get King Abdullah onside and recognize both the Palestinian Arab desire for self-determination as well as the necessity now of winning support from the Americans. Rashid’s father ran the Arab-American Institute, set up under the direction of Professor Philip Hitti at Princeton, to win the favour of the Americans for the Palestinian cause. But Abdullah was tied too closely and for too long to the British aprons strings and refused to shift his gaze to the other side of the Atlantic. At the same time, Jewish domestic politics overwhelmed any efforts of Arab Palestinians to advance their position significantly.

When, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted for partition, Khalidi’s father, on instructions from his much older brother, had just briefed King Abdullah on how the “Arab-American Institute [that he headed] was working to change American opinion on Palestine, which, even then, was overwhelmingly pro-Zionist and largely ignorant of the Palestinian cause.” Then he very hesitantly delivered the message he had been instructed to transmit that, while Palestinians appreciated the king’s offer of “protection” (tutelage or guardianship), they were unable to accept. They did not want to come under Jordanian rule. The king was surprised and angry. He walked out just when a servant announced that the UN General Assembly had passed the partition resolution.

Khalidi claims that, “The resolution was another declaration of war” and in “blatant violation of the principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter.” It was not! The resolution was a sincere effort to stave off war and to honour self-determination for both the minority population and the refugees eager to immigrate as well as the majority population through partition and creating two states. Even the minority report supported a confederation of two independent polities. The Arabs rejected not only partition but even the recommendations of the minority report for a federation. A more detailed examination of the structure and operations of UNSCOP adds enormous support for refuting Khalidi’s thesis that Jewish colonial resettlement backed by first British and then American imperial interests determined the outcome for Palestine.


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