Why did the United States immediately recognize the State of Israel?
The recognition of the state of Israel is perhaps one of the most debatable decisions ever made by any US Government. Even more controversial is the way it announced the recognition because after the expiration of the British Mandate, it hardly took eleven minutes for The White House to issue a statement in the favor of the Jewish State. The fact that even the US delegation to the United Nations was unaware of this move raises further questions about the handling of Israel-Palestine issue by the President Truman’s State Department. The US officials initially maintained that it recognized Israel on humanitarian grounds and to achieve peace in the region. However, it became evident later on that the instant recognition was a result of President Truman’s strategy for the next elections as well as massive Zionist pressure on him. The interviews and memoirs of the then US officials clarify it further that there was a constant disagreement between the Presidential advisers and his cabinet (especially Secretary of State, George Marshall) on this issue. Some statements of President Harry S. Truman also hint that recognition of Israel was one of the most difficult decisions he had to take during his tenure.
Although the United States kept changing its position on the formation of a new state for the Jews in Palestine, it had developed a soft corner for the Zionist cause over the years which would lead it to support Israel sooner or later. US showed support for Israel at various platforms. When the British White Paper on Palestine was issued in 1939, Senator Harry S. Truman strongly criticized it. At the same time, US feared the loss of its moral prestige in the Middle East. These fears were further confirmed by the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee in 1946 in its Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum that clearly warned USA that its support for the Jewish State might lead to increased Soviet Union’s influence in the Middle East and can jeopardize its access to Middle East oil. Clark Clifford, Counsel to the President Truman, seconded these views. However, the President did not withdraw his support for the emerging Jewish state and even issued a statement on Yom Kippur’s eve which indicated US support for the soon-to-be established state.
The US recognition of Israel remained a hot topic of debate in the latter half of 1940s. It has been reported that during the years 1947 and 1948, the White House received as many as 48,600 telegrams, 81,200 mails, and 790,575 cards discussing Palestine issue. The Zionist pressure also increased to a great extent about which the President wrote to Senator Claude Pepper:
“I received about 35,000 pieces of mail and propaganda from the Jews in this country while this matter (the issue of the partition of Palestine) was pending. I put it all in a pile and struck a match to it — I never looked at a single one of the letters because I felt the United Nations Committee was acting in a judicial capacity and should not be interfered with.”
When the General Assembly of United Nations approved the partition plan of Palestine in 1947, President Truman called for tolerance and restraint on part of the Jews. In his letter to Henry Morgenthau, Jr., former Secretary of the Treasury, he wrote:
“The vote in the U.N. is only the beginning and the Jews must now display tolerance and consideration for the other people in Palestine with whom they will necessarily have to be neighbors.”
It is believed that President Truman wanted a peaceful solution to the Palestine issue, but when the time of the British Exit neared, the US saw a sudden shift in its Middle East policy. USA was tackling with Trusteeship issues as well as Zionist pressure at that time. Turman’s meeting with the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann further lead to softened US approach towards the upcoming state. Thus, the US government made its decision in haste and (possibly) under acute pressure.
The British Mandate expired on May 14, 1948 at 12:00 midnight Palestine time and the state of Israel was born. Just eleven minutes later, USA recognized the new state. This came as shocking news not only for the world community (most of which was still skeptical about the future of the new state and the region at large), but also for the United States Delegation to the United Nations which was kept uninformed about the decision. One of the representatives, Warren Austin, left his office shortly afterwards. Seeing this, George Marshall had to send a State Department official to UNO in order to stop the rest of the US delegation from resigning.
Many reasons were cited by US officials for immediately recognizing Israel. They argued that the partition of Palestine was a reality as the UN Security Council could not guarantee a truce otherwise, so USA would have to recognize a new state in accordance with UN guidelines. It was also evident that US wanted to get an edge over the Soviet Union by becoming the first nation to recognize Israel. President Truman was also looking for re-election in the next presidential elections by winning the hearts of the Jews living in United States. More than anything else, it was the Zionist pressure that made USA an immediate supporter of the new state. The Zionist factor was made public years later through the memoirs and memorandums of the then State officials. In Volume II of President Truman’s memoirs, he talked about the pressure by pro-Zionist groups on the White House and the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. His words are enough to reveal the agenda of the Zionists who forced USA and UNO to support Israel:
“The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been there before but that the White house too, was subjected to a constant barrage. I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders-actuated by political motives and engaging in political threats -disturbed and annoyed. Some were even suggesting that we pressure sovereign nations into favorable votes in the General Assembly.”