The Anniversary of the United Nations Resolution Creating a Jewish State

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 29, 2017

November 29, 2017
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United Nations Partition Map 1947
United Nations Partition Map 1947. United Nations.

On Saturday, November 29, 1947, at 5:35 p.m. New York time, and past midnight in Jerusalem, the United Nations, by a vote of 33 to 13, adopted Resolution 181, calling for the partition of British-ruled Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. But along with this historic restoration of the Jews to their ancestral homeland, began the Arabs’ violent rejection of it. As the Jews fought for their lives – “We will,” said the General Secretary of the Arab League, “sweep them into the sea”- the U.N. scrambled to mediate the conflict. In September 1948, almost one year since the U.N. vote, with all out war raging between the two sides, the U.N.appointed Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte to present a plan that would result in a redrawing of the original partition map of Resolution 181. Here President Truman, negating Bernadotte’s plans to minimize the nascent state’s geographical footprint, gives his full-throated endorsement of the U.N.’s original Resolution 181.

President Truman Affirms the United States Endorses U.N. Resolution 181 Creating a Jewish Homeland in Palestine

When on May 14, 1948, the United States became the first nation to recognize the new State of Israel, it was hardly a forgone conclusion. President Harry Truman, though considering his support for the creation of the Jewish homeland one of his proudest achievements, likewise admitted that he found no issue more controversial, or complex, than Israel. He had good reasons, of course, to support a Jewish homeland. His best friend and one-time business partner, Eddie Jacobson, was Jewish and ardently pro-Zionist. Truman had his political reasons as well: his party had done poorly in the ’46-’47 midterms, and this was credited to a loss of Jewish votes. Support for the U.N. partition plan might win back Jewish voters in the upcoming 1948 presidential election. But diplomatically, and within his own cabinet, he faced a Colossus: his own State Department – the powerful Secretary of State, George Marshall, leading the charge – opposed the establishment of a Jewish homeland. And when Truman did recognize Israel in May 1948, against Marshall’s advice, the Secretary of State embraced Count Bernadotte’s compromise plans which were met with severe Zionist opposition and would have reduced the Jewish state to a tiny enclave, no longer including the vast Negev desert nor Jerusalem — both of which would be given to the Arabs.

Writing sometime after the Democratic Convention of June 1948 (most likely toward the end of September 1948), Truman came to draft the notes here, re-affirming his administration’s support of the original partition plan and ultimately, Israel. He penciled these thoughts to an American unidentified diplomat on “the settlement of the Palestine question”:

I am of the

Your statement that the Bernadotte report should be used as a basis for negotiation in the settlement of the Palestine question and in principle should be adopted should be clarified.  The government and the president of the United States are is on record as completely endorsing the findings of the U.N. General Assembly of Nov 1947 as to boundaries. between the Arab section of Palestine and the state of Isreali are involved in the settlement of this question.

The Democratic Platform endorsed the boundaries between the two sections of Palistine [sic].  I shall have to state that my position on the boundaries has not changed.  You should know that this statement will be made on October 1.

The Democratic Party platform had stated, after all, that the Democrats approved “the claims of the State of Israel to the boundaries set forth in the United Nations resolution of November 29th and consider[ed] that modifications thereof should be made only if fully acceptable to the State of Israel” – which was a far cry from Bernadotte’s plans to reduce the size of the young Jewish state. Truman stuck with the Democratic platform endorsing U.N. Resolution 181 – and added, if any modifications were to be made, they must be fully acceptable to Israel.

Two months later, in the greatest political upset of the 20th century, Truman won re-election.

HARRY S. TRUMAN. 1884-1972.  The 33rd President of the United States.

Autograph Manuscript Signed (“H.S.T.”), as President, in pencil, 1 page, quarto, no place, no date, ca. September 1948. With many corrections, additions and deletions:  a working draft.

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