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Trusteeship Statement
March 25, 1948

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In early 1948, the US National Security Council recommended that the administration back off its commitment to partition and instead embrace proposals for a UN trusteeship for Palestine. The trusteeship option would postpone the creation of both Arab and Jewish states and ensure great power supervision over the former mandate.

The trusteeship plan was touted primarily by Loy Henderson, who opposed US support for partition because he believed it would hurt US interests in Arab countries. Secretary of State George Marshall opposed partition for unclear reasons, some of them apparently fatuous. On Novermber 24, 1947, Marshall wrote to Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett to inform him that British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin had told him that British intelligence indicated that Jewish groups moving illegally from the Balkan states to Palestine included many Communists. It is widely touted as evidence that Truman wavered in his support for the partition plan, but the story is not that straightforward. The following chronology is instructive: (from http://www.trumanlibrary.org/israel/palestin.htm ):

February 12, 1948: Secretary of Defense James Forrestal says at a meeting of the National Security Council that any serious attempt to implement partition in Palestine would set in motion events that would result in at least a partial mobilization of United States armed forces.

February 19, 1948: Secretary of State George Marshall says at a press conference, when asked if the United States would continue to support partition, that the "whole Palestine thing," was under "constant consideration."

February 21, 1948: Eddie Jacobson, a longtime and close personal friend of President Truman, sends a telegram to Truman, asking him to meet with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organization.

February 22, 1948: President Truman instructs Secretary of State George Marshall that while he approves in principle a draft prepared by the State Department of a position paper which mentions as a possible contingency a United Nations trusteeship for Palestine, he does not want anything presented to the United Nations Security Council that could be interpreted as a change from the position in favor of partition that the United States announced in the General Assembly on November 29, 1947. He further instructs Marshall to send him for review the final draft of the remarks that Warren Austin, the United States representative to the United Nations, is to give before the Security Council on March 19, 1948.

February 27, 1948: President Truman writes to his friend Eddie Jacobson, refusing to meet with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organization.

March 8, 1948: Counsel to the President Clark Clifford writes to President Truman, in a memorandum entitled "United States Policy with Regard to Palestine," that Truman's actions in support of partition are "in complete conformity with the settled policy of the United States."

March 9, 1948: Secretary of State George Marshall instructs Warren Austin, United States representative to the United Nations, that if a United Nations special assembly on Palestine were convened, the United States would support a United Nations trusteeship for Palestine.

March 12, 1948: The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine reports that "present indications point to the inescapable conclusion that when the [British] mandate is terminated, Palestine is likely to suffer severely from administrative chaos and widespread strife and bloodshed."

March 13, 1948: President Truman's friend Eddie Jacobson walks into the White House without an appointment and pleads with Truman to meet with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organization. Truman responds: "You win, you baldheaded son-of-a-bitch. I will see him."

March 18, 1948: President Truman meets with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organization. Truman says he wishes to see justice done in Palestine without bloodshed, and that if the Jewish state were declared and the United Nations remained stalled in its attempt to establish a temporary trusteeship over Palestine, the United States would recognize the new state immediately.

March 18, 1948: The United Nations Special Commission on Palestine reports to the United Nations Security Council that it has failed to arrange any compromise between Jews and Arabs, and it recommends that the United Nations undertake a temporary trusteeship for Palestine in order to restore peace.

March 19, 1948: United States representative to the United Nations Warren Austin announces to the United Nations Security Council that the United States position is that the partition of Palestine is no longer a viable option.

March 20, 1948: Secretary of State George Marshall announces that the United States will seek to work within the United Nations to bring a peaceful settlement to Palestine, and that the proposal for a temporary United Nations trusteeship for Palestine is the only idea presently being considered that will allow the United Nations to address the difficult situation in Palestine.

March 21, 1948: President Truman writes in his diary regarding the confusion caused by the State Department's handling of the trusteeship issue: "I spend the day trying to right what has happened. No luck. Marshall makes a statement. Doesn't help a bit."

March 21, 1948: President Truman writes to his sister Mary Jane Truman that the "striped pants conspirators" in the State Department had "completely balled up the Palestine situation." But, he writes, "it may work out anyway in spite of them."

March 22, 1948: President Truman writes to his brother Vivian Truman regarding Palestine: "I think the proper thing to do, and the thing I have been doing, is to do what I think is right and let them all go to hell."

March 25, 1948: President Truman says at a press conference that a United Nations trusteeship for Palestine would be only a temporary measure, intended to establish the peaceful conditions that would be the essential foundation for a final political settlement. He says that trusteeship is not a substitute for partition.

The statement had apparently been drafted by Clark Clifford and Max Lowenstein on March 24, in attempt to allay Zionist fears and anger following the announcements by Austen and Marshall on March 19 and 20. Therefore, the statement at the press conference, below, was not meant to support trusteeship, but to indicate that trusteeship would not substitute for partition. For more about Truman's role in the creation of Israel, click here.


United States Proposal for Temporary United Nations Trusteeship for Palestine(1)

Statement by President Truman

(March 25, 1948)


Press Conference Statement Concerning Trusteeship

It is vital that the American people have a clear understanding of the position of the United States in the United Nations regarding Palestine.

This country vigorously supported the plan for partition with economic union recommended by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and by the General Assembly. We have explored every possibility consistent with the basic principles of the Charter for giving effect to that solution. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the partition plan cannot be carried out at this time by peaceful means. We could not undertake to impose this solution on the people of Palestine by the use of American troops, both on Charter grounds and as a matter of national policy.

The United Kingdom has announced its firm intention to abandon its mandate in Palestine on May 15. Unless emergency action is taken, there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Large-scale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result. Such fighting would infect the entire Middle East and could lead to consequences of the gravest sort involving the peace of this Nation and of the world.

These dangers are imminent. Responsible governments in the United Nations cannot face this prospect without acting promptly to prevent it. The United States has proposed to the Security Council a temporary United Nations trusteeship for Palestine to provide a government to keep the peace. Such trusteeship was proposed only after we had exhausted every effort to find a way to carry out partition by peaceful means. Trusteeship is not proposed as a substitute for the partition plan but as an effort to fill the vacuum soon to be created by the termination of the mandate on May 15. The trusteeship does not prejudice the character of the final political settlement. It would establish the conditions of order which are essential to a peaceful solution.

If we are to avert tragedy in Palestine, an immediate truce must be reached between the Arabs and Jews of that country. I am instructing Ambassador Austin to urge upon the Security Council in the strongest terms that representatives of the Arabs and Jews be called at once to the council table to arrange such a truce.

The United States is prepared to lend every appropriate assistance to the United Nations in preventing bloodshed and in reaching a peaceful settlement. If the United Nations agrees to a temporary trusteeship, we must take our share of the necessary responsibility. Our regard for the United Nations, for the peace of the world, and for -our own self-interest does not permit us to do less.

With such a truce and such a trusteeship, a peaceful settlement is yet possible; without them, open warfare is just over the horizon. American policy in this emergency period is based squarely upon the recognition of this inescapable fact.

Source: Department of State Bulletin, vol. 18, No. 457, April 4, 1948, p. 451.

Photo of original document at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/israel/large/folder1/isa04-1.htm


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