Editorial Note

Ambassador Austin’s statement of March 19 has been the center of a controversy concerning the extent of President Truman’s knowledge and approval of the Ambassador’s public advocacy of an international trusteeship for Palestine.

Margaret Truman, in Harry S. Truman (New York, William Morrow & Company, 1973) asserts that her father never formally committed himself to the trusteeship plan (page 387). She quotes on page 388 from her father’s calendar for March 19 to the effect that the Austin statement represented the State Department pulling the rug from under him, that the State Department had reversed his Palestine policy and that with the Secretary and Under Secretary away, the third and fourth levels of the Department had succeeded in cutting his throat. Miss Truman notes on page 389 that not even in his memoirs did the President feel free to tell the whole story, although he hinted at it.

Indeed, in volume II of his Memoirs, President Truman on page 163 states that the March 19 statement was not a rejection of partition but an effort to postpone its effective date until conditions were more propitious. He averred that his policy on Palestine did not mean commitment to any set of dates or circumstances but was rather a dedication to international obligations and relief of human misery. In this sense, he said, the trusteeship proposal was not contrary to his policy. He expressed his certainty, however, that some State Department [Page 745] officials anticipated that the Jews and Arabs would interpret the trusteeship proposal as an abandonment of the partition plan. In this sense, he stated, trusteeship was at odds with his attitude and policy.

Ian J. Bickerton, in an article entitled “President Truman’s Recognition of Israel” in the December 1968 issue of the American Jewish Historical Quarterly, states flatly that President Truman agreed to the suggestion of Secretary Marshall that Palestine be placed under a temporary United Nations trusteeship (page 213 and again on pages 215–216). Then, on page 218, the author states that although the President had approved Secretary Marshall’s suggestion for a trusteeship, he had given no directive for its implementation. Greatly disturbed by the Austin statement, the President learned through Clark Clifford that the Secretary of State had forwarded to him a memorandum (presumably the message received by the President on February 21, page 637) outlining the procedure for introducing to the General Assembly proposals for trusteeship over Palestine. The State Department had acted on the proposals in the belief that the President had given his formal approval. Apparently the President felt otherwise and regarded the timing of the release of the proposals as an attempt to force his hand.

A somewhat similar point of view is advanced in a memorandum of March 22, 1948, in the Files of Charles S. Murphy. The memorandum, presumably prepared by Mr. Murphy, who was Administrative Assistant to President Truman, reads as follows:

“The President had instructed the State Department to continue to support partition in the United Nations. He had authorized the trusteeship proposal to be advanced if, but only if, the Security Council finally voted down the implementation of partition notwithstanding its support by the United States.

“These instructions were garbled by the State Department, and when it became apparent that the Security Council would vote down partition in spite of its support by the United States, the trusteeship proposal was put forward without pressing for a final vote in the Security Council.

“This was done without the President’s knowledge or approval.

“The end result might have been the same if the President’s instructions had been followed, because partition could not have been implemented within the framework of the United Nations without a favorable vote of the Security Council. And the expressed attitude of the Council members seemed to make it clear that not more than five votes would be cast in favor of implementing partition.

“Nevertheless, the procedure which was followed failed to make the record clear and the failure to inform the President of the procedure left him in an insufferable position.”

John Snetsinger’s Truman, the Jewish Vote, and the Creation of Israel (Stanford, Hoover Institution Press, 1974), page 88, states [Page 746] bluntly that President Truman “directly and knowingly” approved the change in American policy on Palestine.

Evidence of this point is included in several pages of penciled notes, dated May 4, 1948, in the handwriting of Mr. Clifford, which are among his papers in the Harry S. Truman Library at Independence, Missouri. Some of these notes outline the background of Ambassador Austin’s speech of March 19. They read in part as follows:

  • “1. Marshall to Austin March 8[5] President has approved draft statement.
  • “2. President
  • “A. Summary of consultation.
  • “B. Question of responsibility after May 15.
  • “C. Proposals for further action by Security Council
  • “President has approved Point B and Point C. Had not approved actual language in C and probably not B.
  • “3. Marshall to Austin March 16–direets Austin to make speech. Marshall says Austin is to make speech as soon as possible as Austin believes appropriate.
  • “4. Austin and Rusk were not instructed to delay speech until final vote in Security Council.
  • “5. Marshall and Lovett left no word that President was to be informed when Austin was to speak.
  • “6. Text of Austin’s speech was not submitted to President for his approval.
  • “A) It was the same substance as the draft previously submitted to President.”

Mr. Clifford, on June 20, 1974, informed William M. Franklin, Director of the Department of State Historical Office, that his penciled notes of May 4, 1948, were prepared by him for use in the conference that was to be held eight days later at the White House to discuss the question of recognizing the Jewish State (memorandum of conversation by Mr. Franklin, June 20, 1974; 501–BB Palestine/3–2248). Regarding the conference of May 12, see the Secretary’s memorandum of that date, page 972.

The text of other notes of May 4 by Mr. Clifford is presented in the editorial note on page 906.

Mr. Lovett’s firm views that President Truman did approve a policy of international trusteeship for Palestine are set forth in Mr. Humelsine’s memorandum of March 22, page 749.