Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted to make light of his rift with the Obama administration in a new advertisement that rewrites American-Israeli history. The ad opens with “1948” emblazoned on a black background and shifts to a photograph of David Ben-Gurion declaring Israeli statehood on May 15, 1948. The text, appearing in Hebrew, reads:
1948—Ben Gurion faces a crucial decision: establishment of the State of Israel.
The American Secretary of State strongly opposed.
Ben Gurion, contrary to the position of the American State Department, declares the establishment of the state.
Would we be here today if Ben Gurion hadn’t done the right thing?
Only the Likud, Only Netanyahu.
Here are the facts: The American Secretary of State was George Marshall. In the fall of 1947, when the question of a Jewish and Arab state came before the United Nations, Marshall and President Harry Truman backed the creation of a partition in Palestine between a Jewish and Arab state. Truman and Marshall did attempt at one point to create boundaries that were more equitable—the final proposal had the Jews, who were less than a third of the population, being granted 56 percent of the land—but backed off, and when the crucial vote on partition came in November, the administration backed and energetically (to say the least) lobbied to gain the necessary two-thirds support for partition, on which the Israelis still base their claim of legitimacy. The resolution would not have passed without American support.
Between November and May of 1948, Marshall was preoccupied with the Berlin crisis and left discussions of Palestine to subordinates. In the spring of 1948, with war raging in Palestine, the State Department broached a plan, with Truman’s support, for creating a transition period in Palestine after Britain’s departure in May so that the Jews and Arabs might come to some agreement, but they abandoned that effort in the face of opposition from the Jewish leadership in Palestine and from the American Zionist lobby. From that time in early May, the question was not whether to recognize a new Jewish state, which was expected to be announced on May 15, but when to do so.
Truman’s aides Clark Clifford and David Niles advocated that before David Gurion announced a new state, Truman announce that the United States would recognize the new state. They wanted to prevent nationwide demonstrations scheduled for May 14 by the American Zionist Emergency Council from turning into anti-Truman rallies. But Marshall strenuously objected to what would have been an unprecedented diplomatic procedure, which he correctly attributed to the interjection of domestic politics into international relations. That was the issue between him and Clifford during a climactic May 12 meeting at the White House. After the meeting, Clifford backed down, and with Truman’s support, negotiated a plan with the State Department for the United States to recognize the new state of Israel minutes after Ben-Gurion’s announcement. Marshall agreed to this plan. He did not oppose recognition of Israel.
And it can be added that from that time to through spring of last year, the United States has provided Israel with $121 billion of foreign, and chiefly, military aid, and supported Israel in its conflicts with Arab states, most critically in 1973, and at the United Nations. I’ll leave it to counter-factual historians to decide what exactly would have happened to Israel if the United States had not supported it over the last seven decades, but I think it’s pretty clear that contrary to Netanyahu’s insinuation, Israel would have had a much more difficult time enduring and becoming prosperous—as well as maintaining an occupation of Palestinian lands—without American support. Netanyahu has gotten himself in dangerous waters by attempting to deny this.