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MIDDLE EAST JOURNAL M VOLUME 61, NO. 1, WINTER 2007 The View From 1947: The CIA and the Partition of Palestine Thomas W. Lippman Shortly after the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman was struggling with the question of what should become of Palestine, where Britain was soon to abandon its League of Nations Mandate. The newly created Central Intelligence Agency weighed in with a study of what would happen if Palestine were parti- tioned into Jewish and Arab zones — and came to some erroneous predictions along with some valuably prescient ones. I n the first three years of Harry S. Truman’s presidency, few issues vexed him more or provoked more infighting among his advisers and cabinet officers than the future of Palestine. The President had to decide whether the United States would support the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors, which would result in the creation of an independent Jewish state. From the time he became President upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945 through the early months of 1948, Truman was buffeted by conflicting advice from his foreign policy advisers and his political counselors. And at a crucial moment, in the fall of 1947, the newly created Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) entered the debate with a hard-hitting assessment replete with dire predictions. If a Jewish state was created, the CIA said, war would break out between Arabs and Jews, and the Arabs would win. 1 In keeping with its mandate to produce dispassionate analysis rather than policy prescriptions, the CIA offered the President no recommendation. But the only logi- cal conclusion to be drawn from its report would have been that partition would be detrimental to the long-term interests of the United States and would ultimately aug- ment rather than alleviate the suffering of the world’s Jews. The prediction about the outcome of the coming combat may have been the first of what William Webster, CIA Director in the 1980s, would later call the “monolithic generalizations” that the agency would learn to avoid because they were often wrong. 2 In one section of the report, how- Thomas W. Lippman is a former Middle East bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent of The Wash- ington Post and an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute. He is the author of numerous magazine articles, book reviews, and op-ed columns about Mideast affairs, and of four books: Understanding Islam (1982, 3rd revised edition 2002); Egypt After Nasser (1989); Madeleine Albright and the New American Diplomacy (2000); and Inside the Mirage: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia (2004). He also wrote the essay on Saudi Arabia’s defense strategy and nuclear weapons policy published in 2004 by the Brookings Institution Press in The Nuclear Tipping Point . His biography of William A. Eddy, Arabian Knight , is to be published in 2007.
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lippmannCIA1947 - Middle East Institute This article is for...

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