The Ben Gurion legacy contradicts conventional wisdom. It rejects the assumption that a White House “green light” is a prerequisite for the application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
Ben Gurion’s May 14, 1948 Declaration of Independence was not preconditioned upon a “green light” from President Truman. Ben Gurion demonstrated independence of national security action in defiance of the US State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Furthermore, President Truman was irresolute until the day of the declaration, while the US Mission to the UN was preoccupied with rounding up votes for a UN Trusteeship in Palestine (instead of an independent Jewish State).
Moreover, Ben Gurion applied Israeli law to areas in the Galilee, coastal plain, the Negev and Jerusalem – which were acquired during Israel’s War of Independence, expanding Israel’s land by 30% – in defiance of a glaring “red light” from the White House and the entire foreign policy and national security establishment in Washington, DC.
According to James McDonald, the first US Ambassador to Israel: “[Ben Gurion] warned President Truman and the US Department of State that they would be gravely mistaken if they assumed that the threat, or even the use of sanctions, would force Israel to yield on issues considered vital to its independence and security…. Much as Israel desired friendship with the US, there were limits beyond which it could not go. Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgement, would threaten its independence or its security. The very fact that Israel was a small state made more necessary the scrupulous defense of its own interests; otherwise, it would be lost (My Mission in Israel 1948-1951, Simon and Schuster, p. 49)….
Ambassador McDonald wrote (Ibid., p. 84) that Ben Gurion was facing a powerful antagonistic coalition led by Secretary of State General George Marshall, Defense Secretary James Forrestal and the State Department “wise men,” including Undersecretary Robert Lovett, special counselor Charles Bohlen, Policy Planning Chief George Kennan, former Secretary Dean Acheson, Head of the UN Division Dean Rusk and Head of the Near East and Asia Bureau Loy Henderson. Initially, they opposed the establishment of the Jewish State, and then called for “a smaller Israel… cutting most of the Negev off from Israel, to be absorbed by Abdullah’s kingdom of Jordan, in exchange for western Galilee (which Israel had already occupied); demilitarization and internationalization of Jerusalem; permission by Israel for the return of Arab refugees and compensation by Israel to them for property loss…. Israel would be brought before the tribunal of the UN as a defendant….”
Ben Gurion applied Israeli law despite severe US pressure to retreat to the suicidal November 29, 1947 Partition Plan lines. He rejected the immoral formula of “land-for-peace,” which would reward and refuel Arab aggression (aiming to annihilate the Jewish State) and punish the intended victim.
Ben Gurion’s response to US pressure was unflinching: “What Israel has won on the battlefield, it is determined not to yield at the council table (Ibid., p. 86)….”
Notwithstanding the sustained brutal pressure on Israel, Ambassador McDonald noted: “At the spring session of the UN General Assembly in Flushing Meadows, Israel was formally admitted [to the United Nations] – an interesting bit of evidence of the growth of respect for Israel (Ibid., p. 110)….”
President Truman’s pressure – joined by Britain and the UN – was endured, as recorded by Ambassador McDonald: “A very strong note [from] Truman to Ben Gurion…. It expressed deep disappointment at the failure to make any of the desired concessions on refugees or boundaries; interpreted Israel’s attitude as dangerous to peace and disregard of the UN resolutions of November 29, 1947 [borders] and December 11, 1949 [refugees and internationalization of Jerusalem]…. The operative part of the note was the implied threat that the US would reconsider its attitude toward Israel….
“Ben Gurion said shortly: ‘This will have to be answered. It is very serious and very stiff….’ In effect, Ben Gurion said the note was unrealistic and unjust. It ignored the facts that the UN Partition Resolution was no longer applicable, since its basic conditions had been destroyed by Arab aggression [military invasion], which the Jews successfully resisted…. The United States is a powerful country; Israel is a small and a weak one. We can be crushed, but we will not commit suicide….”
“The State Department’s reply [to Ben Gurion]… abandoned its stern tone…. Fists and knuckles were unclenched…. The United States was appreciative of Israel’s friendship for the US Government and people (Ibid., p. 181-184)….”
While Ben Gurion’s defiance caused occasional short-term tension, which undermined Israel’s popularity, he earned long-term respect for himself and for his country as documented by Ambassador McDonald: “[Ben Gurion was] small in stature, but big in spirit…. He has unfaltering faith in the future of Israel…. The Prime Minister had no fear.… Ben Gurion had the unusual courage to resist the popular clamor, when he was convinced that the public was mistaken…. The more I studied the manner in which he met the burdens placed upon him, the more convinced I became that he was one of the few great statesmen of our day. He was frequently compared to the wartime figure of Winston Churchill; the comparison did not exaggerate the Prime Minister’s qualities of leadership (Ibid., p. 241-248)….”
The Ben Gurion legacy highlights the realization that:
*There are no free lunches in the pursuit of bolstered national security;
*Experiencing – and defiance of – brutal pressure is an integral feature of Jewish history;
*The cost of fending off severe pressure is a prerequisite for the fulfillment of a long-term vision;
*Indecisiveness, hesitation and retreat erodes one’s posture of deterrence, undermines one’s role as a strategic ally, and invites more pressure;
*Defiance of pressure yields strategic respect among allies, while deterring enemies.