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Before Declaring Israel’s Independence, Ben-Gurion Counters American Backpedaling and Pushes Start of Temporary Government
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In 1947, as the British mandate over Palestine (established by the League of Nations in 1922) was about to expire, the United Nations called for partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Jewish leaders accepted the plan, but Arab leaders announced that they would oppose its implementation by force. President Harry Truman had endorsed partition despite opposition within his administration. On March 19, 1948, the U.S. shockingly reversed its position supporting partition; instead it called for a temporary United Nations trusteeship.

David Ben-Gurion, as head of the Jewish Agency, masterfully worked to contain the damage. Less than two months after writing this letter, Ben-Gurion and the recipient of this letter, Rabbi Judah Leib Fishman (Maiman), both would help draft and sign Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

DAVID BEN-GURION. Autograph Letter Signed, “D. Ben-Gurion” to Rabbi Yehuda Leib Fishman. March 23, 1948, [Israel]. In Hebrew, one page on The Jewish Agency for Palestine stationery. 8.5 x 11 in.

Inventory #24454       Price: $12,000


“Please convey to the Executive [of the Jewish Agency for Palestine] the following – As I was deprived of the possibility of taking part in the meetings of the Executive, I ask to be allowed to appoint a member to be the head of Defence, so that I can transfer this work from myself as soon as possible. I wish to point out that because of the remarks that were heard in the discussion of our answers to the American announcement (I refer to the remarks of Golda Myerson and Kolotny), I am of the opinion that paragraph ‘C’ should be changed, by way of adding a demand for an immediate agreement that a temporary Government be formulated in accordance with the version that I gave to my Secretary Svi Marmion.”

Historical Background

Ben-Gurion responded forcefully to the new American position in a statement to the Tel Aviv Press Club on March 20: “We shall not agree to any kind of trusteeship, whether permanent or temporary, even for the shortest time. We shall no longer submit to any foreign domination whatever. … The Jewish State exists, and will continue to exist, because we defend it. … our political program falls under three headings, in the order I name them: security; a Jewish State; a Jewish-Arab alliance.”

On March 22, Abba Hillel Silver, on behalf of the Jewish Agency, indicated that the Agency would not discuss the American proposal for trusteeship, as it had not yet been submitted to the Security Council. The next day, the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the National Council of Jews of Palestine (Vaad Leumi) issued a joint statement that Israel intended to proceed to independence.

Ben-Gurion was determined to strengthen their position by shaping his provisional government and making it clear that the Jewish state would come into being with or without international approval. Accordingly, on March 25 Moshe Shertok (Sharett) sent the chairman of the U.N. Palestine Commission an urgent request for the establishment of a provisional government, including a list of proposed members.

The “‘paragraph C’” referenced in the present letter undoubtedly corresponds to a passage in either the March 23 or March 25 statements to the U.N. (For the full, final text of both, see Appendices A and B, below.)

As noted, the final wording was influenced by future Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and by Moshe Kolodny (Kol). They may have been advocating for the wording that appeared in the third paragraph of the March 25 statement, “the Provisional Council of Government thus designated be empowered in consultation with the United. Nations Commission to co-opt additional members representing groups both Arab and Jewish…” 

Rabbi Judah Leib Fishman (Maiman) (1875–1962), the recipient of this letter, was born in Bessarabia and emigrated to Palestine in 1913. A renowned author and Talmudic scholar, he was a founding member of Mizrachi. He helped draft Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and became Minister of Religions and War Victims. He served in the First Knesset until 1951.




(VAAD LEUMI), MARCH 23, 1948

The Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Vaad Leumi have learned with regret and astonishment of the attitude adopted by the United States representative in the Security Council concerning the United Nations decisions on Palestine.

The Jewish Agency and the Vaad Leumi declare:

1. The Jewish people and the Yichev in Palestine will oppose any proposal designed to prevent or postpone the establishment of the Jewish State.

2. We categorically reject any plan to set up a trusteeship regime for Palestine, even for a short period of time. A trusteeship would necessarily entail a denial of the Jewish right to national independence. It would leave Palestine under a foreign military regime.

3. The failure and disintegration of the Mandatory administration, the continuation of which was unanimously rejected by the United Nations, necessitates the early arrival in Palestine of the United Nations Palestine Commission. The Provisional Council of Government of the Jewish State should be recognized without delay by the United Nations Palestine Commission so that authority may be transferred to it as envisaged in the United Nations decisions.

4. Upon the termination of the Mandatory administration and not later than May 16 next, a provisional Jewish government will commence to function in cooperation with the representatives of the United Nations then in Palestine. In the meantime, we shall do our utmost to minimize the chaos created by the present government, and we shall maintain, so far as lies in our power, the public services neglected by it.

5. The Jewish people extends the hand of peace to the Arab people and invites representatives of the Arab population of the Jewish State to take their rightful place in all its organs of government. The Jewish State will be glad to cooperate with the neighboring Arab States and to enter into permanent treaty relations with them to strengthen world peace and to advance the development of all countries of the Near East.

After a bloody Arab-Israeli conflict following the British withdrawal, the State of Israel was proclaimed in May 1948. Ben-Gurion was designated the first Prime Minister, a position he held for the majority of the next fifteen years.



16 East 66th Street

 New York 21, N.Y.

March 25, 1948

The Chairman

United Nations Palestine Commission Lake Success, New York


In pursuance of the oral representations made by me to the Commission on March 17 on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and. the National Council of the Jews of Palestine (Vaad Leumi) concerning the appointment of a Provisional Council of Government for the Jewish State, I have the honor now, as a matter of urgency, to reiterate the request that the Provisional Council of the Jewish State should be immediately established and that it be composed as follows:

Mr. David Ben-Gurion Mr. Itzhak Ben-Zvi

Mr. Fritz Bernstein Mr. Eliahu Berligne

Mr. Eliahu Dobkin Mr. Meyer Grabovski

Rabbi Judah Leib Fishman  Mrs. Rachel Kagan

Rabbi Wolf Gold Mr. Abraham Katznelaon

Mr. Itzhak Greenbaum Saadia Khuvashi

Mr. Eliezer Kaplan Dr. Georg Landauer

Mr. Moshe Kolodni Mr. Evi Lurie

Mrs. Goldie Meyerson Mr. Nachum Nir

Mr. Moshe Shapiro Mr. David. Pinkas

Mr. Moshe Shertok Mr. David Remez

 Mr. Berl Repetur

 Mr. Mordecai Shatner

 Mr. Zorach Warhaftig

2. The above list comprises all the Palestinian members of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, as well as the fall membership of the National Council of the Jews of Palestine (Vaad Leumi). Included are representatives of the following parties and groups:

Palestine Labor Party (Mapay)

General Zionists

Mizrachi (Orthodox Zionists)

Hapoel Hamizrachl

Hashomer Hatzair)

now merged.

Achditt Avoda

Aliya Hadasha


Yemenites Organization

3. It is proposed further, that the Provisional Council of Government thus designated be empowered in consultation with the United. Nations Commission to co-opt additional members representing groups both Arab and Jewish, not at present included in the membership of the Jewish Agency for Palestine or the Vaad Leumi. Negotiations with this object in view have been successfully concluded with some Jewish groups and are still in progress with others.

4. Upon the appointment of the Provisional Council of Government it is suggested that the United Nations Palestine Commission should instruct the Provisional Council to proceed with the establishment of a central administrative organ of government as indicated in Article 7 of Part I B of the Resolution of the General Assembly.

5. I venture, in conclusion, to point out that under Article 4 of Part I B of the Resolution of the Assembly, if by 1 April 1948 a Provisional Council of Government has not been set up, the United Nations Palestine Commission will be under the obligation to communicate that fact to the Security Council. It is earnestly hoped that the need for the Commission to report failure in this respect will be obviated by the immediate appointment of the Provisional Council of Government of the Jewish State.

Sincerely yours,

Moshe Shertok

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