The Forgotten Diplomat Who Helped Lay the Groundwork for Israel’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

James G. McDonald came to the fledgling state of Israel in August 1948 as President Truman’s “special representative”; the next year, after official diplomatic relations were established, he became the first American ambassador to the Jewish state. Known to be sympathetic with Zionism even before his appointment, McDonald often communicated directly with Truman, bypassing the significantly less sympathetic bureaucrats of the State Department. Benny Morris reviews the recently published fourth volume of McDonald’s diaries, which deals with his interval in Israel:

Among the visitors [McDonald received] was Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-born journalist and novelist, who had already lived in and reported from Palestine in the late 1920s and again in 1945. . . . McDonald characterized the meeting as “delightful and civilized.” Koestler avowed that his “chief interest in this country is its intellectual future,” by which he meant its cultural-ideological-political evolution, [about which he was less than optimistic]. . . . In his quiet way, McDonald sprang to the defense, arguing that Israel was “a pioneer country in which it was natural for a generation or two or three [that] the emphasis would be on material development and perhaps rather crude nationalism rather than on culture.” This had been the case with “pioneer America and pioneer South Africa.” Koestler “seemed inclined to agree.” Somewhat contradictorily, McDonald then added that Israel was sui generis, and that all comparisons were unreasonable. . . .

McDonald spent much of his two and a half years in the country meeting and entertaining people. But most of his time was devoted to matters of state and diplomacy—and this fascinating volume provides a wealth of information and insights about the forging of the American-Israeli “special relationship” and the foreign-policy deliberations inside the Truman administration about the Middle East. It also abounds with data and insights about young Israel’s (dour) relationship with the UN and its agencies and the failed secret peace talks between Israel and Jordan, Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt, facilitated in part by the United States. . . .

McDonald was born in Ohio to parents who managed small hotels. After a brief academic career and working for a foreign-relations nonprofit, he was appointed the League of Nations high commissioner for refugees from Germany, where he helped Jews attempting to flee Nazism. In 1945 and 1946, he served on the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine. . . . His [subsequent] years in Tel Aviv were marked by continuous military, political, and diplomatic crises. “There is never a dull moment in Israel,” he noted in December 1949. “Moreover, the Jewish people in proportion to their numbers cause more stir in the world than any other folk.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Arthur Koestler, Harry Truman, History & Ideas, Israeli history, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security