Another UN Assembly deliberation on Palestine has adjourned with a final solution still unachieved. Yet, as ROBERT WELTSCHI indicates in this appraisal, certain decisions were taken in Paris—among them the rejection of the Bernadotte Plan—and one or two milestones passed. What these were and what the perspective ahead seems to be Dr. Weltsch tries to suggest here.
The establishment of an innocuous Conciliation Commission by the UN Assembly, with practically no terms of reference (even to its own partition decision of November 29, 1947), marked the abandonment of Count Bernadotte’s plan. Significantly, his plan was wrecked by the opposition of both contending parties, as had happened to so many previous Palestine plans.
But the Arabs and Jews did not both reject it for the same reasons. The Arabs adhered to their old claim that partition was an injustice which could never be swallowed by Arabs, and that consequently no solution based on partition could ever be acceptable to them. They professed to ignore the existence of the Jewish state, and argued that it was an artificial structure which could not survive, thus opposing the Mediator’s statement that the state was a “vigorous reality” that had come to stay. On this point they now disagree most strikingly with Britain, their main champion among the great powers.
Britain has apparently come to believe that the present policy of the Arab League hurts the Arabs themselves; and the British press has tried to convince the Arabs that the Bernadotte Plan, because it limits the expansion of Israel, was the most they could hope to get, and that its rejection might result in renewed fighting in which the Arabs would only be the losers. Nevertheless, as a matter of principle, the Arabs and their associates, including all the Moslem states, and India, Burma, and Cuba as well, remained intransigent. Thus the rejection of the Bernadotte Plan was essentially an achievement of the Arabs—but, at the same time, it was claimed as a victory by the Jews.
The Israeli leaders and world Jewry had vehemently denounced Bernadotte’s Plan and started vigorous propaganda against it. To them it was not the principle on which it was based, namely partition and the Jewish state, that appeared unacceptable, but its practical proposals, especially with regard to frontiers. The new partition plan was roughly based on the military situation as of the beginning of September, when the Bernadotte Report was drafted, and it recommended that Israel surrender the Negev in exchange for Western Galilee and Jaffa. But possession of the Negev appears to be vital and indispensable to the government and people of Israel. Too, since the report was written even the argument of fait accompli in favor of an Arab Negev has collapsed, for in the meantime the offensive against the Egyptians in October had won Israel complete control of the Northern Negev. True, this action was challenged as a violation of the truce, and the Security Council on November 4 demanded that the Israeli withdraw to the lines they held on October 14. But the enforcement of this decision seems extremely unlikely, and in any case the status quo ante of October 14 cannot be restored.
The propaganda against the Bernadotte Plan was very successful. It had its effect on everybody in Paris. The very name of the deceased Mediator became somewhat of a hostile slogan. All pro-Jewish forces that could be mobilized worked for the rejection of the Report, and the most important among them was naturally the United States. Consequently the British resolution, which embodied some of Bernadotte’s suggestions, though in very emasculated form, was defeated by both sides, who could agree at least on negative points if not on a positive program.
Had the two parties been called upon to present their own proposals, they would of course not have been able to form a common front; and parliamentarily no resolution embodying any positive idea could find a majority. The British resolution, which represented the “Center,” was defeated by the two wings. An Arab resolution condemning partition would have been—and in fact was—defeated by the combined vote of the “pro-Jewish” bloc and the “Center”; while a “Jewish” resolution—for example, the Soviet proposal to withdraw all foreign armies from Palestinian territory—had against it the combined vote of the Arab-Moslem bloc and the “Center.” It was a situation similar to that which paralyzed the government of Weimar Germany, where the extreme Left and Right together could combine to defeat the ruling centrist group, but neither wing could muster a majority for its own positive proposals, since in that case the Center would inevitably join the opposition.
Under these circumstances, the Assembly could do nothing except adopt a colorless resolution and to leave everything to the new Commission, which it charged to “assist the parties to find a settlement” (!). Everything now depends on this new Commission which has to start work all over again.
This outcome was regarded as favorable to the Jews insofar as they are now the stronger party and have come to feel confident that no commission will be able to unscramble the fait accompli omelette. In the absence of interference by force, the Israelis will remain for the time being the dominant party in Palestine and they are now in a position to develop and use freely the whole territory under their control, whether it is included in the November 1947 frontiers or not. And meanwhile there is the possibility that the rapid succession of events in Palestine itself may confront the new Commission with still more faits accomplis.
In The last stages of the Assembly, however, there did seem to be a remarkable inclination on both sides to ease the tension. This could be ascribed less to the UN discussions than to the local armistice conventions concluded by the Arab and Israeli commanders in the field. Here the Security Council comes into the picture. The Security Council did not confirm the November 1947 decision nor did it do anything to implement it. It ordered a cease-fire and a truce whose violation would be regarded as a defiance of its authority and simultaneously a “threat to world peace.”
It was one of the peculiar features of this Assembly session that the Palestine problem was deliberated not only by the Assembly and its organs, but also and at the same time by the Security Council in its function as the highest authority in the supervision of the truce. This added to the general confusion that has characterized the whole Palestine issue. Theoretically, there is a clear distinction between the two approaches. The Security Council is concerned with breaches of the peace and has to devise ways and means of restoring peace or averting threats to it. In this respect, its function is purely “technical.” The framing of long-range policy is the task of the Assembly, and this is handled by the First (Political) Committee, which has to refer it back for decision to the Plenary where a two-thirds majority is required. It should, however, be borne in mind that even the Assembly can do nothing more than to issue “recommendations” to member states. It does not create “international law,” but provides a basis on which member states—and obviously states that are not yet members as well—can legitimately build their policies.
The dualism of Security Council and First Committee was made more apparent by the fact that many states were represented by the same individuals in both bodies, so that they had sometimes to repeat the same arguments on two different platforms. The issues were identical, and so were many of the speeches. The Arabs, led by Faris el Khuri, the aged and respected member for Syria, availed themselves abundantly of this opportunity. It was not good tactics, for the constant repetition had a wearying effect on all listeners, and in the end the Arab speeches became a nuisance and influenced nobody—though it remains very doubtful whether any speeches at all can have an influence in these bodies. For usually each state has its own predetermined policy, sometimes motivated by factors irrelevant to the issue, and is not interested in specific arguments.
The real main issue in the Political Committee, behind the smoke-screen of words and phrases, was possession of the Negev. The Security Council, under British pressure, went so far as to envisage the use of “sanctions,” according to Chapter 7 of the Charter, against the Israeli if they disobeyed the order to withdraw from their new positions there. But no one was enthusiastic about this, and the Security Council was obviously relieved when Israel, in a qualified manner, ostensibly accepted its order, leaving the details to technical negotiation on the spot; Israel was convinced in any case that these would demonstrate the impossibility of strict compliance.
This move was regarded as a diplomatic masterpiece. It showed that the youngest state in the world had already acquired complete mastery of the technique developed in the United Nations for combining conciliatory words with independent action, while relying on the fact that realities have their own logic. It was fortunate for Israel that the Security Council enacted another (“Canadian”) resolution on November 16, before the chapter on the November 4 resolution was closed; this second resolution called upon the parties involved to enter into negotiations for an armistice that would open the way to a definite settlement. This gave the Israeli government the chance to link the two issues together and accept the second resolution enthusiastically while veiling its reservations with regard to the first. The reply as a whole was accepted as satisfactory and the threat of sanctions shelved, despite vehement Arab protests that logically the November 4 resolution (withdrawal of troops from territories in the Negev occupied after the truce) should be implemented first, before the issue of negotiations for an overall armistice could be acted on.
The main aim of Jewish tactics was the splitting of the Anglo-American solidarity that had been proclaimed at the beginning of the session. It had been claimed that diplomatic negotiations between London and Washington, conducted during the summer, had bridged the gulf between the two powers. This united front, for a long time the main object of British dreams, crumbled again and was restored only artificially when the British, in a desperate effort to preserve it at all costs, practically gave up all the essential parts of their resolution by accepting the American amendments—this, in order to make it an Anglo-American resolution. This was done under a gentlemen’s agreement that both sides would stick to the resolution. The United States loyally supported the resolution through its committee stage, and when the relevant paragraphs were defeated, the American delegation demonstrated by its quick substitution of an alternative formula that it had not felt too happy in its alliance with the British.
American policy throughout tended to play for time. The Americans wanted to give conciliation another chance, as unlimited as possible, in clear recognition of the fact that it would be futile to issue orders that could not be executed, quite simply because the United Nations has no executive powers. The United States did not seem to believe in the possibility of sanctions, let alone like them.
Yet one could still hear insinuations that British and American policy were secretly coordinated, despite appearances to the contrary; and it may be true that both the Foreign Office and the State Department would have preferred a common front. For after all the United States and Britain are the pillars of the nascent Atlantic alliance and cannot perpetually afford the luxury of fighting each other, even over such issues as Palestine.
The coincidence of the presidential elections with the UN Assembly was one of the main obstacles to swift action. The United States hardly concealed her desire to postpone the whole question. In the meantime, Secretary Marshall’s support of the Bernadotte Plan was cancelled out by the President’s declaration of October 24. The American delegation in Paris constantly awaited new instructions from Washington, and above all awaited the election itself. And it took a few days after the election before the American delegation overcame its reluctance to act.
When Palestine finally came up at the Political Committee, there arose a very unusual situation in which the chairman looked to speakers who were not forthcoming. Only the Arabs filled the gap, and their speeches were a foregone conclusion. Except for the delegations with clear aims, such as the Arabs and the Slavs—who did not want to be the first speakers and thus rid the UN of procedural embarrassment—most delegations were waiting for the United States to give the lead. But the United States preferred to keep silent, as on previous occasions. The Americans had to choose between British pressure and Jewish pressure. Evidently it is difficult for them to offend either. The real drama started when Philip Jessup made his first statement on behalf of the United States delegation on November 18. But after all the ups and downs of the struggle that ensued, which at times seemed to hint at a clear victory for Israel, actually nothing was solved and nothing decided.
Peace is not yet established. Britain will not drop her strategic interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. Her troops remain in the Suez Canal Zone, and, as a result of her Negev defeat, Egypt seems even more susceptible than before to the advantages of an alliance with a great power. There is much talk of Egyptian readiness to make concessions to Britain that she hitherto had refused, which refusal had prevented a new Anglo-Egyptian treaty. Britain is also striving for a new foothold in Cyrenaica, where a protectorate on the Abdullah pattern is planned. But as things now stand, British strategic interests are in fact identical with those of the whole Western bloc. Logically, it is difficult to understand how America can dissociate herself from them, because it is no secret that the global strategy of the two powers is complementary.
Even Israel cannot be entirely indifferent to this question. Without the British bases in the Nile Valley and in the Middle East, could Rommel’s attack have been repulsed in 1942? Whatever the present political alignments, we should never forget that El Alamein saved the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and the embryonic state of Israel. It was not pure coincidence that Churchill, two days before the United Nations Assembly adjourned in Paris, made a fiery plea in the House of Commons for British de facto recognition of Israel. In this unfortunate world, where strategic interests have an overall importance, Britain’s position in the Middle East cannot be altogether a matter of indifference or hostility to the state of Israel, which may one day stand to gain from them.
The new Conciliation Commission was left with a legacy of three interconnected problems: peace, frontiers, population.
Peace still seems remote. But negotiations on a limited scale seemed possible when the Assembly dispersed. That is a result of the efforts of the Acting Mediator. Whether the occasional rumors of actual negotiations corresponded to reality could not easily be ascertained in an atmosphere where even such rumors are often the tools of propaganda, and where publicity is one of the greatest obstacles to reason. But it was Israel’s policy to substitute the principle of “negotiations first” for any commitment on the main issue. The Arabs declined this. In their view, negotiations would be tantamount to a confession of defeat. The British, on the other hand, discouraged negotiations by saying that the Arabs could not be expected to negotiate “under duress”; a somewhat illogical formula because in warfare either party can always claim that benefit. The delegate from Lebanon said: “We know that the Zionists in Palestine are maintaining an effort that cannot last and which will fatally and inevitably bring about their economic ruin. It is for this reason that they are always asking to have negotiations opened. They hope by these negotiations to bring the Arabs to consent to the existence of the Jewish state.” Or the Iraqi delegate: “Certainly an invader would wish to conciliate when his invasion is accomplished.” And so forth.
These are the difficulties with which the Conciliation Commission is faced, and it is not easily seen how they can be overcome. The impasse is described in the late Mediator’s Report. Like Bernadotte, the optimists set their hopes not on a formal peace, but on a de facto settlement that would be neither legal peace nor war but would rest on mutual tolerance, or on acquiescence under pressure from the United Nations.
As to boundaries, this is, of course, the crux of the matter. It will be very difficult for Israel to uphold its claim to the whole of the Negev, the whole of Galilee, Jaffa, and Ramleh, as well as the corridor to Jerusalem, on other grounds than the right of military victory. The majority of the UN Assembly would not have given its assent to such a settlement had the question been put to vote. The formulas employed by the American and British delegations seemed to indicate that both would ultimately recommend some partition of the Negev, i.e., a modified Bernadotte Plan, whereby the Jews would have to cede a southern strip of the Negev in exchange for Jaffa and Western Galilee. In any case, the UN and the principal powers concerned indicated that they would not bow indefinitely to the argument of military fait accompli.
The problem of Jerusalem presents special difficulties, for reasons often mentioned before. The internationalization and demilitarization of the whole Jerusalem area was the only point on which the Assembly seemed to be almost unanimous. It remains to be seen, however, what concrete scheme the Conciliation Commission will be able to devise. But in the end, if all goes well and some peaceful order is established, no other practicable scheme will emerge than to leave the Jewish section of the city under Jewish and the Arab section under some Arab authority. The United Nations cannot afford to make the Holy City a second Trieste.
The most intricate point, however, is the population problem, which is usually called that of the “Arab refugees.” Can the bulk of Palestine’s Arab population return to the area now called Israel, and if it does, what will its relations be with the Israeli?
The Arab delegates, in innumerable speeches, exploited to the utmost the tragedy of the destitute evacuees. There was an appalling enumeration of atrocities; but by constant monotonous repetition the Arabs managed to overstate their case and make a great part of the delegations impatient. They became, in the words of Mr. Fraser, “weary of these tirades.” The representative of Syria, Faris el Khuri, appealed to the Conference in the following terms: “No international political conference was ever asked to sanction looting, destruction, terrorism, assassination, and brute force, and this is exactly what you are being asked to do.” Replying to the claim that the Arabs had left of their own free will, the same speaker said: “It was stated here that the Arabs left of their own free will, or that they wished to leave. It is rather surprising to hear that 600,000 of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine willingly left their homes without any of their jewels, money, or clothes, and even without some of the women having time to carry away their babies.”
The Arabs made many blunders (as, for instance, their excursions into the field of Biblical history), but they cannot be blamed for exploiting the events at Deir Yassin and elsewhere and for representing them as the result of Jewish savagery. The Jewish reply, given by Aubrey Eban, was that this unnecessary war .had been unleashed by the Arabs, and that as soon as a war starts it looses demoniac forces that no one can control. The responsibility for the consequences rested on those who had started the war. And the record of the UN and the Security Council contained open declarations of war on the Jews and the UN together by leaders of the Arabs.
The whole problem is undoubtedly very complicated. It is true that the Arab leaders encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to flee, but it is equally true that such an appeal would have been less likely to have the result it did had not the Deir Yassin outrage thrown Arab villagers into an understandable panic. And once the Arab exodus had started and its advantages—with regard to living space—had become clear to the Israeli, the latter apparently actively accelerated the exodus at certain other places, such as Ramleh and Lydda, and later on in the Negev and Galilee.
That is, of course, not a purely political issue. From the Jewish point of view, this chapter is one of the most disgraceful and saddening of our recent history. Gradually it has transpired that there is some truth in many of the charges made by the Arabs. And if the United Nations remains indifferent to this matter, we ourselves cannot. It is gratifying to see that there have been at least some protests in a section of the Hebrew press, and also an interpellation in the State Council, to which Ben Gurion is reported to have replied, on November 25, that a thorough investigation would be instituted. It is to be hoped that the results will be made known, and that strong and severe measures will be taken against the criminals. The Hebrew poet Nathan Altermann deserves all praise for the courageous and unequivocal song he published in the Hebrew daily Davar on November 9, in which he described what he himself had seen, and called it unhesitatingly “murder”—murder committed by Jewish boys. It was left to this lonely poet to demand that military courts be set up to try “Jewish war criminals.”
It is an encouraging fact that such a protest could appear in the official newspaper of the leading government party of Israel. Altermann’s poem was reprinted in the daily Haaretz of Tel Aviv, accompanied by an editorial which gave a sigh of relief that a man had at last arisen to say openly what was a heavy burden on the consciences of many.
The political, technical, and financial aspects of refugee resettlement were thrown on the Conciliation Commission. It will be a hard job indeed to solve these. But whether any Conciliation Commission can heal the moral wounds and uproot the seeds of hatred that have been planted remains, unfortunately, a matter of even greater doubt.
Thus, with the appearance of new men on the scene the Palestine problem enters a new phase. But the basic issue still remains that of Jewish-Arab relations. In view of the horrible things that have happened, conciliation will be an enormously difficult task. And actually the refugee issue is central, and far more important than any single detail of the settlement.
From the point of view of the United Nations, Palestine has been shelved for another year. The Conciliation Commission will report to the Fourth Assembly only in the fall of 1949; the second session of the Third Assembly, scheduled for April at Lake Success, will not deal with Palestine unless some emergency arises. In the meantime, however, the Security Council has still to implement its own resolutions of November 4 and 16. (Israel’s application for membership in the UN, still on the agenda when the Assembly closed, has just been rejected.) Further action on the resolutions will now probably be left to the Conciliation Commission, while the possibility of Israel being granted UN membership in the future will remain a bargaining point.
This is a breathing space, and one can only hope that it will be used with wisdom, statesmanship, and a sense of Jewish values.