Eban, Years of Consolidation_1

Eban, Years of Consolidation_1 - ”r,Lii’Q(Z be brewed...

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Unformatted text preview: ”r ,Lii’Q (Z. , . be brewed under the Copmm Law-s of the United States This “maria: may {Tim 1? US. Code) - ...¢ /9. 4 Years of Consolidation, 1948—I951 Each day we witness the mention q/‘a new heaven and a new earth. Thomas Paine We can take 18 july, 1948 as the point at which Israel’s mind began to shift from mere survival towards the tasks for which it had survived. The Arab states had laid down their arms in exhaustion and defeat, but there was no disarmament of their spirit or emotion. They would strain every nerve to defeat Israel by political and economic pressure. They could still hope to prevent the world from getting too accustomed to the idea of Israel as a sovereign state; and they watched avidly for any sign that Israel’s social structure might break down under the strain ofmass immigration and eco— nomic tension. The Provisional Government moved swiftly to consolidate Israel's position in the world. Military success had given momentum to the political struggle. But Israel was still not a member of the United Nations or of its specialized agencies; and only a minority ofthe world's governments maintained relations with it. Membership in the United Nations would clearly hhve a dual effect: it would crushingly refute the Arab doctrine of Israel’s illegitimacy; and it would cause most governments to regard Israel as a natural subject for their recognition and cooperation. In the way ofthese prospects, like a massive roadblock, stood the Bernadotte Report. Little had been heard of it since july; but it would now become the focus of an international debate about the peace settlement. There was no chance that Israel would accept it; but there was always the possibility that if she stood alone in rejecting it, Israel would be in conflict with the United Nations before establishing an alternative system of bilateral relations on anything like a universal scale. Early in September i948, the Israeli Govern— ment launched a political offensive with two aims in view: the defeat of the Bernadotte proposals, and the admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations. A reeling blow was struck against these efforts on the eve ofthe UN General Assembly session in Paris. On 17 September Count Bernadotte and his Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, with Abba Eban, Israel's Permanent Delegate, and other members of the delegation, raises the Israeli flag outside the UN headquarters on I). May 1949 66 MY COUNTRY assistant, Colonel Sarrault, were assassinated in Jerusalem. The credit for this act, if it can be so called, was claimed by an underground organization called the Fatherland Front, consisting of former members of Lechi. For the Israeli Government this was another warning of the danger to its sover— eignty if dissident armed organizations were to exist in any place where it claimed jurisdiction]. More than two hundred members of illegal organiza— tions were arrested and the IZL was issued an ultimatum to hand over its arms and to liquidate its separate formations inJerusaIem. Count Bernadotte's murderers were not traced; Israeli authority at that time was more slender in Jerusalem than elsewhere. But the murder put an end to all traces of the divided authority which had survived the pre—State period and which threaten— ed to undermine Israel’s domestic authority and international status. There was reason to fear that Bernadotte’s death would give his proposals the sanctity ofa testament bequeathed by an international martyr. The prospect ofhis report being adopted as an international policy had therefore increased. It was also expected that the heavy atmosphere created by the assassination might cause Israel's application for membership in the United Nations to fail. In the event, these fears were only partly fulfilled. Although the United States had joined Britain in support ofthe Bernadotte Plan, there were many reservations in Washington towards a proposal based. after all, on the excision from Israel of the very Negev to which President Truman had solemnly supported Israel’s claim in a talk with Dr Weizmann in November [947. Moreover, the United States was on the verge ofa presidential election. The Republican nominee for Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, did not hide his opposition to the Bernadotte Report, which he regarded as a proposal narrowly conceived to fit Bevin's parochial view of British interests. After a turbulent debate in the Political Committee ofthe General Assembly, all the provisions of the Bernadotte Report were defeated. They had been shattered by cross—fire from a strange coalition. They were opposed by Israel because they threatened to mutilate its territory. They were rejected by the Arabs because they provided for the existence of a Jewish State. Other governments, not particularly moved by sympathy for Israel or the Arabs, voted against the plan to salvage their own honour, which they had committed only a year before to the partition resolution. It seemed presumptuous to them for a single mediator to set aside what the entire Assembly had solemnly confirmed. Finally, the Soviet Union, not without reason, regarded the Bernadotte Plan as inspired by a desire to reinforce Britain's strategic position in the Middle East by creating a base in the Negev with continuous coili— YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION 67 Inunication betWeen Egypt and Transjordan, in each of which Britain had a special position guaranteed by treaties of alliance and defence. In the Middle Eastern conflict it is clearly possible to displease all the parties most of the time. The Ilernadotte I’Ian, despite its author's earnestness; achieved this versatile alienation. When Israel's application for membership in the United Nations was sub— mitted on 29 November 1948, the anniversary of the original partition resolution, the debate ended with five votes for Israel’s admission — the United States, the USSR, Ukraine, Argentina and Colombia. This fell two short of what was necessary under the Charter. But it was hoped that more votes would be added when the Security Council met under a new composition in January I949. It was confidently believed, for example, that France and Canada could be brought around. The General Assembly ended its meetings on 11 December 1948 with the appointment of a Palestine Conciliation Commission. Its task was to bring about a permanent peace by negotiation, either directly or through the Conciliation Commission itself. On the assumption that the peace settlement would come soon, the General Assembly recommended that refugees who wished to return to their homes should be permitted to do so on condition that they would live at peace with their neighbours. All the Arab states voted unitedly against the resolution. They were to invoke some of its provisions later on their own behalf. But at the time they saw it as alilsinful ratification ofIsrael’s sovereignty and ofits status as a partner in international negotiation. The underlying assumption of the resolution was that peace could not be decreed by an international blue print; it would have to be achieved by negotiation between the states concerned. In those days the word ‘negotiation' was still permissible in the UN vocabulary on peace in the Middle East. Towards the end of 1948, there were other events bearing on Israel's future. Despite the sceptical predictions of the world press, Harry S Truman was re—elected as President of the United States. This ensured that American Prime Minister Ben Gurion during an official visit to President Harry S Truman, the first head ofstate to grant recognition to Israel ()8 MY COUNTRY policy towards Israel would be executed by the man who had taken such audacious responsibility for the partition plan and for recognizing Israel a few minutes after its establishment. Two weeks later, Israel registered another political success in the international arena when, on 16 November 1948, the Security Council, after wearily discussing whether Israeli forces should be at Ileersheba and whether Israel had beenjustified in breaking the Egyptian attempt to throttle the Negev settlements, decided on a new phase. ()1) Canada’s initiative, it proposed that the truce be replaced by an armistice to be achieved by negotiation between Israel and the Arab states. Under this agreement armistice—demarcation lines were to be established, putting an end to the fluid positions ofthe truce, which did not give even a temporary legiti— macy to any boundary lines. The first Arab reaction to the idea of an armistice was hostile. But by earlyjanuary 1949, after the Egyptian hold on the Israeli Negev was broken, and Israeli forces bent on opening the road in the Negev had entered north— eastern Sinai and advanced towards Rafah, British aircraft flew in support of Egypt, and six of them were brought down by Israeli guns. Egypt prudently abandoned its militance. It used the 16 November resolutions as a face—saving bridge towards the negotiating table. Thus all in all, 1948 had been Israel’s wondrous year. As it ebbed away, most Israelis and jews wondered if they would ever know such a year again, eastern Sinai and advanced towards Rafah, British aircraft flew in support of Armistice negotiations between Egypt and Israel opened at Rhodes on 13 january 1949 under the auspices of the acting mediator, Dr Ralph Bunche. Both delegations, as well as the UN staff, were stationed at the HOtel des Roses. ()n the first day, the negotiations were held separately between l)r Bunche and each delegation. But the awkwardness and absurdity of this separation became so manifest that by 15 january the delegations were facing each other across a single table under Dr Bunche‘s able chairmanship. The negotiations were diflicult and sometimes bitter. ()ne deadlock after another had to be resolved. A crisis arose when the Egyptian delegation asked for an Egyptian Military Governor for Beersheba, from which Egyptian forces had very recently been expelled. Obstacles were patiently overcome until, in an atmosphere ofinternational enthusiasm, an agreement was reached and concluded on 24 February 1949. When the text was studied in the world capitals, it became clear that the system of relations which it described went beyond the normal concept of an armistice. There was, of course, the provision for a cessation of fire; but this was accompanied by a rigorous undertaking that the cease—fire YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION 69 would be permanent and would last until a final peace settlement had been achieved. Thus the agreement reflected none of the permissive indulgence to renewed belligerency which was always implicit in the classic concept of armistice. ()n the contrary, the object of the agreement was defined as the promotion of‘the return ofpermanent peace to Palestine'. It was conceived as ‘an indis— pensable step towards the liquidation of armed conflict and the restoration of peace‘. The demarcation lines were not final, Indeed, it was laid down (Paragraph V [1]) that ‘the Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be con- strued in any sense as a political or territorial boundary and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either party as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question'. In bringing the agreement for confirmation by the Security Council later that year, Dr Bunche added a sentence that was to reverberate in future crises in 1956 and 1967: ‘There should be free movement for legitimate shipping and no vestige ofthe war—time blockade should be allowed to remain, as they are inconsistent with both the letter and spirit ofthe Armistice Agree— ments'. The agreement was subject to revision by mutual consent within a year. The signatories, as well as the UN Chairman, were convinced that they were building a temporary but solid structure which would soon be replaced by a peace treaty. A provision, rare in armistices, for the exchange of all prisoners—of—war was agreed upon; and a mechanism for fulfilling the agree— ment and registering complaints was established in the .form of a Mixed Armistice Commission, consisting ofrepresentatives ofeach government and a UN Chairman. The effect of the Israeli—Egyptian agreement was to freeze the military positions as they existed in the Negev at the time ofthe cease-fire on 7january. Thus Egypt remained in occupation ofthe Gaza-Rafah coastal strip, about 27 miles long and 4 miles wide. The strategic area of El Auja, on the Palestine side ofthe demarcation line, was to be deinilitarized; and an Egyptian brigade encircled in the Faluja pocket in the Negev was to be allowed to abandon its positions and return to Egypt with military honour. Among the oflicers in the encircled brigade was a young graduate of the Egyptian Staff College, Major Gamal Abdul Nasser. He had fought several battles in Palestine, apparently with some valour. Six years later he was to write that he detested war; he had said to himself‘that humanity does not deserve to live ifit does not work with all its strength for peace'. In his recollection of the 1948 war, Nasser added: ‘When I learned that one of my 70 MY COUNTRY friends had been killed, I swore that ifone day I found myselfin a responsible position I should think a thousand times before sending our soldiers to war. I should only do it if it were absolutely necessary, if the fatherland were threatened and ifnothing could save it but the fire ofbattle.’ Before the Egyptian—Israeli armistice negotiations had ended, it was known that Lebanon and jordan would follow Cairo’s steps. On 3 April, after four weeks ofnegotiatiou, Israel and Jordan signed an Armistice Agreement establishing a tortuous boundary 330 miles long and leaving the densely populated Arab hill country of the West Bank under jordanian occupation. The armistice also crystallized the division of Jerusalem between the two countries. The boundary ran straight down the middle ofthe Dead Sea to the (Iulfoquaba, with tliejordanian port of Aqaba and the Israeli port of Eilat, a few miles apart, separated by the armistice line. The scene now shifted to the Lebanese—Israeli boundary. where, at Rosh llauikrah, an Armistice Agreement was signed 01123 March. The demarcation line was identical with the former international boundary; and Israeli forces withdrew from all the Lebanese villages that they had occupied. It was hoped, perhaps too innocently, that this withdrawal would have its effect when Israel came to demand Syrian withdrawal from areas west of the Syrian— l’alestine boundary which had collie under Syrian military domination in the I948 fighting. Iraq, whose troops were stationed in heavy concentrations in the West Bank of the Jordan, refused to sign an international agreement with Israel. This obduracy was evaded by the replacement of Iraqi forces by forces of the 'I'ransjordan Arab Legion. The Syrian (Iovernment, always unpredictable except in its ferocity, was the last to enter armistice negotiations. The talks were rancorous and con— stantly on the Verge of breakdown. By 20 july an agreement had been con— cluded. Under its terms the Syrians withdrew from a belt of territories west ofthe international boundary in return for an Israeli agreement to demilitarize it. Israel had thus secured elfective control of its main water sources: the whole ofthe Sea of (lalilee was within its jurisdiction as well as Lake Huleh. But the Syrian Government had never made a real decision to leave Israel alone. It constantly harassed Israel‘s development projects in the demilitarized zone and created a sense of obscurity about political sovereignty in the small evacuated area. for eighteen years the Armistice Agreements were to he the only recognized framework of relations between Israel and its neighbours. Although the A sculpture by Yelnel Slienli on the Mediterranean shore at At'll’IlV commemorates the ‘illegal' immigration of [946- R YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION 73 demarcation lilies were defined as not perlnanent, the fact that they could oiily be changed by mutual consent gave them something very like the character ofpermaueut boundaries. In any case, they had relegated the 1947 partition map to the past. The Arab assault had released Israel from any sense of obligation to the original map. The Arab governments had put their fate to the chance of war; they could not now escape the verdict which they had sought. As water flows into a canal, so was Israeli life to grow and develop within the armistice lines until their quaint contours became the familiar shape of Israel. But the Arab governments, assuming that subsequent change could only be to their benefit, refused to acknowledge the permanence of the armistice map. In their rhetoric and jurisprudence, they constantly stressed its provisional character. Indeed, they denied the concept ofIsraeli sovereignty in any part of what was formerly Palestine, and they kept alive the hope and dream that one day the armistice lines, and Israel with them, would be swept away by successful force. From 1967 onwards, they were to regret their tenacious struggle to deny permanent validity to the armistice lines. The 1949 agreements remain to this day the only successful example of an Arab—Israeli compromise leading to a contractual obligation. On 1 1 August 1949 the representative ofone of the Great Powers put his finger on the main reason for the success of the armistice negotiations: ‘Since experience has shown that direct negotiations between the parties have brought about such good results, namely, the cessation ofinilitary operations and the tempo— rary settlement of affairs in Palestine, why not continue this good procedure in the future and allow the parties themselves to settle the questions between them by the method which they have used hitherto, that is, by direct negotia— tions without any interference in this matter by a third party?’ The statement came from the head of the Soviet delegation, Ambassador S. Tsarapkin. It made strange reading a few years later. Apart from their stabilizing regional effects, the Armistice Agreements gave a sharp stimulus to Israel's campaign for international recognition. In late summer 1948, American and Soviet embassies had been established in Tel Aviv; on one messianic occasion, the two fiags flew in unison over the modest hotel on the Tel Aviv shorefront in which both Ambassadors happened to be staying at one and the same time. The American Ambassador, james G. Macdonald, and his Soviet colleague, I’avel Yershov, became conspicuous figures in Israel. They were stared at with the faintly incredulous awe whereby Israeli citizens registered the fact that great nations in the world now recognized their After the establishment ofthe state, Israel was flooded by a wave ofimmigration from Europe and the Arab lands. These immigrants from Morocco represent one oflsrael’s many ethnic groups 74 MY COUNTRY statehood and presented their credentials to their eminent President, Chaim Weizmann. There was nnich ofJewish pride in the air in those days. The wave of recognition ofIsrael swept over most of western Europe, the Commonwealth and all of Latin America. On 4 March 1949, the Security Council recommended Israel’s admission to membership in the United Nations. France and Canada had now joined the five who had voted for this course two and a half months before. Norway and China added their votes, leaving Syria alone in opposition and the United Kingdom in embarrassed abstention. Yet, when the (leneral Assembly convened in New York in April 1949, it was evident that Israel's application for membership would not have clear sailing. The Arab governments had belatedly awakened to the decisive nature of this issue. The United Nations Charter is, in effect, a treaty between the member states, which then numbered fifty—eight, to recognize each other’s sovereignty and to make common cause in the universal interest. If Israel were admitted, who would put any credence in the Arab concept that Israel was ...
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