Department of Public Information
Press and Publications Bureau
Lake Success, New York
Press Release PAL/405
27 December 1948
TALK BY DR. BUNCHE ON PROSPECTS FOR PEACE IN PALESTINE
(The following is the text of a radio talk to be given by Acting Mediator Dr. Ralph J. Bunche
this evening, 27 December, at 6:15 p.m. over the Columbia Broadcasting System.)
A week or so ago, on my return to New York from the General Assembly session in Paris, I ventured what may have appeared to be the bold opinion that there was slight prospect for any resumption of hostilities on a general scale in Palestine and that it might reasonably be concluded, therefore, that the war in Palestine was about over. Within a day or two thereafter new fighting was reported in the Negev between Israeli and Egyptian forces. Despite this unfortunate development, however, I reiterate my belief that resumption of fighting in Palestine on any widespread or general scale is highly unlikely and that the end of the war definitely in sight.
It is not my intention in any sense to minimize the seriousness of the unfortunate events which have occurred in the Negev during the past week. Fighting on any sector of the Palestine fronts at this stage, and on any scale, is a dangerous development. In the first place, any such fighting constitutes an overt violation of the truce resolutions of the Security Council. In the second place, it impedes our strenuous efforts to bring about an armistice.
According to the information cabled to me during the past few days from the United Nations Truce Supervision headquarters in Haifa, the fighting in the Negev which began on 22 December has been neither general nor widespread there. To the contrary, it has been quite definitely localized, mainly in the Gaza area. It has consisted largely of sporadic exchanges of artillery fire and considerable aerial activity over a period of two days. Except for assaults on one strategic hill in the Gaza area I know of no clashes between bodies of troops.
This new fighting in the Negev is both puzzling and a cause of deep concern.
It is puzzling since, unlike most other incidents of fighting under the truce, no specific act of provocation is known as the cause of the outbreak. The Israelis, of course, resent bitterly the continued presence of Egyptian forces on Palestine soil. It is a cause of deep concern, since this new fighting even though apparently checked, may well lessen the chances for initiating at an early date the negotiations between Egyptians and Israelis looking toward the establishment of an armistice in Palestine.
I am convinced that the Israelis, who did not start this war, desire peace. Having withstood the Arab attacks from all sides which began last May, however, they are understandably very conscious of considerations affecting the security of Israel and are impatient about the delay in peace talks. I am equally convinced, however, that there is no intention on the part of the Egyptians to defy the United Nations and embark on another offensive against Israel.
Both Israelis and Egyptians have informed the Security Council of their willingness to undertake discussions with a view to arriving at the armistice envisaged in the Security Council's resolution of 16 November. The Egyptians, however, insist on fulfilment by the Israelis of the conditions of the 4 November resolution of the Security Council, which related to the fighting in the Negev during last October, as a prior condition to such discussions. The Egyptians put special stress on the withdrawal of a substantial Egyptian force at Al Faluja, in the northern Negev, which has been encircled by Israeli forces since 14 October. The Israelis, on the other hand, fearing that this Egyptian force may be re-equipped and turned against them in a new Egyptian offensive, have steadfastly refused to permit the evacuation of this force until armistice discussions are underway. As a result of this impasse, there has been a tense and uneasy truce in the Negev during the past two months. The present flare-up is an inevitable result.
Despite the recent fighting in the Negev, however, the other fronts have remained undisturbed. There is quiet in the sectors where Israeli forces are arrayed against the armies of Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The cease-fire in Jerusalem, recently negotiated by the Israeli and Arab Legion commanders in the Jerusalem area, has remained effective.
Occasional outbreaks of this kind which has just occurred in the Negev are an unavoidable by-product of a truce which has run too long, and which must be superseded by an arrangement which will clearly signal an intention to bring the war to an end. The truce in Palestine has been in effect since early last June, and since July 18 it has been numerous incidents of localized fighting in Palestine under the truce, but general or widespread warfare has been effectively stopped. Having been stopped by United Nations intervention for six months, it is not likely to be resumed unless United Nations intervention should be relaxed, and that is highly unlikely. But the truce is only a cease-fire, an interruption in hostilities, and does not itself liquidate the war. The truce leaves the armies arrayed against each other at close range and ready for a resumption of fighting. Nevertheless, the Security Council truce resolution of 15 July, specifically prohibited resort to military force as a means of settling the Palestine dispute, and the United Nations remains determined that the Palestine problem shall be resolved only by peaceful means.
It was with these considerations in mind that I urged the Security Council in Paris in November to request the parties to enter into an armistice which would involve withdrawal and reduction of armed forces in Palestine with a view toward eliminating any possibility of offensive action and thus ensuring the restoration of peace to Palestine. The Security Council, in its resolution of 16 November, adopted a resolution calling upon the parties to negotiate an armistice. To date, the Government of Israel, without conditions, and the Arab Governments of Egypt, Lebanon and Transjordan, subject to certain conditions, have indicated their willingness to comply with this request. The Truce Supervision Organization is exerting every possible effort to get the armistice negotiations underway. These discussions would take place on the military level, and if successful, by removing the threat of fighting, would pave the way for an ultimate settlement of the outstanding political questions.
It might appear that technically there would be slight if any difference between an armistice and a truce. But in Palestine today there would be a vast difference. The negotiation of an armistice would make possible the elimination of the constant threat of fighting which results from the fact that under the imposed truce each side regards the other as likely to break the truce and resume fighting. Each side, therefore, remains constantly on the alert. The tension is very great. The aim of the armistice, on the other hand, would be to eliminate this threat and tension by large scale withdrawals and reduction of military forces.
It is my personal view that significant progress has been made toward a final settlement of the Palestine conflict since the late Count Bernadotte undertook the role of Mediator late last May. At that time the war between the newly proclaimed State of Israel and the Arab States was on in full blast. Fighting was severe and casualties were heavy. Jerusalem was a besieged city and was being subjected to constant bombardment. Within ten days after his arrival in the Near East Count Bernadotte had successfully negotiated the first truce which stopped the fighting on all fronts. Since then the State of Israel has become firmly established and has made remarkable progress in the organisation of the complex processes of government. It is clearly only a matter of time before the State of Israel becomes a full-fledged member of the family of nations and takes its rightful place in the Councils of the United Nations. With the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine the issue of Jewish immigration into Palestine - an issue which has been one of the most controversial - is automatically settled.
At present, then, the major issues outstanding in the Palestine dispute are the final definition of the boundaries which are to separate Jewish and Arab territory in Palestine; the future status of Jerusalem; and the repatriation or resettlement of the strikingly large number of Arab refugees who have been displaced by the fighting. Of these issues, the boundary question would seem to be the most difficult, but in my view this problem is by no means insoluble and can be worked out satisfactorily once the threat of war is eliminated. As regards Jerusalem, the General Assembly, in its Paris resolution of 11 December has gone on record again as supporting internationalization of the Jerusalem area. This need not involve direct international administration of Jerusalem, however, since an arrangement could be readily devised whereby the Arab and Jewish communities would enjoy full local autonomy and administer their own affairs under a general United Nations supervision. The question of the future of the Arab refugees will be one to be worked out within the framework of the peace settlement. The immediate plight of these unfortunate victims of the fighting in Palestine is being dealt with by a large-scale relief project under United Nations auspices. It is estimated that at present there are about 600,000 Arab refugees, almost one-half of the total pre-war Arab population of Palestine.
These major issues and a number of lesser ones will be dealt with by the new three-member Conciliation Commission provided for in the resolution of the General Assembly of 11 December. Count Bernadotte, in his Progress Report to the General Assembly, strongly urged the establishment of a commission of this kind to deal with the final phases of the settlement. I strongly endorsed this suggestion and feel gratified that the General Assembly took favorable action on it. The persons who will be designated by France, Turkey and the United States to sit on this new Commission have not yet been announced, but it is expected that the Commission will assemble at an early date.
In my view the work to be undertaken by the Conciliation Commission will mark the final stage of the effort of the United Nations to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Palestine problem. I am confident that this great effort will prove successful. I am certain that Count Bernadotte did not lay down his life in vain and that the peaceful Palestine which he strove for so conscientiously, tirelessly and courageously will in due course be realized. I am not unmindful of continuing Arab hostility toward the Jewish State in Palestine and the formidable obstacles still to be surmounted. Were it possible to induce the Arabs to sit down with the Jews the problem of final settlement would be greatly expedited. All efforts in this direction have thus far failed. Nevertheless, there can be no question that the gap between Arabs and Jews has been substantially narrowed and that peace in Palestine can be hoped for realistically. I sincerely believe that the Conciliation Commission will achieve that peace.
In the Palestine question the United Nations has been seized with one of the most difficult and complex problems of our times. It has labored with this problem with infinite patience and tact. It has been concerned with the well-being and future of the peoples of Palestine, Jews and Arabs alike. It has realized that both sides have had valid claims and that compromise solutions were inevitable. The United Nations has played a vital role in the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine. In its insistence that the dispute in Palestine must be settled by peaceful means it has stopped a war and has saved countless thousands of lives and incalculable destruction. United Nations intervention has prevented the Palestine conflict from becoming a conflagration which would threaten the peace of the world.