After the Arab states’ devastating defeat in the 1948 war with Israel, Syria refused to give in without a fight. Syria held on to several bridgeheads inside the former Palestine. Proving as skillful as their Israeli opponents at the game of contradictory arguments, the Syrians steadfastly refused to concede to Israel’s demands. The negotiations in 1949 eventually resulted in a demilitarized zone on the Syrian-Israeli border, and with it a state of belligerency was cemented.
Waldman, Simon A. Anglo-American Diplomacy and the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1948-51. Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
This volume examines British and US attitudes towards the means and mechanisms for the facilitation of an Arab-Israeli reconciliation, focusing specifically on the refugee factor in diplomatic initiatives. It explains why Britain and the US were unable to reconcile the local parties to an agreement on the future of the Palestinian refugees.
Table of contents
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Introduction: The Palestinian Refugee Problem as an Impediment to Peace
1. The Palestine Factor in Anglo-American Post-War Middle Eastern Policy, 1945–48
2. Friends Reunited? Britain and the US Respond to the Palestinian Refugee Problem
3. Diplomatic Deadlock: The Palestine Conciliation Commission and the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Part 1)
4. Economics over Politics: The Palestine Conciliation Commission and the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Part 2)
5. Compensation: The Key to Break the Logjam?
6. The Refugee Factor in Direct Arab-Israeli Negotiations
7. The Birth of UNRWA: The Institutionalization of Failed Diplomacy
SIMON A. WALDMAN is Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London, UK. He teaches the Arab-Israeli Conflict, statebuilding in the Middle East and Turkish history and politics.
Zionist claims to rightful rule of most or all of Palestine/the Land of Israel ultimately depend on naturalizing those claims into common sense, for Jews, of course, but also for the international community. Following the 1967 war, Israelis in favor of withdrawing from occupied territories have relied on distinguishing between the justice of the 1949 Armistice Lines, and the process that led to the State of Israel within those lines, versus the injustice of the occupation of territories conquered in 1967 and of their settlement and gradual absorption. But as the truth of the expulsions and forced dispossession of Palestinians in 1948 becomes accepted by wider swaths of both Israeli-Jewish and international public opinion, the traditional narrative distinguishing the justice of 1948 and the injustice of 1967 breaks down. Ari Shavit’s book, My Promised Land, can be understood as a response by Israeli two-staters to accusations of hypocrisy by the extreme right.
The article examines the armistice talks between Israel and Jordan (March-April 1949) from the perspective of the UN mediator, Ralph Bunche, who coordinated them. The period described was stormy and complex: at its start, Israel took control of the southern Negev. Later, the two countries conducted formal talks in Rhodes, under Bunche’s watchful eye, in parallel to informal negotiations, without UN involvement, in Jordan. The article, based to a large extent on Bunche’s unpublished diary, explains why Bunche, who maintained rigorous control of all of the other armistice talks, behaved differently in this case, giving his post factum seal of approval to the Israeli takeover of the southern Negev and allowing Israel to pressure Abdullah to hand over the Triangle. The thesis is that Bunche, who could have put an end to the talks by resigning, or drawn the US into the crisis (as he did in the other rounds of negotiations), recognized the complexity of the relations between Israel and Abdullah and chose to act in a way that would prevent a new eruption of hostilities. In effect he was protecting Abdullah, who would have been likely to lose the West Bank to Israel in another round of fighting.
The Arab states suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Israel during the first Arab-Israeli war. Immediately following the war, Israel made brilliant and shrewd use of diplomacy to achieve its goals at the negotiating table, much as it had previously used armed force. Israel refused to negotiate with a united Arab negotiation team, preferring to isolate the states, picking them off one after the other. The Israeli-Transjordanian talks differed radically from the other armistice negotiations. Here, two parallel tracks were followed. At Rhodes, the two countries negotiated openly under UN auspices, while in Jerusalem and at King Abdullah’s palace in Transjordan, representatives of the two countries held secret bilateral talks. Israel masterfully used the context of these talks to maximise its gains, using military operations to create `facts on the ground’, combined with direct coercion in the shape of blackmail, while taking full advantage of international power structures and abusing the trust that King Abdullah had placed in personal relations. The UN Acting Mediator, Ralph Bunche, was aware of the secret back channel, where the clearest cases of coercion took place. Physically and mentally exhausted by the protracted negotiations, he allowed the secret talks to progress despite his dislike of the outcome. The British government, at the time the protector of Transjordan, was unable to assist its client for fear of falling out with the USA, while the US government, in many ways the protector of Israel, maintained an equally `hands off’ stance because the talks concerned only an armistice, not a peace treaty. Already at this early stage in their relations, the power asymmetry between Israel and the Arab states was the main reason the parties could not arrive at a peaceful, sustainable solution. This article reinvestigates this diplomacy by using a combination of US, Israeli, British and UN archives, as well as the almost untouched Ralph Bunche diary.