Fragile Truce, Paradoxes and Burning Issues

  February 15, 2022   Read time 3 min
Fragile Truce, Paradoxes and Burning Issues
On 17 September, Count Bernadotte, the mediator, while travelling in a part of Jerusalem under Jewish control, was shot and killed, together with Colonel Serot, a senior French officer of the UN observer force.!

A number of Jewish extremist organisations and individuals had been intensely critical of the role of the UN mediator, especially of the proposals he had made three months earlier for a bizonal Palestine; and it seems probable that the assassin came from one of these groups. The Israeli authorities instituted an immediate investigation. But, though the leader of one organisation suspected of responsibility was arrested, he was later released. The assassin was never found and no charge was ever brought.

The event shocked the world. In the UN itself it aroused a new awareness of the explosive nature of the situation in Palestine and a determination that the organisation should continue to try to seek a long-term settlement. Ralph Bunche, previously head of the UN team working with Bernadotte, was appointed 'acting' mediator, and in practice, though retaining that title, assumed all of his functions. General Lindstrom, the Swedish officer who had been chief-of-staff of the Truce Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO), now established, resigned at the same time and was succeeded by General Riley of the US Marines: thus once again the mediator and the chief military officer on the spot were of the same nationality.

The new mediator, however, had no better success than his predecessor in securing a more general observance of the truce: still less in making progress towards a peace settlement. At the end of September he complained to the Security Council of the difficulties being placed by both parties in the way of the UNTSO. On 19 October, as a result, the Security Council passed another resolution calling on both sides for better observance of the truce.

But in the middle of October there was a new and much more serious outbreak of fighting. One of the complexities of the previous situation, and the cause of many armed incidents, was that part of the Egyptian army had penetrated into southern Palestine, leaving in their rear Jewish settlements which thus became virtually cut off from the rest of Israel. Attempts to supply these settlements from Israel, and corresponding efforts to prevent this by Egypt, led to a series of clashes. Finally the Israeli authorities determined on a military action designed not only to relieve the settlements but also to occupy much of the Negev to the south, 4nd so to secure access for Israel to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Bunche made an immediate appeal for a ceasefire. This was accepted by Egypt. Israel, however, which now had the initiative, demanded negotiations with Egypt (direct negotiations became then, as for the next twenty-five years, one of the principal objects ofIsraeli policy). On 19 October the Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, after which there should be negotiations.

These would be 'on the basis of' a withdrawal of forces to the positions occupied before the recent fighting, acceptance of the proposals of the UNTSO concerning the supply of Jewish settlements, and an agreement to negotiate on certain specific questions affecting the Negev so as to prevent the recurrence of similar attacks in the future. This was a highly ambiguous formula, interpreted by some (the Arabs) to mean that the three conditions should precede negotiation, and by others (the Israelis) that the negotiations were to cover such questions.

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