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United Nations: Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine

(September 16, 1948)

(a) Mediation Effort


1. Since I presented my written Suggestions to the Arab and Jewish authorities on 27 June, I have made no formal submission to either party of further suggestions or proposals for a definitive settlement.(2) Since that date, however, I have held many oral discussions in the Arab capitals and Tel Aviv, in the course of which various ideas on settlement have been freely exchanged. As regards my original Suggestions, I hold to the opinion that they offered a general framework within which a reasonable and workable settlement might have been reached, had the two parties concerned been willing to discuss them. They were flatly rejected, however, by both parties. Since they were put forth on the explicit condition that they were purely tentative, were designed primarily to elicit views and counter-suggestions from each party, and, in any event, could be implemented only if agreed upon by both parties, I have never since pressed them. With respect to one basic concept in my Suggestions, it has become increasingly clear to me that however desirable a political and economic union might be in Palestine, the time is certainly not now propitious for the effectuation of any such scheme.

2. 1 do not consider it to be within my province to recommend to the Members of the United Nations a proposed course of action on the Palestine question. That is a responsibility of the Members acting through the appropriate organsation my role as United Nations Mediator, however, it was inevitable that I should accumulate information and draw conclusions from my experience which might well be of assistance to Members of the United Nations in charting the future course of United Nations action on Palestine. I consider it my duty, therefore, to acquaint the Members of the United Nations, through the medium of this report, with certain of the conclusions on means of peaceful adjustment which have evolved from my frequent consultations with Arab and Jewish authorities over the past three and one-half months and from my personal appraisal of the present Palestinian scene. I do not suggest that these conclusions would provide the basis for a proposal which would readily win the willing approval of both parties. I have not, in the course of my intensive efforts to achieve agreement between Arabs and Jews, been able to devise any such formula. I am convinced, however, that it is possible at this stage to formulate a proposal which, if firmly approved and strongly backed by the General Assembly, would not be forcibly resisted by either side, confident as I am, of course, that the Security Council stands firm in its resolution of 15 July that military action shall not be employed by either party in the Palestine dispute. It cannot be ignored that the vast difference between now and last November is that a war has been started and stopped and that in the intervening months decisive events have occurred.


3. The following seven basic premises form the basis for my conclusions:

Return to peace

(a) Peace must return to Palestine and every feasible measure should be taken to ensure that hostilities will not be resumed and that harmonious relations between Arab and Jew will ultimately be restored.

The Jewish State

(b) A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so.

Boundary determination

(c) The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations.

Continuous frontiers

(d) Adherence to the principle of geographical homogeneity and integration, which should be the major.objective of the boundary arrangements, should apply equally to Arab and Jewish territories, whose frontiers should not therefore, be rigidly controlled by the territorial arrangements envisaged in the resolution of 29 November.

Right of repatriation

(e) The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.


(f) The City of Jerusalem, because of its religious and international significance and the complexity of interest involved, should be accorded special and separate treatment.

International responsibility

(g) International responsibility should be expressed where desirable and necessary in the form of inter-national guarantees, as a means of allaying existing fears, and particularly with regard to boundaries and human rights.

4. The following conclusions, broadly outlined, would, in my view, considering all the circumstances, provide a reasonable, equitable and workable basis for settlement:

(a) Since the Security Council, under pain of Chapter VIII sanctions, has forbidden further employment of military action in Palestine as a means of settling the dispute, hostilities should be pronounced. formally ended either by mutual agreement of the parties or, failing that, by the United Nations. The existing indefinite truce should be superseded by a formal peace, or at the minimum, an armistice which would involve either complete withdrawal and demobilization of armed forces or their wide separation by creation of broad demilitarized. zones under United Nations supervision.

(b) The frontiers between the Arab and Jewish territories, in the, absence of agreement between Arabs and Jews, should be established by the United Nations and delimited by a technical boundaries commission appointed by and responsible to the United Nations, with the following revisions in the boundaries broadly defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November in order to make them more equitable, workable and consistent with existing realities in Palestine.

(i) The area known as the Negev, south of a line running from the sea near Majdal east southeast to Faluja (both of which places would be in Arab territory), should be defined as Arab territory;

(ii) The frontier should run from Faluja north northeast to, Ramleh and Lydda (both of which places would be in Arab territory), the frontier at Lydda then following the line established in the General Assembly resolution of 29 November;

(iii) Galilee should be defined as Jewish territory.

(c) The disposition of the territory of Palestine not included within the boundaries of the Jewish State should be left to the Governments of the Arab States in full consultation with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, with the recommendation, however, that in view of the historical connection and common interests of Transjordan and Palestine, there would be compelling reasons for merging the Arab territory of Palestine with the territory of Transjordan, subject to such frontier rectifications regarding other Arab States as may be found practicable and desirable.

(d) The United Nations, by declaration or other appropriate means, should undertake to provide special assurance that the boundaries. between the Arab and Jewish territories shall be respected and maintained, subject only to such modifications as may be mutually agreed upon by the parties concerned.

(e) The port of Haifa, including the oil refineries and terminal and without prejudice to their inclusion in the sovereign territory of the Jewish State or the administration of the city of Haifa, should be declared a free port, with assurances of free access for interested Arab countries and an undertaking on their part to place no obstacle in the way of oil deliveries by pipeline to the Haifa refineries, whose, distribution would continue on the basis of the historical pattern.

(f) The airport of Lydda should be declared a free airport with assurance of access to it and employment of its facilities for Jerusalem and interested Arab countries.

(g) The City of Jerusalem, which should be understood as covering the area defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November, should be treated separately and should be placed under effective United Nations control with maximum feasible local autonomy for its Arab and Jewish communities, with full safeguards for the protection of the Holy Places and sites and free access to them, and for religious freedom.

(h) The right of unimpeded access to Jerusalem, by road, rail or air, should be fully respected by all parties.

(i) The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic -and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and -assisted by the United Nations conciliation commission described in paragraph (k) below.

(j) The political, economic, social and religious rights of all Arabs in the Jewish territory of Palestine and of all Jews in the Arab territory of Palestine should be fully guaranteed and respected by the authorities. The conciliation commission provided for in the following paragraph should supervise the observance of this guarantee. It should -also lend its good offices, on the invitation of the parties, to any efforts toward exchanges of populations with a view to eliminating trouble-some minority problems, and on the basis of adequate compensation for property owned.

(k) In view of the special nature of the Palestine problem and the dangerous complexities of Arab-Jewish relationships, the United Nations should establish a Palestine conciliation commission. This ,commission, which should be appointed for a limited period, should be, responsible to the United Nations and act under its authority. The commission, assisted by such United Nations personnel as may prove necessary, should undertake

(i) To employ its good offices to make such recommendations to the parties or to the United Nations, and to take such other steps as may be appropriate, with a view to ensuring the continuation ol the peaceful adjustment of the situation in Palestine;

(ii) Such measures as it might consider appropriate in fostering the cultivation of friendly relations between Arabs and Jews;

(iii) To supervise the observance of such boundary, road, railroad, free port, free airport, minority rights and other arrangements as may be decided upon by the United Nations;

(iv) To report promptly to the United Nations any development in Palestine likely to alter the arrangements approved by the United Nations in the Palestine settlement or to threaten the peace of the area.

(b) Supervision of the Two Truces


1. The supervision of the truce is a continuing responsibility and it is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage to formulate any definitive views concerning the operation. The experience thus far gained in the supervision of two truces extending over a total period of more than three months has been very valuable, however, and on the basis of this experience certain analyses and conclusions may even now be usefully set forth.

2. In assessing in general terms the entire period of truce., my dual role of Mediator and of supervisor of truce observation is an important factor. Conditions of truce, even though subject to frequent minor and occasional major infractions by both parties, provide a peaceful basis indispensable to the task of mediation. At the same time, organizing and supervising truce observance make imperative demands on time and staff. I am inevitably drawn into the settlement of disputes arising solely out of the truce, and it may be readily appreciated that my position and decisions as truce supervisor cannot, in the minds of the disputants, be easily dissociated from my role in the more fundamental task of mediation.

3. The situation in Jerusalem has been considerably more tense and difficult during the second truce than during the first. This fact is due to a complex of reasons among which are the change in military dispositions between truces, and the increased concentration of manpower which appears to have taken place there in the interval between the truces. The special importance which each side attaches to the status of Jerusalem in a general settlement of the Palestine problem is, in the circumstances, a constant influence tending to heighten the tension there.

4. However, the situation in Jerusalem has shown recent improvement. The decision of the Security Council on 19 August fixing the responsibility of the parties under the cease-fire order, a considerable increase in tile number of United Nations Observers stationed there, and intensive efforts to achieve localized demilitarization agreements, have produced beneficial results. Nevertheless, the conditions in Jerusalem are such that not even the increased number of Observers now there could for long maintain the truce in the City if it should appear likely that a settlement would be indefinitely deferred.

5. United Nations supervision of the regular food convoys of Jerusalem has been an important feature of both truces. The movement of these convoys involved difficult negotiation and constant supervision and escort. Apart from some sniping activity during the early days of each truce, the convoy system has worked remarkably well. On the other hand, persistent efforts to ensure the flow of water to Jerusalem through the main pipe-lines have met with failure during both truces, the destruction of the Latrun pumping station having so far nullified all efforts to solve the problem during the second truce.

6. The period of the first truce coincided with the ripening of cereal crops in Palestine. Since the front lines ran almost entirely through land belonging to Arab cultivators, a great number of fields bearing crops wits in no-man's land or behind Jewish positions. Attempts by Arabs to harvest crops in no-man's land and in the vicinity of and sometimes behind Jewish positions often led the Jews to react by firing on the harvesters. This was a major complication during the first truce, both before and after my ruling of 16 June, and explains many of the breaches of truce and the difficulties of truce observation over a wide area. During the second truce, incidents of this nature have been relatively few, since the harvest season for cereal crops is over. The efforts of Observers in securing local agreements regarding harvesting of crops undoubtedly saved many crops that would otherwise have been lost.

7. The fact that in the Negev there is no continuous front line has been, during both truces, a special cause of difficulty as a result of the need for each side to by-pass the other's positions in order to supply some of its own positions. Convoys under United Nations supervision largely solved the problem, though not without friction, during the first truce. During the second truce a similar system was proposed, but agreement on conditions could not be reached with the parties. Consequently, on 14 September I laid down the terms governing future convoys in the Negev.

8. In considering the effectiveness of the truce supervision, attention must be paid to two distinct, though related, aspects of the problem. On the one hand, there is the problem of observing the actual fighting fronts, of dealing with incidents which may arise there and preventing, if possible, any further outbreak of hostilities. On the other hand, there is the observation which is necessary over a vast area to check whether or not materials and men are being moved in a manner to confer a military advantage contrary to the terms of the truce. As regards the second aspect of this problem, an important consideration is that the area under observation covers a very large part of the Middle East and that the necessity to concentrate a majority of the limited number of Observers at my disposal near the fighting fronts restricts the number available for duties elsewhere. The availability of an increased number of Observers has enabled me to ensure a more extensive supervision, especially in territories outside Palestine.

9. Experience has shown that the more quickly action can be taken to deal with a local violation, the more easily incidents are controlled or prevented. It must be admitted that, on occasion, slowness to act, often because of circumstances beyond control, has hampered the operation of the truce supervision. Although the Secretary-General of the United Nations has given me the fullest co-operation and every assistance available to him, it is apparent that the United Nations was not in position as regards Observer personnel, armed guards, communications and transportation equipment or budgetary provision to set up rapidly the elaborate machinery of truce observation required.

10. The second truce differed from the first principally in the fact that it was ordered by the Security Council under threat of further action under Chapter VII of the Charter, and that no time limit was set. This introduced a new element into the situation as compared with the first truce, in that the second truce involved compliance with a Security Council order. There is a tendency on each side to regard alleged breaches by the other side of a truce which has been ordered by the Security Council as calling for prompt action by that Council. Both sides now evidence a sense of grievance and complain that the compulsory prolongation of the truce is contrary to their interests. This feeling is inevitably reflected in their attitudes toward the Observers and truce obligations in general. The truce undoubtedly imposes a heavy burden on both sides, but even so, the burden of war would be heavier.

11. The truce is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to prepare the way for a peaceful settlement. There is a Period during which the potentiality for constructive action, which flows from the fact that a truce has been achieved by international intervention, is at a maximum. If, however, there appears no prospect of relieving the existing tension by some arrangement which holds concrete promise of peace, the machinery of truce supervision will in time lose its effectiveness and become an object of cynicism. If this period of maximum tendency to forego military action as a means of achieving a desired settlement is not seized, the advantage gained by international intervention may well be lost.

(c) Assistance to Refugees


1. Conclusions which may be derived.from the experience to date are summarized as follows:

(a) As a result of the conflict in Palestine there are approximately 360,000 Arab refugees and 7,000 Jewish refugees requiring aid in that country and adjacent States.

(b) Large numbers of these are infants, children, pregnant women :and nursing mothers. Their condition is one of destitution and they are "vulnerable groups" in the medical and social sense.

(c) The destruction of their property and the loss of their assets will render most of them a charge upon the communities in which they have sought refuge for a minimum period of one year (through this winter and until the end of the 1949 harvest).

(d) The Arab inhabitants of Palestine are not citizens or subjects of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan, the States which are at present providing them with a refuge and the basic necessities of life. As residents of Palestine, a former mandated territory for which the international community has a continuing responsibility until a final settlement is achieved, these Arab refugees understandably look to the United Nations for effective assistance.

(e) The temporary alleviation of their condition, which is all that my disaster relief programme can promise them now, is quite inadequate to meet any continuing need, unless the resources in supplies and personnel available are greatly increased. Such increased resources might indirectly be of permanent value in establishing social services in the countries concerned, or improving greatly existing services. This applies particularly to general social administrative organizations, maternal and child care services, the training of social workers, and the improvement of food economics.

(f) The refugees, on return to their homes, are entitled to adequate safeguards for their personal security, normal facilities for employment, and adequate opportunities to develop within the community without racial, religious or social discrimination.

(g) So long as large numbers of the refugees remain in distress, I believe that responsibility for their relief should be assumed by the United Nations in conjunction with the neighbouring Arab States, the Provisional Government of Israel, the specialized agencies, and also all the voluntary bodies or organizations of a humanitarian and non-political character.

2. In concluding this part of my report, I must emphasize again the desperate urgency of this problem. The choice is between saving the lives of many thousands of people now or permitting them to die.

The situation of the majority of these hapless refugees is already tragic, and to prevent them from being overwhelmed by further disaster and to make possible their ultimate rehabilitation, it is my earliest hope that the international community will give all necessary support to make the measures I have outlined fully effective. I believe that for the international community to accept its share of responsibility for the refugees of Palestine is one of the minimum conditions for the success of its efforts to bring peace to that land.


(1) Excerpts from U.N. doc. A/648 (part one, p. 29; part two, p. 23 and part three, p. 11), September 18, 1948. Department of State Bulletin of October 3, 1948, pp. 436-440. The report was signed by Folke Bernadotte in Rhodes on September 16,1948. Back

(2) Bulletin of July 25,1948, p. 105. Back

Sources: The Avalon Project