As the British Mandate for Palestine ended, the state of Israel was proclaimed on the 14th May 1948 in Tel Aviv by the Jewish National Council and was recognized by the USA and Soviet Union on the 15 and 17 May 1948.
Photo: The first Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion and his wife Paula arrive at the port of Haifa in 30 June 1948 to celebrate the departure of the last British soldier from the area.
The joy following the declaration and recognition of the infant state was short – lived. On the 15th May 1948 the states of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria declared war on the new state. This is known as the war of 1948 and is the first of the many wars that erupted in the area since the declaration of independence by Israel.
The Herald Tribune reported on 10 June 1948, “Count Folk Bernadette, United Nations Mediator in Palestine, announced tonight that Jews and Arabs have agreed unconditionally to a four-week armistice. The announcement was made in a message from the UN Mediator to Trygve Lie, United Nations Secretary-General. Mr. Lie said that plans were being rushed to ensure strict observance of the cease-fire. The arrangements called for Belgium, France and the United States to supply both vessels and military observers. He said each country had been asked to send twenty-one military men.” (17)
This report described the beginning of the first peacekeeping operation in the history of the United Nations, officially named the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). The first group of UN military observers arrived between 11 and 14 June and were deployed in Palestine and some areas of the neighbouring Arab countries. However, 29 May 1948 is considered the start of the operation, since on that day the Security Council, in Resolution 50, decided to deploy military observers with the mandate to assist the UN Mediator in the supervision of the truce between Israel and Arab forces.
After a four-week truce expired, and large-scale fighting erupted again between Israel and Arab forces, the Security Council, in resolution 54 of 15 July 1948, ordered a cease-fire of indefinite duration. The second group of military observers was deployed to each Arab army and each Israeli armed group, as well as in Jerusalem, the coast, ports and airports of the truce area. They also accompanied convoys between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Following United Nations Security Council’s resolution number 62 of the 16 November 1948, armistice agreement talks took place in Rhodes, Greece, between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Since June 1948 Rhodes was the base of the UN appointed Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, and remained after his assassination on 17 September 1948 in Jerusalem. The talks begun on the 12th January 1949 and ended on the 20th July 1949. The talks were bilateral and took place as follows:
- Egypt – Israel: 12 January 1949 – Agreement signed at Rhodes on 24 February 1949
- Lebanon – Israel: Agreement signed at Ras En Naqoura on 23 March 1949
- Jordan – Israel: 1 March 1949 – Agreement signed at Rhodes on 3 April 1949
- Syria – Israel: April 1949 – Agreement signed at Hill 232, near Mahanayim, on 20 July 1949
The main venue, except for the Lebanon – Israel negotiations, was the Hotel of the Roses in Rhodes which had served as UN headquarters since the summer of 1948.It is important to note that the results of the talks were bilateral armistice agreements, not peace treaties.
The United Nations appointed an Acting Mediator for the talks, the American Ralph Bunche. In 1950 the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the first non-white person, the African-American and United Nations (UN) official Ralph Bunche. He received the Peace Prize for his efforts as mediator between Arabs and Jews in the Israeli-Arab war in 1948-1949. These efforts resulted in armistice agreements between the new state of Israel and four of its Arab neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
At the end of the talks and after the agreements were signed, Israel had gained more territory compared to the proposals of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (UN Resolution 181/1947). On 29 November 1947 over two-thirds of the United Nations membership voted in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181 proposing a partition of Palestine: 56% of the mandate territory was assigned to a Jewish state and 43% to an Arab state, with Jerusalem under international administration.
This article is about the Rhodes armistice talks.
It is important to clarify what is an armistice as opposed to a cease-fire agreement.
An armistice is a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, since it may constitute only a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace. It is derived from the Latin arma, meaning “arms” (as in weapons) and -stitium, meaning “a stopping”.(Wikipedia)
A cease-fire is typically a negotiated agreement to cease hostilities and take other steps to calm things down, like pulling back heavy weapons or marking out a “green line” or demilitarized zone to separate opposing forces. Though cease-fires are usually meant to be binding, to last a while and to hold even after a few violations, they do not themselves end a conflict, only pause it. (New York Times)
Photo: Ben Gurion signing the declaration of Independence, 14 May 1948
UN Resolution 62
The document that triggered the talks is Resolution 62 of the United Nations Security Council.
62 (1948). Resolution of 16 November 1948
The Security Council,
Reaffirming its previous resolutions concerning the establishment and implementation of the truce in Palestine, and recalling particularly its resolution 54 (1948) of 15 July 1948 which determined that the situation in Palestine constitutes a threat to the peace within the meaning of Article 39 of the Charter of the United Nations,
Taking note that the General Assembly is continuing its consideration of the future government of Palestine in response to the request of the Security Council in its resolution 44 (1948) of 1 April 1948,
Without prejudice to the actions of the Acting Mediator regarding the implementation of Security Council resolution 61 (1948) of 4 November 1948,
1. Decides that, in order to eliminate the threat to the peace in Palestine and to facilitate the transition from the present truce to permanent peace in Palestine, an armistice shall be established in all sectors of Palestine;
2. Calls upon the parties directly involved in the conflict in Palestine, as a further provisional measure under Article 40 of the Charter, to seek agreement forthwith, by negotiations conducted either directly or through the Acting Mediator, with a view to the immediate establishment of the armistice, including:
(a) The delineation of permanent armistice demarcation lines beyond which the armed forces of the respective parties shall not move;
(b) Such withdrawal and reduction of their armed forces will ensure the maintenance of the armistice during the transition to permanent peace in Palestine.
The appointment of a United Nations (Acting) Mediator: 20 May 1948
Count Folke Bernadotte was appointed as United Nations Mediator on 20th May 1948, following the voting of resolution 186 of the United Nations General Assembly.
Resolution 186 of the United Nations General Assembly, S.II: 14 May 1948
The General Assembly,
Taking account of the present situation in regard to Palestine,
Strongly affirms its support of the efforts of the Security Council to secure a truce in Palestine and calls upon all Governments, organizations and persons to co-operate in making effective such a truce;
1. Empowers a United Nations Mediator in Palestine, to be chosen by a committee of the General Assembly composed of representatives of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, to exercise the following functions:
(a) To use his good offices with the local and community authorities in Palestine to:
i Arrange for the operation of common services necessary to the safety and well-being of the population of Palestine;
ii Assure the protection of the Holy Places, religious buildings and sites in Palestine;
iii Promote a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine.
(b) To co-operate with the Truce Commission for Palestine appointed by the Security Council in its resolution of 23 April 1948;
(c) To invite, as seems to him advisable, with a view to the promotion of the welfare of the inhabitants of Palestine, the assistance and co-operation of appropriate specialized agencies of the United Nations such as the World Health Organization, of the International Red Cross, and of other governmental or non-governmental organizations of a humanitarian and non-political character;
2. Instructs the United Nations Mediator to render progress reports monthly, or more frequently as he deems necessary, to the Security Council and to the Secretary-General for transmission to the Members of the United Nations;
3. Directs the United Nations Mediator to conform in his activities with the provisions of this resolution, and with such instructions as the General Assembly or the Security Council may issue;
4. Authorizes the Secretary-General to pay the United Nations Mediator an emolument equal to that paid to the President of the International Court of Justice, and to provide the Mediator with the necessary staff to assist in carrying out the functions assigned to the Mediator by the General Assembly.
Ralph Bunche (right) and Count Folke Bernadotte boarding a United Nations plane.
Photo: Courtesy of Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, City University of New York, Graduate Center
The United Nations 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine
Map: UNSCOP (3 September 1947; see green line) and UN Ad Hoc Committee (25 November 1947) partition plans. The UN Ad Hoc Committee proposal was voted on in the resolution.
During the spring and summer of 1947, a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine studied the competing demands of Jews and Arabs, and on August 31 produced a majority report that recommended partitioning the little country into separate Jewish and Arab states, with the Jerusalem area to be placed under United Nations administration. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved partition, to take effect on May 15 of the following year. (9)
The territory during the 1948 war
In June 1948 Count Bernadotte moved his headquarters to the island of Rhodes to have peaceful and neutral surroundings. (7) Rhodes was not the only option available to the UN. The use of a US aircraft carrier had also been considered.
Even in tranquil Rhodes, U.N.’s Palestine Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was offered a mediation job. Two local soccer teams, the Dorieus and Diagoras, both claimed the Rhodian championship, and the local one-sheet newspaper suggested that Bernadotte compose the quarrel. (Bernadotte was too busy.) Apart from that, all was serenity in the Dodecanese island which Bernadotte had chosen for his Palestine peace talks. Governor General Nicholas Mavris welcomed correspondents, many straight from embattled Palestine: “Now you have been able to discover an oasis of peace.” …Perhaps the happiest Rhodian of all was Michael Stamatoglu, manager of the Hotel des Roses. For the remaining half of the four-week truce period (summer of 1948), business would be brisk. Floor Waiter Georgiu was intrigued by Bernadotte’s request that half of the rooms reserved should be in one wing of the hotel, half in the other, as far apart as possible. “There are separate staircases too,” said Georgiu with a knowing wink, “which may be convenient.”(14)
Moshe Dayan, who joined the Jordan – Israel talks in March 1949, recalls in his memoirs how ‘Good food, spring weather, enchanting scenery … hundreds of butterflies
of all sizes and colours’ lent a ‘fairy tale air’ to the tough negotiations on achieving
armistice agreements between the opposing parties.
The two plans – suggestions of the UN Mediator
The first plan
… in his diary, Bernadotte recalled that the first “outsider” to call on him when he arrived in Paris on June 15, en route to Palestine, was Ashley Clarke, Britain’s chargé d’affaires in France. Discreetly, Clarke intimated to Bernadotte the lines of mediation that would enjoy British support. These included a revision of the partition formula, with the southern part of the Negev Desert (which the United Nations had allocated to the Jews) to go to Abdullah of Transjordan, while the Jews would receive as compensation western Galilee (an area the United Nations had allocated to the Arabs but which the Jews already had overrun). Finally, Jerusalem, originally designated for United Nations administration, should be given over to Abdullah in its totality, including the Jewish New City, whose inhabitants would enjoy autonomy. Evidently Bernadotte was impressed by this scenario. In his own version, which he presented to the Security Council on June 27, he followed Britain’s proposals with only minor alterations. Unwilling to abandon their claim to the Negev Desert, or the reality of their military control of Jerusalem’s New City, the Israelis vehemently rejected the Bernadotte plan. So did the Syrians and Egyptians, who were not interested in legitimizing Abdullah’s rule over eastern Palestine.(9)
The second plan
The second plan was published on the 16th September 1948, one day before the Mediator was assassinated in Jerusalem.
Photo: United Nations member Abdel Moneim Moustafa (3L) speaking with Count Folke Bernadotte (C) on the island of Rhodes. (Photo by Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
There is a theory that the second suggestion of Bernadotte would be accepted by UN’s General Assembly and this is the reason why he was assassinated. It is true that Bernadotte pushed his report forward for consideration and decision by the General Assembly, as indicated in the following excerpt of his second report.
“III.16. As a result of these talks, I became convinced: (a) that it would be of utmost urgency that the General Assembly consider and reach decisions upon the Palestine question at its forthcoming session; (b) that if the General Assembly should reach firm and equitable decisions on the principal political issues there would be a reasonable prospect that settlement could be achieved if not by formal at least by tacit acceptance; and (c) that the truce could be maintained with reasonable fidelity throughout the General Assembly session but that it might be gravely doubted that it could be indefinitely prolonged beyond then in the absence of tangible progress toward a settlement.”
Photo: Count Folke Bernadotte (R) shaking hands with Governor Nicolaos Mavris (L) of the Dodecanese Islands. (Photo by Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Some Israelis were mistrustful of Count Bernadotte, whom they considered to be working to advance the interests of the British. The Lehi group, which included future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir, regarded Bernadotte as an agent of the British government, and wanted him dead.(7)
Photo: Count Folke Bernadotte (C) walking down the aisle of “Evagelismos”, a Greek Orthodox church in Rhodes with Governor Nicolaos Mavris(C L). (Photo by Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The fundamental issues in Palestine at the time
A chapter in the second plan submitted by Bernadotte, outlined the fundamental issues in Palestine as follows:
- the Jewish State,
- Jewish immigration and
- Arab refugees.
The Acting Mediator
Ralph J. Bunche was appointed as Acting Mediator after the assassination of the Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, in September 1948.
When news of Bernadotte’s death reached the UN, Secretary General Trygve Lie immediately phoned Bunche and asked him to succeed Bernadotte and carry on the mediation effort. Despite awareness of the personal danger posed by the role, Bunche did not hesitate to accept Lie’s request. Bunche travelled to Paris, where he met with UN representatives to discuss the new borders between Jews and Arabs that he and Bernadotte had proposed. (7)
Bunche formed his basic attitude to the Palestine issue when he served on the staff of UNSCOP. The committee, made up of representatives of 11 countries, was created in May 1947 by a special session of the UN General Assembly to study the Palestine issue and submit recommendations to the regular General Assembly session that would convene in September.(10)
The general principles laid down in those four Armistice Agreements are alike. In each of them the two parties undertake to respect the injunction of the Security Council against resort to military force in the settlement of the Palestine question; in each the parties pledge to refrain from aggressive action and to respect the right of the other party to its security and freedom from fear of attack; in each of the General Armistice Agreements the parties moreover recognized these agreements as indispensable steps towards the liquidation of armed conflict and the restoration of peace in Palestine; furthermore the respective parties acknowledge in each Armistice Agreement that no provision of the Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of the other party in any ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question. (16)
The Egypt – Israel Agreement (Rhodes)
Israel demanded that Egypt withdraw all its forces from the former area of Palestine, Egypt insisted that Arab forces withdraw to the positions which they held on 14 October 1948, as under Security Council Resolution S/1070 of 4 November 1948. One reason for the deadlock was the mounting tension in Egypt, which culminated on 12 February 1949 in the murder of Hassan el-Banah, leader of the ultra-nationalist Moslem Brotherhood. In early February, Israel threatened to abandon the talks, where upon the United States appealed to the parties to bring them to a successful conclusion, and on 24 February the Israel-Egypt armistice agreement was signed in Rhodes.(6)
In the early hours of February 24, 1949, on the Greek island of Rhodes, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche emerged from the Egyptian-Israeli talks to announce the signing of a General Armistice Agreement. (2)
Bunche, the chief negotiator for the United Nations, compliments both sides on their “restraint and dignity,” promising that this is “only the first of the agreements with the Arab states, which will ensure a return of peace to Palestine and the Near East.” Although the marathon talks were arduous, Bunche was so confident in eventual success that he had commissioned a local potter to make commemorative ceramics, which he then presented to the representatives upon the signing of the document. When the Israeli negotiator Moshe Dayan asked what he would have done if they had failed to come to an agreement, Bunche replied, “I’d have broken the plates over your damn heads.” (2)
Rhodes, Greece, 1949. 10 x 10. “The plate was purchased by Dayan’s then wife, Rut Dayan at the negotiations in 1949. The negotiations took place ins Rhodes Greece. The plate is decorated with blue, green and red flowers and bear the words “”Armistice Negotiations Rhodes, 1949.”” (1)
Photo: Rafael Eytan signs the armistice between Egypt and Israel on 24 February 1949, in the Hotel de Roses on Rhodes. Beside him is Yigael Yadin. Across the tables is Ralph Bunche (2nd from left) and others in the UN meditation group.
Photo: The Israeli negotiating team—(right to left) Reuven Shiloah, Walter Eytan, Yigal Yadin, Moshe Sasson, and Shabtai Rosenne– posing outside the plane that bore them to Rhodes for the 1949 armistice meetings. (CZA Photos)
The Jordan – Israel Agreement (Rhodes)
At the beginning of March 1949, talks began on the island of Rhodes between Israeli and Jordanian representatives under the chairmanship of Dr. Bunche. The major issues raised by Israel were free access to Jewish Holy Places in Jerusalem, border rectification, and the presence of Iraqi forces in the West Bank. Jordan sought to raise the Arab refugee question and the question of passage from the Old City of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. On 3 April, the agreement was signed, fixing the armistice line of the West Bank, transferring to Israel a number of Arab villages in the central part of the country and providing for a mixed committee to work out arrangements in Jerusalem (Article VIII). (5)
In his memoirs, Dayan wrote that the members of the Jordanian delegation were utterly
unsuited for the negotiations; according to Eytan, ‘they looked helpless and lost’.
He surmised that the king had deliberately chosen weak delegates so that he could
maintain total control of the proceedings. This was indeed the purpose of the
Jordanian representatives in Rhodes; from the very first they made sure Bunche
knew that any step taken on the island would first have to be approved in Amman.(4)
Photo: King Abdullah of Jordan in front of the Holy Sepulchre, 1948
Although he never set foot on Rhodes, the key person in the negotiations was King Abdullah of Jordan.
A complicating factor in the Jordan – Israel negotiations, was the presence of Iraqi troops in Palestine. The Iraqis did not enter the armistice negotiations as they did not want to be accused that they recognize the state of Israel.
Photo: Moshe Dayan signs the Jordan – Israel agreement
In 1953 Moshe Dayan was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force.
“… he felt that the border with Jordan, which he himself had helped negotiate, was impossible to live with and had to be replaced by a natural border running along the Jordan river.” (11)
The Lebanon – Israel Agreement (Ras En Naqoura)
The agreement with Lebanon was signed on 23 March 1949. The main points were (15):
- The armistice line (“Green Line”, see also Blue Line (Lebanon)) was drawn along the international border.
- Unlike the other agreements, there was no clause disclaiming this line as an international border, which was thereafter treated as it had been previously, as a de jure international border.
- Israel withdrew its forces from 13 villages in Lebanese territory, which were occupied during the war.
The Syria – Israel Agreement (Hill 232, near Malanayim at the Syrian-Israeli border)
The agreement with Syria was signed on July 20, 1949.Syria withdrew its forces from most of the territories it controlled west of the international border, which became demilitarized zones. It was emphasised that the armistice line was “not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements.” (Article V) (15)
Iraq, whose forces took an active part in the war (although it has no common border with Israel), withdrew its forces from the region in March 1949. The front occupied by Iraqi forces was covered by the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan and there was no separate agreement with Iraq. (15)
The partition of territory after the armistice of 1949
At the end of the armistice talks, Israel had gained 77% of Palestine, a significant increase (22%) over the percentage allocated to it by Resolution of 1947. A massive exodus of Palestinians marked the end of the 1948 war and the 1949 agreements. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Arabs left/were thrown out of their homes.
United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)
The “UNTSO” was the first peacekeeping operation established by the United Nations. All the members of the party were experienced international civil servants with a background of service with the United Nations Secretariat at Headquarters. While on duty in Palestine, they were to continue to wear United Nations guard uniforms.
The period from August 1949 to June 1956 was initially chaotic but quickly settled into a routine of complaints on the Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese fronts. It was initially possible for the UN personnel to deal with complaints of violations of the “Truce” at the Local Commander level. As time progressed there arose a culture of claim and counter claim by the participating parties and regardless of the hard work and genuine intent of UNTSO the intensity of the violent incidents increased.
UNTSO military observers remain in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.
Mixed Armistice Commissions
In order to implement these general principles as well as the specific provisions laid down in the four General Armistice Agreements, each Agreement provides for the establishment of a Mixed Armistice Commission consisting of an equal number of Israeli and Arab representatives and a neutral chairman appointed by the Chief of Staff of the Truce Supervision Organization from the United Nations Military Personnel assigned to the Mission. The General Armistice Agreements between Israel on the one side and. the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria on the other side, provide that the respective Mixed Armistice Commissions shall consist, in addition to the Chairman, of two Israeli and two Arab representatives. In the case of the Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission provision was made for three representatives from each side.
The MACs were very different from one another, bringing about four unique peacekeeping missions under the head of the UNTSO.
The Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission has its permanent headquarters at the former Palestinian frontier post of El Auja, a place consisting of two ramshackle stone houses and an equally dilapidated building.
The Mixed Armistice Commission for Israel and the Hashemite Jordan Kingdom has set up its headquarters at Mandelbaum Gate, crossing point between the Israeli and the Arab part of Jerusalem and the most thoroughly destroyed part of the Holy City. (16)
The armistice agreements were seen as temporary settlements which would later
be replaced by permanent peace agreements. But the conflict between Israel and the
Arabs and Palestinians was bound to continue, for the great problem which had
caused the war in the first place – the struggle between Jews and Arab Palestinians
for mastery of the land – was still unresolved at the war’s end. Worse still, the war
had created a particular problem that was to fester and provoke unrest for more
than fifty years: the Palestinian refugees.(8)
The outcome of the negotiations left the Arabs with a bitter taste. A Norwegian researcher observes:
“New empirical evidence shows that this imbalance of power on the ground was strengthened by strong support in Israel’s favor from the UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie, as well as from the US administration. Such support served to limit the UN mediator’s room for maneuver and ultimately contributed to a biased agreement.” (13)
Ben Gurion stated in November 1956 after the Suez war that, “[T]he armistice with Egypt is dead, as are the armistice lines, and no wizards or magicians can resurrect these lines.”(12)
- ABAA. Moshe Dayan’s personally owned commemorative ceramic plate from the 1949 Israel and Jordan Armistice negotiations.
- WNYC. Ralph Bunche Announces Landmark 1949 Arab-Israeli General Armistice Agreement
- VOX. 9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask
- Elad ben-Dror. The Armistice Talks between Israel and Jordan, 1949: The View from Rhodes.
- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement, April 1949.
- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Egypt-Jordan Armistice Agreement, February 1949.
- Nobelprize.org. Ralph Bunche: UN Mediator in the Middle East, 1948-1949.
- Ahron Bregman, Israels Wars 1947- 1993.
- Howard M. Sachar: Israel and Europe. An Appraisal in History
- Elad ben-Dror. Ralph Bunche and the Establishment of Israel.
- Avi Schlaim. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
- Nabil Elaraby. SOME LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE 1947 PARTITION RESOLUTION AND THE 1949 ARMISTICE AGREEMENTS
- Hilde Henriksen Waage. The Winner Takes All: The 1949 Island of Rhodes Armistice Negotiations Revisited. Middle East Journal. Vol. 65, No. 2, Richard B. Parker Memorial Issue (Spring 2011), pp. 279-304
- Time Magazine, Monday, June 28, 1948.
- Rhodes Armistice Agreement 1949 in which al Faluja Siege was decided upon.
- LETTER DATED 12 FEBRUARY 1950 FROM THE CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE TRUCE SUPERVISION ORGANIZATION IN PALESTINE TO THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
- FIFTY-FIVE YEARS OF UNTSO