Editorial Note

The meaning of the expressions “Rhodes formula” and “Rhodes-type talks” in connection with the methods of negotiation between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors for armistice agreements is not entirely clear. The United Nations Bulletin of March 15, 1949, page 226, states that, with the convening of the Egyptian and Israeli negotiators at Rhodes, there “followed 42 days of almost continuous session. The procedure adopted was for Dr. Bunche to hold preliminary discussions separately with each delegation on each substantive item. Then informal meetings were arranged between the heads of the delegations and the Acting Mediator. And when discussion on the item had reached an advanced stage, joint formal meetings of the two delegations were held.”

A press release by the United Nations, No. PAD/456 of March 9, states that the delegations of Israel and Transjordan, the same afternoon, held “their first joint informal meeting which lasted two and a half hours. In a very cordial atmosphere, an exchange of views took place on 11 points raised by both delegations in connection with the delineation of armistice lines, including the Jerusalem sector.” (IO files)

The nature of these expressions became of special moment to the Department of State early in 1948. Rufus G. Smith of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs, on March 4, 1948, prepared a memorandum entitled “The Rhodes Formula,” which read in part as follows:

“The 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its four Arab neighbors were achieved pursuant to a November 1948 Security Council resolution which called on the parties to negotiate ‘either directly or through the acting mediator on Palestine.’

After adoption of the resolution, Israel said that it would prefer direct negotiations but, if this was not immediately practicable, would be prepared to negotiate through UN intermediaries. Arab replies [Page 889] did not deal with the procedural aspect and the meetings apparently began with no advance agreement on how they would proceed.

The account of the chief Israeli negotiator and Bundle’s reports agree that the first one or two meetings were separate. According to Bunche, the first joint meeting took place on the second day. The Israeli account says that at this meeting the delegations first exchanged views through Bunche but ‘it was not long before the delegations were arguing with one another directly.’ Bundle’s report only says that the two delegations were introduced at that first meeting and that he became chairman at their request. Thereafter, according to Bunche, there would be preliminary discussions between himself and each of the delegations separately, ‘informal meetings between heads of delegations and the United Nations,’ and ‘joint formal meetings of the two delegations.’

Apparently, then, there were both joint meetings with Bunche in the chair and informal meetings between Bunche and each party separately. There is no indication of the frequency of each type of meeting. It is also not clear whether the substantive negotiations took place in the separate sessions, in the joint sessions, or in both. Israel would probably maintain that they took place in the joint sessions, or at least primarily in such sessions. Bunche, while referring to some Israeli descriptions of the negotiations as ‘inaccurate and misleading,’ has refused to expand publicly on his reports to the Security Council at the time.

Bunche’s reports, however, do reflect a gradual change in terminology. By the time of the Israel-Jordan and Israel–Lebanon discussions, which began after the Israel–Egypt agreement was signed, he was talking of negotiations ‘between’ representatives of the parties under UN chairmanship. Also, in his summary report to the Council on all four armistice agreements, submitted after conclusion of the Israel-Syria agreement, he recommended adoption of a draft resolution referring to negotiations ‘between’ the parties.”

The memorandum continued with a chronological account of the negotiations and their background and aftermath, which, in pertinent part, referred to Mr. Bundle’s report of January 12, 13, and 25, printed on pages 649, 654, and 698, respectively; and concluded with a section entitled “An Israeli Account of the Rhodes Negotiations,” which presented the views of Walter Eytan, the Chief Israeli Representative at the Rhodes negotiations, as given in his The First Ten Years (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1958), pages 28 ff.

The Department, on March 7, 1968, informed Amman that “virtually only authoritative reports on procedures followed at Rhodes are those Bunche submitted to UNSC. … In any event it [is] clear that ‘Rhodes formula’ … embraced variety of methods, both formal and informal, joint and separate.” (telegram 126252)

Mr. Smith’s memorandum and telegram 126252 are filed under POL 27 Arab–Isr.