Memorandum by Messrs. John W. Halderman and James W. Barco of the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs1


Future Work of the Palestine Conciliation Commission

When the Palestine Concilation Commission moves to Geneva in January, it will enter upon a new phase of its work. Prior to the Fourth Regular Session of the General Assembly the Commission’s principal achievements were the drafting of a proposal for internationalization of Jerusalem and the holding of a series of meetings with representatives of Israel and the Arab States in accordance with the terms of the General Assembly Resolution of December 11, 1948. The Commission’s draft instrument for internationalization of Jerusalem was presented to the General Assembly, but failed to obtain favorable consideration. Instead, the Assembly adopted a new resolution on Jerusalem calling upon the Trusteeship Council to draft a statute for an international regime as a corpus separatum and to implement it immediately. This aspect of the Commission’s work has consequently been completed for the present at least.

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The Commission’s meetings with the representatives of Israel and the Arab States were concerned largely with the questions of repatriation of Arab refugees and the revision of Israel’s present boundaries with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. These meetings served principally to emphasize the differences between the parties and to clarify their viewpoints. They were characterized by the Arab representatives during the meetings of the Commission in New York as of little practical value, since they considered the method followed by the Commission as being one of simply transmitting the proposals of one side to the other. They urged the Commission, therefore, to submit its own suggestions or proposals and they stated that they were not prepared to enter into direct negotiations with the representatives of Israel. The Israeli Delegation, on the other hand, re-affirmed its desire to open direct negotiations with each of the interested parties and regarded the refusal of the Arab States to meet representatives of Israel as rendering continuation of the Commission’s efforts at conciliation fruitless. The Israeli Delegation felt, moreover, that for the Commission itself to formulate specific proposals would call in question the whole method of conciliation and the terms of reference of the Commission. In its Fifth Progress Report, dated 14 December 1949,2 the Commission stated that it considered it had received from the General Assembly the powers and obligation to undertake in the present circumstances a procedure of mediation and in consequence to submit compromise proposals to the parties concerned. The Commission stated that it hoped to undertake this task and thereby bring to a successful conclusion the mission entrusted to it by the General Assembly.

Under these circumstances the role of the Commission when it returns to Geneva would appear to be equivocal. It is apparent that a continuation of the procedures followed in Lausanne will not be productive. On the other hand, in view of the attitude of the Israeli Government, the Commission is not at present in a position to embark upon a procedure whereby it would make recommendations to the parties on matters of basic importance. Whatever the Commission’s authority may be, it can be successful only insofar as it receives the cooperation of the parties. As a conciliation commission it is in fact at the disposal of the parties. Two of the parties, at least at the present time, are preoccupied with direct negotiations and it is unlikely that they would be favorably disposed to receiving independent proposals from the Commission on basic issues. There are subsidiary issues, however, on which the Commission can resume its work and as to which the parties are disposed to cooperate. These matters involve the questions [Page 663] of reunion of separated refugee families, blocked Arab accounts, and arrangements to enable Arabs living in Arab territory close to the armistice lines to cultivate their lands lying within territory under Israeli control. Similar questions may from time to time arise and prove to be matters in which the Commission can play a useful role. On the more basic issues, however, the Commisson should be careful to avoid a situation where one or other of the parties might be led to refuse further cooperation or ignore the Commission altogether. With these considerations in mind, the United States Delegation on the Commission should be guided by the following considerations:

The Delegation should take the position that at the outset at least the Commission’s role should be one of availability to the parties. The Commission should make clear that it is at the disposal of the parties to perform such functions as the parties may wish, to facilitate a final settlement. If the parties desire the Commission to make suggestions, the Commission should do so, but for such suggestions to be at all effective there must be a mutual desire that such a procedure be undertaken. Exploratory suggestions by individual members of the Commission made informally from time to time to representatives of the parties would, of course, be entirely appropriate.
The Commission’s consideration of the second report of the Economic Survey Mission3 should give the Commission the necessary time to explore the possibilities of its future work. The attitude of the U.S. Delegation to the ESM report and possible comments by the Commission in forwarding it to the Secretary-General should be guided by instructions from the Department. In the absence of such instructions the Delegation should favor forwarding the report without comment by the Commission.
The Commission should take advantage of any opportunity to promote direct negotiations between the parties either in a conference under the auspices of the Commission or separately. Such direct negotiations may be given impetus by the current negotiations between Israel and Jordan, and there is some evidence that Egypt is looking for an opportunity to come to a direct agreement with Israel.
The Commission should continue consideration of the questions of reunion of separated families, blocked accounts and cultivation of lands on the Israeli side of the demarcation lines by Arabs living in adjoining Arab territory. Technical committees with which representatives of the parties can undertake limited direct negotiations, as well as fact-finding groups, should be encouraged and continued.
Further study by the Commission of the question of compensation for refugees can be undertaken by the Commission as indicated in paragraph 5 of the Fifth Progress Report. This study should at the outset be limited to ascertaining the amount of compensation due the refugees rather than procedures for collection and payment. A separate memorandum on this subject is in preparation.
The General Assembly Resolution of December 8, 1949,4 directs the Conciliation Commission and the Palestine Refugee Agency to consult in the best interests of their respective tasks. After the Relief Agency is established, probably in April, 1950, the principal foreseeable requirement will be that each of the two agencies be kept informed of developments in the area of the other. Because of Arab opposition to the resettlement of the refugees as part of a political settlement of the Palestine question, it is not desirable to give unnecessary publicity to contacts between the Conciliation Commission and the Refugee Agency. Communications should therefore not be made public unless in exceptional circumstances it may be desirable to do so. The United States Representatives on the Conciliation Commission and the Advisory Commission of the Refugee Agency should, however, keep each other informed through the Department of State.
If, in the light of developments, further procedures for consultation between the two agencies seem desirable, this should be arranged after consultation with the Governments which comprise their membership.
It would not appear advisable at the present time for the Commission to undertake a tour of the countries involved. It might be appropriate to send out one or more fact-finding bodies or perhaps a team of advisors to consult with officials of the Governments concerned to explore possibilities of additional matters on which useful work can proceed.
However, the first step should be to ascertain what representatives are available for consultation in Geneva, and to see what suggestions may result from private consultations with them.

In summary, it appears that an impasse exists on basic issues following a year’s effort by the Commission. From the Commission’s point of view, there is lacking the essential element of a peaceful settlement, that is, a desire by the parties to find a solution by compromise. What is needed is a “break” in the impasse, and it now appears that this is more likely to come through direct negotiations than through the Commission. On these basic issues the Commission should make clear to the parties its readiness to be of service whenever and however the parties themselves wish and of course remind the parties that the Commission will be ready to undertake to make suggestions whenever the parties are ready to receive them. Developments may occur which will lead the parties to seek the Commission’s assistance. The Commission should avoid doing anything which might make more difficult the parties turning to the Commission under such circumstances.

In the meantime the Commission can perform useful work during the next month or two in Geneva in certain limited fields with the active cooperation of the parties concerned. Such work would be largely of a technical character.

  1. Transmitted by Mr. Halderman in a memorandum of January 5 to John D. Hickerson, the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs. The memorandum noted that the Halderman-Barco memorandum had been approved in NEA and by Ely E. Palmer, the U.S. Representative on the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine. In a marginal notation, Mr. Hickerson stated that a copy of the Halderman-Barco memorandum was forwarded to Mr. Palmer on January 6.
  2. See the editorial note in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 1541.
  3. Dated December 18, 1949; see the editorial note, Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 1548.
  4. See the editorial note in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 1529.