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Israel's position on its frontiers, statement to the Knesset by Foreign Minister Sharett

(June 15, 1949)

The second part of his statement to the Knesset dwelt on the position taken by Israel at Lausanne on the territorial issue, and the third part dealt with the Arab refugees (see Section VI, Document 2). The second part and the concluding paragraphs of the address follow:

As far as the state of business at Lausanne is concerned, it is difficult to say that things there are moving slowly. To be exact, they appear not to be moving at all, but are in a state of complete stagnation. The success which crowned the efforts of a sole Mediator on behalf of the United Nations in effecting the three armistice agreements has not fallen to the lot of a Commission composed of representatives of three different States, whose task is the settlement of all problems lying at the root of the conflict with a view to the conclusion of a permanent peace.

The Conciliation Commission, which called the Lausanne Conference, derives its authority and inspiration from the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly at Paris on December 11, 1948. That Resolution was adopted after stormy debates and in the face of sharp divergences of viewpoint. Many of the provisions inserted in the first draft were voted down by a majority in the Political Committee and the General Assembly. Some of the provisions which were retained in the final text had not found favour in the eyes of many delegations, including the representatives of Israel, who made no secret of their attitude in the Political Committee. Now the Government of Israel is being accused of having failed to implement this Resolution of the Assembly. Let us examine the true facts.

The essential point of the Resolution is Paragraph 5, which calls on the governments concerned "to seek agreement by negotiations conducted either with the Conciliation Commission or directly with a view to the final settlement of all questions outstanding between them".

What has been the fate of this provision?

The Government of Israel did not wait for the initiative of the Conciliation Commission in order to take action along that line. As long ago as when the late Count Bernadotte acted as Mediator, Israel had offered to negotiate directly with those who had waged war against her. For a long time prior to the Lausanne Conference the Government of Israel made numerous attempts to establish direct contact with the neighbouring States with a view to the initiation of peace negotiations. Later on it responded to the call of the Conciliation Commission and its delegation came to Lausanne ready to sit around a table, under the auspices of the Commission, with every Arab delegation with the exception of the Syrian, because Syria had not yet concluded an armistice with Israel. Even during the Lausanne Conference the Government of Israel has continued its efforts to explore possibilities of peace negotiations by direct contact.

As against this, what was the line followed by the Arab States? Their delegations announced upon their arrival in Lausanne that they had not been sent at all to conduct peace negotiations. They had come exclusively to deal with the Arab refugee problem. Moreover, they refused altogether to meet the delegation of Israel under the auspices of the Conciliation Commission. To this day, they have not moved from that position. They have failed to enter into negotiations with the delegation of Israel on the problem of peace even through the intermediary of the Commission. All specific proposals, which were presented by the Israeli delegation for transmission to certain Arab delegations, have so far remained unanswered.

Is it possible under these circumstances to blame the delegation of Israel for the present impasse at Lausanne? Can it be charged with the failure of negotiations which have not, in fact, even begun?

Paragraph 4 of the Resolution of December 11 calls upon the Conciliation Commission "to begin its functions at once, with a view to the establishment of contact between the parties themselves and the Commission at the earliest possible date".

Fully six months have passed since this Resolution was adopted. The Commission must surely have made numerous efforts to bring about a meeting between tile parties. These efforts have evidently failed. An express injunction of a Resolution of the General Assembly has remained a dead letter because of the obstinate intransigence of the other side.

One of the main points at issue in connection with the peace problem, both at Lausanne and outside, is the question of the frontiers. On this subject no express provision is contained in the December 11 Resolution. The Paris session of the General Assembly rejected the attempt to adopt as a basis of the negotiations tile report of Count Bernadotte which proposed that the whole southern portion of the State of Israel, including the Negev, should be torn away from it. A renewed attempt was made at Paris to prejudice the issue in this regard by inserting a provision requiring tile State of Israel to give us part of the Negev in exchange for Western Galilee. This attempt, too, has failed. The final text of the Resolution left the door open to any settlement on the question of frontiers upon which both sides would agree. This means that no position taken up by Israel regarding the frontiers can be described as contrary to the Resolution of December 11.

Israel is ready, as she has always been, to negotiate on the frontiers with any of the States with which she has an armistice agreement. Negotiations on this subject must, of course, form part of overall peace negotiations. If the approach is to be realistic, such negotiations must, in accordance with the Security Council Resolution of November 16, 1948, be a direct extension of the armistice agreements, as a result of which dividing lines were fixed in each case as provisional boundaries. These armistice agreements can only be changed by mutual consent, unless they are replaced by peace treaties which, of course, also require mutual consent.

Accordingly, the natural frontiers between Israel on the one hand and Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, respectively, on the other hand, are the former boundaries between the British mandated territory and those three countries. The same holds good for the frontier between Israel and the State of Transjordan. Should mutual adjustments of these frontiers be desired for the benefit of both parties, they can form the subject of negotiation and agreement.

In the case of Egypt, there is a special problem of the Gaza-Rafa strip. In this matter, too, the Government of Israel is prepared to seek a solution by negotiations.

As for the frontier between the State of Israel and the area west of the Jordan which is not included in Israel, there, too, our aim is peace, and peace negotiations. We have always declared that we should prefer to see a separate Arab State in that area, but we have not set this as a conditio sine qua non to a settlement. This question, too, is a matter for discussion. As against this attitude of ours, there are apparently some Arab States which try today to find an opening for the solution of the problem in the territorial award contained in the Resolution of November 29, 1947. After having done all they could to render that Resolution null and void; after having planned and striven to drown the Jewish State, envisaged in that Resolution, in a torrent of blood and wipe it off the face of the earth; seeing that they have failed in their evil design, the Arab States are now trying to invoke that very settlement. It is just as if a man who had tried to cut down his neighbour's tree and had failed because his neighbour had thwarted him, would turn around to claim a share of its fruit and shade.

It would be strange indeed if these States were now to find encouragement for their fallacious claim in the attitude of the United States Government. It is true that at the General Assembly in Paris the United States had advocated the principle of territorial compensation or exchange of areas in relation to the frontiers of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of November 29, 1947. As already stated, no such principle was embodied in the Resolution of December 11, 1948. It would clearly be unrealistic and would lead to false hopes and unnecessary complications if the Government of the United States were to continue to uphold this principle even now. It would be better to leave the solution of this question for negotiation between the parties concerned without restraining the freedom of these negotiations by any principles fixed in advance, or by any encouragement or warning in either direction. Whoever, wittingly or unwittingly, encourages the Arab States to believe that they may succeed in wringing territorial concessions from Israel, i.e. that they can obtain by political pressure what they have failed to gain by a war of aggression, will not be serving the cause of peace in the Middle East. A special word of warning must be uttered against any renewed attempt which might be made to rob the State of Israel of the southern part of the Negev. Why indeed should the Arab States be considered entitled to territorial compensation? Is it because they invaded a country which is not theirs, in flagrant violation of the Charter and in open rebellion against the United Nations authority? Is it because they failed in this pernicious enterprise? Those who try today to revive the territorial principles of November 29, 1947, as a basis for the final definition of the frontiers of Israel, ignore all that has happened in this country since that date. Nothing has occurred to invalidate in the slightest degree the justification of the inclusion within the boundaries of Israel of any of the areas allotted to the Jewish State in that Resolution. On the other hand, many grave events have occurred which by blood, fire and pillars of smoke have proved the absolute indispensability to Israel's security, indeed to her very existence, of territories now under her jurisdiction outside the November 29 award. That historic Resolution of the Assembly has been engraved in letters of gold on the tablets of our history. The contribution made, by the United States of America towards the adoption of that great decision will never be forgotten, just as the Outstanding contribution of the Soviet Union and of other powers, large and small, will also be remembered. But the lesson taught by the fate of that Resolution and the mortal pains of its implementation has also been deeply engraved in letters of fire. When the State of Israel at birth hung between life and death, it was not the Resolution of November 29, 1947 which proved its salvation. Israel's soldiers did not sacrifice their lives in gaining for their State defence positions and security zones in order that the political leaders of the nation should throw away this sacred, blood-drenched patrimony...

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs