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Statements by Representatives of the Maritime Powers on the Suez Canal Blockade

(August 1951)

In the course of the Security Council debate, a majority of delegates supported the Israeli case on the basis of the 1888 Constantinople Convention - and an interpretation of the 1949 Israel-Egypt armistice agreement. Excerpts from the speeches of the representatives of the United Kingdom, France, United States and Brazil follow:

Sir Gladwyn Jebb (United Kingdom)

Egypt claims that there is a state of war and that it is therefore entitled to exercise belligerent rights. It is not necessary, in our view, for the Council to pronounce on this. Even if it were self-evident that a state of war existed - which is by no means the case, of course this would in itself afford no justification for the maintenance of the restrictions at the present time and in the light of the present situation. What matters is not whether there is some technical basis for the restrictions but whether it is reasonable, just and equitable that they should be maintained. This is the principle on which the draft Resolution before the Council has been formulated, and it is on this issue that we consider that the Council should pronounce.

If the problem is approached in this way, I do not myself think that there can be much doubt about the decision which the Council should take. The draft Resolution refers to the attitude which the Council has adopted in the past and to the pronounceinents of United Nations authorities such as Mr. Bunche and General Riley. I dealt with these points at some length in my statement of 1 August, and I would only say now that the conclusion seems to me, at least, to be inescapable.

The armistice agreement was meant not to bring about merely a temporary pause in the fighting, but to put a definitive end to hostilities and to guard against their renewal. When the agreement was endorsed by the Council [S/1376] it was our definite understanding that it would mark the end of the restrictions which had been imposed on both sides. The restrictions on shipping in the Suez Canal should therefore have been lifted when the armistice agreement was signed, and they have become more unreasonable and more anachronistic with each month that has passed since then.

Paragraphs 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the draft Resolution deal, as representatives will see, with the question of belligerent rights. For the reasons which I have already stated, the draft Resolution does not attempt to say whether or not Egypt can technically claim to be entitled to belligerent rights. What the draft Resolution does say is that, in the light of the armistice agreement and of what has taken place since it was signed, the maintenance of the present restrictions is unjustified and unreasonable and must be held to constitute an abuse of any rights which Egypt may claim to possess. If it could be shown that these measures are essential for the defence of Egypt, we might well be prepared to take a different view. But Egypt is not being attacked and is not under any imminent threat of attack, and we therefore cannot agree that these measures are necessary for the self-defence or self-preservation of Egypt...

Mr. Lacoste (France)

... According to the French Government, there are three main aspects to this case: the first, which is fundamental, concerns the general principles of international law and, within their framework, the international status of the Suez Canal; another concerns the implementation of the General Armistice Agreement entered into by Egypt and Israel at Rhodes on 24 February 1949; a third concerns the effects of the restrictions imposed by the Egyptian Government at Suez: that is to say, the general effects, and in particular the economic effects, upon other Powers.

Whichever of these main aspects of the question the Council considers, it is obvious that a solution is absolutely essential. The great principles of international law must be respected; the Convention of Constantinople must be implemented; the armistice agreement between Israel and Egypt, which is one of the cornerstones of tile maintenance of peace and security in the Near East, must be effectively observed by the signatories; the endless difficulties affecting other States as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Egyptian Government upon the free passage of ships through the Suez Canal must be removed.

It has been questioned whether Egypt and Israel were actually in a state of war according to international law at the time when their forces were fighting in tile Negev. Furthermore, since the fighting has in effect ceased and an armistice of a specifically permanent character has been concluded, the French Government considers that there is no legal basis upon which one of the parties may exercise in respect of the other the traditional rights of belligerents rights to which only belligerents are entitled involving visit, search and seizure...

Mr. Warren R. Austin (United States)

... The United States is firmly of the opinion that the restrictions which Egypt is exercising over ships passing through the Suez Canal are inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the armistice agreement. My Government believes that the imposition of these restrictions and their maintenance for so long a period after the signing of the armistice agreement is a retrogression from what both parties committed themselves to - namely, the establishment of permanent peace in the Palestine area. No other significance of these restrictions appears possible. The result of this hostile act is tile engendering of hostility in return, which places in jeopardy the peace and stability of that area This is properly the concern of this Council and requires our action lest the Situation worsen...

Mr. Muniz (Brazil)

... The representative of Egypt, dealing with the specific question submitted to the Security Council, has contended that the armistice being a mere temporary suspension of hostilities, the state of war continues to exist and therefore Egypt is entitled to impose restrictions affecting Israel trade. Without any disregard for the reasons set forth by the representative of Egypt and for the authorities lie cited in favour of his point of view, I must say that the Council should not allow the thesis of the existence of a state of war between Israel and the other signatories of the General Armistice Agreements of 1949 to justify the resort to hostile acts by any of the parties. According to the terms of article II, paragraph 2, of the agreement between Israel and Egypt of 24 February 1949, both parties pledged themselves to abstain from "any warlike or hostile act" against each other.

Furthermore, the purpose of the agreement is explained in article I as follows: "With a view to promoting the return to permanent peace in Palestine". Article XII, paragraph 2, of the agreement defines very clearly the character and duration of the agreement:

"This agreement, having been negotiated and concluded in pursuance of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948 calling for the establishment of an armistice 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, shall remain in force until a peaceful settlement between the Parties is achieved, except as provided in paragraph 3 of this Article."

Therefore, during the intermediary phase between the cessation of hostilities and the definite peaceful settlement, the parties are bound to refrain from acts likely to endanger the achievement of the ultimate purpose of the armistice. The representatives of both Israel and the United Kingdom have quoted statements by General Riley and Mr. Bunche to the effect that the measures adopted by the Egyptian Government relating to navigation on the Suez Canal are contrary to the spirit of the armistice agreement. Should we accept the Egyptian thesis, we would be bound to recognize any measures of reprisal adopted by the Israel Government. It is obvious that, in the exchange of hostile acts that would follow, we could hardly expect to lay the foundations of a definite solution to the Palestine question.

The General Armistice Agreement of 24 February 1949 suspended military operations between Egypt and Israel as an important step towards reaching a final peace between the belligerents. Although the armistice constitutes a temporary suspension of hostilities, it is self-evident that, as long as it lasts, the parties are barred from the exercise of any acts which might bring about the resumption of the armed conflict. It is the essence of the amnesties to be a step leading to permanent peace. The armistice agreements of 1949 were a hard-fought conquest by the United Nations which raised great hopes in the capacity of the international Organization to maintain peace and security. To allow punitive actions by one of the parties against the other would certainly create a situation leading to the resumption of the military operations and would annul the great efforts which were exerted by the United Nations in bringing about the suspension of hostilities...

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs