Saturday, August 13, 2016

113 - Excerpts of FM Sharett Report to Cabinet on Meetings with UN SG Dag Hammarskjöld, April 19, 1956

We had four meetings with the Secretary General, lasting 9 hours. In addition to these, he had a conversation with me, lasting one hour, in the car from Lydda to Jerusalem. He started by explaining the background to his mission, how it all evolved, and described two initiatives which he had succeeded in squelching, one British and one American. The British one was Selwyn Lloyd’s, who proposed to start discussing the formation of some international military force for guarding the borders or controlling them. He saw this idea as an absolutely senseless and unimplementable one, which could not but be rejected by the sides, by Russia; one which would only complicate things. He succeeded in totally eradicating this idea. Then there was an American initiative to establish a high international authority in the form of a committee or trusteeship, and he succeeded in eradicating this idea too.
This story was in itself true, but it was told with the clear intention of proving what kind of troubles we had been facing and how he had saved us from them, and how much we should appreciate his own proposals, as against those former ones which, from the point of view of infringing of our sovereignty and complicating our matters and [international] relations, were by far less extreme than his previous ones.
He said that when the proposal was put forth to convene the Security Council, he did not want the procedure that was ultimately taken. He thought that he should convene the Council and that it should not adopt any resolution, but only ask him to take on this mission, thus enabling him to come here completely free and without creating any high-flown expectations of this mission. The compromise reached was that this would not appear as a clear Western initiative, which would have immediately raised the opposition of the Soviet Union and thus lead to the convening of the SC in an atmosphere of conflict between the Powers. Therefore, it was the United States alone which asked to convene the Council, thereby preventing the move from being seen as an act of collusion against the Soviet Union. Second, against his wishes, a resolution was adopted by the Council asking him to clarify the situation and especially charged him with easing the tension, etc.
He explained that he intended to focus on the easing of tension along the borders, mainly the Israel-Egyptian border, but others as well, and this according to previous Security Council resolutions, mainly three resolutions which were adopted after the Gaza operation, the Khan-Yunes operation and the Kinneret operation.
          We stressed the first item of his mission, which was an investigation of the procedure of implementing all aspects of the Armistice Agreements.{*}

NOTE: The wording of the second clause of Resolution 113 [WebDoc #107] reads as follows: “2. Requests the Secretary-General to undertake, as a matter of urgent concern, a survey of the various aspects of enforcement of and compliance with the four General Armistice Agreements and the Council's resolutions under reference.”

Throughout the conversations we argued that, if the Security Council had gone out if its way and had sent the Secretary-General himself to the region, it would be very strange if he dealt only with small things and would not attack the problem in all its depth, if he didn’t ask what has happened to the Armistice Agreements, what were the unimplemented points, why hadn’t they been implemented, if he didn’t make an effort to inject a new spirit into the implementation of the Armistice Agreements, if he didn’t mend basic faults which have been created with the passage of time.
He couldn’t avoid admitting that this was his task, and consequently our discussion shifted from one axis to the other. Naturally, his axis remained, but an equilibrium has been attained between the two axes.{*}

NOTE: The SG throughout emphasized the third article in Resolution 113 [WebDoc #107], which reads as follows: “3. Requests the Secretary-General to arrange with the parties for the adoption of any measures which, after discussion with the parties and with the Chief of Staff, he considers would reduce existing tensions along the armistice demarcation lines, including the following points: (a) Withdrawal of their forces from the armistice demarcation lines; (b) Full freedom of movement for United Nations observers along the armistice demarcation lines, in the demilitarized zones and in the defensive areas; (c) Establishment of local arrangements for the prevention of incidents and the prompt detection of any violations of the Armistice Agreements.”

What I have said so far was more or less what was covered in our first conversation which was private, informal, without minutes taken. I was with Eytan, he was with Burns. Later, in the following conversations, when we sat around a table, they were four and we were eight, if I am not mistaken. [- - -]
He began with the subject of the commitment to avoid any hostile action, as required in Article II para. 2, which we had discussed between ourselves and Burns even before Hammarskjöld’s arrival, and seemingly we had reached agreement. He wanted to lend this agreement a more solemn form and therefore proposed that we should again fix a date and time at which it would come into force. Initially he proposed that this commitment would cover three points: a prohibition of shooting over the border; a prohibition against crossing the border; a prohibition against coming near the border, which meant the distancing of military forces. Here he clung to a promise given to Burns that, in order to help Hammarskjöld with his mission, we would agree for a short while to desist from continuing our patrols exactly along the border line. Hammarskjöld wanted to enhance and consolidate this, but we refused him. We said this was a short-term agreement; Nasser had created here a false equilibrium, as if he too desists from sending patrols while in reality the Egyptians have no patrolling. Nasser needs no patrolling, for there are no infiltrators crossing over into Egyptian territory from our side, and no mines are laid on his side of the border. In fact, by agreeing to desist he desists from nothing at all. The commitment thus covers [only] two points: avoidance of opening fire at targets on the other side of the border, and [avoidance] of crossing the border. We shall stick to these two, but we told him that he can be fully confident that we shall not consider this commitment as something absolute. It should be clear that if, because of a security consideration we shall have to come near the border or to move along it we shall do that. [CoS] Dayan, who also participated in the talks, gave him an example. If, for instance, people from the other side cross into our territory and start harvesting in our fields, what are we to do? Should we appeal to the UN and wait until an Observer arrives, or send a force and throw them out? If a necessary arises, we shall get to the border line, but we will do this only under sheer necessity, not as a matter of routine. Hammarskjöld was satisfied with this arrangement and this was confirmed in writing by the Prime Minister.
Hammarskjöld fixed the time for the implementation of this commitment for 18:oo yesterday, and received an Egyptian announcement that strict orders were issued to execute the commitment included in Article II para. 2.
We agreed and said that we were prepared to exclude Article II para. 2 from the Armistice Agreement articles as a whole, and make a special, unconditional commitment regarding this article as long as the other side fulfills it. However, this did not pertain to all other articles of the Armistice Agreements. We said that we were ready to commit ourselves to implementing all articles of the Armistice Agreement, but we want such a commitment from the other side too. At this point a sharp debate ensued around the issue of free maritime passage, and what we are now bringing before the Cabinet for its decision are two poignant questions: one which we put before Hammarskjöld and one which he put before us.
In our letter to Hammarskjöld we argued that, if indeed Egypt undertakes to curtail all hostile acts, it should be clear to her that avoiding such acts means avoiding interfering with [our] shipping through the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Eilat, for such interference is a hostile act. This is how we interpret the Armistice Agreement and this is the interpretation given by Ralph Bunche, the father of the agreement, in his statement before the Security Council when he summed up the process of reaching the Armistice Agreements. He then used the term of “shipping” generally, and he meant shipping in the Mediterranean. At the time he was anxious about interference with shipping in the Mediterranean, not in the Suez Canal or the Gulf of Eilat, and we are relying on his statement which was recorded in the Security Council minutes, black on white. Moreover, this was confirmed by the Security Council when it discussed this issue in September 1951. The issue discussed then was shipping through the Suez Canal, but the argumentation and basis covered shipping in general. There is no doubt that this pertains to the Gulf of Eilat. The Egyptians claim that they are in a state of war with Israel and thus they are allowed to prohibit Israeli shipping in the Suez. The Security Council did not say: “indeed you are in a state of war, but you are not allowed to do that in the Suez.” Rather it said: “You are not in a state of war. This claim of yours is false. You are not allowed to do anything because you are not in a state of war with Israel.”
Hammarskjöld was not too happy with having to deal with this matter. He argued on two levels, one on principle, the other political-practical. His first argument was this: You are aware of my personal attitude, of my position, but I must act within a certain framework. Indeed, according to the Security Council resolution the Egyptian behavior is hard and in contradiction to the Armistice Agreement regime, but the Security Council did not say that this is a violation of any of the agreement’s articles. And the question whether this is a violation of some specific article is open and can have different answers. He also tried to argue that this issue has never been discussed in the Mixed Armistice Commission. This is not correct. It was discussed and all discussions were in our favor.
Hammarskjöld’s political-practical argument was that this issue is as difficult as the parting of the Red Sea. It is highly complicated. Egypt is entangled here with other Arab states, and it has turned into a difficult issue of principle. He said that we may be surprised to learn that Egypt is perhaps the most moderate Arab country on this issue. Therefore he believes that urgent and practical problems, the doing away with the danger of clashes should be dealt with first. Later on, when a more peaceful atmosphere sets in, it would perhaps be possible to deal with this issue with some chance of a solution.
We rejected this position. Here we pressed him most hard, and he was compelled to give way on his entrenched position. We said that we saw this issue as one of the main ones, that one cannot doubt that it is a hostile act. If the stopping of an Israeli ship sailing to an Israeli port by Egyptian military forces who are threatening to sink it is not an aggressive act, then it is not clear at all what an aggressive act is. If the sailing of an Israeli ship to an Israeli port is not a lawful act, then it is impossible to know what a lawful act is.
Moreover, this question has already arisen. If we shall not insist on its solution it would mean that we have acquiesced with the theory that it is not to be seen as a hostile act, or that it is a hostile act which the Armistice Agreement doesn’t prohibit, and this is clearly impossible. We charged him to most seriously discuss this issue with the Egyptians and prove to them that they must desist from doing that. If they do not, it would be clear cut [proof] that they are violating the Armistice Agreement, and then the question will arise whether the commitment [now being sought by the SG] is all-encompassing, or a selective one allowing them to choose what to implement and what not.
It is clear to me that he will have to bring up this question before the Egyptians and then bring us an answer. He would by no means be able to extricate himself from discussing this issue in Cairo within the framework of his present mission. If this does not happen, then I have been seriously wrong in my understanding of the situation.
At the same time Hammarskjöld raised a very serious question. He is charged with reducing the tension, and for this purpose he wants to establish defense arrangements that would guarantee the implementation of the Armistice Agreements along the lines already accepted by Security Council resolutions. This is to be achieved by enhancing the UN Observers’ authority and tasks. He presented us with a paper which included five points:

(1) Along the border, on both sides, permanent observation posts of UN Observers would be established and they would be allowed to man them anytime. We would have no right to stop them, but they would have to notify us before they come. Burns said that the Egyptians have long ago agreed with this proposal, and indeed several such posts were established in a few places on the Egyptian side. When we asked what benefit these posts had brought about and what they had prevented, he said that they were too few [to make a big difference, but] that without these few the situation would have been worse. They had a preventive function and helped in conducting investigations.
 (2) UN Observers will be allowed to patrol freely in the area, this too after informing us first.
 (3) In the text of the Armistice Agreement there is something called “a guarded zone” – these are zones close to the border in which certain limitations on the quality and quantity of forces are set up. Up until now when, for instance, one side tabled a complaint regarding the other stationing forces above what is allowed in this zone, or weapons which are prohibited there, then a UN Observer would be allowed to come and investigate, then the MAC would discuss his report and arrive at a decision. Now it is being proposed that the Observers would enjoy freedom of movement and would not need our approval.
(4) According to the fourth point, when the UN Observers want to get to an observation point or in a guarded zone, they will do it using an itinerary provided by us.
(5) This is a highly important point: when the commander of the UN Observers force believes that within a strip of 5 km. along the border there is something which may lead to a violation of the cease-fire, he has the right to send Observers to investigate what is going on there. Thus, if we were planning a retaliation operation and brought forces into this strip, the Observers would be allowed to go there and look around.

We debated this clause and Ben-Gurion said that we did not want to become a small protectorate of the Security Council. Hammarskjöld answered in a not short speech in which he explained the general background of the matter, saying that the situation was very tense and explosive. The Security Council met. It adopted resolutions several times in the past. The Council is worried about the situation and believes it cannot avoid taking some steps. He clung to the well-known judicial theory over which we have been long debating with him, namely that the powers of the Observers are not based only on the Armistice Agreements, but that they arise also from a certain earlier Security Council resolution regarding the truce. He also hinted clearly that if we disagreed with the UN, with the Security Council, this would not be beneficial to the State of Israel. Generally, he used a fine, gentle language, but every hint was made of steel. When he says that there is generally not a small confusion in the public opinion regarding the situation, he really means that it is not quite clear who is the aggressor, who is preparing for a war, who is scheming for a war. When he says that we are conducting negotiations, he means that we want arms, and the results of our talks with him may influence those negotiations.
He didn’t know that I had received a cable from [our embassy in] Canada regarding arms negotiations which concluded with the following: much would depend on whether the trust gained by the Israeli government thanks to its current restraint and its avoiding [retaliatory] attack would continue; an impression of Israel not cooperating with Hammarskjöld and his proposals may damage this [trust]. Indeed, this is what he wished to tell us.
We told him that the Armistice Agreement was the cornerstone of the whole edifice, that this was the only thing serving as a buffer against chaos. The UN should be interested, above all, in strict compliance with this structure; for if you uproot one stone from the wall, you may upset it all and one cannot foresee how it will end. Instead of a regime based on a clear and defined agreement, supported by the moral authority of the UN, a situation may arise of utmost anarchy and an utterly arbitrary domination of the Security Council over the issue, while at the same time the Council would not have any concrete responsibility for the situation.

At this point Ben-Gurion took the floor, followed by CoS Dayan, and then by various other Ministers. Then Sharett spoke again:

The CoS’s remarks where perhaps God’s Truth, but they most certainly have not fully presented our problem vis-à-vis the world today. How have we presented our problem? We said that we are a state fighting for its survival, a state which has only recently stood up on its feet, a state surrounded by enemies aiming at its destruction, a state facing the real danger of aggression. What have we demanded? We have demanded, first of all, that the world understand our situation, we have demanded that the world help us defend ourselves by arms, we have demanded that the world prevent aggression against us. In demanding all this a direct or indirect accusation against the United Nations is interwoven – a criticism of the United Nations’ total powerlessness and even its unwillingness to take some concrete action. This is what we have been saying, and this is what has been heard all over. No such criticism was ever pronounced regarding any other problem. It was pronounced only regarding our problem. And now the United Nations’ Security Council awoke and is prepared to intervene, for if the United Nations doesn’t deliberate matters, if it does nothing, then what is there to justify it very existence?
This is the general background of the matter before us.
Of course, mistakes can happen. Circumstances change. There are all kinds of maneuvering behind the curtain, but as far as the world is concerned, the Security Council has convened in order to deliberate on our problem. It has made an effort. It has sent the Secretary-General to the region to find out what can be done. Now a demand is being voiced for the UN to execute preventive action, action which would forestall deterioration. If this preventive action fails, it would be clear who is the aggressor – this would be at the core of unanimous world public opinion – and that, first of all, everything possible must be done to stop aggression. If this fails, then at least everyone would know who is to blame.
The Secretary-General has come and is putting forth certain proposals in accordance with Security Council resolutions already adopted. The worst thing that can happen is that a picture will emerge according to which we are saying “No” and it is only we who are saying “No.” I am not arguing that we should accept these proposals because of this consideration, but we should be aware that the world [- - -] does not totally accept in unison the picture as painted by us. We are constantly watched with a suspicion that we are striving for expansion, and that we are certainly considering the waging of a preventive war. Such a negative response by us may indeed be sealing a negative decision against us.
Now, I’m quite experienced in explaining the sanctity of the Armistice Agreement regime – in conversation with some individual it is possible to reach an understanding of this matter. But general public opinion is not interested in such niceties. It says that there is the United Nations, there is the Security Council, and they should act; that if bringing about peace is impossible, let there at least be a reduction in tension.
The fact we are arguing that the Armistice Agreement was not intended to be eternal, but should serve as a short transition to peace, has a boomerang effect against us. Indeed, it was intended to be a short interval, but this has not come to be. We have all succumbed to dreams; “the Arabs are all to blame.” However, this doesn’t mean that the original agreement, now that it has become clear that it will not serve as a transition to a speedy peace but has to exist for a long time, should remain intact with all its small delicate points, that nothing can be changed or amended or added. I think that in this respect there is now an understanding between East and West. The last Soviet communiqué says that the Soviet Union would give the necessary support to any means taken by the United Nations with the aim of securing peace in the area of Palestine and implementing the relevant resolution of the Security Council. I read it as a support of Hammarskjöld’s mission, as seeing the United Nations as the instrument which should and can take action. We should remember that the Security Council resolution was adopted unanimously. I don’t know how we would be able to hold on in our negotiations for arms in view if our dependence on these matters [i.e., cooperating with Hammarskjöld].
At the same time I am against accepting the 5th point [i.e., the right to send UN Observers for investigations into a strip of 5 km along the border]. I am against it both in principle and for a practical reason. The Secretary-General should be aware that we have the right to disagree with him, for the moment he feels that we must at all costs avoid clashing with him, we would be unable to conduct negotiations with him. He must know that, not only can we disagree with him, but that in principle he cannot compel us to accept whatever he decides. Practically, we cannot start getting into compromises on this article. There is no sense in us proposing a strip of one km instead of five. It’s ridiculous. He is getting us to accept quite a high percentage of his proposals, and thus we can allow ourselves to reject this point.
The negotiations have not ended. We do not know how they will end. I am all for continuing them and when necessary we would consult with the Cabinet. 

The debate continued. The operative decisions which were finally taken were not included in the protocols, but it was decided: (1) To confirm the decisions regarding observation posts and patrols of UN Observers along the Gaza Strip; (2) To confirm the reply which would be given by the Prime Minister to the Secretary-General. (Cf. Dayan’s summary of this Cabinet session in Avnei Derekh, 188-89.)