Sunday, August 14, 2016

116 - Excerpts from FM Sharett Report to the Knesset FADC, May 16, 1956

I will now report on the second round of our talks with the Secretary-General. First of all, Egypt. Here we dealt with two central issues. The first was the two tragic incidents at Nahal Oz and the mining which occurred on the same day. The SG tried to argue that such incidents are not covered by Article II (2), for it pertains to actions taken by armed forces. While these include feday’un, they do not include fellaheen reaping in the fields. We said it doesn’t matter how our people are killed. We do not want them to be killed, and if they are, this means that the situation is not normal and is in need of repair. At the end of a long debate he admitted that the situation is not normal and therefore went back to Egypt and received an additional Egyptian commitment.
            In parenthesis I will enlighten you on this issue of Article II (2). As you know, the first Armistice Agreement was signed with Egypt and was followed by agreements with Jordan, Lebanon and finally Syria. At the time I was not deeply involved, but apparently our people wisened up after the signing with Egypt, and in the following three agreements Article II (2) appears as Article III (2) and is followed by III (3). These state that any crossing of the lines and shooting by armed forces is prohibited and the governments must prevent such actions by civilians as well.
            The second central issue was the connection between Articles VII and VIII and Article I, and especially I (3). Articles VII-VIII deal with all rules regarding the stationing of forces in border areas.
            This includes three important points: a) Demilitarization of the Nitzana area, which means that by keeping forces there we are violating this article. b) Non-existence of any Egyptian military posts inside a certain area in Sinai and opposite Nitzana. c) Establishing limits on size of forces which the sides are allowed to keep in the defensive areas along the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Regarding the Nitzana area there are stricter rules. We are claiming that the Egyptians are violating (c) as well, and they have doubled or tripled their forces in the Gaza Strip and [opposite] Nitzana. The Egyptians admit that they strengthened their forces there but argue that we have also passed the limit and I am not prepared to prophesy that there is no basis for their claim.
            Hammarskjöld brought us from Cairo an Egyptian agreement for mutually implementing Articles VII-VIII together with I (3) which establishes the right of each side to be secure and free from fear of attack by the other. He said that if they give a sign regarding this agreement it would be possible to start implementing Burns’ plan and asked us what that sign should be. We said: a commitment to stop interfering with our free passage [through Suez]. This he accepted but said they would find it difficult to openly say so, and we answered that we are not interested in declarations but in concrete action.
            When we asked him what would happen if the Egyptians did not implement their commitment, he said: “If so, you would be allowed to go back to Nitzana.”
            In the beginning I wrote him a very serious letter regarding Nitzana in which I described the general security situation and the concentration of Egyptian forces in Sinai. I stated that evacuating our forces from Nitzana amounts to “Israel baring its chest.” When he came he said: “I have read the Foreign Minister’s letter and I understand that in view of your security situation you cannot now evacuate Nitzana. It was on this basis that he told us – not at the negotiations table but after the end of our first meeting – “If they do not fulfill the Armistice Agreement you would be allowed to return to Nitzana and I would be the first one to support you on that.” We asked him to put this on paper and he did.
            Let me say immediately, in order to do away with any illusions, that all this sounded suspicious to me right from the beginning. Indeed, when he came back to us after his third visit to Cairo, he did not bring us a clear Egyptian commitment regarding free passage. They stick to the implementation of Articles VII and VIII. He was of course deeply disappointed. He will probably say in his report that they avoided this for the time being. He would find it difficult to admit that he had been deceived, that he was not tough enough with Nasser. Clearly he was deluded by Nasser on this point and he misled us. This may push him to accuse us, and it throws a big question mark on this part of his report. He may go back to his former position that the mutual implementation of Articles VII and VIII has nothing to do with stopping interference with free passage. I do not exclude this possibility.
            I will now move on to Jordan. Here we discussed three issues: the general situation along the border, the joint agreements by local commanders, and the famous Article VIII of the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement. With regard to the borders he said that he received from them an unconditional commitment to implement Article II (2). Regarding local commanders’ agreements, an arrangement has been in effect in Jerusalem, only without the participation of UN Observers; we agreed that this should be practiced everywhere with the observers’ participation, as the Jordanians wanted. On Article VIII we argued that this highly serious clause had been violated from the very beginning and demanded that the SG state his position regarding it. He tried to evade the joint Israeli-Jordanian [Mixed] Armistice Commission issue which includes the renewal of activity by the Israeli institutions on Mount Scopus, free passage to the holy places, free movement on the Latrun road, supply of electricity to the Old City, resumption of train service to Jerusalem. As you are aware, only the train issue was solved, and that thanks to our agreement on border corrections with King Abdullah, by which the whole length of the railway was annexed to Israeli territory. The SG, rejecting our accusations against Jordan, accused us. Regarding Mount Scopus, he said the Jordanians are complaining that we are turning the place into an armed position which threatens them. We retorted that since the Jordanians prevent the reopening of the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital there, what is left to us is keeping the place as a police station. Clearly it was obvious that he finds himself in a complicated position here and it remains be seen how he deals with this in his report.
            He visited the Wailing Wall and told us how he was escorted by eight policemen in front of him and eight behind, while the city’s governor held his arm lest something happen to him. He said: “When I was walking through those narrow and winding alleys I was thinking what would happen if a Jew would walk there to the Wailing Wall – wouldn’t he be stoned or shot at?” I said to him: “There is something shocking here. The al-Aqsa Mosque is in the hands of Muslims. They have free passage to it. The Old City’s Christian holy places are in the hands of the churches and we allow Christians to cross over there. The Wailing Wall, which is a holy place to Jews, is cut off from us. Can the United Nations agree with such a situation? Some arrangement must arrived at – free passage on several days of the year, limiting the number of Jewish visitors, say ten at a time, because less than ten [a minyan, or quorum for prayer] is impossible. He was quite upset and said that if the matter of [Article] II (2) is resolved, and a quiet period ensues, he would be prepared to deal seriously with this matter. However, regarding our strong demand for freedom to use Mount Scopus installations he had no answer. This matter remains unclear.
            Now to Syria. Here we dealt with two topics - the Kinneret and the Jordan channel. He brought additional proposals to the second round of our talks. He told us that the Syrians have agreed to the establishing of UN Observation posts inside their territory and asked us if we would also agree to do the same. Second, would we agree with the observers using a boat on the Kinneret. We rejected both proposals. As to the question of Syrian fishing in the Kinneret, this is a very old story. The Syrians claimed that they have a proprietary right on fishing there. We said from the start that we were willing to respect these rights but only if local Syrians approach us for licenses. The Syrians refused to do so since that would have meant recognition of our sovereignty over the lake. Now the SG has reopened this issue and proposed that we agree in principle to supply licenses, that we agree on a certain procedure by which the Syrians would apply for licenses through UN Observers. We rejected this procedure. Licenses should be requested directly from us, and the licensed Syrian fishermen would be subject to Israeli regulations the same as Israeli fishermen are. On this topic we have not heard anything more from him, and I do not know whether this will be dealt with in his report.
            On the Jordan channel his position is this: a) He certainly approves of the project. There is no doubt that it must be executed and the Arab position is scandalous. A day will come when they will have to be told that they must stop with this nonsense. b) Juridically, there is a decisive fact of the SC resolution [calling on Israel] to stop working for the period of the Council’s urgent discussion. The Syrians claim that this decision means that the Israelis cannot resume work. But there was no such decision. We interpret this decision as prohibiting work as long as the SC discussion was going on. This short discussion ended and there is no reason not to renew work; therefore we are free to work. The Syrians’ interpretation is that we are not allowed to renew work. Hammarskjöld argues that he, as the UN SG, has no power of interpretation – only the SC has that. Practically he is convinced that this Council’s decision is in force as long as the SC has not stated that it has stopped discussing the issue. In his opinion this is what the SC would conclude if it dealt again with this issue. Anyway, in a private talk, which should be kept secret, he said he was prepared to promise that if a quiet season continued, he would deal seriously with this matter.
            He took the following line: a) He would most strongly oppose any connection between this issue and Article II (2). b) He would notify the Syrians that if we resumed work and they forcefully interfered with it, they could not threaten or act aggressively. They could go [and appeal] to the SC. c) If they say to him that Israel cannot renew the work, or ask him if renewal is permissible, he would answer that he has no authority to interpret the Council’s resolutions.
            After Hammarskjöld returned from Damascus and told us he had obtained an unconditional Syrian commitment to implement Article II (2), the Syrians declared that their commitment was conditional, meaning that if we renewed work on the Jordan channel they would not be bound by that commitment. Faced with this Hammarskjöld laughed and said he had learned a lesson about Damascus logic, and that he would formally publish what he received from them. Later he asked us to confirm his statement that only the SC is authorized to interpret its decisions. I don’t think that this is the end of the affair. Our position remains that the correct interpretation of the SC resolution is that we are free to renew work anytime. He said that he had informed the Syrians of this position of ours. As of now, the issue has not been finally decided.
            I would like to share with you my feeling that the chapter of the SG’s mission which has just ended is not the end of an affair but the beginning of a new affair. In addition to the two institutions with which we have been dealing – the General Assembly and the Security Council, a third one has entered as an active participant in our affairs. This is the institution called the Secretary-General. Hammarskjöld is going to act as the Security Council’s instrument but also in his capacity of being the Secretary-General.
            Another observation of mine is that his method is to initially minimize complications and be conducive to attaining swift, positive results. This generally causes him to take a position which is more comfortable for the Arabs than for us, since they are more numerous in the UN and thus their pressure is more intense. However, when he is faced with a well-founded contrary position, not only juridically but also relying on public opinion – and he is sensitive to public opinion – he retreats and changes his attitude, albeit not completely.