Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) co-hosted a Jan. 22 conference entitled "Negotiating Middle East Peace: From Bunche to Bush." The event, held at Georgetown, attracted a large audience of academics, students, journalists, and many retired U.N. and State Department employees.
Noting that the conference marked the 25th anniversary of the ISD's founding at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, ISD director Casimir A. Yost introduced the first panel, "Ralph Bunche and Multilateral Diplomacy." Former U.S. Ambassador and permanent representative to the UN. Donald McHenry, currently a Georgetown professor, engaged Brian Urquhart, former U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, in a dialogue about his mentor, Bunche.
Bunche succeeded UN. peace mediator Count Folke Bernadette after the Swedish diplomat was assassinated Sept. 17, 1948 by the Jewish terrorist group LEHI (Lohamei Herut Yisrael, or Freedom Fighters of Israel), headed by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The day before his death, Bernadotte had released a report affirming the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Urquhart, author of Ralph Bunche: An American Life, shared his own memories of Bunche, whom he described as an "intellectual in action" and a man with a "powerful analytical mind." As executor of Bunche's estate and Bunche's successor at the U.N., Urquhart's shared both personal and professional recollections.
Between 1947 and 1949, Bunche was directly involved in the Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine. He served as assistant to the U. N. Special Committee on Palestine, principal secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission, and chief aide to Count Bernadotte. Among Bunche's achievements as Bernadotte's successor was the Arab-Israeli armistice agreements brokered on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Urquhart said he viewed Bunche as Bernadotte's "strong right hand." Bunche's ability to mediate successfully was a result of three factors, said his biographer: his understanding of a situation, sympathy for parties in mediation, and knowledge of their respective fears. Unlike the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP)-which, according to Urquhart, "refused to negotiate" and dithered around on the periphery, largely as a result of dependence on its respective member governments (Turkey, France and the U.S.)-the U.N. mediator played a very independent role.
One reason Bunche succeeded in negotiating the Arab-Israeli armistice agreements, according to Urquhart, was his deft handling of the press. Bunche was "an extremely discreet man," Urquhart noted-to the point of lunacy-and his refusal to be interviewed before the agreements were concluded "made an enormous difference" in the outcome of the negotiations. …