Middle East History: It Happened in April; 1949 Lausanne Conference Seals Fate of Palestine

By Neff, Donald | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Middle East History: It Happened in April; 1949 Lausanne Conference Seals Fate of Palestine


Neff, Donald, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN APRIL; 1949 Lausanne Conference Seals Fate of Palestine

By Donald Neff

It was 47 years ago, on April 27, 1949, that the first peace conference on Palestine opened in Lausanne, Switzerland, under the auspices of the U.N. Palestine Conciliation Commission. The PCC had been created the previous year to "achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between" Arabs and Jews in Palestine. 1 It was at Lausanne that the dismal future of the Palestinians was decided.

The prospect of forging peace treaties at Lausanne between Israel and its neighbors caused the State Department to delineate clearly U.S. policy on a number of basic issues, including America's attitude toward the boundaries of the new Jewish state, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of 726,000 Palestinian refugees and the question of a Palestinian state. The policy positions were spelled out in top-secret instructions by acting secretary of state Robert A. Lovett on Jan. 19 and given to the U.S. delegate to the PCC just before he departed for Palestine. 2

boundaries. Lovett revealed that the United States believed the boundaries of the new state of Israel should be those defined by the 1947 U.N. resolution partitioning Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The instructions specifically noted that "Israel is not entitled" to retain its 1948 conquests beyond those borders. (Israel had been allotted by the U.N. 56 percent of the land but had ended the fighting in control of 77 percent of Palestine.) However, "If Israel desires additions to its territory...Israel should make territorial concessions elsewhere..."

Jerusalem. Lovett said the status of Jerusalem should remain as called for in the partition plan, a city receiving "special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control." In other words, neither Arab nor Jew should call Jerusalem its capital. Lovett said that a U.N. commissioner for Jerusalem should be appointed "to supervise the administration of the area, to guarantee free access to the city and the holy places, and to insure adequate protection of the latter."

Refugees. The U.S. position on the Palestinian refugees, Lovett wrote, was the same as expressed in U.N. Resolution 194, passed Dec. 11, 1948. It called for the right of the refugees to return to their homes now occupied by Israel or, if they chose, for compensation and relocation.

Palestinians. Most significantly, Lovett revealed that the United States "favors incorporation of greater part of Arab Palestine in Transjordan. The remainder might be divided among other Arab states as seems desirable." In other words, the United States did not support self-determination for the Palestinians or an independent Palestinian state. In Washington's view, the Palestinians were not a separate people deserving the Wilsonian right to determine their own fate.

The United States did not support self-determination for the Palestinians.

Two venues were involved in the Palestine Conciliation Commission's efforts: Jerusalem, to establish an international regime for that city, and Lausanne, where the members met unsuccessfully between April 27 and Sept. 15, 1949 to resolve all other problems in order to achieve overall peace. 3

Commission members were France (Claude de Boisanger), Turkey (Huseyin Cahit Yalchin) and the United States (Mark F. Ethridge). An Israeli delegation was headed by Dr. Walter Eytan, a veteran negotiator, while the Arabs appeared as one body represented by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan. A "Palestinian Adviser," Ahmad Shuqayri, was attached to the Syrian delegation--meaning the Palestinians did not have their own independent delegate in the discussions that were focused on their future. 4 Mark Ethridge, the U.S. delegate, was a political appointee who had been publisher of the Louisville Courier Journal and was a personal friend of President Harry S. …

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