Armistice Agreements, Israel-Arab

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ARMISTICE AGREEMENTS, ISRAEL-ARAB (1949), series of bilateral agreements concluded between Israel and Egypt (Rhodes, Feb. 24, 1949), Lebanon (Rosh ha-Nikrah, March 23, 1949), Jordan (Rhodes, April 3, 1949), and Syria (Maḥanayim, July 20, 1949), terminating the military phase of the *War of Independence.

The arbitrary character of the cease-fire lines of the second truce (July 15, 1948) rapidly became a source of dissatisfaction for all sides, leading to increased tension and outbreaks of heavy, if localized, fighting, especially in the Negev. A United Nations report of September, 1948 referred to an accumulated irritation of daily incidents and the danger that the truce, if too prolonged, would deteriorate into a virtual resumption of hostilities. On Oct. 19, 1948 the Security Council adopted a resolution envisaging negotiations for the settlement of outstanding problems. Shortly afterward un Acting Mediator Ralph Bunche (subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) proposed that the parties should be required to enter into immediate negotiations aiming at a formal peace, or at least an armistice. On Nov. 4, 1948, the Security Council embodied this idea in a resolution relating to the Negev, and followed this with a general resolution on Nov. 16. The resolution urged that, in order to eliminate the threat to peace in Palestine and to facilitate the transition from truce to permanent peace, an armistice should be established in all sectors. To this end, it called upon the parties to seek agreement forthwith by negotiations conducted either directly or through the Acting Mediator. On Nov. 23, 1948 Israel indicated its preference for direct negotiations or, if that was impracticable, for negotiations through the United Nations. In December, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon also accepted the Nov. 16 resolution in principle, although they were not prepared to enter into negotiations immediately. Only after a further outbreak in the Negev at the end of December did Egypt decide to enter into immediate negotiations, which began at Rhodes on Jan. 12, 1949. The conferences with Lebanon and Jordan began on March 1. Syria did not agree to negotiate until March 21, 1949, the conference itself commencing on April 5. In each case the negotiations were terminated by the formal signing of a General Armistice Agreement.

Of the other Arab states involved in the War of Independence, Saudi Arabia formally notified the United Nations that it accepted the decisions of the Arab League on the Palestine situation, Yemen took no formal steps, and Iraq authorized Jordan to negotiate for the substantial Iraqi forces in its sector, which were to be withdrawn.

All four of these conferences followed a similar pattern, the framework of which was the Security Council's resolution of Nov. 16, 1948. Bunche was chairman of the conferences with Egypt and Jordan, and his personal deputy, Henri Vigier, chaired the conferences with Lebanon and Syria. They were assisted by the Chief of Staff of the un Truce Supervision Organization (u.n.t.s.o.), Major General William E. Riley (U.S. Marine Corps). The negotiations proceeded both formally and informally, and frequently directly and not in the presence of the United Nations representatives. When the conference with Jordan encountered difficulties, the major issues were resolved directly between the two governments outside the conference. At one time, when the conference with Syria was on the point of breaking down, the general settlement of the issues of principle was negotiated by the governments directly, through un Secretary-General Trygve Lie.

The four agreements also conform to a pattern. The Egyptian Agreement, being the first, constituted the model. In addition to two matters specifically mentioned in the Security Council resolution, namely, the establishment of the armistice itself and a withdrawal and reduction of the armed forces to insure its maintenance during the transition to permanent peace, they included provisions for the repatriation of prisoners of war. Each agreement provided for a bilateral Mixed Armistice Commission (m.a.c.), composed of representatives of the two sides under the chairmanship of the Chief of Staff of u.n.t.s.c.o. or his representative. At the armistice conferences, decisions could be reached only through the agreement of both parties; the m.a.c.s, however, operated by majority vote, the chairman also having a vote. The Egyptian Agreement contained provisions for an appeal committee from the m.a.c. but this was not followed in the other agreements. In practice, serious disputes not settled by the m.a.c. were left suspended or brought before the Security Council. The Demarcation Lines were determined primarily on the basis of local military needs, but subsequently, considerable difficulties arose in marking the lines on the ground.

As a result of the negotiations, Egypt was left in control of the Gaza Strip, but otherwise withdrew behind the previous frontier; Israeli forces withdrew from areas occupied in Lebanon, and the Demarcation Line followed the previous frontier; Jordan was left in control of a large bulge on the west bank of the Jordan River, including the Old City of Jerusalem; and Syrian armed forces withdrew to the Syria-Palestine international frontier, the areas between that line and the line of their forward advance in the War of Independence constituting a demilitarized zone which was also extended to the Ein Gev sector.

The agreements, both as originally conceived by the Security Council and as stated expressly in each of them, were provisional measures, not prejudicing the rights, claims, or positions of any party to facilitate the transition from the truce to permanent peace. They were hailed as such in the Security Council in August 1949 and were regarded by many representatives as virtually constituting non-aggression pacts between the parties. However, almost from the beginning, fundamental differences of opinion concerning their real purport became apparent and led to gradual loss of effectiveness on the part of the m.a.c. machinery. The Arab governments regarded the armistices as incidents in a war, which left intact their general belligerent rights. The most spectacular illustration of this was Egypt's refusal to raise the blockade of the Suez Canal and its later extension of the blockade to the Gulf of Akaba – actions which earned the censure of the Security Council in its resolution of Sept. 1, 1951. Israel, on the other hand, putting the agreements in the context of the United Nations Charter, considered that they terminated any possible state of war.

Although it was generally thought that the armistice would be of short duration and that the negotiations then being conducted through the Palestine Conciliation Commission would rapidly lead to a general peace settlement, such hopes were soon frustrated. After the final breakdown of the commission's negotiations in 1951, the stresses on the armistice increased. By 1955 it was becoming obvious that the agreements were wearing thin, and efforts were made by un Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold to arrest their deterioration, which was particularly marked in the case of the Egyptian and Syrian Agreements. In the *Sinai Campaign of Oct.–Nov. 1956 Israel announced that because of Egyptian belligerency and persistent violations of the armistice, the Egyptian Agreement was no longer serving any useful purpose and withdrew from further participation in that m.a.c.

The other agreements continued to function, although with varying degrees of difficulty and strain. However, toward the end of 1966, despite efforts by un Secretary-General U Thant, tensions caused by Syrian encouragement of Arab terrorists, as well as direct encroachments on the Demilitarized Zone, led to the collapse of that agreement. The war of June 1967 swept away what was left of the armistice which was replaced by new cease-fire arrangements on the basis of the resolutions of the Security Council of June 1967.


United Nations Treaty Series, 42 (1949); Sh. Rosenne, Israel's Armistice Agreements with the Arab States (1951); N. Bar-Yaacov, Israel-Syrian Armistice, Problems of Implementation, 1949–1966 (1967); Israel Government, Reshumot, Kitvei-Amanah, 1 (1950), 3–63; D. Brook, Preface to Peace (1964).

[Shabtai Rosenne]