June – September 1948

Source Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Volume 5, Part 2, The Near East (print edition), pp. 1401-1406, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State. The Near East, South Asia, and Africa

First UN Mediator to any conflict adjudicated by the newly established United Nations, Bernadotte suggests Israel’s permanence, new boundaries, fixing boundaries between Israel and Jordan, refugees returning to their homes or payment made to those who do not return. Bernadotte estimated that there were 230,000 Arab and 7,000 Jewish refugees in the summer of 1948, one-third the number of Arab refugees estimated by the end of 1948-49 war (710,000). Bernadotte sought to apply a concept of homogeneity of population in drawing new borders. The Negev, he said should be an Arab territory. Bernadotte intimated the return to the 1947 UN Partition boundaries for an Arab and Jewish state. He stated that Jerusalem be placed under effective UN control. It was Bernadotte’s major thrust to return to the 1947 Partition lines that motivated Jewish militants to assassinate him on September 17, 1948, exactly three decades before Egypt’s President Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Begin signed the Camp David Accords outlining frameworks for an Egyptian-Israeli Treaty and for application of an ambiguously defined autonomy for the Palestinians. The Palestine UN mediator who followed him was Ralph Bunche, who negotiated the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and Arab states.  Bernadotte’s suggestion for refugees to either return to their homes or receive compensation appeared in UN Resolution 191, passed in December 1948.

Ken Stein, April 2021

[Document 601] Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator in Palestine, June-September 1948  [Extracts] .

. . . . . . . . . [PART ONE] VIII. CONCLUSIONS [regarding the Mediation Effort]

 1. Since I presented my written suggestions to the Arab and Jewish authorities on 27 June, I have made no formal submission to either party of further suggestions or proposals for a definitive settlement. Since that date, however, I have held many oral discussions in the Arab capitals and Tel-Aviv, in the course of which various ideas on settlement have been freely exchanged. As regards my original suggestions, I hold to the opinion that they offered a general framework within which a reasonable and workable settlement might have been reached, had the two parties concerned been willing to discuss them. They were flatly rejected, however, by both parties. Since they were put forth on the explicit condition that they were purely tentative, were designed primarily to elicit views and counter-suggestions from each party, and, in any event, could be implemented only if agreed upon by both parties, I have never since pressed them. With respect to one basic concept in my suggestions, it has become increasingly clear to me that, however desirable a political and economic union might be in Palestine, the time is certainly not now propitious for the effectuation of any such scheme. 

2. I do not consider it to be within my province to recommend to the Members of the United Nations a proposed course of action on the Palestine question. That is a responsibility of the Members acting through the appropriate organs. In my role as United Nations Mediator, however, it was inevitable that I should accumulate information and draw conclusions from my experience which might well be of assistance to Members of the United Nations in charting the future course of United Nations action on Palestine. I consider it my duty, therefore, to acquaint the Members of the United Nations, through the medium of this report, with certain of the conclusions on means of peaceful adjustment which have evolved from my frequent consultations with Arab and Jewish authorities over the past three and one-half months and from my personal appraisal of the present Palestinian scene, I do not suggest that these conclusions would provide the basis for a proposal which would readily win the willing approval of both parties. I have not, in the course of my intensive efforts to achieve agreement between Arabs and Jews, been able to devise any such formula, I am convinced, however, that it is possible at this stage to formulate a proposal which, if firmly approved and strongly backed by the General Assembly, would not be forcibly resisted by either side, confident as I am, of course, that the Security Council stands firm in its resolution of 15 July that military action shall not be employed by either party in the Palestine dispute. It cannot be ignored that the vast difference between now and last November is that a war has been started and stopped and that in the intervening months decisive events have occurred. 


3. The following seven basic premises form the basis for my conclusions: 

Return to peace

  1. Peace must return to Palestine and every feasible measure should be taken to ensure that hostilities will not be resumed and that harmonious relations between Arab and Jew will ultimately be restored. 

The Jewish State 

  1. A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not, continue to do so. 
  1. Boundary determination

 (c) The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations. 

Continuous frontiers 

(d) Adherence to the principle of geographical homogeneity and integration, which should be the major objective of the boundary arrangements, should apply equally to Arab and Jewish territories, whose frontiers should not, therefore, be rigidly controlled by the territorial arrangements envisaged in the resolution of 29 November. 

Right of repatriation

 (e) The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return. 


(f) The City of Jerusalem, because of its religious and international significance and the complexity of interests involved, should be accorded special and separate treatment. International responsibility (g) International responsibility should be expressed where desirable and necessary in the form ofinternational guarantees, as a means of allaying existing fears, and particularly with regard to boundaries and human rights. 


4. The following conclusions, broadly outlined, would, in my view, considering all the circumstances, provide a reasonable, equitable and workable basis for settlement: 

(a) Since the Security Council, under pain of Chapter VIII sanctions, has forbidden further employment of military action in Palestine as a means of settling the dispute, hostilities should be pronounced formally ended either by mutual agreement of the parties or, failing that, by the United Nations. The existing indefinite truce should be superseded by a formal peace, or at the minimum, an armistice which would involve either complete withdrawal and demobilization of armed forces or their wide separation by creation of broad demilitarized zones under United Nations supervision.

 (b) The frontiers between the Arab and Jewish territories, in the absence of agreement between Arabs and Jews, should be established by the United Nations and delimited by a technical boundaries commission appointed by and responsible to the United Nations, with the following revisions in the boundaries broadly defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November in order to make them more equitable, workable and consistent with existing realities in Palestine. 

       (I) The area known as the Negeb, south of a line running from the sea near Majdal east-southeast to Faluja (both of which places would be in Arab territory), should be defined as Arab territory;

      (II) The frontier should run from Faluja north northeast to Ramleh and Lydda (both of which places would be in Arab territory), the frontier at Lydda then following the line established in the General Assembly resolution of 29 November; (III) Galilee should be defined as Jewish territory. 

(c) The disposition of the territory of Palestine not included within the boundaries of the Jewish State should be left to the Governments of the Arab States in full consultation with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, with the recommendation, however, that in view of the historical connexion and common interests of Transjordan and Palestine, there would be compelling reasons for merging the Arab territory of Palestine with the territory of Transjordan, subject to such frontier rectifications regarding other Arab States as may be found practicable and desirable. 

(d) The United Nations, by declaration or other appropriate means, should undertake to provide special assurance that the boundaries between the Arab and Jewish territories shall be respected and maintained, subject only to such modifications as may be mutually agreed upon by the parties concerned.

(e) The port of Haifa, including the oil refineries and terminals, and without prejudice to their inclusion in the sovereign territory of the Jewish State or the administration of the city of Haifa, should be declared a free port, with assurances of free access for interested Arab countries and an undertaking on their part to place no obstacle in the way of oil deliveries by pipeline to the Haifa refineries, whose distribution would continue on the basis of the historical pattern. 

(f) The airport of Lydda should be declared a free airport with assurance of access to it and employment of its facilities for Jerusalem and interested Arab countries.

 (g) The City of Jerusalem, which should be understood as covering the area defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November, should be treated separately and should be placed under effective United Nations control with maximum feasible local autonomy for its Arab and Jewish communities, with full safeguards for the protection of the Holy Places and sites and free access to them, und for religious freedom.

(h) The right of unimpeded access to Jerusalem, by road, rail or air, should be fully respected by all parties. 

(i) The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish-controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations conciliation commission described in paragraph (k) below.

(j) The political, economic, social and religious rights of all Arabs in the Jewish territory of Palestine and of all Jews in the Arab territory of Palestine should be fully guaranteed and respected by the authorities. The conciliation commission provided for in the following paragraph should supervise the observance of this guarantee. It should also lend its good offices, on the invitation of the parties, to any efforts toward exchanges of populations with a view to eliminating troublesome minority problems, and on the basis of adequate compensation for property owned. 

(k) In view of the special nature of the Palestine problem and the dangerous complexities of Arab-Jewish relationships, the United Nations should establish a Palestine conciliation commission. This commission, which should be appointed for a limited period, should be responsible to the United Nations and act under its authority. The commission, assisted by such United Nations personnel as may prove necessary, should undertake. 

     (I) To employ its good offices to make such recommendations to the parties or to the United Nations, and to take such other steps as may be appropriate, with a view to ensuring the continuation of the peaceful adjustment of the situation in Palestine; 

     (II) Such measures as it might consider appropriate in fostering the cultivation of friendly relations between Arabs and Jews; 

     (III) To supervise the observance of such boundary, road, railroad, free port, free airport, minority rights and other arrangements as may be decided upon by the United Nations;

(IV) To report promptly to the United Nations any development in Palestine likely to alter the arrangements approved by the United Nations in the Palestine settlement or to threaten the peace of the area. 

[PART THREE] VI. CONCLUSIONS [regarding Assistance to Refugees]

1. Conclusions which may be derived from the experience to date are summarized as follows:

(a) As a result of the conflict in Palestine there are approximately 330,000 Arab refugees and 7,000 Jewish refugees requiring aid in that country and adjacent States.

(b) Large numbers of these are infants, children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. Their condition is one of destitution and they are “vulnerable groups” in the medical and social sense. 

(c) The destruction of their property and the loss of their assets will render most of them a charge upon the communities in which they have sought refuge for a minimum period of one year (through this winter and until the end of the 1949 harvest).

 (d) The Arab inhabitants of Palestine are not citizens or subjects of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan, the States which are at present providing them with a refuge and the basic necessities of life. As residents of Palestine, a former mandated territory for which the international community has a continuing responsibility until a final settlement is achieved, these Arab refugees understandably look to the United Nations for effective assistance. 

(e) The temporary alleviation of their condition, which is all that my disaster relief programme can promise them now is quite inadequate to meet any continuing need, unless the resources in supplies and personnel available are greatly increased. Such increased resources might indirectly be of permanent value in establishing social services in the countries concerned, or greatly improving existing services. This applies particularly to general social administrative organizations, maternal and child care services, the training of social workers, and the improvement of food economics. 

(f) The refugees, on return to their homes, are entitled to adequate safeguards for their personal security, normal facilities for employment, and adequate opportunities to develop within the community without racial, religious or social discrimination. (g) So long as large numbers of the refugees remain in distress, I believe that responsibility for their relief should be assumed by the United Nations in conjunction with the neighbouring Arab States, the Provisional Government of Israel, the specialized agencies, and also all the voluntary bodies or organizations of a humanitarian and non-political character. 2. In concluding this part of my report, I must emphasize again the desperate urgency of this problem. The choice is between saving the lives of many thousands of people now or permitting them to die. The situation of the majority of these hapless refugees is already tragic, and to prevent them from being overwhelmed by further disaster and to make possible their ultimate rehabilitation, it is my earnest hope that the international community will give all necessary support to make the measures I have outlined fully effective. I believe that for the international community to accept its share of responsibility for the refugees of Palestine is one of the minimum conditions for the success of its efforts to bring peace to that land.