UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE
SUMMARY RECORD OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTIETH MEETING
Held at Government House, Jerusalem,
on 31 August, 1950 at 10.30 a.m.
The CHAIRMAN welcomes to Jerusalem the members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The Commission was glad, before leaving for New York, to have an opportunity of exchanging views with the Agency so as to bring into line the reports of the two United Nations organs with a common task in the Near East.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) thanked the Chairman for his kind welcome.
1. Problem of Compensation
The CHAIRMAN said that undoubtedly, the question of most immediate urgency was that of compensation, on which the Commission was making great efforts to achieve concrete results. The Commission had recently had an interview with Mr. Sharett, the Israel Minister for Foreign Affairs, following a conversation with Mr. Ben Gurion, the Israel Prime Minister. Both had adopted the traditional Israeli attitude that the question of compensation must be settled within the framework of the general peace negotiations.
During the interview, the Chairman had pointed out that the Conciliation Commission, bearing in mind its responsibility on the question of refugees in general end of compensation in particular, felt sure that it was possible to establish a firm basis on which the settlement of compensation to Arab refugees owning property in Israel territory could be calculated and carried out. He had informed the Israel Government that on the strength of its conviction, the Commission had just decided to set up a subsidiary body, a Committee of Experts, to examine the legal and technical aspects of compensation. He pointed out that the Commission had expressed the hope that the Israel Government would be prepared, when the time came, to co-operate with that Committee to the fullest possible extent.
Explaining the views of the Commission, which was bound by the terms of the General Assembly’s resolution of 11 December 1948, the Chairman pointed out that the compensation payable to Arab refugees owning property in Israel-occupied territory should not be confused with any assistance which might be granted for the resettlement of refugees. Such compensation should be calculated on the basis of losses actually sustained; hence such losses must be assessed. It would be interesting in that respect to know how many small and how many big property owners would be entitled to such payments. Obviously the relevant provision of the General Assembly’s resolution of 11 December 1948 did. not refer to the bulk of the refugees, who were not property owners, but merely to those refugees who had property in Israel territory and who might choose not to return to their homes.
Mr. de BOISANGER (France) said that during the interview with the Israel Foreign Minister, the Israel Government had shown a marked tendency to take the view that the question of resettlement of Palestine Arab refugees in the Arab countries should be decided between the Arab States and Israel direct. It was a tendency that should be discouraged. If the Arab States agreed to the resettlement of refugees on their territories, they would obviously do so on their own terms and would ask for assistance from the United Nations. Hence the question of resettlement should be examined between the Arab States and the United Nations, not between the Arab States and Israel.
With regard to compensation the problem should be taken up by the Commission with Israel and with the Arab States as well. It must not be expected that the latter would show co-operative spirit unless the proposed solution was satisfactory to them.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) thought that more and more importance should be attached to the question of compensation. Even if the Arab States agreed to consider resettling a certain number of refugees in their territories, they would certainly make the acceptance subject to payment of compensation to the refugees. During a conversation between the members of the Agency and members of the Syrian Government, the Prime Minister had stated that the most important point was to recognize the right of refugees to return to their homes or to opt for resettlement in an Arab State; and that in the latter event, i.e. where Arab refugees from Palestine opted for remaining, in Syria, the Syrian Government was prepared. to resettle each refugees, subject to approval by the Arab League, and provided they received compensatory payment for the property they had been obliged to leave in Israel-occupied territory.
He wondered whether the Conciliation Commission thought that the Israel Government had at present the necessary funds for the `payment for such compensation. He ventured to query the point, because during conversations he had had in Tel Aviv, the Foreign Minister had stated an the subject of compensation that the longer a decision regarding payment of compensation was held up, the more the funds earmarked for such payment were dwindling, since in present circumstances, Israel was obliged to maintain her army on a war footing.
The CHAIRMAN said that the Commission had no information about the existence of a. fund established by Israel for payment in due course of such compensation; but clearly, in view of the commitments of a country in the throes of economic organization, Israel would make every effort to avoid any further financial burdens.
During conversations between the Commission and the Syrian Government, the Syrian Prime Minister had asked for explanations regarding the problem of compensation. He wanted to know in particular what was implied under international law by the notion of “compensation”. Did it mean compensation for loss of movable or immovable property, as well as for prejudice suffered by refugees escaping from Israel-occupied territory and thus losing their employment and means of livelihood? The Chairmen had replied that for the moment compensation related only to payments to make good the less of movable or immovable property; but that the question might be raised in the General Assembly, which if it saw fit might decide to draw up a resolution to the effect that compensatory payment should be made not only to persons who had lost property but to those who had lost their employment and means of livelihood.
Mr. Rustu ARAS (Turkey), referring to the possibility of assessing the value of refugee property, pointed out that there was an organization in Israel whose task it was to administer the property of absent persons, from which useful information might be obtained. It would appear, judging by articles that had recently appeared in the Jewish press, that the organization in question only took over property belonging to Arabs who had sought refuge in the Arab countries in so far as it deemed it necessary to facilitate the settlement of Jewish immigrants; and that such property was not transferred but was merely leased.
The CHAIRMAN said that the question had been raised during the recent interview between the Commission and the Israel Foreign Minister. The latter had assured the Commission that such property would not be disposed of without good reason and after due consideration. In any case, he had stated that generally speaking the bulk of the property belonging to Arabs who had taken refuge in the Arab States would not be affected by the decisions recently referred to in the Israeli press.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) said that compensation took on a different aspect according as it was regarded as an individual payment made to the owners of property in Israel, or as a lump sum payable by the State of Israel to the Arab States. It would appear that Israel favoured the payment of a lump sum.
From a practical standpoint, it was essential to know how many property owners were entitled to compensation on an individual basis. From the social point of view, it would be useful to know how many refugees possessed property, how many had held positions and had lost them as a result of the occupation by Israel of territories where they were domiciled, and also how many possessed no more then the capacity to work, and could conceivably be employed elsewhere. Did the Commission expect to be able to collect all the data necessary to assess the position?
Mr. Rustu ARAS (Turkey) thought that the method used previously in similar instances might well be adopted, and a questionnaire might be sent to the interested parties, asking them for specific replies together with the necessary supporting documents. In certain cases the land registers which existed during the period of the British mandate might also be consulted. In any case, it might be better to wait until the Committee of Experts suggested by the Conciliation Commission had been set up by the United Nations, before deciding what method to use.
The CHAIRMAN Said that the Commission had for a long time intended to take up those questions and to raise them in the Mixed Committees which it had advocated last spring at Geneva. The Commission felt that the question of compensation should now be settled without delay. During private conversations while in. Jerusalem, the Commission had realized that although the Government of Israel adhered to its traditional attitude, that the question of compensation should be settled within the framework of the final peace negotiations, it nevertheless recognized that the question called for settlement as early as possible. It had also agreed to reconstitute the special committee provided under Article VIII of the Rhodes Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan. On the other hand, the Committee of Experts proposed by the Commission could collect the information necessary for the practical solution of the problem, and when the time came, that would greatly simplify the task.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) said that once the principle of compensation was accepted, the Committee of Experts should be able to make known not only the number of refugees whose position would be restored on payment of compensation, but also the number who would still be in need of assistance. Once that information was available, the possible solutions must be considered and either the principle of individual compensation, or that of a lump sum payment must be adopted, or else some other solution the Committee of Experts might suggest.
Mr. BLANDFORD (United States of America, Member of the Advisory Commission) pointed out that even assuming that the work of the Committee of Experts set up by the Commission made an effective contribution towards the final settlement of the problems of compensation and resettlement, its investigations would be bound to take some time. Yet the situation of the refugees was becoming more and more critical; their physical and moral resistance grew less with each day that passed, and it seemed hardly possible to await the outcome of the work of the Committee of Experts before taking steps to improve their lot. Hence, if the Agency was to be in a position to carry on its task of assisting refugees, it would be useful for it to have at its disposal sufficient data to enable it to determine its financial requirements, which must be mentioned in the report to be sent to the United Nations and to the United States Congress. It would be much easier to interest the various Governments in the work of the Agency if the latter could submit a programme of work drawn up in a spirit of realism.
Naturally, it would also be useful to know how far Israel would be prepared to go in making a financial sacrifice for the resettlement of refugees. The Israeli contribution could then be deducted from the contributions of the international community.
Mr. de BOISANGER (France) found Mr. Blandford’s remarks very sound. It would probably be some time before the results of the work of the Committee of Experts were available; and meanwhile effective action should be taken to improve the lot of the refugees. He wondered whether Mr. Blandford had any suggestions to make.
Mr. BLANFORD (United States of America, Member of the Advisory Commission) thought it would be necessary to have an approximate idea of the number of refugees to be resettled, and to know whether the payments to be made as compensation should be payable individually or as a lump sum. It was also desirable to make sure that the funds earmarked in Israel for the payment of such compensation were not fictitious.
Sir Henry KNIGHT (United Kingdom, Member of the Advisory Commission) thought that if the refugees could be assured that they would receive such payment as was due to them for compensation, they might be willing to resettle in one of the Arab countries prepared to receive them.
Mr. de BOISANGER (France) referred to the position of the Arab States which had intimated their readiness to keep in their territories such refugees as elected not to return to their homes and agreed to accept payment in compensation. The problem was to find some means of inducing the refugees to make a choice. Possibly it would not be necessary actually to pay out the sum due to them to encourage them to opt for the one or other of the proposed solutions provided they were given the assurance that they would receive the compensation to which they were entitled. Of course, if Israel could be persuaded to hand over the whole or even a part of the funds earmarked for the payment of compensation, that might encourage the refugees to make up their minds. It would in any case enable a strong appeal to be made to the Arab Governments to urge the refugees in their territories to decide either to return to their homes or to accept compensation. It would be equally desirable to examine under what conditions the refugees would be resettled in the Arab countries. He wondered whether the Agency had any data as to how many refugees the various Arab States would be prepared to resettle in their territories.
Mr. de SAINT BARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) thought he was right in saying that subject to the consent of the Arab League, Syria would be prepared to resettle in her territory such refugees as were already there and opted for remaining. Lebanon and Egypt were unwilling to resettle refugees, owing to the economic situation in those countries. Jordan had stated that she was prepared to resettle all refugees at present in her territory; but as a result of a study carried out by the Jordan Government in collaboration with the Agency’s experts, it had been found that Jordan’s resources would net enable her to take more than about 20,000 families, or approximately 100,000 persons. With regard to Iraq, the Iraqi Government had previously expressed willingness to resettle a number of refugees, but was at present returning a great many refugees either to Syria or to Jordan, so that they became a charge on the international community, since Iraq received no assistance from the United Nations.
The CHAIRMAN, reverting to the question of compensation, wondered whether a symbolical gesture by the Israel Government would not have the very opposite effect from that desired, since the refugees might regard the gesture as inadequate and interpret it as an attempt by Israel to evade her obligations, while recognition by that Government of the right of refugees to compensation for the property they had been obliged to abandon would possibly be more satisfactory to them.
Mr. de BOISANGER (France) thought that if such a gesture were to be effective and were not to bring about the reaction referred to by the Chairman, Israel would obviously have to make a fairly substantial payment.
General KENNEDY (Director of the Relief and Works Agency) said that during two months be had had a number of conversations on the question of the refugees, both with members of the various governments and with the refugees’ representatives. As a result, he now had the feeling that if the General Assembly resolution of 11 December 1948, and especially paragraph 11 of that resolution, were considered in a realistic spirit, it would be recognized that events had moved too quickly, and that the terms of that resolution no longer provided any practical means of solving the refugee problem. He felt that the Conciliation Commission and the Relief and Works Agency would be doing a useful service by pointing out in their respective reports that after two years of efforts to implement the General Assembly’s resolution of 11 December 1948, they were forced to the conclusion that in its present form the resolution was inapplicable and called for modification.
Mr. de SAINT HANDOUIN (Chairmen of the Advisory Commission) fully supported General Kennedy’s statement. On the question of refugees, they had come to a deadlock, due to the very terms of the General Assembly’s resolution of 11 December 1948. If the Arab States, which were probably fully aware of the situation, insisted on abiding by that resolution and decided to invoke it before the General Assembly, it would be much less because they were convinced of its effectiveness than because it covered them vis-à-vis the refugees.
2. The Report of the Conciliation Commission to the General Assembly, and the Report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for :Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The CHAIRMAN explained that the Commission proposed to submit to the Secretary-General a report, the first part of which would contain an historical account of the Commission’s activities from the start and the second part a critical analysis of the present situation, in the light of conversations the Commission had had with the various government during its sojourn in the Middle East; finally, if the Commission felt it advisable, it would make suggestions and recommendations to the General Assembly.
Part 1 of the report was on the point of completion and the Commission would transmit it to the Secretary-General before leaving Jerusalem. The Commission proposed to complete the second part of the report in New York. With regard to the recommendations, it would decide as to the advisability of making them after it had got in touch with the various interested delegations, which would be at Lake Success for the General Assembly.
Obviously, the Commission would take care not to make recommendations likely to give rise to futile discussion in the General Assembly. If it made recommendations it would of course do so in the light of the situation prevailing in the Middle East, and also in the light of the world situation generally.
The CHAIRMAN said that in preparing the second part of its report, and in drawing up any possible recommendations, the Commission would be glad to have some idea of the general lines of the report of the Relief and Works Agency, and of any recommendations the Agency proposed to formulate, so that the Commission might support them.
Mr. Rustu ARAS (Turkey) thought the Chairman had accurately interpreted the Commission’s views. The Commission could undoubtedly make suggestions which might be extremely useful to the General Assembly. But it was for the Assembly to lay down directives for the activities of the Commission and the Relief and Works Agency during, the coming year. Like the Chairman, he too felt. that it would be advisable for the Agency and the Commission to keep in close touch when drafting their respective reports, with a view to harmonizing the two documents.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) also felt that it would be useful for the two United Nations organs to remain in close contact so as to co-ordinate their respective reports. At the same time, he would like to point out that in the preparation of its report, the Commission would appear to be far ahead of the Agency. Only the part of the latter’s report dealing with the activities of the Director was in preparation. Moreover, it .had been decided in consultation with the interested governments, that the final date for presenting the Agency’s general report was to be 15 October. The Agency had not yet taken a decision regarding any recommendations to be formulated, since it. was assumed that its report would not be submitted to the General Assembly until after 20 October. By that date, General Kennedy would be in New York, and would be able to get in touch with the members of the Commission. The second part of the Commission's report probably be completed by then land an exchange of views could usefully take place.
General BELE (Turkey, Member of the Advisory Commission) thought it was difficult to foresee the outcome of the discussion in the General Assembly on the Agency’s report; but one thing was certain, namely that it would be difficult to terminate the relief granted in the form of rations to refugees at the end of 1950, as had been recommended by the Economic Survey Mission. The Arab Governments had stated that they were not in a position to assist the refugees, and it was impossible to leave them in the lurch. It was an extremely serious matter to which thought must be given, and to which the attention of the interested Powers should be drawn so that the necessary steps could be taken.
Mr. de SAINT HARDOUIN (Chairman of the Advisory Commission) supported General Bele’s statement. In view of present circumstances, the final date laid down by the Economic Survey Mission for ending the programme of direct assistance to refugees should be put back, and a request made for the relief to be extended until 30 June 1951.
Replying to a remark made by the Chairmen, he said that it was not yet known whether the members of the Advisory Commission would go to Lake Success, since the decision rested with their respective governments, and they had not yet issued their instructions. Be fully realized the advisability for the Commission and the Agency to bring their reports into line, since they were working on a common task. In any case, the members of the Commission would have en opportunity in New York to keep in close touch with General Kennedy, with whom they could consult jointly.
The CHAIRMAN said that the Commission would certainly get in touch with General Kennedy on his arrival at Lake Success, and that in any case the Commission’s Secretariat would remain in contact with the Advisory Commission while it was drafting the second part of the Commission’s report.
In conclusion, he thanked the members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East for the valuable information they had given the Commission. He welcomed the exchange of views, which would certainly be extremely fruitful for the two bodies working towards a common goal.
Création du Comité d'expert sur l'indemnisation des réfugiéss, réinstallation, valeur/transfert des biens arabes en Israël, rapports de UNCCP/UNRWA pour conseiller l'AG, extension de l'assistance de la Mission économique d'étude - 180e Séance de CCNUP (Jérusalem) – Compte rendu Français