HL Deb 29 January 1958 vol 207 cc247-96

2.50 p.m.

LORD BIRDWOOD rose to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to continued tension on the Arab-Israeli frontiers; to urge that Her Majesty's Government press for a settlement of the Arab refugee problem as an indispensable contribution to political settlement in the area; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the past when we have debated the Middle East we have endeavoured to cover an area from the Persian Gulf up to the Atlantic, attempting perhaps too much, and have come to too little conclusion. I thought that this afternoon it would serve a useful purpose if I tried to narrow the terms. It is very tempting indeed to gather in the strands of all sorts of matters; I myself have been much tempted within the last few days to draw in such matters as an Afro-Asian conference, an Egyptian-Syrian process of union, and, indeed, to give priority to the prospect of the Middle East being turned into an unhappy hunting ground as between the Soviet and Western Powers. I feel, however, that the heart and core of this problem is still the continued tension—the age-old problem—between the Arab and the Jew, and for that reason I have narrowed the terms of reference. So often as it seems in international affairs there is a key situation; and as I see it this is the perfect example.

I should like to make two points in introduction. The first point is this: that whenever this matter is discussed, those who argue are usually labelled (to put it crudely but effectively) as either "pro-Arab" or "pro-Jew". I am one who, I believe, is usually labelled "pro-Jew"—I should say "pro-Arab", but, if so, I would stress that I have come to my conclusions after some study of history, and, indeed, on that study of history alone. It is no satisfaction to me whatsoever to find myself opposed to many of your Lordships for whose views I have the greatest respect. I think particularly of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who is not here to-day and who, quite obviously, would hold views very different from mine.

If you are one who believes, as I do, that the Balfour Declaration was a disaster, you cannot possibly agree with those who are inclined to regard it as an enlightened stroke of statesmanship. You may say that such matters as the Balfour Declaration and the conflicting pledges implicit in such things as the McMahon-Hussein correspondence at the time were all a very long time ago, and that what matters to-day is only the existence of Israel and the refusal of the Arabs to recognise its existence. The difficulty is, I think, that in the Arab world, from the leaders down to the 1958 students in the universities, they all know that past history and they all are prepared to quote its details—sometimes its inconvenient details. For that reason I regard some knowledge of past history as essential to an understanding of this problem. Nevertheless, I am attempting this afternoon an objective approach, hoping to put forward for Her Majesty's Government's consideration and comment certain points and suggestions.

That leads me to my second point, and that is that in advocating a particular policy or plan the last thing I have in mind is that Her Majesty's Government should thump the table and in strident tones assert that this or that policy must or must not be pursued. That sort of talk would surely make sense only if there were a Power or a group of Powers which would be prepared to enforce or to impose a settlement on the Middle East. To-day, as I see it, there is only one power which could, if it were so minded, impose a settlement, and that is the United Nations. But if that be true, there is surely a lot left over for a Western Power of good will and some experience to achieve. It has been said, rightly I think, that whereas on a governmental level this country is regarded with suspicion in the Middle East, mainly through the harsh circumstances which have saddled us with heavy responsibilities during these past years, there are in contrast the plain individual relationships and personal contacts, and there is much left over to be turned to account; and, if that is so, I see no reason why we should despair of being able to advise, to suggest, to negotiate, and to use all the resources of diplomacy, and, indeed, lead in putting the resources of diplomacy to account, not forgetting always that, after all, we can claim a greater experience of the Middle East than any other Western Power.

Before we come to the heart of the problem, I think we should do well to set clearly before us what are our requirements in the Middle East to-day: what is the goal of policy. In past centuries all we ever asked of the Middle East was the ability to pass through without hindrance, in freedom, to communicate and trade with our family, whether with Empire or Commonwealth. further to the East—not a very exacting requirement. To-day, could be added the desire to see the transit and shipment of oil out of the area, without hindrance. Mr. Khrushchev has referred to it as imperialist rapacity for Middle East oil; in fact, it is a perfectly normal and natural requirement. To that might be added, as a modern development, our commitments under the Baghdad Pact. But here I would say that perhaps Cyprus is more involved than is the area of Arab-Israeli tension, although that Arab-Israeli tension will always exercise its oblique influence on any such situation.

The point I would make is that in our anxiety to see this Arab-Israeli problem solved we should make clear the legitimate extent of our interests to Israel, to the Arabs and, indeed, to a watching, suspicious world outside. There is nothing whatsoever of which to be ashamed, nothing whatsoever to hide. We are accused in certain quarters of economic exploitation. It is quite true that we are unable to offer loans at 21 per cent.; and, of course, the truth is that we do not employ slave labour at home and are therefore in no position to compete with those who do employ such methods.

What can be our reply to all these malicious charges? It is not an easy question at all. I think we have to continue to remind the world of the simplicity, even the monotony, of our requirements of the Middle East, and that is something to do with the information services; but beyond that I suggest that we have to do a certain amount of long-term re-thinking of our relationship with some of these countries, basing that relationship on a new approach, not so much against the danger of Communism as towards a new faith and hope and belief in the intrinsic values which we have to offer to those countries.

My Lords, I should now like to attempt some analysis of this rather terrifying picture—as I see it, a competition in hatreds. I regard the basic proposal from which argument can stem as still the United Nations decision of November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State, leaving Jerusalem as an international enclave. There was a minority proposal to create a Federal State, with Jerusalem as the federal capital, and I do not think that that proposal should be overlooked. At the time, the Jewish Agency accepted the partition plan and the Arabs resolutely refused it. In regretting that refusal to-day, the Arabs would, I think, maintain that they hoped at the time to reoccupy the whole of the land which they regarded as their birthright. If, subsequently, it has become a case of half a loaf or nothing at all, they not unnaturally seek to restate their claim to the half-loaf which they had previously refused.

Many shades of controversy have intervened since 1947, but hitherto no agency has been able to evolve a method of negotiation, let alone agree on the problem to be negotiated. It may be useful, therefore, if for a moment I touch on the prospects of various methods of negotiation. Your Lordships will remember that in 1948 a mediator, Count Bernadotte, was appointed. He was assassinated in September of that year, and the day before he met his end he left behind a proposal for setting up a Conciliation Commission. That Commission was set up in December, 1948, and it still stands to-day. It consists of Turkey, the United States and France. For several years it has not been able to achieve much more than collect a certain amount of data about refugee problems. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

I should like to examine the attitude of the Arabs and Israel to negotiation. I think it is fair to say that Israel has always been, and still is, prepared to sit round a table with the Arabs to discuss their political future together. In contrast, the Arabs have always emphatically refused to do so. My view is that the Arabs sense that they might be out-pointed in negotiations with people who are quick thinkers and nimble debaters and who have a greater sense of the technique of influencing international public opinion than they have. There is also the point that, if you negotiate, presumably you give official recognition to the party with whom you negotiate; and no Arab has yet come to that stage, any more than the United States have come to the point of recognising Communist China. Nor it seems, unfortunately, are the Arabs yet prepared to submit the whole matter to the United Nations. On September 4 last year, the Arab League Council noted a situation referred to as foreign attempts to submit the case of Palestine to the General Assembly". and resolved to adopt a united stand to frustrate those attempts. That, I believe, remains the position to-day.

One searches, therefore, for some machinery which might bridge this gap of negotiation, and not unnaturally my mind returns to the Conciliation Commission. Obviously, it would have to be reconstituted. France, for obvious reasons, would not be acceptable to the Arab world. Turkey might be regarded as unacceptable to Syria and, on the other side, probably to Israel. The United States are too deeply committed in both camps. But what about the professional mediators? What about Sweden? What about an Asian country, with which I believe Israel has now some association—Burma? What about the prospects of the right individual being found, apart from the nation to which he belonged? Whatever the alternatives, I suggest that the goal should be to restore flexibility to a situation which has become fixed and which, as I see it, is now a sore which will never heal without definite and positive treatment. We may even resort to that familiar machinery by which either side puts up a nominee, and a neutral Chairman is chosen or accepted.

There is, however, one obvious frustration which always faces the would-be mediator. With whom, on the Arab side, would be mediate? We all know well enough the dissensions and jealousies which sear the Arab world to-day. It is a situation which demands our sympathy and understanding, rather than our ridicule. If any Arab State to-day felt inclined to negotiate directly with Israel it would not dare to do so, because it would fear the ostracism of all its neighbours. Any Arab Prime Minister who attempted direct negotiation might well risk his life. In those circumstances, it is tempting to take the view that perhaps the best thing to do is to do nothing—masterly inactivity—in the hope that time will heal.

There is some encouragement to that view to-day in that the United Nations Emergency Force, which at first we are all inclined to ignore is proving a fairly effectual specimen of a six-pound baby. Since its deployment in the Gaza Strip and down the Egyptian-Israel frontier, there has been no incident; and what is significant is that neither Egypt nor Israel has yet asked for its removal. In the circumstances, might it not be well to let well alone? If, by chance, the Arabs are weary of this whole business, it would not assist a settlement to broaden the ground, so to speak. Might not such a step result in fanning a fire which is dying out? I have the greatest sympathy with that kind of approach, and I might agree—but for one factor. That is, that so long as the situation remains unresolved there is a point of detonation, ready for the Soviet to light; and on their past record they would have no hesitation in setting the fuse whenever it suited them. Against that background I should like to suggest certain preconditions for a settlement.

The first is some real compromise on frontiers, together with a guarantee against further Israel expansion. The second, which is vital to the issue, is an understanding about the fate of the refugees. The last authoritative statement on frontiers from the British Government which I can trace was Sir Anthony Eden's Guildhall speech in December, 1955, when he indicated that we should welcome a measure of corn-promise between the frontier of the United Nations partition scheme of 1947 and the present Armistice frontier. A compromise on the external frontier of 1947 (I particularly say "external" because I assume that Sir Anthony Eden meant the external frontier of 1947, bearing in mind that there are a number of internal frontiers as well) would mean some return of land by Israel to the Arabs; and that Israel has hitherto resolutely refused. There will be no settlement of this problem without the unpleasant acceptance of unpalatable conditions by both parties. If the Arabs renounce their declared intention of driving the Israelis into the sea, then Israel, in her own interests, must make certain adjustments in favour of Jordan. It would also be wise if, at the same time, they renounced their intention of territorial expansion.

Certain statements have been made. The last one I can trace is that of Mrs. Golda Mayer, the Israeli Foreign Minister, in a radio broadcast programme last March. She said this: Not only have we no aspirations for any territorial expansion, but we have said over and over again that we are prepared to sit down with our neighbours, come to a peaceful settlement and give any guarantee that the United Nations will ask of us so that we will not expand territorial-wise.

When asked if that was a firm pledge, she replied: "An absolutely firm pledge." That might be good enough for many of us, but it was only a radio broadcast and not an official Governmental declaration. As such, it has not been enough to restore confidence in the Middle East.

I should like to say why I think it has not been enough. So long as the declared Israeli policy is to welcome in every one of the Jewish race who wants to return to Palestine, very few Arabs will be able to believe that in fact the Israeli policy is not to expand. Mr. Ben-Gurion, in his last speech to the Knesset, emphasised that the policy to welcome them all in is still there on the Statute Book. I would go further and say that, so long as the Western Powers have nothing to say on this matter and remain silent, no Arab will believe that, in fact, the Western policy is not behind further Israeli expansion and that Western policy is not to give it tacit support. There, then, as I see them, are the prerequisites to nego- tiation: an understanding on an adjustment of frontiers, coupled with a guarantee of no further Israeli expansion.

But before ever frontiers can be discussed, we must do something about the social wound of 900,000 refugees. That wound must be healed. I would go so far as to say that, if that scar could be removed from the Middle East, who knows but that simpler and kinder solutions of the political problem would emerge, and some of the processes I have been suggesting might even prove quite unnecessary? Other noble Lords will be drawing attention to the refugees problem, and T shall give only a bare outline of the situation to-day. There are 930,000 refugees, of whom 520.000 are in Jordan. Some 414,000—nearly one-half—are under the age of fifteen., and about 20,000 babies are born in the camps every year. I calculate that some 200,000 refugees have been born into a refugee status without ever knowing the dignity or meaning of a home or State of their own.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was set up in December, 1949; and, in complete optimism, it was voted in by the General Assembly for just one year. It is because no one has yet been able to convey a sense of the long-term commitment that that Agency to-day faces an all-round reduction of its work which, if implemented, can only be completely disastrous. Every year a pledging conference is held, and the nations come forward and pledge their contributions. The expenditure is divided into a "relief.' budget and a "rehabilitation" budget. The former is bare subsistence, and works out at about £15 per refugee per year. The rehabilitation side of the programme—and it is a, travesty of the name—is mainly concerned with education. The Agency emphasises that education is the only means by which a refugee can hope to compete on level terms with the local population; and therefore education represents an oasis in a kind of social wilderness.

Yet what do we find to-day. On October 31 last, some two and a half months ago, only twenty-three Governments had pledged some 14 million dollars of a 26 million dollars relief budget that is required. Therefore, unless a miracle is achieved, the whole of the rehabilitation budget will have to be scrapped and passed over to relief, and that means that about 160,000 children will be thrown out of school and will become lost, idle, drifting units of humanity, useless either to themeselves or to the community.

In the past, the United States has voted some 70 per cent, of the total budget; we have provided some 20 per cent.; twenty-nine other countries have produced the balance, while fifty Governments have supplied nothing at all. It cannot be repeated too often that the great Soviet Union, posing as the champion and patron of suffering Pan-Arabism, has never contributed one penny to the relief of Arab refugees. If we can achieve nothing else, at least we should strive to raise the conscience of the world to face its duty. Imagine the situation—and I am informed that it is not impossible—if that United Nations Emergency Force were called upon, not to control an act of aggression but to protect the workers of the Relief Agency, who would have to face the bitter hatred of some thousands of refugees because they had to deprive them of the measures which they expected to receive towards their education in order to implement what would be outrageously anti-social measures.

I submit that there are certain lines of action which Her Majesty's Government could support. The first is that international financial assistance should be forthcoming on a far greater and more imaginative scale, enough to make settlement not a doubtful proposition but a most attractive one. If we trace this whole problem back to its beginnings, it can be found not in Arab intransigence, not in Israeli ambition, but in anti-Semitism in Christian countries all over the world. If there is any truth in that, the least the Christian world can do is to dip its hand into its pocket and produce the money. If to that could be added an imaginative effort by Israel to take in refugees—100,000 refugees has been suggested in the past, but it has been dropped—if they would renew the offer to take back 100,000 refugees, then at least the climate would be healthy for a settlement. An important factor is the form in which proposals are put for a refugee's return. At present, so far as I can make out, he is asked only the one question: "Do you wish to return to Israel, or do you wish to stay in your camp?" Put in that form, there is only one answer. But suppose that, through a conciliation commission or the right individual mediator, the question could be phrased differently and put in the form: "Do you wish to return to Israel, or are you prepared to settle in an Arab country?" Then, perhaps, there would be a somewhat different answer in many cases.

Then, the question arises as to what the Arabs mean when they press for the return of Arabs to Israel. Do they thereby imply that those returning should now, in fact, accept the Israeli political State? The first resolution on this matter was a resolution of the United Nations on December 11, 1948, which referred to refugees being allowed to return to their homes and to live at peace with their neighbours. Those choosing not to return were to be given compensation for the property they left behind. So far as I am aware, no compensation has yet been forthcoming for any property left behind; and that is exactly where international assistance, harnessed behind Israeli assistance and intention, could be useful. But, for the sake of argument, supposing that 100,000 refugees were allowed to return to Israel, as I see it a double obligation would arise. First, there would be an obligation on the refugees to live at peace with their neighbours; and secondly, there would be an obligation on Israel to create the conditions which would warrant the refugees living at peace with their neighbours.

Finally, I think we are entitled to turn to Arab leadership and ask them if they can think out what is the best policy in their own interest. The family of nations, surely, will never move forward to better times except on a basis of justice for all. Equally so, there can be no progress based only on the proposition of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Arabs speak with great emotion of their lost unity. They look back nostalgically to the days when, as they see it, Arabs governed the Mediterranean world in such matters as astronomy, algebra, navigation and architecture. I think we can say to them: Is it yet too late? Must a unity of worth and permanence always await an Arab-Israeli settlement? Are there not now opportunities to display to the world the nature of the only unity that matters, and that is a unity not based on sharing out a common hatred but on an agreement, possibly all contributing together to social, economic and cultural advance?

Here, in the misery of a million refugees, might be the opportunity, the chance, to turn human suffering to human opportunity. An Arab industrialist has put forward a plan whereby Governments of oil-bearing countries and oil companies would together set aside 5 per cent. of their profits and put them into a Middle East development bank. Without having another careful look at the proposal and knowing its details, one could not possibly say whether it is feasible or not. But harness the idea behind the proposal to the social stagnation in the refugee camps and there, as I see it, is the horizon of an Arab renaissance which could yet win the admiration and respect of the whole world.

I have sought only to discover what Her Majesty's Government's approach might be to all these great problems: to frontier revision, to compensation, international or otherwise, to refugees and to refugee settlement. If the noble Earl in his reply cares to cover wider ground and draw attention to certain situations in the Middle East due to Communist interests, I am sure we should all be grateful. I will go further, and say that if, with the fuller information available to Her Majesty's Government, the noble Earl can persuade us that the wisest thing is to wait upon events, then we shall accept that. I would hope that our debate will demonstrate always our continued interest and our continued power to influence, which is something different from either interference or indifference. The extent of that interest and that influence we shall be better able to judge when we have heard the noble Earl's reply. I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, in moving this Motion, has rendered a double service to the House. In the first place, it is right that this House should constantly have before it the terrible plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are sitting and literally rotting away with virtually no hope, and living in the most terrible conditions. It is a stain on the civilisation of the whole world that this should continue, and it is right that it should be constantly before us and that we should not rest until this matter is settled.

The noble Lord has rendered another service, and that is that he has put his case, as he said he would—with all the prejudice that I know he has in this matter—in an objective manner, in a capable manner and in a comprehensive manner. We all are grateful to him for putting his case in the way that he did. He referred to the narrowness of the terms of the Motion before the House, and said that he would not stray from it. He did not very much, but he did occasionally. I can forgive him for that, because his speech was so good.

Of course, the noble Lord differs fundamentally from a number of us in regard to the Balfour Declaration as the cause of the disaster. True, it was over forty years ago, and we have acted on it. We have had the British Mandate in Palestine. In my view, and I hope in the view of a great many people, the Balfour Declaration was a great act of statesmanship, and the whole world should be grateful for that Declaration, even though it has brought about a certain amount of difficulty, which I hope in due course will be surmounted. The noble Lord smiles at that statement, and I do not wish to debate that at this moment because that would be going outside the terms of this Motion. But I should be happy to debate the Balfour Declaration with anybody in this House, and I hope I should be able to convince most reasonably-minded people that it was one of the finest things that this country has done.


Would the noble Lord recall that the Balfour Declaration was at the time opposed by the only Jew in the Cabinet?


I will recall that, certainly. I do not think it really affects my statement, because there were a great many others who were in favour of it.

Looking at the terms of the Motion, I think it is one with which every Member of the House could agree, and there need be little said about it. But, of course, one not only has to agree with the Motion: one has to put forward proposals upon which there would be some hope of a settlement between the parties. I was glad to find that, in spite of the noble Lord's objection to the Balfour Declaration, nevertheless he does, by implication, accept the fact that the Israeli State is in existence and cannot be swept into the sea. Somehow we have to put up with it, for better or for worse, and deal with the situation as we find it to-day. This country is, of course, committed under its various declarations to seeing that the security of the Israeli State, as well as of the Arab States, is maintained. I do not want to follow the noble Lord through all the various paths which he trod, with many of which I agree. I should like to say just a few words on some aspects of his speech.

The ideal thing would be if the parties could be got together to talk. But I have never found that you can get satisfactory conversations by one side to a discussion laying down in advance conditions upon which it will talk. That is always a mistake in negotiation, and it does not get you anywhere because you can spend as much time and create as much difference on the conditions upon which you are going to negotiate as upon the negotiations themselves. Therefore, I would not agree with the noble Lord that it would be wise to say upon what terms the parties should get together. For instance, he referred to the partition frontiers of 1947, and suggested that as a condition of negotiation the Israelis should accept them broadly. Well, a good deal has happened since 1947, and as he himself quite properly pointed out, those frontiers were not accepted by the Arab States. Instead of accepting them they decided to attack the Israelis with the object of driving them into the sea. They failed, and eventually the United Nations agreed upon a new provisional frontier—that is, the armistice frontier. That was in 1948. Since then a new refugee problem has been created by the fact that the Arab States have made life so intolerable to the Jewish citizens in those States that between 400,000 and 450.000 of them have been obliged to go to Israel and have been accepted by Israel. That is a factor which must be borne in mind in this matter.

Furthermore, from other parts of the world—and not because people have desired to settle in Israel for their health, but because in their own countries, other than the Arab States, life has been made intolerable (and these people include a considerable number from Poland, the Soviet Union and other countries)—about half a million have also been found accommodation in Israel. It would be unthinkable to-day, therefore, that, with the addition of something like 900,000 or 1 million refugees who have come to settle in the State of Israel since 1948, they should go back to frontiers which even at that time they found it difficult to regard as viable but which they nevertheless accepted. Moreover a vast amount of effort has been made in cultivating the land, in developing it and in making it suitable for the increased number of residents in Israel. There were at the time of the partition proposal something like 900.000 to 1 million population. To-day it is getting on for 2 millions. Therefore to say in advance that Israel must go back to the frontiers of 1947 seems to me quite unrealistic.


I did not say we should go back to the 1947 frontiers. I think I said that we should do well to have a look at the advice of Sir Anthony Eden, which was that there should be a compromise between the 1947 frontiers and the present frontiers.


My own recollection was that Sir Anthony Eden did not go so far as that. He said that the 1947 frontiers should be the basis of negotiations, and I took that to mean that broadly speaking they were to be the frontiers; there might be a certain amount of give and take in the matter, certain adjustments, but that should be the territory of the State of Israel. But even if the noble Lord is right, I would say it is a mistake to lay down in advance that a certain frontier, certain territory, should be one of the subjects for negotiation. Then the noble Lord referred to the question of refugees. He said that there were 900,000 of them. I think that is a considerable overstatement.




That is an even greater overstatement, in my opinion. As I understand it, the total number of refugees who left Israel in 1948 was 700,000, and, taking the noble Lord's own figures of an increase in population of 20,000 a year, in ten years that would bring it up to 900,000. But the noble Lord has omitted two factors. One is that deaths do occur. Not only is infant mortality very high, but older people do die off. To what extent that reduces the figure I could not say, but it would be quite substantial. The other factor is that, in spite of what has been said, a considerable number of those refugees have been absorbed in the territories to which they have gone. Quite a number of them are actually at work, and although that is not reflected in the number of ration cards issued by U.N.R.W.A., who I am told are actually issuing ration cards in respect of people who have been long dead because the death has not been notified and in respect of others who are actually at work, nevertheless the fact remains that the number is about 700,000. That is by the way. It does not detract from the fundamentals of the case.

The noble Lord made a number of suggestions as to what could be done by Israel to help in the discussions. He suggested that they might give a guarantee against further Israeli expansion. Well, he himself quoted a statement made by the Foreign Secretary of Israel, which was made with full authority, as he said. I am not in a position to speak for the Israeli Government or any other Government. but, in my view, that statement having been made there would be no difficulty at all in getting it further clarified, if clarification is necessary, or in getting any guarantees that would be reasonable against any possible expansion in the future. He referred to the fact that it was the declared policy of Israel to accept every Jew who wanted to go to the country; but as the frontiers are to-day, Israel is capable of absorbing in due course, as the area is developed, a total of about 4 million people—that is another 2 million—and it is quite unlikely that as many as that would desire to go to Israel, because in the main the population consists of people who are being virtually expelled from their own countries. So there need he no fear on the part of the Arab States that Israel would be driven by need to seek further land for expansion. The existing territory, subject to mutually convenient adjustments, would appear to be a viable State with which I think they would be content; and therefore the guarantee could safely be given.

He referred to the suggestion that they might take back 100,000 refugees. I believe he also said that they had expressed their willingness to do so at some time. If that is so, there need be no difficulty about it. I understood the policy of the Arab States was that Israel should absorb all the refugees. If that were the case it would, of course, be unthinkable. Israel would not—nor would any State—wish to accept so large a number of people who are alien to them by race, religion, outlook and in every other way, as to virtually constitute a fifth column in their territory. A population of, as the noble Lord says, 930,000 people or, as I say, 700,000, with that outlook, would create serious problems for them. The noble Lord was quite moderate in the way in which he put his case. If 100.000 was the number suggested I should say there would be no difficulty at all.


I do not want to keep on interrupting the noble Lord, but I think the offer of 100,000 was withdrawn. That was an offer to take in 100,000, and that offer the Israel Government then withdrew. The 930,000 is the official figure of the United Nations Agency, in their Report. I do not want to suggest that that total should go back to Israel, but that a token offer should be made to create the climate for the settlement of refugees.


Yes, I appreciate that. Whether or not, for technical reasons or otherwise, the offer was withdrawn, and up to the moment the climate has not been favourable to the making of offers on one side, because the Arabs have indicated, by their conduct and by their general outlook, that they are not interested in offers to negotiate. But that that sort of discussion would be helpful there is no doubt. And the same applies to compensation. Of course the Israeli Government must pay compensation to those refugees who left land and property behind. So far as I know, they have been perfectly willing to do so. But, of course, it takes two to enter into negotiations. If only the two sides could be brought round a table, in my view there would be no difficulty in their arriving at a reasonable settlement, provided always that the existence of Israel as a State was accepted and that they decided to live at peace and in harmony with one another. I agree that the question of refugees has still to be dealt with.

The Motion refers to action that we might take. Unfortunately, we ourselves, as a nation, are not in a very strong position to take action alone. Obviously, if we tried to enter the Middle East as negotiators we might well suffer the fate of any uninvited arbitrator, that of being kicked by both sides. I am quite sure that any settlement must be arrived at by the United Nations, and I think there is a good deal to be said for the Conciliation Commission to which the noble Lord referred; and it seems to me that the composition he suggested would be an admirable one. I only hope that the suggestion will be acceptable to all sides. We have made our financial contribution to the refugees; but it really is not good enough to keep these people constantly, for ever, in a state of idleness, merely harbouring their grievances, or alleged grievances, and, as the years go by, becoming more and more bitter. The fact is that, as time goes on, a greater and greater proportion of the refugees will have no real desire to return to Israel, because they will not have known Israel. Even as it is at this moment, the proportion of refugees who have any recollection at all of Israel is less than half, and that position gets worse every day.

The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, did not suggest one obvious method of dealing with the refugee problem, which is to persuade the Arab States somehow to integrate. They can easily do so. With the exception of Jordan, which has a high proportion of its population to-day as refugees—I think over half—the percentage of refugees in the other Arab States is quite small. Arab territory is about one hundred times as great as Israeli territory, and many of the Arab States are greatly in need of development. With their increased revenues they could quite easily absorb the refugees, if they desired to do so. But the fact is that they do not desire to do so—and it is not because they cannot. They would be given every assistance by the United States and ourselves, and by the other nations who are desirous of solving this problem; they would be given every financial assistance to help resettle the refugees.

The fact is that so long as these refugees exist they are a political weapon in the hands of the Arabs—something they can point to as a consequence of the setting up of the State of Israel. These miserable refugees are being used just as a pawn in a political game. If only that attitude could be changed, if there were a genuine desire to solve this problem by all parties, there is no reason at all why it should not be solved to-morrow. After all, there have been greater refugee problems since the war. They have been reasonably well solved. The refugees from India and Pakistan, the refugees from Russia—the Finns, and various other refugees have all been quietly settled, and nobody hears anything about them. It is only these people who are being used for purposes in which the welfare of the refugees plays no part, who are not only causing misery to themselves but creating a threat to the peace of the world. I do not know what we can do except to use such influence as we have in the United Nations, with the Arab States and with Israel, and persevere to see what can be done. I shall be most interested to hear what the noble Earl has to say.

Perhaps these are straws in the wind, but in my own small experience there have been two matters on which I should like to comment. One is that I am told that on the frontiers where one would expect constant violence and friction, the guards on each side meet every day and have coffee together. It is not a big thing, but it is an indication that there is not a great deal of hostility between the common people—that this is, to some extent, a manufactured hostility. The other is my own small experience of receiving here, at the time of the Boy Scout Jamboree, a number of scouts from Israel. There were something like thirty or them, boys and girls, who came to this House. My wife and I took them round, and we gave them some refreshment. They were most interested and asked most intelligent questions.

Then we found that the majority of these scouts were not Jews at all. They consisted of Arab, Christian and Druse children and representatives of all sections of the population. To me that was an encouraging sign. The young people can get on together. Looking at them and talking to them one could not distinguish to which particular race they belonged. They were all very happy together and got on well. These, as I say, are straws in the wind.

I do not myself believe that the hostility which exists is typical of the peoples of the Arab and Jewish world. I believe that if they were left to themselves, without the influence of Governments, a settlement could be arranged; and one can only hope that, as time goes on, the voice of the people will be heard in the Arab States and, so far as is necessary, in the Jewish State, and that a settlement of this running sore will be arrived at in a peaceful manner.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, for giving us the opportunity of discussing this subject today. From his speech and the fine and mast restrained speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I feel that if we could leave this problem to those two noble Lords to settle, we should get somewhere. It is a great pity that there are so many people concerned who do not look at it with the sympathy which both those noble Lords show. I am one of the two lay members of your Lordships' House who is on the Council of the Jerusalem and East Mission which is responsible in England for the running of the great arch-diocese of Jerusalem, and our organisation, which is part of the World Council of Churches, has subscribed no less than 8 million dollars a year towards the refugees and everything to do with their relief and rehabilitation. Also, like a number of your Lordships, I am a member of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem which has done much fine work out there since these events occurred.

I want to call attention to some further points about the existing situation and, if your Lordships will bear with me, to make one or two quotations from the reports of that very great mean, Mr. Henri Labouisse, who is the administrator of the refugee organisation, the Relief and Works Agencies for Palestine Refugees in the Near East—U.N.R.W.A. We must remember that these refugees are a normal cross-section of the community. The majority are small farmers and business men, civil servants, artisans and so on; and the minority are large property owners and other civil servants. Many of them are old friends of mine from the seven years that I spent in Jerusalem, as indeed are many of the leading citizens of Israel. I believe I can say that, being a Cross-Bencher now, I was a bit of a Cross-Bencher in those days, for the A.D.C.'s room at Government House in Jerusalem was the only place where the Chairman of the Jewish Agency could meet his old friend the Arab Mayor of Jerusalem. So I have no bias at all to either side in the Arab-Jew dispute.

The task of U.N.R.W.A. for Palestine refugees is the long-term one of assisting refugees to become self-supporting. The temporary task is that of providing assistance, medical care and shelter. The basic food ration which these refugees are getting is 1,600 calories a day. I have just been sitting with a number of scientists on a Committee, and we worked out that the British Army recruit needs 3,800 calories a day, and that if the figure goes down one gets less and less energy and work out of him; and I know from my experience in North-West Europe during and after the war that people are quite incapable of any work whatsoever when they are not getting, say, 1,500 or 1,600 calories a day. The refugees are quite incapable of sustained work, which means that if one tries to start some form of agricultural work for these refugees very few of them are capable of carrying it out. The medical care that is possible at the moment with the funds at the disposal of the Organisation is sufficient only to prevent epidemics. The figure works out at 22 dollars per year per person, which is 7 cents a day for each refugee. I am not going into the argument about numbers, but M. Labouisse in his recent Report gives the figure as 900,000, and whether it is 700,000 or 900,000 does not, I think, make a great deal of difference.

The United Nations Resolution 194. to which my noble friend Lord Birdwood referred, reads as follows: Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and compensation should be paid for the property of those not choosing to return. The essence of the refugee problem is political, and here I would like to quote from M. Labouisse's Report because that Report has not had anything like the publicity that it should have had in this country; indeed, it is very difficult to get copies of it. He says: Nearly 1 million people whose lives were disrupted by the events of 1947–48 are to-day one of the most important causes of the continued unrest in the Near East and at the same time the victims of it. U.N.R.W.A. can, to be sure, enable some hundreds of refugees to become self-supporting each year through small development projects, grants to establish small businesses and the like. But it cannot overcome the fact that refugees as a whole still insist upon the choice provided for them in the General Assembly Resolution, that is, repatriation or compensation. In the absence of that choice they bitterly oppose anything which is even the semblance of permanent settlement elsewhere. Officials of the host Government with but few exceptions openly support the refugees in this position. On the other hand, in the matter of repatriation and compensation, the Government of Israel has taken no affirmative action. It is for all these reasons that in my reports to the Assembly I have repeatedly emphasised that unless the choice provided for in Resolution 194 is given the refugees, or unless some other political settlement of the Palestine problem can be reached, U.N.R.W.A. would be unable to implement the Resolution of the General Assembly calling for the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or by resettlement. The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, referred to the need for funds. He said, I think, that in the past year, thirty-one Governments had contributed, and that the United Kingdom and the United States had put up 90 per cent. of the money; in the year before twenty-three members only contributed, and the United States and the United Kingdom produced 94 per cent. of the money. The shortfall is very serious. The whole of the working capital of the organisation has now been used up. Though a great deal has been pledged, not a single penny has been subscribed.

A serious point has also arisen because the United States' pledge is conditioned by the stipulation that their contribution should not exceed 70 per cent. of the total received. Consequently, if the other members of the Assembly fail to make up the difference between the United States' pledge and the amount required for the budget, they stand to lose a part of the United States' pledge and the total shortage will be increased accordingly.

Mr. Labouisse, instead of directing his great work all the time—it is a tremendous job—admits himself that he has to spend half his time running round the world's capitals trying to obtain from Governments the money pledged by them, because they will not subscribe it. Every time the money gets short more and more services have to be cut. The entire new clothing programme for children has had to be given up; much new shelter construction has been abandoned; and in the field of rehabilitation, they have had to suppress the entire individual grants programme to schools for teacher training. Also, vocational and agricultural schools have had to be given up.

U.N.R.W.A. has so far maintained the bare essentials of its activities; that is, the basic relief service, seven cents a day per man for food, a little general education, and the two vocational training centres. In his last report Mr. Labouisse said this: May I stress here that U.N.R.W.A. has a continuous operating responsibility which cannot readily be adjusted to suit fluctuating financial circumstances. Whatever our agency does, or fails to do, has a direct bearing upon the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In four different countries and territories, huge crowds of refugees line up, at given times and places, to receive their meagre dry rations. They come every day to our feeding centres. they use our seventy-two clinics and our more than 2,000 hospital beds"— and require more— their children appear every school day in the 372 U.N.R.W.A. schools.…On purely practical grounds, such a diversity of services cannot be started or stopped at will, depending on whether or not funds are available for the coming months. They require advance planning, bulk purchasing, the provision of stocks, the maintenance of a staff, a complex but highly streamlined system of administration—all of which depends on a regular supply of funds. Who of us, in private life, would venture to operate even one single school, even one single clinic—or merely a small village grocery store—without being sure of having the resources to carry on for a reasonable time? I should like to take this opportunity of paying a great tribute to the remarkable work of Mr. Labouisse and his wife—whom some of your Lordships may remember as Miss Eve Curie, the daughter of the wonderful Monsieur and Madame Curie—for all the work they are so devotedly doing.

The Arab refugees are now turning to Communism. There is no better investment for Communism anywhere in the world; and in view of the importance of the Arab States to the West to-day is there anything more that we can do to be certain at least that the funds for the bare minimum work can be made available? Though our Government have loyally carried out their pledges, can they not do more to make the defaulting or wavering Governments see the tremendous opportunity for the stability of the Middle East, to see that that opportunity is not lost and that the bitterness and resentment of these people are brought to an end?

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is with a good deal of diffidence that I rise to intervene in this debate, because I am far from being anything of an expert in Middle-Eastern affairs. But, having returned only a few days ago from a visit to Jordan and Lebanon, perhaps I may be permitted to make a few observations based on personal impressions which are at any rate of recent date. I am only too conscious that in any classification of bores the returned traveller is apt to find himself very near the top of the list, but I intend no narrative of reminiscences and I undertake to be brief. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who has just spoken has covered a great deal of the ground which I intended to cover, and if I should be repetitive I hope that your Lordships will forgive me.

The Motion before your Lordships refers in terms to the "continued tension on the Arab-Israeli frontiers", and the first thing I should like to do is to confirm that those words are no mere figure of speech. I am unable to confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to a moment ago as the exchange of compliments between frontier guards. So far as I could observe and hear, very much the contrary obtained. To a visitor, in fact, the surprising thing is that so much peace has been kept for so long.

As your Lordships will know, and have been told to-day, whatever the figures of refugees may be—whether they be 700,000 or 900,000 people—those people were evicted from their homes nearly ten years ago, and they are to-day penniless outcasts, for the most part, in a foreign land. The existence of so large a body of discontented persons would indeed be a disquieting factor in any context, but when the number of these refugees is related to the numbers of the populations of the countries in which they now find themselves, how much more disquieting is it! It is true that in Lebanon and in Syria the refugees number no more than 10 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively of the local populations; but in Jordan they number over one-third, and in the Gaza Strip they number 200,000 out of a total population of 300,000.

The refugees live in circumstances of considerable hardship, and the rations which they receive from U.N.R.W.A. are, as the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, has pointed out, of bare subsistence level, some 1,500 calories a day. Nor is the plight of these people, in many cases, made the easier to bear by the very closeness in which they find themselves to the homes from which they have been driven. To see your own house falling down, and to be unable to repair it; to see your own orange crop harvested and sold by your enemy—these are not things which are conducive to a peaceful attitude of mind. In one village in Jordan the armistice line divides the village into two halves, so that one half of the villagers are separated from the well which was their only water supply. These villagers on the Jordanian side now have to make a daily journey of over half a mile for their water: a daily journey which does not, I venture to think, add to their feeling of contentment.

All the refugees cling with passionate belief to the thought of returning to their homes; and there is no Arab politician anywhere who dares to advocate any form of permanent resettlement. Nor are the refugees themselves prepared to co-operate in any way in any scheme which smacks of permanency, even though, as often has been the case, it is one which would immediately improve their comfort and prosperity.

I do not know whether noble Lords have seen the article in the Daily Telegraph this morning which refers to a camp where trees were planted. Even this act, inasmuch as it argued a form of permanent planting, enraged the refugees, and the trees were pulled up by the roots. Nearly half the refugees live in camps, and the most prominent objects which appear in any camp are portraits of President Nasser. He is the one person who the refugees feel understands their plight and is fighting their cause. In the schools the little children, from the age of six upwards start every day of their lives by reciting what is known as the Palestinian students' motto, which includes the words: Palestine is our home, and to return home is our aim … Death does net frighten us; Palestine is ours. It is in these confusing and exasperating circumstances that the United Nations Relief and Works Organisation has to operate. To my mind, it is largely due to the activities of this organisation that during the past ten years there has been so little disturbance. This organisation, under Mr. Labouisse, the United States Director to whom reference has been made, and the British Deputy Director, is almost a State within other States, providing all the refugees, whether the number be 700,000 or 900,000, with their total means of subsistence and medical services; and for nearly half that number, shelter in camps. This is done, I repeat, at a cost of little more than sixpence per refugee per day, that figure including the cost of administration and medical services. In economical running. that compares very favourably with any other body.

The medical services (here I would differ a little from my noble friend Lord Thurlow) are of a very high order. They have seventy-two clinics, as the noble Lord said. These clinics have the most modern equipment and are staffed by doctors and nurses who, so far as I could see, are of the highest degree of proficiency. I think it is remarkable that in spite of the low standard of diet, the overcrowded camp conditions and the lack of heating and clothing, during the past ten years no sort of serious epidemic has broken out in any of the camps. The Directors of U.N.R.W.A. are apt to attribute this fact to Divine Providence, but there can be little doubt that Providence has been greatly assisted by the excellence of the medical services, and particularly by the emphasis which has been placed on preventive medicine, immunisation and sanitation.

In addition to these services, U.N.R.W.A. provides education for some 170,000 refugee children. This does not come out of the sixpence per head budget, but, as your Lordships have been told, out of the rehabilitation fund. This educational service is something which the refugees prize most highly. It is the only thing which gives them some gleam of hope for the future of their children, and the parents have a most touching faith in these schools. There is nothing more memorable than the enthusiasm and eagerness of the packed classes of little Arab children one sees in every camp. Therefore, to my mind it is nothing less than tragic that the Director of U.N.R.W.A., Mr. Labouisse, found himself obliged last month to go to New York and inform the General Assembly of the United Nations that shortage of funds, which had already compelled cuts in the distribution of clothing and in the construction of shelters, would compel him to discontinue these educational services next June.

I have said that that is tragic, but I believe that it is more than tragic. From a political point of view it is exceedingly dangerous that this work of U.N.R.W.A. should be curtailed. Can there he any doubt at all that the work of U.N.R.W.A. has played, and continues to play, a most important part in preventing the deterioration of what is undoubtedly an explosive situation? In Lebanon and in Jordan it was impressed on me by members of both Governments that any curtailment of U.N.R.W.A. activity could not fail to have the most serious effects upon these countries from the point of view of security, quite apart from any economic consequences or any questions of humanity.

Undoubtedly this applies to Jordan more than to any other country, because there, as has been said, U.N.R.W.A. supports more than one-third of the entire population. And Jordan is probably the key to the Middle East situation at the present time. If there is one thing more calculated than any other to bring about the downfall of the present régime in Jordan, which is composed of our friends, it would be to withdraw or curtail the activities of U.N.R.W.A. Far from these activities being cut, I should have thought it highly desirable that they should be increased, and that the relief services as regards food and shelter, which at present are of a most rudimentary nature, should be improved. This could not but tend to strengthen the hands of our friends in Jordan, for it should not be forgotten that in Jordan, and in Jordan alone, the refugees have the vote.

I am aware, of course, that Her Majesty's Government are not responsible for U.N.R.W.A., and that the shortage of funds arises from the failure of other Governments besides the United States to make good their contributions. But if U.N.R.W.A. should fail for lack of funds, with all the disastrous consequences which I believe would follow, it would be cold comfort to us to be able to say that it was not our fault. I wonder whether, when the noble Earl replies, we can be told exactly what is the present position as regards funds prospectively available for U.N.R.W.A., and whether there has been any improvement in the situation since Mr. Labouisse addressed the General Assembly on December 7 last. Perhaps we could also be told what the attitude of Her Majesty's Government would be in the event of adequate funds not being forthcoming.

It is clear, of course, that support for U.N.R.W.A. is no substitute for a political solution of the Palestine question, on which the refugee problem itself depends. I must leave it to others to discuss how that political solution might be brought about and what form it might take. It is difficult to see how the present deadlock can be broken unless the Israeli Government are prepared to make some gesture towards implementation of the resolution of the General Assembly of 1948 dealing with repatriation or compensation. It was with great interest and encouragement that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, say that he saw no unsurmountable obstacle in the way of such a gesture being made. But the chance of a peaceful solution being found for this general question will surely be the greater if an atmosphere of calm can be preserved in the countries bordering on Palestine. Surely it is certain that U.N.R.W.A. can greatly help to maintain such an atmosphere of relative calm. I do not advocate more funds for U.N.R.W.A. on humanitarian grounds—although a strong humanitarian case could be made—but purely on the grounds of political expediency. In the hope of avoiding a war and maintaining the peace we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds a year on "the deterrent." I would suggest that U.N.R.W.A. is a not insignificant promoter of peace, and to let it wither for the sake of a million pounds or so would be most misguided.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to speak quite briefly. We have had a good debate, with a splendid speech from the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, who put his case (I do not agree with it) with great ability, and a speech full of knowledge from my noble friend Lord Silkin, who knows the whole case. I know Israel and the Middle East fairly will, but my acquaintance with this problem started about fifty years ago when I was the Member of Parliament for St. George's East in the Whitechapel part of London. I had then never heard of the Zionists and knew nothing about them—as Zionists, they did not exist—but I heard of the Basle Conference and Dr. Theodor Herzl's appeal and I began to take an interest. Then I found flocking into the docks of London wretchedly poor families with their things stitched up in bundles, having been robbed on every frontier coming from Russia or from the east of Europe. Then I began to take a greater interest, and that has persisted ever since.

A couple of years ago I had the horrifying experience of going through the Auschwitz extermination camp. I do not think anyone who has had that experience could possibly agree with the demand, or the request, made by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, that the gate of Israel should be shut on any single Jew who wants to go there. The status of the Jew throughout the whole world has been altered by the fact that, for the first time, he has had the right to become a citizen of a sovereign State. Therefore, unless one agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, that the Balfour Declaration was a disaster, I think one must accept, first, that the open door in Israel must be retained.

I have only three points, and the second one is this. This debate, which has been enriched by so many well-informed speeches, has been a debate about what may be called running repairs. There has been little that is fundamental in it. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, gave us, from his immense experience, an account of the efforts of the United Nations Organisation, and the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, referred to that matter, too. But it seems to me that practical people will ask: "How can you go on pushing this money into this fund when all you are getting is numbers that constantly increase by additions not only from the neighbours but also from the cradle?" Numbers of children have been born and the great majority of them have never known anything but refugee life. How can you approach a solution to that problem by saying "a little more money". "a little more education"? I have seen some of the refugee camps, and the fact of the matter is that the esprit de corps in the refugee camps is anti-Israel; and I suppose the hatred of the Israeli State is fiercer there than in any other part of the world.

Therefore, the problem that I wanted to hear discussed was something about integration. But, on the contrary, noble Lords have spoken about repatriation. I believe it is a fact that the Israeli Government have made some offer to repatriate—I have seen it put at some 90,000 or 100,000 people—and also, in certain circumstances, to compensate them for lost property. When one reads what has been said—many speeches have been made by Mr. Ben Gurion and by Mr. Eban in the United Nations—those very reasonable speeches give ground for hope. But it is a hope founded on one thing, and it is the second proposition that we must accept—namely, that Israel is there, and it is impossible to negotiate with people who declare (there is no secret about this) that in their hearts they are determined to extinguish the Jews. One therefore assumes, not unreasonably, that their policy, whatever it is, is only a step in the direction of the realisation of their goal. Therefore, I say that these offers by Israel could become perhaps richer, more generous and more helpful if it were understood that her right to live is admitted.

But even so, repatriation of these people is a very dangerous thing, and I cannot imagine any other State accepting such a solution. The noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, in his speech told us that these poor children recite every morning a hymn of hate. Yet you invite a small State like Israel, surrounded by enemies, to take in hundreds of thousands of people whose heart is full of hatred for the State. The circumstances have entirely altered in the last twenty years. By far the best solution, both from the point of view of the refugee and from the point of view of peace in the Middle East, would be some system of integration. My noble friend Lord Silkin pointed out that the area available is immense, and the labour-need is immense. People who visit Iraq know how urgent is the need for labour in the development of that very rich country. Therefore, I think it must be agreed that, as a third principle, the policy, to be successful, must be based upon integration.

Then there is the fear among the Arabs. They have said: "How can you hold these people in? Look at Ben Gurion". I have had the privilege of meeting Ben Gurion and talking to him from time to time, but when this question referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bird-wood, about the alteration of the frontiers was raised, he thumped the table and said: "How much more sand do they want? Have they not got enough already? Look at the map of Israel and you see a tiny country, almost like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and they are asking that it should be further reduced." I am not authorised to speak for anybody, but I imagine that adjustments are possible to prevent these frontier incidents. An Arab, seeing a Jew collecting the vegetables from what used to be his, the Arab's, garden—I can understand that argument. But that you should reduce still further the attenuated territory which has such an immense moral importance in the world, I cannot conceive.

Finally, I do not want to widen the debate, but I should have liked to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, into his very modest description of British policy in Egypt: that all we wanted was a little way through and a little oil from the population—all so reasonable that everyone would agree. I think it would perhaps be going slightly beyond the scope of this debate to discuss that. But I would say this: I think you do a great disservice to the Jews and, for that matter, to the Arabs, if you associate this conflict, which is a Middle Eastern conflict, with the great tussle which is going on throughout the world between the great Powers. Chaim Weizman many years ago—I do not suppose it is as true now as it was then—referred to the letter written by himself to Prince Feisal in 1919, reaching agreement between Jews and Arabs.


The last thing I wished to suggest was that we should associate the struggle between the great Powers with the Arab-Israeli situation. I think all the association, and the endeavour to associate, comes from the other side, from Soviet Russia. They are the people who would like to exploit Arab-Israeli differences. We have no desire whatsoever, surely, to associate the ideological struggle as between two great systems in the world with the Middle East problem.


That exactly illustrates the point I was making. Another speaker said that the worst of it is that these refugees are becoming Communists. Now the noble Lord has said that it is the Russians who are to blame. Russia and all the other great Powers do not understand—which is the fundamental truth—that Israel is not a "State" in that world sense. Israel is a vital element in a happy and prosperous Middle East, and with no big people interfering at all, then I think we should be near a solution.

I venture to offer these few remarks and in general to make these criticisms of a debate which has not been unhelpful. When Mr. Ben Gurion gives a firm assurance against expansion, when he speaks about compensation in certain circumstances, and when it is innate in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, that the recognition of the right to live of the State of Israel is accepted by all, then it may be that, within the ambit of the Middle East, some solution to this problem may be approached.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, much of what I wanted to say has been said already, but I should first of all like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, for initiating this debate and drawing attention to the deplorable plight of these 900,000-odd Arab Palestine refugees. No object can be served by going over the ground of how this tragic state of affairs came to pass. I will say only that it is at any rate to the credit of the British Government of that day that they refused to be a party to any solution that was not agreeable to the Jews and the Arabs. It was, of course, convenient to shuffle our responsibilities off on to U.N.O., but if ever there has been a more classic example of chickens coming home to roost I have yet to discover it. The dangers to world peace, with nearly a million resentful and frustrated refugees in a boiling pot like the Middle East, are obvious. I ask: How much longer can this running sore be allowed to bedevil Middle East relations?

Originally U.N.R.R.A., as we have already heard, was set up for only one year. I personally never understood why, because, surely, those who do things of this sort must have realised the magnitude of the task and the passions and the hatreds in the Middle East. But, of course, U.N.R.W.A. has now been going for nine years. I will not bore your Lordships with all the figures of pledges and babies born, and that sort of thing, because you have heard them already. But regarding the pledges for U.N.R.W.A., the whole trouble appears to arise from the fact that U.N.R.R.A. was originally set up for only one year, and the financing is done only year by year, It is extraordinary how Mr. Labouisse has not ended up in a madhouse, because he is responsible for these 900,000 people, and he does not really know from month to month whether he will have the cash to do his job.

If U.N.R.W.A. relief collapses, the result in human misery and social chaos may well be disastrous to the already flimsy stability of the Middle East. We have already heard that the refugees in Jordan alone number one-third of the population of that country. I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to do all in their power and bring every influence they can to bear to see that U.N.R.W.A. can carry out its programme of assistance for these hundreds of thousands of unfortunate people. About 400.000 Jews fled from the Arab lands into Israel and about 600,000 Arabs from Israel into Gaza, Jordan and other countries. How is it that Israel and the Arab States are not made to subscribe heavily to U.N.R.W.A. funds for all the Arab property the Jews are presumably utilising, and for the Jewish property the Arabs are utilising?

Having said that, I ask, what of the future? Are we to have a society of homeless beings as a permanent monument to past follies, a fertile seed-bed for Soviet propaganda? It is obvious that no permanent settlement of the refugee problem can come about until the Arab States and Israel sign a permanent peace treaty, with clearly defined borders. Of course, it is easy to say that, but I realise it is another matter to bring it into practice. It has not been helped by the Arab States' apparent refusal to regard any settlement of the refugees other than in Israel. We can hardly expect the Jews to take 900,000 refugees into Israel; that is, after all, half of their population. Presumably quite a large number of those refugees would also be a potential fifth-column. The plight of those refugees is also, I suppose, a valuable propaganda stick, a big stick for the Arab States to wallop the United Nations.

We have experience of the Middle East, and I am sure that, Arabs and Jews alike, many of them still hope that we shall go back and regain some of our former influence—I do not mean influence in concessions or anything like that; I mean influence in an advisory capacity. The Americans have not the experience, no matter how generous and big-hearted they may be.

My Lords, time is brief, and we have heard almost every aspect of this question. I can only say that if the West do not impose a solution on the Middle East, Russia will; and time, for once in our history, is not on our side in this case. We must do something, and do it quickly. I do not pretend that if there is an Arab-Israeli peace the whole of the Middle East will return to its pre-war state; but if we have an Arab-Israeli peace the end of the refugee problem will be in sight, and it will be extremely valuable to have this thorn in the side of Middle East relations plucked out. I think I have said enough. I was going on to speak on Soviet influence in the Middle East, but it is hardly in the terms of the Motion. I can only hope that out of the Baghdad Pact some glimmer of hope may emerge.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words on this subject, for two reasons. First of all, I believe that if there is a Third World War—and I pray there will not be one—it will be started from a spark in the Middle East which has been kindled by Arab-Jewish friction. Secondly, as a Christian I find it extremely difficult to keep quiet when so many unChristian acts are going on in the land known as the Holy Land. I am thinking not only of the many acts of violence going on, but also of the pitiful plight of these many Arab refugees. Those of us who have seen, as I have, fishermen casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, now known as Lake Tiberias, will, I am certain, wish for nothing more than peace and stability in that part of the Holy Land. My few remarks are going to be based on what I might call local knowledge because, besides serving in the Middle East during part of the last war, I had the privilege after the war of serving as Military Assistant to the last British High Commissioner for Palestine.

I can see no useful purpose in going back over the past and recalling the many mistakes—and indeed there were many mistakes—made. I should, however, just like to point out that there was one fact which completely dogged the British effort during the last few years of the British Mandate in Palestine. I refer to the very marked disunity between America and Britain over Palestinian policy. For this—and not for the first time—I am afraid that we must blame domestic politics. How cruel, my Lords, that the world should suffer through the whims of domestic politics! Much of the trouble arose from the fact that after the war there were a great many more Jews in the State of New York than there were in the whole of Palestine. Had it not been for this divergence of views between Britain and the United States, I feel quite confident that an agreed settlement between the Arabs and the Jews could have been reached during the years 1945 to 1947. However, I will say no more about the past.

The present position can, I think, be summed up as follows: it is the combined fear of Arabs fearing the domination of Jews and Jews fearing the domination of Arabs. This fear has turned into a running sore, which, as many other noble Lords have said, is nothing more than an ideal breeding ground for Communism. Israel and Jordan are to-day two unhappy States. They are both viable economically, without very great outside financial assistance. In each State it is nothing more than a question of too many people living on land which is too poor to support them. By various means Israel has now acquired about 80 per cent. of what used to be Palestine, including the main citrus groves. Jordan, on the other hand, has many thousands of Palestinian Arab refugees. What of the future? Here I find that the requirements for a solution are very much easier to see than how the requirements are to be brought about. The requirements. I think, are that the frontiers between Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Israel must be stabilised. Secondly, the Arab refugees must be resettled; and thirdly, Jerusalem should become international.

From what I have already said I think it is quite clear that there is no chance of an agreed settlement between Jews and Arabs. So it will be necessary to bring into motion machinery for an enforced settlement. Fortunately, we have the United Nations Organisation, which was created for just such a task. It is therefore up to that Organisation to shoulder its responsibility and to prove its worth. In order that the United Nations Assembly can produce a workable solution, I believe very strongly that there will have to be agreement between America, Russia and ourselves. In my opinion it would be ridiculous to ignore or try to cover up the fact that the Rusians already have considerable influence in the Middle East. It is because of (this fact that I am convinced we should seek with the Russians, as well as with the Americans, a solution to be imposed by the United Nations.

There are two other good reasons for taking this line with the Russians. One is that they themselves have recently expressed the desire to see stability and the end of the arms race in the Middle East. An attempt to get agreement with the Russians over the Arab-Jewish problem would, I think, put the Russians "on the spot". They would have to prove their sincerity—which, in the main, would mean the re-establishment of the status quo ante—or they would be branded by the world as wishing to keep the Middle East wound from healing. Secondly, I believe that the free world has small hope of finding agreement with Russia and her satellites over such a gigantic issue as disarmament unless, first of all, we reach some agreement with them over a smaller issue. A start must be made somewhere. The door to agreement with the Russians has, I think, been unlatched in the sphere of sport and art. Now let us try to open it gradually, step by step, where we think that there is some common ground for agreement.

I believe that in this case there is a chance, because I do not think that, as yet, Russia is fully committed either to the Jews or to the Arabs. Towards the end of the British Mandate in Palestine the Russians were supporting the Jewish claim for a Jewish State. Later, at the time of Suez, the Russians were supplying Egypt and Syria with arms. So, while this inconsistency still exists—it may not go on for much longer—let us seek agreement with Russia over the Arab-Jewish problem before she herself throws in her whole might on one side. I believe that neither Jew nor Arab would flout a United Nations resolution which had been sponsored by America, Russia and ourselves, provided that it was enforced by adequate forces. As for carrying out the requirements which I have already mentioned, I feel certain that, once the big Powers were in agreement over the requirements, the method of carrying them out could be agreed in a realistic manner. I will therefore add only a few remarks on how, from my local knowledge, I consider this task might be carried out.

The present Arab-Israeli armistice line is clearly quite unworkable. For instance, the line goes through about one hundred Arab villages inhabited by some 100,000 Arabs. While still living in their houses, many of these Arabs have been deprived not only of their land but, in some cases, of their water. I read of a case where some Arabs could see their water cisterns twenty yards across the frontier, yet they had to go twenty miles for their water. Clearly, a line on a map is unworkable. What is wanted is a definite feature on the ground. Herein lies the difficulty.

The only physical feature in the east of the country is the river Jordan and the Dead Sea. In the south, another possible feature is the Gaza-Beersheba road. This is not a happy solution, I realise, but I am certain that no solution can be found which will give absolute justice to everyone. With the River Jordan as the frontier, Israel would be left with the main Mediterranean ports, the main railway system and the citrus groves, while Jordan would be left with the poorer part of the country. Jordan should, however, in my opinion, be given the River Jordan, for irrigation and for other purposes, as well as having the Dead Sea, with its important potash and salt deposits. This, with a promise of further economic aid from the United Nations would, I feel sure, prove preferable to the Arabs of Jordan than their present plight. The Arab refugees should either be allowed to return to their homes in Israel, or should be rehabilitated in other Arab States, with financial assistance from the United Nations. Then—of utmost importance to the whole world—Jerusalem should be made international, so that all persons can have unimpeded access to the city. Here a police force found by the United Nations would be necessary. Surely all Christian Churches would join together in trying to bring this about.

The way ahead for us is clear. Britain, that erstwhile much-respected Power in the Middle East, must instigate talks with the United States and with Russia for the healing by the United Nations of the Arab-Jewish running sore. This might not only bring peace and stability to the Middle East but might also achieve a modicum of agreement with the Russians, something the free world has failed to do for over twelve years. My Lords, with that achieved, the British Lion would, I am certain, once more be treated with respect throughout the world.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, the debate has, with some small exceptions, maintained the high standard set by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood—a standard of serious approach and objectivity; because if one once starts a partisan approach to this subject it seems to me that one gets into recriminations and arguments on the history of the last forty years and there is no hope of any solution to the problem. Many of the contributions have been very well-informed, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who gave many of the details of the present situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. But one section of the last annual report of the Director, Mr. Labouisse, has not been mentioned and I think it is worth drawing to your Lordships' attention.

The House has been told of the acute financial crisis which faces the Agency now. To some extent, the anxieties of last autumn have been relieved, because the pledges for the first six months of this year have been forthcoming, although not in the sums that are required. Some 25 million dollars' worth of pledges have been received. It is worth reminding your Lordships that a pledge is not the same as a dollar, because it has been the invariable experience of the Agency that pledges are often years in arrears, and, as has been explained, that makes the work that much more difficult.

But the serious, almost disastrous, effect of the present shortage of money is shown in the section of the report dealing with the rehabilitation side of the Agency's work, and I cannot put it in better words than those of the report itself. Mr. Labouisse says: It is particularly unfortunate that circumstances have brought about these results at this time, for during the year under review there has been evidence of a slight shift in the attitude of refugees towards self-support. Although the desire of the refugees for repatriation and their opposition to permanent resettlement continue unabated, there are signs among them of a growing appreciation of the desirability of self-support and of rehabilitation, in the broad sense of an improvement in their conditions of life and prospects for the future. That has to be set against some of the statements made this afternoon that feeling is still as bitter as it ever has been, and I cannot help thinking that as the younger generation, who have grown up not knowing Palestine, come to adult status, there will be less bitterness, provided, of course, that the Agency can make their lives sufficiently pleasant and useful by means of education. There, again, the effect of the shortage of funds is going to be extremely serious.

It should also be said that the Report shows once again that the Agency is not receiving from the Governments of the host countries the co-operation that it is entitled to expect and which has been particularly asked for by the General Assembly. Questions of registration, rectification of numbers in the allotment of rations, and so on, are matters which depend to the greatest extent on co-operation in Jordan, and the director says that that co-operation is lacking. We know, or hope, that the work of the Agency is only a stop-gap, a temporary alleviation of these almost intolerable conditions. What is necessary for the future is a political settlement, but I suggest that a measure of amelioration of the present lot of the refugees will be a direct contribution to a political solution—for two reasons. This is where I believe Her Majesty's Government can help. We have contributed our full share of money, but have we used our influence sufficiently through diplomatic channels to persuade other countries to make a contribution to the work of the Agency? There we come to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, that we should re-think our attitude towards the Arab countries.

I suggest that if we persuaded the countries, say, of the Baghdad Pact or other countries with whom we are in friendly association, to increase their donations to United Nations funds, that would of itself reduce the danger of Communism in the Middle East, because, as is often said, the breeding ground of Communism is in just such conditions as we find in the camps. The second way in which we could help is by education. The more education, vocational training and rehabilitation that can take place in those camps, the less bitterness there will be between the Arabs and the State of Israel.

But the long-term prospect of a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute is quite another thing from the fate of these unfortunate one million refugees. It brings in the whole question of relations between the Middle East States and the great Powers. The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, asked why should we not invite the Russians to join us in (I believe he said) imposing an enforced settlement upon the Middle East. History has shown that enforced settlements do not last. In fact, in our own day they do not work. I believe that enforced settlements are a relic of a past age of diplomacy in politics. We can settle people by agreement if we can get them to agree, but we cannot impose that by force. There is an old saying that one can do anything with a bayonet except sit upon it.


My Lords, I was trying to convey the point that there should be an agreement with the Russians and the Americans on the requirements for a solution—not the actual carrying out of it.


My Lords, that is another thing; but I thought the noble Lord envisaged the great Powers deciding on the future settlement in the Middle East and enforcing it. That seems to me highly topical at the moment because it was the very thing suggested by Mr. Bulganin in his letter of December which contains just one paragraph about the Middle East in which he proposed to the British Government that to "normalise" the situation in the Near and Middle East the four Powers—that is, Russia, America, France and Britain—should agree, first, to take no steps which would infringe the independence of the countries of that area; and secondly, to renounce the use of force in the settlement of problems relating to the Near and Middle East.

Russia would not be "put on the spot" if a meeting concerning the Middle East were suggested; they have, indeed, taken the initiative in suggesting it; and is that not an opportunity for Her Majesty's Government and the Americans to take, in order to try to reduce the tension and the hatred in this part of the world? Because although the noble Lord in the terms of his Motion referred to the settlement of the refugee problem as "an indispensable contribution" to a settlement in the area, it is not the only contribution, and until the general atmosphere of hatred has subsided the refugee problem cannot be settled. It cannot be settled in isolation, but only as a consequence of the general slackening of tension. It is in just such a situation as this that a combination of the four great Powers in urging a solution and an end of the Arab-Israeli hostility would contribute most.

Then we come to the noble Lord's points that he thought should be the basis for a settlement. He referred to a compromise on frontiers—some compromise between the present frontiers and the 1947 frontiers as laid down. We do not know—I believe it has never been cleared up—exactly what was in the mind of Sir Anthony Eden when he made his Guildhall speech two years ago: whether small rectifications as between their villages and their lands and minor matters such as that, to which everybody would agree, were being referred to, or whether he had in mind a substantial surrender of territory by Israel to Jordan or the Arab States. If it is the latter, a substantial surrender of territory, then it seems to me to be quite unrealistic to expect it, for reasons which my noble friends Lord Silkin and Lord Stansgate gave. But if it is only minor rectification, balancing here and there surrenders and acquisitions, then I think there would be no difficulty about getting discussions on the subject. Secondly, he thought that the Arab States should have a guarantee against Israeli expansion. The Israeli Government, although not officially, have expressed themselves as having no aggressive intentions, and if that were made more explicit and more official, it would do a great deal to calm the fears of the Arabs.

Finally, there is the question of the settlement of the refugees. If the member States contribute the money, if they honour their pledges (and if more money is pledged), the Agency will in the course of time, continuing the magnificent work which it has been doing, make something for these unfortunate human beings who have for so long had to live aimless lives in camps. They can do it if they have the money and if they have the cooperation of the refugees themselves and the host Government. Then we come back in the vicious circle to the point where hatred of the Jews by the Arabs is such that you will not get that cooperation. So a start must be made in reducing the atmosphere of tension and hostility.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Birdwood, for having given me the opportunity to state Her Majesty's Government's views on this stubborn problem. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, that the speeches to-day have been on a high level. I think that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, showed no traces at all of any partisanship, as he in fact forecast to us—and I suppose, really, that that is not very surprising, in view of the fact that he himself did not seem to know for which side he was batting. But I fully sympathise, and agree with all the sympathy which various noble Lords have expressed with the refugees and their plight. I will ask your Lordships to bear with me for a little while, for I feel that it is necessary (and I do not in this case agree with my noble friend) to go over very briefly a little of the history, not for any reason of recrimination—I assure the noble Earl. Lord Lucan, of that point—but purely with a view to putting the problem into perspective as Her Majesty's Government see it.

In 1947 His Majesty's Government had decided that the Mandate which had been given by the Council of the League of Nations had become unworkable and to submit the problem, in consequence, to the United Nations; with the result that in May of that year the General Assembly set up an eleven-power Special Committee on Palestine to examine the situation and to make recommendations. Its report recommended the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish States and the placing of Jerusalem under a special régime. The two States, after a transitional period of two years under the British-Palestine Administration and under United Nations auspices, were to become independent but bound together by an economic union.

At the United Nations General Assembly's regular session in the autumn, Mr. Creech-Jones, the then United Kingdom Colonial Secretary. stated that Britain was ready to assume responsibility for giving effect to any plan for Palestine agreed to by both Jews and Arabs, but not to impose by force any policy recommended by the Assembly which was not acceptable to both the Jews and the Arabs, as the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has already stated. Mr. Creech-Jones further pointed out that, in the absence of a basis of consent for a settlement, it was of the highest importance that any Assembly recommendations should be accompanied by a clear definition of the means by which they should be carried out. In November, 1947, the partition proposal was adopted in the Assembly by thirty-three votes, including those of the United States and U.S.S.R., with ourselves abstaining.

In May, 1948, the Mandate came to an end. The State of Israel was proclaimed, and was immediately recognised de facto by the United States and the U.S.S.R., and the disturbances in Palestine developed into open warfare. The fighting was finally brought to an end by a series of armistice agreements between Israel and the neighbouring Arab States, by the Acting Mediator of the United Nations in the first half of 1949. As a result, Israel, which under the partition plan would have occupied about 55 per cent. of the territory of Palestine in a State without geographical unity, was in fact left the mistress of about 80 per cent. of the area in the form in which we know it to-day. Meanwhile, in their resolution of December 11, 1948, the United Nations set up a Conciliation Commission for Palestine consisting of three members—France, Turkey and the United States of America—with a mandate to assist the parties to the conflict in reaching a permanent settlement. This resolution also stated that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and to live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so, and at 'the earliest practicable moment, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.

During the three years following its appointment, the Conciliation Commission made serious attempts to induce Israel and the Arab States to reach a peace settlement or, failing that, to work for a solution to individual aspects of the problem left by the termination of the mandate. Having failed, it reported its failure to the United Nations General Assembly, which in January, 1952, placed on the Governments concerned the primary responsibility for reaching a settlement of their outstanding differences and instructed that the Commission should remain available to the parties. Meanwhile, in May, 1950, the Governments of the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America jointly declared their deep interest in the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in the area. They affirmed their opposition to the use or threat of force between the States, and they undertook to take action within and outside the United Nations to prevent the violation of frontiers and armistice lines.

Since the end of 1956, Israel's frontiers have been less subject to tension than in any recent years. In the eleven months ending November, 1957, there were fewer fatal casualties than in the corresponding period of 1956, and there were no retaliatory attacks from the Israel side, especially against Jordan, whereas these had involved heavy loss of life in the past. One reason for quiet on the Egyptian frontier is certainly the presence of the United Nations Emergency Force. Judging by the almost complete lack of incidents for several months, the failure to secure its stationing on Israel territory has not lessened its effectiveness. It must be admitted that this factor might easily change if Egypt resumed fedayeen operations or allowed them to recommence.

On the other borders, that with the Lebanon has been almost wholly quiet, as usual, and there has been only one major brush on the Syrian sector. No doubt one reason for this has been the greater restraint shown on the whole by Arabs and Jews, neither of whom seem eager to provoke new fighting. This must be due, partly at least, to the increasingly effective presence of, and added respect for, the authority of the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government wholeheartedly approve of this increase of the authority of the United Nations and are ready to support any proposals that may be made to strengthen it further. Any such proposals should be aimed at getting the parties to the Armistice Agreement to accept the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation increasingly as the arbiters for disputes; disputes which have hitherto tended to lead to tension and to be settled by force. Like our Allies, France and the United States of America, we are still pledged to take steps inside or outside the United Nations to meet aggression or the threat of aggression in the area.

I will turn now to the main topic and reason for the debate—the refugee problem. During the fighting in 1948, nearly 900,000 refugees (I cannot be more precise than that) left their homes for Arab territory, and by far the greater number are still being maintained in camps by U.N.R.W.A. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned 200,000 who have been—


I said that there had been 200.000 births since 1948.


I am sorry that I misunderstood the noble Lord. Did the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, mention it?


My Lords, I calculated that 200,000 had been born into refugee status since the problem began.


I apologise for misunderstanding the noble Lord. Any Arab country which allowed these refugees to settle on its territory would be admitting finally Israel's conquest. Moreover, at the moment the Arab countries would be hard put to it to absorb the refugees without severe economic and social damage to themselves. On the other hand, not only would the immediate admission of all, or a large part, of the refugees to Israel be a practical impossibility—in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that it would be unthinkable—for both social and economic reasons, but the refugees themselves would be unlikely to accept Israel rule if there were any reasonable alternative. Nevertheless, the refugees must be settled. This can be done only with the co-operation of the United Nations. The principle laid down by the United Nations is still that of their resolution of December 11, 1948: An endorsement of the right of refugees to return to their homes if they wished or to compensation if they did not. If this could be brought about, the offers of help towards resettlement and compensation already made by the United Kingdom and United States Governments could be made the basis of an organised provision of funds by the United Nations, and the refugees could be given plain alternatives from which to choose.

Until this can be done, the only way in which Her Majesty's Government can help the present plight of the refugees is to continue their generous contribution to relief and rehabilitation and to urge other countries to bear their share and to contribute funds. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that if the refugee problem could be got out of the way, the larger problem could be dealt with more easily. I entirely agree. Unfortunately, the experience of the past few years suggests that there is little possibility of persuading the two sides to take the refugee problem out of politics. Moreover, the rock on which attempts at compromise in the past have split has been the question of the right to repatriation, and this is the one which is least to be moved by any offers of outside assistance.

My noble friend Lord Broughshane asked what developments there have been since Mr. Labouisse's statement in the United Nations in December. The Canadian Secretary for External Affairs announced recently that he would in due course be submitting the Supplementary Estimate for 1958 for a further contribution to U.N.R.W.A. of 1½ million dollars, and this contribution would be made in the form of flour. Mr. de Kemonlaria the United Nations Secretary-General's Assistant, is at present touring certain countries, in accordance with the General Assembly's resolution, and we hope that, as a result of his tour, some Governments will be able to increase their contributions. My noble friend also asked what Her Majesty's Government's attitude would be should U.N.R.W.A. run out of funds. I think the best thing I can say is that Her Majesty's Government's past record of contributions proves adequately that we agree with the noble Lord as to the vast importance of U.N.R.W.A.'s operations. We shall continue, subject to the voting of the necessary funds, to keep up this good record. However, we do consider—and I must stress this—that other countries must play their part, and we await with interest the results of the current efforts of Mr. Hammarskjoeld and his team to persuade them to do so.

Her Majesty's Government would welcome any chance of a permanent settlement of the Palestine problem. But settlement can be reached only by methods which are in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. This means that both sides must make up their minds that concessions will have to be made. This was the thesis of Sir Anthony Eden's speech in the Guildhall on November 9, 1955, and by which we still stand. What these concessions should be is not, however, for Her Majesty's Government to state now. Though Israel says that she is ready to discuss matters direct with the Arabs, the Arabs argue that direct negotiations cannot begin on the basis of a fait accompli which is not sanctioned by the United Nations. Both sides are, in public at least, intensely resentful of suggestions that they should give up any of their demands or their acquisitions, and the controversy aroused by new proposals put forward by outside Powers tends to achieve nothing and only to fan passions afresh, which is why I do not propose to put forward any to-day. Indeed, one of the great dangers is that these passions are being deliberately and cynically fanned by Communists for Communist ends.

My noble friend Lord Forbes suggested that the only way to settlement of the Palestine problem is to come to agreement with the Soviet Union. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote the United Kingdom's reply of September 24 last year to the Soviet Note of September 3. We said: Her Majesty's Government remain convinced that the continuation of the Arab-Israel dispute is the basic cause of tension in the Middle East. We would welcome any evidence of a genuine desire on the part of the Soviet Government to seek a solution of this fundamental problem. But as things are, the large-scale supply of Soviet arms to certain countries in this area, coupled with Soviet propaganda of a type which inevitably stimulates ill-feeling between nations, cannot fail to aggravate the situation. It leads inescapably to the conclusion that the Soviet Government are not sincere in their proposed wish to see peace and stability in the Middle East.


I should like to ask a question of the noble Earl. Since that document there has been a letter, one of these numerous letters, from Mr. Bulganin, who suggested, I understand, that some disengagement (as it is called) should be entered into in the Middle East as has been proposed for Central Europe. Could the noble Earl comment on that further offer from the Russians?


I do not think I can comment on that until the reply from the Prime Minister to the letter is sent. We believe, however, that efforts to disrupt the Arab world will be resisted and overcome by the common desire of the Arabs for greater unity and for concrete and progressive efforts to bring about greater stability and a higher standard of living. The United Kingdom, like other freedom-loving countries, can help; and I would draw your Lordships' attention again to one field in which we are playing a part, the Baghdad Pact. This is an important deterrent to armed aggression from outside the area. It may be even more important as the way whereby countries in the region and their friends in the free world can co-operate in winning the battle against poverty, so removing an important part of the material on which Communism feeds.


Following that suggestion about the use of the Baghdad Pact machinery, would the noble Earl make some provision by which Israel could be present at the discussions of the Baghdad Pact Powers?


I do not quite understand how the noble Viscount expects us to be able to do that, seeing that Israel is not a member of the Baghdad Pact.


By our consent and design.


We are only one of the members. I was saying to your Lordships that we felt that the Baghdad Pact was one way in which the free world could co-operate in winning the battle against poverty and so removing an important part of the material on which Communism feeds. The meeting of the Pact Council in Ankara which is now taking place is, I think, welcome proof of the rapid progress which is being made in this sphere.

In these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government must weigh very carefully the advantages of pressing unilaterally for the solution of this problem against the dangers that, by so doing, they will do more harm than good, not only to our own interests but also to the long-term prospects of solving the problem itself. This is, as I have already said, a United Nations problem. Perhaps the United Nations may find possibilities of progress in the sort of idea of a neutral arbitrator as put forward by my noble friend Lord Birdwood and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Her Majesty's Government will continue to give all support to efforts by the United Nations to solve the problem. As I have said, it is encouraging that the interest and understanding shown in the United Nations has increased so much lately.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for a full and complete answer. If some of the questions I posed at the beginning have not been answered, I said that I would accept the view that, if Her Majesty's Government, with their more complete information, came to the conclusion that it was not in the public interest to go deeply into plans, we should accept it. I was particularly glad to hear that Her Majesty's Government intend, if not to strengthen the hand of the United Nations, at least to support strengthening it. I should have liked to hear more about proposals which we should put forward and initiate, rather than about merely supporting proposals which might come in a general sense.

I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly those who have had recent personal experience. I would pick up only one or two small points which noble Lords opposite raised. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, raised the question of disengagement, and I think it is important that we should get our ideas clear on this matter. I view disengagement in the Middle East in rather a different light from disengagement in Europe. Disengagement in the Middle East has to imply a pledge not to arm, shall we say, all the way from the Turkish frontier down to Aden. If that is to mean that a similar area in size is to be disengaged on the other side—in other words, if we could be quite certain that there would be no Soviet submarine bases on the other side of the Black Sea—then, by all means, let us take up the idea of disengagement. But so far the proposition of disengagement has been mentioned only in the context of its application to the Middle East, and not to what happens to the north of the area.

As regards the general proposition put up that perhaps the refugees taken back would be a fifth column in Israel, I realise that if 930,000 refugees were to go back it would endanger the prospects of the State and its future existence. But Mr. Ben Gurion has spoken in terms in his recent address to the Knesset of millions coming in; and if you are going to take in millions of the Jewish race from outside, it seems to be quite compatible that you should take in perhaps 200,000 refugees as a token gesture. It does not seem to me to be quite compatible to claim at the same time that the country is small, attenuated and has no space to expand, as the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, said. I have nothing more to say. I think the debate has served the purpose for which it was conceived, and that is to draw attention to our continued interest, and our hope that we may continue to influence the situation rather than allow events just to drift. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before six o'clock.