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Labor Action, 10 January 1949


Al Findley

Why Palestine War Goes On:
Britain Desires the Negev


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 2, 10 January 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The recent fighting in the Negev confirms Labor Action’s prediction of December 6 that the ceasefire orders of November 4 and 16 would not bring peace but would be a short-lived “finger-on-the-trigger” truce. TJie current Israeli offensive fully bears this out. Labor Action predicted this, as against numerous statements by Bunche, General Riley and others that fighting in Palestine was at an end.

The Israeli offensive against the Egyptians in the last days of 1948 was designed primarily to force Egypt to negotiate a permanent armistice or peace. The Israeli army was in a position and had the strength to expel the Egyptians from Palestine at will. Instead they allowed the Egyptians to remain, but cut their lines and encircled them, making their position “militarily untenable.”

This was done for two reasons. The first of course, is that forcing ANY Arab country to sit down at a peace table would be a political victory of great significance for Israel. The second reason was the attempt of Israel to use- an Egyptian peace to reduce the bargaining strength of Abdullah, thus reducing the price that this monarch demands for peace.

While the Israeli army was committed in the Negev fight, the rest of the Arab armies remained quiet Syria and Lebanon did not have the strength to start an offensive. Abdullah did not want to use his troops, preferring to use his military power as a club in the bargaining for a final settlement. The Iraqi could do nothing without the Transjordanians.

The net political effect of the fighting in the Negev has been that the pressure for “concessions” from Israel has shifted to Arabs. The question now is – how much of the original territory allotted to the Palestinian Arabs will be retained by them, or Transjordan and Egypt.

Labor Action earlier forecast that as a result of the October victories of Israel, Britain would now REALLY come to the aid of the Arab states. This reporter never believed that England expected to destroy Israel, but was convinced the British knew the military facts which made that impossible. The British aim was to use the promise of peace to secure boundaries similar to those proposed by the first Bernadotte Plan. The victory of Israel in the Negev has destroyed the military and political basis for this plan.

The Foreign Office is really frantic. This accounts for the fantastic series of actions by the British. Warships were sent to Aqaba on the Red Sea and charges were made in the Security Council that Israel had invaded Transjordan and Egypt. The Foreign Office allowed a “diplomatic leak” that the British would be forced to join the war against Israel and lift the embargo on arms to the Arab states in line with its treaties.

The extent of the jitters that the British have can be seen from the warmth with which Bevin is now embracing Egypt, the Arabian power it had been most afraid of. The return to power of the pro-British former Premier Abdul Hadi Pasha is only a minor reason since the rapprochement began before that.

It is highly improbable that Britain will actually openly enter the war against Israel. However, the chances are that Britain will send arms to the Arabs in order to save some of the Negev.

The British introduced and carried in the Security Council a cease-fire for the umpteenth time. In addition, the resolution calls for a withdrawal to lines held before the first Israeli offensive in October. This was one of the few times that any motion carried in the Security Council carried without U.S. votes. Russia, however, did vote for the cease-fire, but abstained on the withdrawal order. The prestige of UN ceasefire orders has fallen so low that few people care what answer will be given to the current UN order.

The strong pro-Israel position of the U.S. will probably be very short. Already there are reports of another shift in U.S. position and that the U.S. has warned Israel unofficially that recognition will be withdrawn if Arab territory is invaded.

However, no major anti-Jewish acts will be taken till the Israeli elections January 23. It is even possible that a series of pro-Israel steps will be taken in order to strengthen the pro-West forces among Israeli parties.

Abdullah’s Dream

In the meantime, Abdullah is more concerned with his plans for uniting Arab Palestine with Transjordan as the first step in achieving his dream of a greater Syria – including Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq under his rule. A series of moves has taken place. First he was crowned king by the Coptic Church in Jerusalem. A gathering of notables was then held in Jericho that petitioned Abdullah to unite Arab Palestine with Transjordan. The Transjordan Parliament approved the idea. A series of mass demonstrations arranged by the Arab Legion is now taking place in all major centers of Palestine demanding union.

The official step has not been taken yet, partly due to the opposition of the rest of the Arab League and partly to the “go slow” signal by Britain. Bevin is a little disappointed in the fact that Abdullah is more interested in his “personal” fortunes than in British bases in the Negev. Bevin is now trying to mend his fences with Egypt.

The Transjordan radio at Ramleh has been urging a negotiated peace with Israel. One report in the Jewish Forward says that Abdullah has officially accepted an offer to actually begin negotiations for a permanent armistice or peace in Palestine.

The only real bar to peace in Palestine – NOW – is Britain’s desire for the Negev.

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