88. 1949 Armistice Agreements; the beginning of the journey of independent Israel

Israel won the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In spite of the inadequate number of troops and very limited firepower, Israel had won the conflict by overcoming numerous challenges with sheer perseverance in a battle heavily skewed in favour of the well-armed militaries of the five Arab nations which had invaded Israel from all the four sides. The Arab forces had to flee in all directions.

The war saw twice the declaration of the United Nations-sponsored ceasefire. Once, from 11 June to 18 July 1948, and then again, from 18 July to 15 October 1948. However, they hardly contributed towards ending the war. Israel though used this intervening period to regain the strength they had lost during the war.

By the time the war ended, Israel had not only managed to secure the areas allocated to the Jews by the United Nations under the Palestine Partition Plan but had also gained control over about 60% of the land set aside by the UN for the proposed Arab nation. Israel commanded about 78% of the region that came under the former ‘British Mandatory Palestine’. It included the whole of the Galilee Basin, Jezreel Valley, Negev Desert, West Jerusalem and the coastal plains.

However, Jordan managed to continue its hold to the west of River Jordan, the area that we know as the ‘West Bank’. Likewise, Egypt managed to keep the Gaza Strip with it. In addition to the West Bank, Jordan also managed to continue occupying East Jerusalem.

Even after the dawn of the year 1949, the war continued. However, the Arab armies had reached their limit of patience. Egypt became the first nation hint at a truce. Israel reciprocated and separately signed armistice agreements with the invading Arab nations –on 24th February 1949 with Egypt, on 23rd March 1949 with Lebanon, on 3rd April 1949 with Jordan and on 20th July 1949 with Syria. As Israel and Iraq did not share a land border, the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan covered the ceasefire with Iraq.

1948 armistice

The peace talks with Jordan proved most complex as the ‘West Bank’ featured as one of the issues. In fact, before signing of the armistice agreement with Jordan, the commanders of the ‘Israeli Defense Forces’ had urged David Ben-Gurion to allow them to attack and conquer the West Bank. Ben-Gurion knew well that this could have been easily achieved considering the then strength of the IDF. Yet, he did not permit for the mission as Israel had already gained more than they had expected. Moreover, Ben-Gurion also feared that if their efforts to take advantage of the situation resulted in prolongation of the war, it could invite disfavor from both the United States and Britain, which were keen to resolve the issue at the earliest. Thus, to avoid wasting any more time and strength at the battle, he denied permission to his military commanders for the operation. He also convinced them about the importance of immediately focusing on building the new-born nation of Israel rather than war.

At the ceasefire talks with Syria, the issue of the Golan Heights featured as the core issue. This area had been a part of the ‘French Mandatory Syria’ for much of time. After the 1948 war, most of it came under Israel and Israel was not ready to leave its control over the region. After many deliberations, the land to be under the control of both nations was decided, and agreements over the ‘Demilitarized Zones’ were reached.

With the ‘Armistice Agreements’, the ‘Armistice Lines’ between Israel and its neighbouring Arab nations got consequently decided which were not permanent political boundaries but only guiding demarcations important from the point of view of military deployments. The only two issues, firstly, about the Palestinian Arab migrants and secondly, about the Israeli borders featured prominently in the discussions held concerning all the ‘Armistice Agreements’.

After the declaration of independence, Israel had completely lifted the restrictions on Jewish immigration and had begun the process of integrating the willing Jews returning from across the world to Israel. Following this, within a few years, more than 1 million Jews immigrated to Israel and were heartily and lovingly welcomed.

Not only this, secret operations conducted in Yemen, Aden, Djibouti and many such places freed thousands of Jews stuck in anti-Semitic riots and violence, who were airlifted to Israel under the operation codenamed ‘Magic Carpet’. The British and American aircraft conducted 380 flights and brought home all the Jews to safety.

Operation Magic Carpet

On the contrary, the Palestinian Arabs who had escaped from Palestine to other Arab nations during the war were not accepted by these countries. The nations neither granted them their citizenships nor made any arrangements for their rehabilitation elsewhere. The Arab nations always kept the Palestinian immigrants confined to refugee camps and only used them as a political weapon against Israel, the only exception being Transjordan. The King of Transjordan offered citizenship and representation in their national assembly to about 200 thousand Palestinian Arab refugees from West Bank. However, their rehabilitation was not to be done in Transjordan but in West Bank itself.

In Israel, this war is recognized as the ‘War of Independence’ while the Arab world knows it as ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe due to the sheer scale and the number of the Arab population that had to leave the land of Palestine and take refuge elsewhere.

After signing of all the Armistice Agreements, David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues took to work diligently and untiringly. In the meantime, on 25th January 1949, Israel saw the completion of the very first national election. The election that recorded more than 86% turnout saw David Ben-Gurion and his ‘Mapai’ party win the majority of the seats. The first session of ‘Knesset’, the Israeli parliament, having 120 seats was held on 14th February 1949. The session elected with a majority, Chaim Weizmann as the ‘first President of Israel’ and David Ben-Gurion as the ‘first Prime Minister of Israel’.

1949 Israeli elections

Apart from establishing the organizations necessary for the administration, Ben-Gurion started several important projects for rural development, water management, settlements in the Negev Desert, etc.

First Government of Israel on May 1, 1949

(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.