UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. (Nov. 4)
The highest United Nations official in charge of the Arab refugee problem told the General Assembly here today that the “crux” of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East is not the refugee problem but the Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s existence and the Arab determination that Israel must not continue to exist as a state.
That statement was made to the Assembly’s Special Political Committee by Dr. John H. Davis, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Dr. “Davis opened the committee’s consideration of his annual report, submitted three weeks ago, with a 5,000-word evaluation of the refugee problem which, he said, reflected his “considered judgment” based on his total experience after five years as UNRWA chief.
Telling the committee that he disagrees with those who think the way to solve “the total Palestine problem is to solve the refugee problem,” he stated:
“In fact, the fundamental factor and the controlling one regarding the Palestine issue is not the refugee problem per se. Rather, it is the fact that two bodies of people are pursuing divergent ends, which 15 years of negotiating effort has not reconciled or even given promise of reconciling. The refugee problem per se, is but one facet of the broader complex of problems which have emerged out of the very creation and the presence of Israel as a state in the Middle East.
“On the one hand, the citizens of Israel are totally dedicated and committed to the preservation and continued existence of their country and will, I am sure, strive to preserve it with everything they have, including their very lives. Off setting this is the Arab feeling which is equally strong. The crux of the Arab feeling is that they do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state, and they do not want her to continue to exist as a state.
“In my opinion, this feeling is a product of the complex history of the Arab peoples which extends back over not just recent decades but even centuries. This feeling exists not only in the hearts and minds of a million Palestine refugees or in the hearts and minds of a group of Arab politicians, but also among the Arab people and the Arab nations as a whole, and is being transmitted in full force to the new generation which is now growing up. Thus as far as I can tell, this feeling is virtually universal within Arab countries. Moreover, Arab politicians do not control this feeling but, on the contrary, are, themselves, governed by it.
“Hence, it is that on both sides the power of decision is anchored with the people. In my opinion, this fact largely explains why all past efforts to settle the Palestine issue or the refugee problem through negotiations or special projects have failed.
“If these observations are correct, then one is forced to conclude that no solution to the Palestine issue is yet in sight and that even a satisfactory solution of the refugee problem per se, would not in and out of itself dissolve the more basic and fundamental problem which emerges from the conflict of viewpoints, purposes and feelings as between the people of Israel, on the one hand, and the people of the Arab countries, on the other.
FINDS JEWS AND ARABS DO NOT BASICALLY HATE EACH OTHER
Dr. Davis told the Assembly that there is “one bright spot in this rather bleak picture.” This, he said, “is the fact that the peoples who comprise the nations that find themselves at opposite poles with respect to the Palestine issue are basically quite tolerant with regard to one another as human beings. From all I know, I believe that the Jew does not basically hate the Arab as an individual, nor does the Arab basically hate the Jew as a person. This fact, it seems to me, at least holds out an element of hope for the future for those charged with the responsibility to find a solution to the problem.”
While the long-range picture was “ominous,” Dr. Davis continued, there are certain “short run” steps that might be taken by the United Nations. These, he said, included 1) “efforts to continue preserving peace in the Middle East and finding a means for carrying out” provisions of a 1948 Assembly resolution which called for repatriation of the Arabs or their compensation by Israel; 2) continuation of relief activities, including education and job training.
In this connection, he also mentioned the need for rectifying UNRWA’s relief rolls. Earlier, he pointed out that the UNRWA relief rolls are inaccurate, due to the facts that dead ration card holders are not removed and that UNRWA is prevented by the Arab “host” governments from ascertaining when refugees had become self-supporting and therefore ineligible for further relief.
Dr. Davis’ long address today was virtually his swan song. He had already submitted his resignation, to take effect at the end of 1963. Until this year, his oral statement to the Special Political Committee had always consisted of a mere, formal summary of his previously submitted annual report. This year, however, he summarized what he called his “total thinking” in regard to the refugee situation and the general Middle East situation as he sees it.
Dr. Davis also told the committee that, in his opinion, some type of activity for aid to the refugees will have to continue for a long time after the expiration of UNRWA’s current mandate, due to expire June 30, 1965.
After Dr. Davis concluded, Michael S. Comay, Israel’s permanent representative, addressed the committee briefly, reiterating Israel’s off-repeated request for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Addressing the Arab delegations, he said: “Let us give up the polemics that have dragged on for 15 years. Let us sit down together, in the spirit of the United Nations, and negotiate peace.”