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The Lausanne Conference, 1949 was convened by the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) from 27 April to 12 September 1949. During the conference, representatives of Israel, the Arab states Egypt, Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria, and Palestinian refugees attempted to resolve disputes arising from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, (mainly in accordance with Resolution 181 and Resolution 194). Amongst the issues discussed were territorial questions and the establishment of recognized borders, the question of Jerusalem, the repatriation of refugees, (and whether the issue could be discussed separately from the overall Arab-Israeli conflict), Israeli counter-claims for war damages, the fate of orange groves belonging to refugees and of their bank accounts blocked in Israel.

On 12 May, 1949, the conference achieved its only success when the parties signed a joint protocol on the framework for a comprehensive peace, which included territories, refugees, and Jerusalem. Ilan Pappé writes that the Israeli agreement to consider repatriation of refugees was made under pressure from the United States, and because the Israelis wanted United Nations membership. Once Israel was admitted to the UN, Pappé writes, it retreated from the protocol it had signed, because it was completely satisfied with the status quo, and saw no need to make any concessions with regard to the refugees or on boundary questions. Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett had hoped for a comprehensive peace settlement at Lausanne, but he was no match for Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who saw the armistice agreements that stopped the fighting with the Arab states as sufficient, and put a low priority on a permanent peace treaty.[1]

Among the Arabs, only King Abdullah of Transjordan (today's Jordan) worked for a permanent peace treaty with Israel, in part because he had annexed the West Bank and wanted the Israelis to recognize this. When Abdullah's secret negotiations and agreements with Israel were exposed, he was assassinated on 20 July 1951 in Jerusalem by a Palestinian.[2] In the end, no agreement was reached. The failure to settle the refugee question led to the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to care for the needs of refugees.


Criticism of participants

According to Yagil Levy,

The Lausanne Conference was convened in 1949 in the aftermath of the 1948 War, with Israel and the Arab states participating. The sides agreed on a protocol based on the Arabs' acceptance of the principle of partition in Palestine, implying recognition of Israel, and Israeli acceptance of the principle of the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, Israel, inspired by its newly defined security interests, signed the document but successfully impeded its translation into a political agreement (Levy, 1997, p. 60).

The Israelis insisted on discussing solutions to refugee problems only in the context of an overall settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This agreed with the commission's stance that

The interrelation of all the aspects of the problem was too obvious to be overlooked." The Israeli government briefly offered to repatriate 100,000 refugees, but only as part of a final settlement in which all other refugees were absorbed by Arab states. Compensation would be paid, but not to individual refugees or Arab states, only to a "common fund" and only for land that had been under cultivation prior to being abandoned; not for any movable property or uncultivated land. The common fund would be reduced by an amount of compensation to Israel for war reparations.

The Commission found this proposal to be unsatisfactory and declared that

the Government of Israel is not prepared to implement the part of paragraph 11 of the General Assembly resolution of 11 December 1948 which resolves that the 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.

The Arab delegations insisted on dealing with the refugee problem separately from an overall settlement, and refused to deal directly with the Israeli delegation. The commission found that

The Arab Governments, on the other hand, are not prepared fully to implement paragraph 5 of the said resolution, which calls for the final settlement of all questions outstanding between them and Israel. The Arab Governments in their contacts with the Commission have evinced no readiness to arrive at such a peace settlement with the Government of Israel.

and that

no constructive progress towards a solution of existing problems would be possible unless all the parties to the dispute, at the outset of the discussions, expressed their determination to respect each other's right to security and freedom from attack, to refrain from warlike or hostile acts against one another, and to promote the return of permanent peace in Palestine.


For reasons that were beyond the Commission's task of facilitation, this movement did not come to pass. The respective attitudes of the parties on this matter--attitudes which produced a complete deadlock as regards the refugee question--are well known. The Arab States insisted upon a prior solution of the refugee question, at least in principle, before agreeing to discuss other outstanding issues. In their opinion, a solution of the refugee problem could be reached only as a result of unconditional acceptance by Israel of the right of refugees to be repatriated. Israel, on the other hand, has maintained that no solution of the refugee question involving repatriation could be envisaged outside the framework of an over-all settlement.


  1. ^ Pappe, 1992, Chapter 9: The Lausanne Conference.
  2. ^ Pappe, 1992, Chapter 10: The Final Quest for Peace.
  • Fischbach, Michael R. (2003). Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12978-5
  • Levy, Yagil (1997). Trial and Error: Israel's Route from War to De-Escalation. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-3429-X
  • Pappe, Ilan (1992). The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-1951. I.B. Tauris, London. ISBN 1-85043-819-6
  • Schulz, Helena Lindholm (2003). The Palestinian Diaspora. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26820-6

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