Turkish Journal of History
PALESTINE CONCILIATION COMMISSION AND TURKEYArda Baş
FİLİSTİN UZLAŞTIRMA KOMİSYONU VE TÜRKİYEArda Baş
The efforts for founding an Israeli state in Palestine, which gained momentum with the Balfour Declaration issued in the end of World War I, constituted one of the most important problems causing instability in the Middle East during the interwar period. In this process, when Jewish immigration to Palestine increased and Arabs and Jews began to have serious conflicts in the region, Turkey did not get involved in the developments in Palestine. The conflicts became bitterer following World War II when the victorious USA began to back up the efforts for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The ambitions of Western countries and the Jews for Palestine became the prominent issue for Arab countries after World War II. Arab nationalists gathered around anti-Westernism and the Palestine issue.
Unlike its passive position in the interwar period, Turkey began to take more active involvement in the Palestine issue after the war. Turkey’s increasing interest in the issue following 1945 was due to its convergence with Arab nations, rather than religious or nationalist considerations. Turkey was left alone against the Soviet Union by Western nations. With no alternative but to create stronger bonds with the states in the region against the Soviet threat, Turkey approached its Arab neighbours and realized that the Palestine issue was the first item on their agenda. When the Palestine issue was brought to UN, Turkey supported Arab nations due to its sense of solidarity with Arab nations and its concern that a Jewish state to be founded in the area might cause instability. Turkey’s support to Arab nations for the Palestine issue would come to an end with the improvements in Turkey’s relations with Western nations and the outbreak of the First Arab-Israeli War.
As a result of its strategic alliance with Western nations against the Soviet Union threat, Turkey felt the need for acting in concert with its allies in the international area. Meanwhile, it became clear to Turkey during the First Arab-Israeli War that military alliance with Israel would be more beneficial than with Arabs. At this stage, the UN decided to set up a Conciliation Commission for resolution of the Palestine issue. Acting uniformly with Western nations in the Conciliation Commission and carrying out missions together with the USA and France, Turkey made it clear that it would no longer take an approach supporting Arab theses in the Palestine issue.
The UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine was important in that it was the first multilateral attempt for resolution and Turkey’s first critical alliance with Western nations following World War II. Turkey was included in the conciliation commission with the USA and France due to its support for Arab countries in the conflict, but it did not maintain its support in the works of the commission. Commission membership increased Turkey’s diplomatic contact with Israel, and as a result of these interactions Turkey’s concerns over Israel disappeared and led Turkey to become the first Muslim country to recognize Israel.
The Conciliation Commission was set up with great expectations and strong international support. At the time the Commission made serious efforts for resolution of the problem, the disagreement between the two parties was new and so there were suitable grounds for resolution. However, the biggest disadvantage of the Commission was its Western identity which caused lack of trust with Arab nations. France, a member of the Commission that aimed to provide suitable conditions for lasting peace following the First Arab-Israeli War, was known for its colonial past among Arab nations. Turkey’s membership was also met with mistrust due to memories from the Ottoman Empire period and the Hatay issue, which was seen as a conspiracy set against Arab countries by Turkey and Western nations. The USA was the only nation with no colonial past from the point of view of Arab nations. However, the USA’s strong support for the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine following World War II was known by the Arab public. For these reasons, the Commission’s neutrality was questioned by Arab nations.
Between the Commission’s most active years of 1949 and 1952, Arab nations were devoid of strong governments that could sign a peace treaty with Israel, as they were struggling with political and military depression caused by the First Arab-Israeli War. Israel, on the other hand, had seen the weaknesses of Arab troops during the War, and aimed to extend and strengthen its boundaries through further conflicts rather than make peace with Arab nations. The works of the Conciliation Commission failed as they were trying to reconcile those with no power for making peace and those with no intention of doing so.
After the Paris Conference of 1951, the Commission acknowledged that it would be unable to reach its aim of ensuring a peace accord, and decided to focus on the resolution of the problems of Arab refugees. However, it failed to gain effective results in its smaller targets because the parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict adopted more uncompromising attitudes as the Cold War began to influence the Palestine issue.
During the course of the work of the Commission after 1952, the relations between some of the Arab nations that were expected to be made better through the joint efforts of the members, namely Turkey, the USA, and France, became even worse. With Arab nations being supported by the Soviet Union, and Israel by the USA in the international area, the parties of the conflict began to manifest their uncompromising attitudes more comfortably, which put the Conciliation Commission in a situation where it could no longer function.
The Conciliation Commission was an unsuccessful experience on the part of Turkey. Turkish foreign policy pursued until the 1960s did more harm than good on the works of the Conciliation Commission. During the 1950s, Turkey formed closer economic and political relationships with Israel, while its relations with important Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria deteriorated. Such direct conflicts between Western and Arab nations as the Suez Crisis did not only worsen the relations between Western and Arab nations in the Conciliation Commission, but also caused Turkey to lose its role of mediator. With Cold War and the Soviet Union becoming more influential over Middle East, Turkey’s policies on Arab nations, especially Egypt and Syria, became stricter. When Turkey and Syria were on the brink of war in 1957, the two nations had no chance of cooperation and resolution under the Conciliation Commission. Egypt and Syria also sharpened their irreconcilable attitudes against Turkey both in terms of regional policies and of international relations with the support they received from the Soviet Union. Because Egypt perceived a Muslim state’s contribution to the resolution of the Palestine issue as interference in the internal affairs of Arab nations at a time when it saw itself as the protector of Arab nations, it did not support Turkey’s efforts for conciliation. The Conciliation Commission for Palestine was imbedded in history as another UN initiative that failed to provide solutions to international relations under the existing structure of the UN.