The Arab states suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Israel during the first Arab–Israeli war. Immediately following the war, Israel made brilliant and shrewd use of diplomacy to achieve its goals at the negotiating table, much as it had previously used armed force. Israel refused to negotiate with a united Arab negotiation team, preferring to isolate the states, picking them off one after the other. The Israeli–Transjordanian talks differed radically from the other armistice negotiations. Here, two parallel tracks were followed. At Rhodes, the two countries negotiated openly under UN auspices, while in Jerusalem and at King Abdullah's palace in Transjordan, representatives of the two countries held secret bilateral talks. Israel masterfully used the context of these talks to maximise its gains, using military operations to create ‘facts on the ground’, combined with direct coercion in the shape of blackmail, while taking full advantage of international power structures and abusing the trust that King Abdullah had placed in personal relations. The UN Acting Mediator, Ralph Bunche, was aware of the secret back channel, where the clearest cases of coercion took place. Physically and mentally exhausted by the protracted negotiations, he allowed the secret talks to progress despite his dislike of the outcome. The British government, at the time the protector of Transjordan, was unable to assist its client for fear of falling out with the USA, while the US government, in many ways the protector of Israel, maintained an equally ‘hands off’ stance because the talks concerned only an armistice, not a peace treaty. Already at this early stage in their relations, the power asymmetry between Israel and the Arab states was the main reason the parties could not arrive at a peaceful, sustainable solution. This article reinvestigates this diplomacy by using a combination of US, Israeli, British and UN archives, as well as the almost untouched Ralph Bunche diary.
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