Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS






Q: What was his role in the negotiations?

A: First of all, it was called a conference and he was the Chairman of the conference. We were beginning to talk in a sort of formal framework. Well, if he's the Chairman of the conference, he has influence. And when he saw that the parties were not reaching agreement, he did something very important: he drafted proposals. He said, the Israeli position and the Arab position are apart or different, not all that different, let's split the difference. And he would make actual proposals for the text and both the Israelis and the Egyptians, and later the Syrians, Lebanese, and Jordanians could accept from a trusted third party proposals that neither of them could initiate himself or accept from his rival. And he understood, therefore, that he had a great power in that he could write those parts of the agreement which could be accepted by the parties, with some show of reluctance, but which neither of them could possibly have drafted themselves. So it was a very active role indeed. I would say it set a new fashion, a new tradition in United Nations mediation.


Q: How did he maintain his neutrality in the negotiations?

A: I think his dilemma here was a part of the mediatorial function. Since he had to put up a facade of objectivity, that meant that he couldn't speak to each of us in the same language, and obviously his job as a mediator was to persuade us that we should give him our confidence because he was aware of the Jewish tragedy, he could see the struggle. And, of course, we knew what he was saying to the Arabs. He was saying to them, words of sympathy with Arab nationalism. Well, that's the paradox of mediation.


Q: He went back and forth between both sides. Would you call it "shuttle diplomacy"?

A: Well, it wasn't quite shuttling because they were all on the Island of Rhodes, within a few yards of each other. Not as Kissinger developed later when he used to go from one Arab capital to another. But the technique was that Bunche would have separate meetings with the Israelis and the Egyptians, and later the other Arab states, and he'd get them very close to an agreement and then put in his pocket those things which were already agreed, and then brought them together to see what could be done with the things which were not agreed, which were sometimes very sensitive issues.

Home | Early Influences | Scholar-Activist | Drive to Decolonize | Mr. UN
The Peacemaker | Man & the Myth | Timeline | Educational Resources
Making the Movie | Site Credits