THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1956 Part 7C
Posted on March 3rd, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 2.4.21

Bandaranaike took firm decisions where international relations were concerned. This essay looks at his handling of several important issues which arose in 1956.

ISRAEL

Bandaranaike recognized Israel, though he had reservations. Bandaranaike told Parliament, the position is that the previous Government had agreed to diplomatic representation by Israel here, I presume, with the implication of our representation there.

 When I assumed office the Israel Government, kept on pressing us to find out whether they could send their Representative here as the previous Government had decided. The British High Commission as pressing for it. Therefore I agreed.

Besides the pressure from the British side, there could have been other reasons for Bandaranaike’s decision to open diplomatic relations with Israel, said Bandu de Silva. India had already accorded diplomatic recognition. Israel was building up a socialist state. Its Kibbutz system even attracted the attention of the local left leadership.   Israel had supported Ceylon’s entry into the U.N.

Bandaranaike ordered that diplomatic missions be exchanged and asked the Permanent Secretary to appoint H.A.J. Hulugalle, Ambassador to Rome to be concurrently accredited to Tel Aviv. The Arab League issued a strong protest and a threat to boycott Ceylon tea, so Bandaranaike stopped Hulugalle from proceeding to Tel Aviv.  I have laid it by, said Bandaranaike to Parliament.   Israel however had already opened its diplomatic mission in Colombo.

Bandaranaike had his own views on the creation of Israel. Personally, if you ask me, the much wiser course should have been, that these Jews, should have been absorbed into those countries in which they were settled and of which they had become citizens, as citizens of those countries and treated fairly and justly so that they would have been able to make their great contributions to the national lives of those countries.

 However, the Balfour Declaration recognized publicly this sentimental claim of theirs to return to their homeland after nearly 2,000 years. At the same time, it must be remembered there are about a million Arabs who are refugees, about a million of them, driven out of their homeland.

Now let us understand the position of the Arab countries too, what they feel about this Jewish State established in a narrow, barren strip of land, containing roughly less than a million people, about a million and a half, supported by international Jewry with finance, with the political power wielded in those great countries where the people of their race are still filling important and distinguished places, with brains, with industry, with money and most modern equipment.

The Arabs feel that this Jewish State planted in this way in their midst would prove of great danger to their independence and their freedom because Israel is bound to expand.  She just cannot help herself.  Circumstances will make necessary for the present Israelites to expand what with the powers they have and their ability, backed by all these international forces.

The Jews feel that this small country is not sufficient for them, for one and a half million people. This makes the Arabs’ fear not unjustifiable that Israel would prove a great danger, if not now, at least 10 years hence or 20 years hence or 30 years hence. That is the Arab point of view which might be given due consideration. The Israelites point of view is that they have no such intention.

I had the pleasure, at the United Nations, of having a long talk with Mrs. Golda Meir, a very charming and able lady.  She was then Foreign Secretary of Israel. I told her, this is the position. But she said, ” Oh, no. We can get on very peacefully if we are allowed to do so. We have no such intentions “, and so on and so forth. Obviously, that is what the Jews say when they get their head into the tent till the rest of the body in due course follows into the tent, if I may quote an Arab saying.

We have the highest regard for the Jews. They are very able, and all honor to them. But this is the newly planted State of Israel. Of course, they were there over 2,000 years ago, it is true, but they have not been there for the last 1,800 years at least. If we look at it in that way, I dread to think what would be the position of many countries in the world, concluded Bandaranaike.

1956 was an eventual year   for the UN. There was the Suez Crisis, the invasion of Egypt by Israel, the invasion of Hungary by Russia, United States troops in Lebanon and British troops in Jordan. Sri Lanka, under Bandaranaike, responded to each of these issues.

SUEZ CRISIS

In July 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. UK and France invaded Egypt to take the Canal back. And Israel used the opportunity to invade Egypt and expand its territory by annexing the Sinai. Sri Lanka played an active role in Suez crisis.

News of President Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal Company on July 26 1956 reached S. W. R. D. immediately and he quickly saw the dangers of this act. First he discussed the matter with Nehru and suggested having a meeting of the Colombo Powers.

In August 1956, UK called a conference of 24 countries to discuss the Suez issue in London. Sri Lanka was also invited.  UK wanted to see international control of the Canal. India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and USSR opposed this.

Bandaranaike said that Sri Lanka supported the right of Egypt to nationalize the canal   and opposed the invasion by Britain and France. Bandaranaike told British Prime Minister Anthony Eden that there should be an unconditional withdrawal from Egyptian territory of British, French and Israeli forces before any other question could have been taken up, even the question of the clearing of the Suez Canal, and that it was Sri Lanka‘s firm belief that delays in such withdrawal would only result in the danger of widespread hostility.

” Our attitude at the London Conference was to recognize the legality of the nationalization and its corollary, the right to control the Suez Canal, and to suggest, as there were international interests also, that some convention should be again signed on the lines of the Convention of Constantinople of 1888 preserving those international rights and appointing some consultative committee which would consult the Egyptian Government in the operation of the canal and, if any dispute arose, that that matter be referred to an impartial body of arbitration, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations. President Nasser is not opposed to that.

Bandaranaike also obtained an assurance from Britain that the bases in Trincomalee and Colombo would not be used in the Suez crisis.

Sri Lanka‘s statement came to the attention of Egypt’s Prime Minister Nasser. Nasser sent a cable to Bandaranaike in September 1956. It said:” Your Excellency, having gone through the records of the London Conference on the Suez Canal. I wish to express to Your Excellency the Egyptian peoples and my own appreciation of the wise and fair attitude of your delegation and its support of the right of Egypt to nationalize the Suez Canal Company and to safeguard its own independence and dignity. I avail myself of this opportunity to express to Your Excellency my highest consideration. Gamal Abdel Nasser. Later Nasser invited Bandaranaike to visit Egypt.

On my way to New York for the UN sessions I spent one day in London where I had the opportunity of meeting the British Prime Minister, and certain other Ministers. I am much obliged particularly to Sir Anthony Eden for having given me an opportunity of explaining to him our views. Not only ours but of the Asian Powers as well, reported Bandaranaike to Parliament.

UN had an emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the Suez issue. On November 1st, 1956 Suez issue came to the General Assembly for the first time. Sri Lanka got a chance to voice her views on the subject.

Bandaranaike instructed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN, R. S. S. Gunawardena to up hold Egypt’s rights to nationalize the Suez Canal Company   and to say that Ceylon disapproved of the military invasion of UK, France and also the invasion of Israel. Bandaranaike opposed Britain’s policy of phased withdrawals from Suez. SWRD had instead suggested a conference of the users of Suez Canal. There were 11 resolutions on Suez and Sri Lanka voted for all of them. Sri Lanka was the cosponsor of one resolution, the   Asian powers resolution on the Suez issue.

Bandaranaike spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Fawzi. ‘Dr. Fawzi made me understand that Egypt is always ready to discuss the matter.’ Bandaranaike had conferred with Eisenhower earlier and agreed with US policy on the matter. Sri Lanka supported the US position of demanding a ceasefire and creation of a UN emergency force in Suez to keep the belligerent apart. Sri Lanka stated that it was prepared to send in a contingent of infantry for this.

On his way back from New York, Bandaranaike against stopped over in UK. I saw Mr. Selwyn Lloyd and had an opportunity of explaining to the Ministers again, as a result of my conversations in America and Canada, that I was confirmed in my view that they should unconditionally withdraw their forces from Egypt. I impressed upon British Ministers that they must announce this.

Selwyn Lloyd,   got at me the night before I left, I was at a dinner given by the High Commissioner. He wanted to see me, he was preparing his speech for the following day in the House of Commons,-to find out what I really thought of their announcement. I said, ” Well, better late than never. You have done right. Please withdraw your forces. Personally I think that is the only thing to be done. “

Back in Sri Lanka, SWRD spoke of the matter in Parliament. I think we can take it that the danger, or any close danger of widespread war breaking out, has now receded into the distance. That does not mean that all the problems are solved. There is the clearing of the Suez Canal which must be taken up quickly in the interests of all of us, Egypt included.

The United Nations has emerged with its prestige increased-there is no question about it-over this incident. Even the American President, Eisenhower himself, is satisfied that they must work through the United Nations in the future to secure the peace of the world. I hope the other great powers will also come to that conclusion, and the United Nations will now come into its own, said Bandaranaike in Parliament.

Bandaranaike’s efforts to resolve the Suez Crisis, pleased the Arab countries. UNGA appointed an advisory committee to guide the United Nations Emergency Force for Suez.(UNEF) Sri Lanka was nominated to this body by Iran and was unanimously approved.  This was an indication of the appreciation of Sri Lanka’s   foreign policy by other countries, said Nissanka. The other countries were Brazil, Canada,  Colombia, India, Norway, and Pakistan, with the Secretary-General as chairman.

HUNGARY

There was a revolt in Hungary in 1956, and Russian troops entered in October 1956. Russia prevented the matter from coming up in Security Council by using her veto. However,   US brought the matter before the General Assembly. Sri Lanka did not have diplomatic relations with Hungary or Russia at the time.

Sri Lanka spoke against the invasion at UN General Assembly. Sri Lanka said whether it is Russian dictatorship in Hungary or Anglo French dictatorship in Suez, it is undesirable. Sri Lanka asked that Russian forces be withdrawn from Hungary and Hungary left free to work out her own destiny.

United Nations General Assembly appointed a fact finding special committee on Hungary. Sri Lanka was appointed to this committee, with Australia, Denmark, Tunisia and Uruguay. Sri Lankan Representative R. S. S. Gunawardena was appointed a Secretary of this committee. The committee was not allowed to visit Hungary.

In this case, Nissanka observed, Sri Lanka was reluctant to anger Russia. The Report of the committee on Hungary was very critical of Russia. Sri Lanka abstained from voting, though it was member of the committee. Bandaranaike was slow to condemn the execution of Imre Nagy, former Hungarian Prime Minister by Russia. 

LEBANON and JORDAN

In August 1958 US and UK invaded Lebanon and Jordan respectively. UN met to discuss the matter.  Sri Lanka   condemned the invasion and wanted the forces withdrawn. SL supported a resolution moved by the USSR for the withdrawal of these troops  .This paved the way for the subsequent adoption by the UN of a  similar resolution, said VLB Mendis.

I have in my hands a resolution that has been tabled by the Soviet Union, by Mr. Andrei Gromyko. This is the resolution they have tabled, I presume today, in the United Nations Assembly, said Bandaranaike to Parliament.  

 “The General Assembly, recognizing the necessity of adopting urgent measures to ease tension in the Near and Middle East area in the interests of preserving universal peace, recommends to the Governments of the United States and Great Britain to withdraw their troops from the territory of Lebanon and Jordan without delay, instructs the United Nations Secretary-General to reinforce the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon in accordance with the plan presented by the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon in its Second Report, and to send a group of observers to Jordan with a view to supervise the withdrawal of American and British troops from Lebanon and Jordan and the situation along the frontier of these countries. ”

 These views, I am happy to say, correspond entirely with my own, and those are the very instructions that, two days ago over the telephone, I conveyed to Sir Claude Corea [our UN representative] in New York. That is a sensible way of securing this withdrawal and, I am glad to say, a proposal of that sort coming from the Soviet Union itself is likely to be acceptable to the majority of the countries in the United Nations now said Bandaranaike in Parliament. (concluded)

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