Initial statements of parties concerned

This is an extract from the Year Book of the United Nations, 1947-48. It describes the meeting of the UN General Assembly Adhoc Committeee on Palestine in September-October 1948.


During its second meeting on September 26, 1947, the Adhoc Committee agreed to hear the views of the representatives of the three parties immediately concerned in the Palestine question – i.e., the United Kingdom (as Mandatory Power), the Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency for Palestine – before embarking upon a general debate. The report of the Special Committee on Palestine was introduced by its Chairman, Justice Sandstrom, during the second meeting of the Adhoc Committee.

(1) United Kingdom Viewpoint

The representative of the United Kingdom placed the views of his Government before the Adhoc Committee at the second meeting on September 26, 1947. Congratulating UNSCOP on the way in which it had carried out its task, he declared that the United Kingdom Government was in substantial agreement with the twelve general recommendations.222/ In particular, the United Kingdom Government endorsed and wished to emphasize three of these recommendations: Recommendations I (Termination of the Mandate) and II (Independence), both of which were an exact expression of the guiding principle of British policy, and Recommendation VI (Jewish Displaced Persons). Concerning the latter, the United Kingdom Government believed that the entire problem of displaced persons in Europe, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, was an international responsibility demanding urgent attention. His Government would make proposals in this connection subsequently.

The United Kingdom Government endorsed without reservation the view that the Mandate for Palestine should now be terminated.

He recalled that the representative of the United Kingdom had informed the General Assembly during its first special session that His Majesty’s Government would be in the highest degree reluctant to oppose the Assembly’s wishes in regard to the future of Palestine. At the same time, he further recalled, the United Kingdom representative had drawn a distinction between accepting a recommendation, in the sense of not impeding its implementation by others, and accepting responsibility for carrying it out by means of a British administration and British forces in Palestine.

The attitude of the United Kingdom Government remained as then stated, the representative of the United Kingdom said. His Government was ready to co-operate with the Assembly to the fullest extent possible. He could not easily imagine circumstances in which the United Kingdom would wish to prevent the application of a settlement recommended by the Assembly. The crucial question for His Majesty’s Government was, however, the matter of enforcement of such a settlement.

His Government was ready to assume responsibility for implementing any plan on which agreement was reached by the Arabs and the Jews. If, on the other hand, the Assembly were to recommend a policy which was not acceptable to both parties, the United Kingdom Government would not feel able to implement it, and the Assembly should therefore provide, in such a case, for some alternative authority to implement it. Specifically, the United Kingdom Government was not prepared by itself to undertake the task of imposing a policy in Palestine by force of arms; as to the possibility of his Government’s participation with other Governments in the enforcement of a settlement, his Government would have to take into account both the inherent justice of the settlement and the extent to which force would be required for its implementation.

In the absence of a settlement, the United Kingdom Government must plan for an early withdrawal of British forces and of the British Administration from Palestine.

In conclusion, the representative of the United Kingdom declared that if no basis of consent for a settlement could be found, it seemed to him of the highest importance that any recommendations made by the General Assembly should be accompanied by a clear definition of the means by which they were to be carried out.

(2) Viewpoint of the Arab Higher Committee

Addressing the AdHoc Committee at the third meeting on September 30, 1947, the representative of the Arab Higher Committee stated that it was obviously the sacred duty of the Arabs of Palestine to defend their country against all aggression, including the aggressive campaign being waged by the Zionists with the object of securing by force a country, Palestine, which was not theirs by right. The raison d’être of the United Nations was, he said, to assist self-defence against aggression.

The rights and patrimony of the Arabs in Palestine had been the subject of no fewer than eighteen investigations within 25 years, and all to no purpose. Commissions of inquiry had either reduced the national and legal rights of the Palestine Arabs or had glossed them over. The few recommendations favourable to the Arabs had been ignored by the Mandatory Power. For these and for other reasons already communicated to the United Nations, it was not surprising that the Arab Higher Committee should have abstained from the nineteenth investigation (i.e., UNSCOP’s) and refused to appear before the Special Committee.

The representative of the Arab Higher Committee concluded from a survey of Palestine history that Zionist claims to that country had no legal or moral basis. In particular, he denied the legal or moral justification of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, both of which, he declared, had been laid down by the Zionist Executive and the United Kingdom Government. As a result of Anglo-Zionist co-operation, Palestine’s Jewish minority was placed in a privileged position vis-à-vis the Arab majority, while Arabs were being made the victims of discrimination.

The representative of the Arab Higher Committee emphasized the importance of the problem of immigration into Palestine. He accused the Mandatory Power of having overstepped the provisions of Article 6 of the Mandate by permitting Jewish immigration into Palestine to the detriment of the political, social and economic rights of the Palestine Arabs. If any room existed in Palestine for an increase in population, that room should be left for its natural increase. He emphasized the increasing determination of the Arabs to oppose all immigration.

The representative of the Arab Higher Committee stated that, yielding to Zionist pressure, the United Kingdom Government had failed to implement its own decision, made in 1939, that Jewish immigration into Palestine must cease and that Palestine must become an independent unitary state within a fixed time.

No people would be more pleased than the Arabs to see the distressed Jews of Europe given permanent relief. But Palestine already had absorbed far more than its just share, and the Jews could not impose their will on other nations by choosing the place and manner of their relief, particularly if that choice was inconsistent with the principles of international law and justice and prejudicial to the interests of the nation directly concerned. He recalled the relevant resolutions concerning refugees and displaced persons passed by the General Assembly on February 12 (8(I))223/ and December 15 (62(I)),224/ 1946, in that connection and mentioned the offer of the United Kingdom, made more than 40 years ago, to place Uganda at the disposal of the Jews as a national home, and, more recently, the efforts of the U.S.S.R. to create a Jewish national home in Biro-Bidjan.

Both places had more to offer the Jews than the tiny country of Palestine, but the Zionists had turned them down. The Zionists did not want Palestine for the permanent solution of the Jewish problem nor for the relief of the distressed Jews: they wanted power; they had political ambitions and designs on strategically important Palestine and the Near East.

Then, too, it would be illogical for the United Nations to associate itself with the introduction of an alien body into the established homogeneity of the Arab world, a process which could only produce a “new Balkans”.

The solution of the Palestine problem was simple. It lay in the Charter of the United Nations in accordance with which the Arabs of Palestine, constituting the majority of the population, were entitled to a free and independent state. He welcomed the statement by the representative of the United Kingdom that the Mandate should be terminated and its termination followed by independence, and expressed the hope that the United Kingdom Government would not, as in the past, reverse its decision under Zionist pressure.

Declaring that, once Palestine was found to be entitled to independence, the United Nations was not legally competent to decide or impose Palestine’s constitutional organization, the representative of the Arab Higher Committee outlined the following principles as the basis for the future constitutional organization of the Holy Land:

1. That an Arab State in the whole of Palestine be established on democratic lines.

2. That the Arab State of Palestine would respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and equality of all persons before the law.

3. That the Arab State of Palestine would protect the legitimate rights and interests of all minorities.

4. That freedom of worship and access to the Holy Places would be guaranteed to all.

He added that the following steps would have to be taken to give effect to the above mentioned four principles:

(a) A Constituent Assembly should be elected at the earliest possible time. All genuine and law abiding nationals of Palestine would be entitled to participate in the elections of the Constituent Assembly.

(b) The Constituent Assembly should, within a fixed time, formulate and enact a Constitution for the Arab State of Palestine, which should be of a democratic nature and should embody the above-mentioned four principles.

(c) A government should be formed within a fixed time, in accordance with the terms of the Constitution, to take over the administration of Palestine from the Mandatory Power.

Such a program was the only one which the Arabs of Palestine were prepared to adopt, and the only item on the Committee’s agenda with which the Arab Higher Committee would associate itself was Item 3.225/ i.e., the item proposed by Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The representative of the Arab Higher Committee said he had not commented upon the UNSCOP Report because the Arab Higher Committee considered that it could not be used as a basis for discussion. Both the majority and the minority plans contained in the Report were inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Arabs of Palestine were solidly determined to oppose with all the means at their disposal any scheme which provided for the dissection, segregation or partition of their country or which gave to a minority special and preferential rights and status.

(3) Viewpoint of the Jewish Agency for Palestine

The representative of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, addressing the ad hoc Committee at the fourth meeting on October 2, 1947, praised the Special Committee for its conscientious labours and good faith. The Jewish Agency had regarded it as an inescapable obligation to co-operate fully with the United Nations and had placed all the required information and data at the disposal of UNSCOP, while the Arab Higher Committee had refused to heed repeated UNSCOP invitations for co-operation. It was strange that, after having flouted its authority, the Arab Higher Committee asked the United Nations to support the Arab stand.

The representative of the Jewish Agency said that it would appear from the statement made by the representative of the United Kingdom that the latter did not intend to accept the General Assembly’s impending recommendation on Palestine. If this be so, he wondered why the United Kingdom had asked the Assembly to place the Palestine problem on its agenda. Given the present realities of the Palestine situation, the undertaking of the United Kingdom Government to implement any settlement agreeable to both Jews and Arabs meant very little and did not advance the solution of the Palestine problem at all.

He welcomed the announcement that British troops were to be withdrawn at an early date, adding that this made a decision even more urgent than it had been at the time of the (first) special session.

On behalf of the Jewish Agency, he supported ten of the eleven recommendations unanimously adopted by UNSCOP. The exception was Recommendation VI (Jewish Displaced Persons). The Jewish Agency, he said, did not disapprove of this recommendation but did wish to call attention to the “intense urge” of the overwhelming majority of Jewish displaced persons to proceed to Palestine, a fact noted both by the Anglo-American Committee and by UNSCOP. While hoping that nations would welcome displaced persons wishing to emigrate to countries other than Palestine, the Jewish Agency considered that it would be unjust to deny the right to go to Palestine to those who wished to do so.

The representative of the Jewish Agency regarded the twelfth recommendation (The Jewish Problem in General) as unintelligible. He called it a mere postulate which, moreover, had not been accepted unanimously by the Special Committee. The “Jewish Problem in General” was, he said, none other than the age-old question of Jewish homelessness, for which there was but one solution, that given by the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate: the reconstitution of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.

The solution proposed by the minority of the Special Committee was unacceptable to the Jewish Agency; although it referred to “States”, it actually made provision only for semi-autonomous cantons or provinces. Palestine would become an Arab state with two Jewish enclaves. The Jews would be frozen in the position of a permanent minority in the proposed federal state, and would not even have control over their own fiscal policies or immigration. It entailed all the disadvantages of partition without the compensating advantages of a real partition: statehood, independence and free immigration.

The majority proposal was not really satisfactory to the Jewish people, either. According to David Lloyd George, then British Prime Minister, the Balfour Declaration implied that the whole of Palestine, including Transjordan, should ultimately become a Jewish state. Transjordan had, nevertheless, been severed from Palestine in 1922 and had subsequently been set up as an Arab kingdom. Now a second Arab state was to be carved out of the remainder of Palestine, with the result that the Jewish National Home would represent less than one eighth of the territory originally set aside for it. Such a sacrifice should not be asked of the Jewish people.

Referring to the Arab States established as independent countries since the First World War, he said that 17,000,000 Arabs now occupied an area of 1,290,000 square miles, including all the principal Arab and Moslem centres, while Palestine, after the loss of Transjordan, was only 10,000 square miles; yet the majority plan proposed to reduce it by one half. UNSCOP proposed to eliminate Western Galilee from the Jewish State; that was an injustice and a grievous handicap to the development of the Jewish State.

The representative of the Jewish Agency also criticized the UNSCOP majority proposal concerning Jerusalem, saying that the Jewish section of modern Jerusalem (outside the Walled City) should be included in the Jewish State. He reserved the right to deal at a later stage with other territorial modifications.

If this heavy sacrifice was the inexorable condition of a final solution, if it would make possible the immediate re-establishment of the Jewish State with sovereign control of its own immigration, then the Jewish Agency was prepared to recommend the acceptance of the partition solution, subject to further discussion of constitutional and territorial provisions. This sacrifice would be the Jewish contribution to the solution of a painful problem and would bear witness to the Jewish people’s international spirit and its desire for peace.

In spite of the heavy sacrifices which the Jewish State would have to make in this matter also, the Jewish Agency accepted the proposal for an economic union, terming it a promising and statesmanlike conception. The limit to the sacrifices to which the Jewish Agency could consent was clear: a Jewish State must have in its own hands those instruments of financing and economic control necessary to carry out large-scale Jewish immigration and the related economic development, and it must have independent access to those world sources of capital and raw materials indispensable for the accomplishment of these purposes.

The Jews of Palestine wanted to be good neighbours of all the Arab States. If their offer of peace and friendship were rejected, they would defend their rights. In Palestine there had been built a nation which demanded its independence, and would not allow itself to be dislodged or deprived of its national status. It could not, and would not, go beyond the enormous sacrifice which had been asked of it. It would not be cowed by idle threats.

The representative of the Jewish Agency urged that the transitional period leading to the establishment of the Arab and Jewish States in Palestine be made as short as possible; at any rate, shorter than the two-year limit proposed by UNSCOP. He favoured an international authority to be entrusted, under United Nations auspices, with the task of administering Palestine during the transitional period.

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About David Gerald Fincham

Retired academic scientist.
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