Palestine and the U.N. in Retrospect: The Forties

(Part 1 of 6)

This is the first in a series of six retrospects, listed chronologically by decades, looking back at the most important events related to the question of Palestine that have taken place at the United Nations (U.N.) since the inception of the organization in 1945. Those events have greatly influenced both the history and the present of the Palestinian people and will affect their future also as the permanent responsibility of the U.N. towards the question of Palestine must be upheld until it is solved in all its aspects.

[At the start of the World War I, Palestine was among the several Arab territories under Ottoman rule and in 1917, the United Kingdom (U.K.) began governing Palestine as an occupying Power. In the same year, Jewish Zionist leaders were able to secure the Balfour Declaration (November 1917), setting forth for the government of the U.K. the objective of "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". At that time, the Jewish population comprised less than 10% of the overall population as compared to 90% indigenous Palestinians.

In 1922, the League of Nations allotted to the U.K. a mandate over Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration. In the following years, against the absolute and vehement objection of the Palestinian people, Jewish settlers continued to arrive en masse to Palestine. Their numbers swelled in the 1930s as a result of Jewish oppression in Europe and towards the end of the World War II they totaled approximately 30% of the population of Palestine and owned from 9-12% of the cultivable land, including parts of public land given to them by the Mandatory Power. With the dissolution of the League of Nations, the U.N. inherited the question of Palestine. ]

The General Assembly convenes its first special session from 28 April to 15 May 1947 to consider the question of Palestine after the U.K., the Mandatory Power, decides in February 1947 to bring the issue before the Assembly.

The General Assembly adopts resolution 106 (S-I) of 15 May 1947, establishing the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), composed of Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia, to prepare a report on the question of Palestine with proposals for solution of the problem. The Assembly also decides that the First Committee grant a hearing to the Jewish Agency for Palestine and to the Arab Higher Committee.

The Special Committee on Palestine completes its work on 31 August 1947, with agreement on terminating the mandate but without consensus on settlement of the question of Palestine. The majority recommends partition of Palestine into two states with special international status for Jerusalem, while the minority (India, Iran and Yugoslavia) propose a federal state comprising an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as the capital of the federation. (Australia abstains on the two plans.)

The General Assembly adopts resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 on the future government of Palestine, setting forth a Plan of Partition with Economic Union, consisting of four parts: future constitution and government of Palestine; boundaries; city of Jerusalem; and capitulations. The plan calls for the creation of Arab and Jewish states no later than 1 October 1948, with Jerusalem as corpus separatum under an international regime to be administered by the U.N. with the Trusteeship Council the designated body in this regard. The plan also includes steps to be taken prior to independence, including the issues of citizenship, transit, economic union between the two states, access to holy places and religious and minority rights. Resolution 181 (II) also establishes the United Nations Palestine Commission to carry out the plan. The result of the vote on resolution 181 (II) was 33 in favor, 13 against and 10 abstaining.

The Security Council adopts resolution 42 (1948) on 5 March 1948, appealing to all governments and peoples, particularly in and around Palestine, to take all possible action to prevent or reduce such disorders as are occurring in Palestine.

On 10 March 1948, the Trusteeship Council decides in resolution 32 (II) that the statute on Jerusalem is in satisfactory form and agrees that the question of its formal approval, together with the appointment of a governor of the city, shall be taken up at a subsequent meeting to be held not later than one week before 29 April 1948, the deadline given to the Council by the Assembly. [On 21 April 1948, the Council transmits to the General Assembly that resolution along with the draft statute.]

The Security Council adopts resolution 43 (1948) on 1 April 1948, calling for an immediate truce in Palestine and calling upon the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Arab Higher Committee to make available representatives to the Security Council for the purpose of arranging a truce.

On 1 April 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 44 (1948). Invoking Article 20 of the U.N. Charter for the first time, the Council requests the Secretary-General to convoke a special session of the General Assembly to consider further the future of the government of Palestine. On 17 April 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 46 (1948), calling upon all persons and organizations in Palestine to immediately cease all military activities, as well as acts of violence, terrorism and sabotage; and to refrain from any actions endangering the safety of the Holy Places in Palestine. It also requests the government of the U.K., as the Mandatory Power, to supervise the execution of these measures and to keep the Security Council and the General Assembly informed on the situation in Palestine.

The General Assembly convenes its second special session between 16 April to 14 May 1948, during which it considers a working paper submitted by the United States (U.S.) on the question of the trusteeship of Palestine, which was opposed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) as well as the Jewish Agency. The Assembly adopts resolution 185 (S-2) of 26 April 1948, asking the Trusteeship Council to study measures for the protection of Jerusalem and its inhabitants and to submit proposals to the General Assembly. On 14 May 1948, the Assembly adopts resolution 186 (S-2), which affirms its support for the efforts of the Security Council to secure a truce in Palestine; decides to appoint a U.N. Mediator in Palestine and specifies his functions; and relieves Palestine Commission from further exercise of responsibilities under resolution 181 (II). Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden is appointed Mediator. After receiving proposals from the Trusteeship Council, the Assembly adopts resolution 187 (S-2), recommending to the Mandatory Power the appointment of a Special Municipal Commissioner for Jerusalem.

On 14 May 1948, a Jewish state, Israel is proclaimed, one day before the mandate expires and just before the General Assembly begins discussion on the main resolution containing the U.S. idea on the trusteeship of Palestine. The U.S. government recognizes the Jewish state as does the U.S.S.R.

War breaks out in Palestine. Several Arab armies become engaged. Approximately 750,000 Palestinian civilians flee their homes and properties under increasing Israeli military pressure and terror. Those refugees settle in camps in parts of Palestine outside of Israeli control and in surrounding Arab states.

On 22 May 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 49 (1948), calling for an abstention from any hostile military action in Palestine. The resolution also calls upon the parties to facilitate the task of the U.N. Mediator.

On 29 May 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 50 (1948). By that time, Israeli troops and paramilitary units already occupy territory beyond that allocated to the Jewish state by the partition plan (Resolution 181 (II)). In resolution 50, the Council calls for a cessation of all military activities for four weeks; urges all governments and authorities concerned to take every possible precaution for the protection of the Holy Places and the City of Jerusalem; instructs the U.N. Mediator, in concert with the Truce Commission to supervise the observance of these provisions and decides that they should be provided with a sufficient number of military observers. In this resolution, the Council also decides that if the resolution is rejected by either party or both, the situation in Palestine will be considered with a view to action under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. The observers mentioned in this resolution form the basis of what would later become the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).

In resolution 54 (1948), adopted by the Security Council on 15 July 1948, the Council determines that the situation in Palestine constitutes a threat to the peace within the meaning of Article 39 of the U.N. Charter; orders all governments and authorities concerned to desist from further military action and declares that failure to do so would lead to further action under Chapter 7; orders as a matter of special and urgent necessity an immediate and unconditional cease-fire in the City of Jerusalem and instructs the Mediator to continue efforts towards the demilitarization of Jerusalem. On 19 August 1948, the Council issues truce directives.

The Security Council, in resolution 57 (1948) of 18 September 1948, expresses deep shock at the assassination of the U.N. Mediator for Palestine, Count Bernadotte, in Jerusalem by a group of men believed to be members of the "Stern Gang", an Israeli terrorist group. At a later stage, in resolution 59 (1948), the Council notes with concern that the provisional government of Israel has submitted no report regarding the progress of the investigation into the assassination and requests the submission of such a report at an early date.

On 29 October 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 60 (1948), establishing a subcommittee, consisting of representatives of the U.K., China, France, Belgium and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, to consider all amendments and revisions to the second, revised draft resolution on the statute of Jerusalem.

The Security Council adopts resolution 61 (1948) on 4 November 1948, calling for the withdrawal of forces and for the establishment, through negotiations, of permanent truce lines and such neutral or demilitarized zones in order to ensure full observance of the truce; and appointing a committee of the Council to advise the Acting Mediator.

The General Assembly approves resolution 194 (III) on 11 December 1948, establishing the United Nations Conciliation Commission on Palestine, composed of France, Turkey and the U.S., to assume, inter alia, the functions given to the U.N. Mediator on Palestine and also resolving that Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime. The resolution also resolves that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.

In resolution 212 (III) of 19 November 1948, the General Assembly establishes a special fund for the relief of Palestine refugees.

On 4 March 1949, the Security Council, in resolution 69 (1949), decides to recommend to the General Assembly the admission of Israel to membership in the U.N. The resolution is supported by nine members, with Egypt voting against it and the U.K. abstaining. The resolution is considered adopted despite objections raised on the basis that the draft resolution was not supported by all five permanent members of the Council, as required by Article 27, paragraph 3 of the Charter.

The General Assembly adopts resolution 273 (III) of 11 May 1949, recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948, and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions and decides to admit Israel to membership in the U.N.

With the conclusion of several Armistice Agreements, the Security Council adopts resolution 73 (1949) on 11 August 1949, which finds that those agreements constitute a step towards permanent peace in Palestine; assigns new functions to UNTSO with regard to the General Armistice Agreements; and terminates the role of the U.N. Mediator.

By resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949, the General Assembly establishes the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). During the same session, the General Assembly restates, in resolution 303, that Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime and, in resolution 356, it resolves to appropriate funds for the permanent international regime for Jerusalem.

The Trusteeship Council adopts resolution 114 (S-2) of 20 December 1949, expressing concern at the removal to Jerusalem of certain ministries and central departments of the government of Israel and invites the government of Israel to revoke these measures.