Palestine and the U.N. in
(Part 1 of 6)
This is the first in a
series of six articles, appearing chronologically by decades, looking back at the most
important events related to the question of Palestine that have taken place at the United
Nations 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 United Nations must be upheld
towards the question of Palestine 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 began governing Palestine
as an occupying Power. In the same year, Jewish Zionist leaders were able to secure the
Balfour Declaration, setting forth for the government of the United Kingdom 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 United Kingdom 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 United Nations inherited the question of
- The General Assembly convenes its first special session, from 28 April to 15 May 1947,
to consider the question of Palestine after the United Kingdom, 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 its 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 United Nations 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 Commission on Palestine to carry out the plan. The result
of the vote on resolution 181 (II) was 33 in favor, 13 against and 10 abstaining.
- 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.]
- 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 reconsider further the future of the
government of Palestine. The Council also calls for the prevention or reduction of
disorder and for the arrangement of a truce between the Arab and Jewish communities in
- 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 USA on the question of
the trusteeship of Palestine, which was opposed by the USSR as well as the Jewish Agency.
The Assembly adopts three resolutions respectively asking the Trusteeship Council to study
measures for the protection of Jerusalem and its inhabitants; recommending the appointment
of a special municipal commissioner for Jerusalem; and deciding to appoint a U.N.
mediator. Count Bernadotte of Sweden is appointed.
- 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 USSR.
- 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 neighboring Arab states.
- On 22 May 1948, the Security Council adopts resolution 49 (1948), calling for a
cease-fire in Palestine. Later, on 29 May, in resolution 50 (1948), orders a cease-fire.
By that time, Israeli troops and paramilitary units already occupy territory beyond that
allocated to the Jewish state by the partition plan. In resolution 50, the Council also
provides a sufficient number of United Nations military observers to help supervise the
truce. Those observers form the basis of what would later become the United Nations Truce
Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
- The Security Council declares, on 15 July 1948, that failing to comply with the truce,
further action will be considered under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. On 19 August 1948,
the Council issues truce directives.
- The U.N. mediator Count Bernadotte is assassinated in the Israeli-held section of
Jerusalem, on 17 September 1948, by men believed to be members of the Stern Gang, an
Israeli terrorist group. The Security Council expresses deep shock and at a later stage,
in resolution 59 (1948), 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.
- 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
USA, 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 United Nations. The
resolution is supported by nine members, with Egypt voting against it and the United
Kingdom 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 adoption of resolution 73 (1949) on 11 August 1949, the Security Council
assigns new functions to UNTSO with regard to the General Armistice Agreements. The role
of the mediator is terminated.
- 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.