The British, facing increased violence in Palestine and pressure to expand Jewish immigration in the wake of the Holocaust, formally turn to the newly created United Nations for advice in early April 1947. In doing so, the British make clear that they will not be bound by any recommendations which they deem as unfavorable to their national interests. After receiving approval from all but one of the body’s fifty-five member countries, only Abyssinia (Ethiopia) objects, the UN sets April 28 for a special session on Palestine. On that morning, Brazilian Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha is appointed President of the Special Session and a steering committee is established to set the agenda.
After the first meeting of the special gathering, days of debate in both the UN General Assembly and steering committee take place. Among the issues debated are: whether or not to allow the Jewish Agency to be represented in the UN discussions; Arab demands for independence in Palestine; and the creation of a fact finding commission to further investigate the Palestine question.
On May 14, Soviet Foreign Minister Andre Gromyko addresses the Special Session on the issue of Palestine. Gromyko highlights the failures of the Mandate system in Palestine, especially its inability to solve the “question of mutual relations between the Arabs and the Jews, which is one of the most important and acute questions, and that this administration has not ensured the achievement of the aims laid down when the mandate was established.”
He acknowledged the great suffering of the Jews during the War and the hardships which have been imposed on the survivors. Calling for action, he states, “The time has come to help these people, not by word, but by deeds.” Gromyko also accepts the right of Jews for self-determination, stating that the inability of Western European States to protect their Jewish citizens, “explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own State. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realize this aspiration. It would be unjustifiable to deny this right to the Jewish people, particularly in view of all it has undergone during the Second World War.”
Despite this admission of the Jewish right to self-determination, Gromyko goes on to accentuate the concept of a unitary independent state in Palestine for Arabs and Jews, a viewpoint which is supported by the Arab States. In his conclusion however, Gromyko surprises most observers by admitting, “If this plan proved impossible to implement, in view of the deterioration in the relations between the Jews and the Arabs – and it will be very important to know the special committee’s opinion on this question – then it would be necessary to consider the second plan which, like the first, has its supporters in Palestine, and which provides for the partition of Palestine into two independent autonomous States, one Jewish and one Arab.”
The following day, May 15, 1947, the special session concludes with the passing of a resolution which states, “Whereas the General Assembly of the United Nations has been called into special session for the purpose of constituting and instructing a special committee to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine. Its purpose, like previous commissions that visited Palestine, was to investigate underlying causes for communal unrest and to make political recommendations about next political steps.”
The photo shows Gromyko (center) with UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie (left) and Alfred Fiderkiewicz of Poland before the General Assembly meeting on May 15, 1947. Photo Source: United Nations.