Report of the UN Special Committee on Palestine [UNSCOP], Summary Palestine UN Special Committee on Palestine Meeting at the Jerusalem YMCA, July 8th, 1947. (Public Domain)

The United Nations. “Report on Palestine, Report to the General Assembly by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine,  New York: Somerset Books, 1947.

On February 14, 1947, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced that Great Britain had decided to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations.  Since the 1920 San Remo Conference that conferred upon Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine, London tried to implement a dual obligation to Zionists and Arabs in Palestine “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political states enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Great Britain had not succeeded. Giving responsibility to decide Palestine’s future to the newly established United Nations seemed the easiest way out of a terribly thorny and intractable situation.  Through prolonged periods of communal violence Zionists and Arabs had clearly shown they had absolutely no inclination to live together under the same governmental umbrella. Palestine had become a burden both financially and in terms of British manpower. There were no direct economic benefits to Great Britain for staying in Palestine. Second, inside Palestine, increasing tensions between the Arab and Jewish communities had led to almost daily violence, necessitating an increase in British forces and, therefore, expenditures; did Great Britain want to continue being an umpire in a virtually intractable conflict?  Third, there was increasing international pressure mounting against British policy for preventing Jewish immigration to Palestine, a policy that was implemented beginning in 1939. Fourth, Jewish violence directed against British officials in Palestine, and the July 1946 bombing of British administrative offices at the King David Hotel with its large loss of life, influenced the British decision to withdraw.  Fifth, though Britain was preparing to wind down her presence in Egypt and India, Bevin wanted to curry favor with Moslem and Arab allies. Moreover, he personally opposed establishing a Jewish national home. He personally regarded the “Zionist struggle as a plot against himself and Great Britain.”   Bevin hoped that the UN might renew British presence there – but only if the Jewish state’s evolution could be stopped and the violence curbed. Under those circumstances, Britain would not have opposed a redefined British ‘trusteeship’ for Palestine. London still held this view well into April 1948, six months after the partition vote. 

British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, a vigorous opponent of Zionism, referred the matter of Palestine to the United Nations. (Public Domain)

Once the UNSCOP was established, Zionist leaders lobbied the eleven representatives, effectively arguing that the partition of Palestine into two states was the only logical, honorable, and workable solution.  The Palestinian Arab leader Hajj Amin Husayni boycotted the committee’s inquiry, wanting nothing to do with the prospect of the UN possibly sanctioning either a Jewish state or a two-state solution. While leaders of Arab states took the same view, representatives of Arab states met with the committee in Lebanon at the end of July 1947. These Arab diplomats showed white hot anger against the Mandate, the British, Zionists, and Jews.  anger which these diplomats showed toward Jews and Zionism. Meanwhile, the British government in Palestine rigorously blockaded Jewish refugees trickling in from from Nazi Europe from landing in Palestine. The unfolding drama depicted Jews as a landless and battered people; this garnered highly sympathetic support from several UNSCOP members. The committee submitted their report to the UN in August. Ralph Bunche, who would become a UN negotiator during the armistice talks between Israel and Arab states in 1949, was the secretary to the UNSCOP committee. The UNSCOP report contained two suggestions: one for the partition of Palestine into two states with an economic union between them and a special status for Jerusalem, and another supported by a minority of UNSCOP members suggesting a unitary federal state. From August to November 1947, Zionist leaders broadened the scope of their lobbying to include all members of the General Assembly who might vote on behalf of the partition of Palestine. Additionally, Great Britain, though having turned the Palestine issue over to the UN, worked staunchly against the idea of partitioning Palestine into two states because the Foreign Office opposed the emergence of a Jewish state.  While many delegates were persuaded for their own national interests to accept a two-state solution for Palestine’s future, up until the very last minute before the partition vote, Britain aimed to appease Arab opposition to Zionism. The Zionists were persistent, sometimes presenting their case for a Jewish state in multiple languages. Finally, on November 29, 1947, in an emotionally executed vote, a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly of the UN voted for (partition) Resolution 181. The vote was 33 in favor, 13 against, and 11 abstentions. Both the United States and the Soviet Union supported the partition plan; Britain abstained.  

 From the end of 1946 forward, Zionist leaders carried on intense conversations with Arab leaders, trying to persuade them to support a two-state solution. These talks were held with Palestinian Arabs, Emir Abdullah of Jordan, and many others. Perhaps most telling of all the Arab leader’s responses to a pending Jewish state were Azzam Pasha’s cogent remarks to David Horowitz, a high ranking official of the Jewish Agency. Azzam Pasha was the head of the Arab League set up in 1945 in part to confront Zionism. Azzam Pasha said, “The Arab world is not in a compromising mood. You won’t get anything by peaceful means or compromise. You can perhaps, get something, but only by force of arms. We shall   try to defeat you. I’m not sure we’ll succeed, be we we’ll try. We were able to drive out the Crusaders, but on the other hand we lost Spain and Persia. The Arab world regards you as invaders. It may be that we shall lose Palestine. But it’s too late to talk of peaceful solutions.”   

Immediately after the UN vote, the first stage of Israel’s war for independence began. It was also the beginning of the political loss of all Palestine to Arabs living there. For six months, Arab-Jewish violence escalated to proportions not seen in Palestine since the 1936-1939 communal violence. Jews and Arabs were killed almost daily and the British did little to prevent the violence from expanding. Britain also did little to assist the Zionists as they prepared to declare a state; instead, Britain tried to assist her ally, Emir Abdullah, in his effort to control a portion of Palestine. British forces left Palestine on May 14, 1948. The same day, Israel declared independence. The Mandate was over.             

              -Ken Stein, June 2020

A. General Recommendations of the Committee

The eleven unanimously-adopted Resolutions of the Committee were:

That the Mandate should be terminated and Palestine granted independence at the earliest practicable date (Recommendations I and II);

That there should be a short transitional period preceding the granting of independence to Palestine during which the authority responsible for administering Palestine should be responsible to the United Nations (Recommendations III and IV);

That the sacred character of the Holy Places and the rights of religious communities in Palestine should be preserved and stipulations concerning them inserted in the constitution of any state or states to be created and that a system should be found for settling impartially any disputes involving religious rights (Recommendation V);

That the General Assembly should take steps to see that the problem of distressed European Jews should be dealt with as a matter of urgency so as to alleviate their plight and the Palestine problem (Recommendation VI);

That the constitution of the new state or states should be fundamentally democratic and should contain guarantees for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and for the protection of minorities (Recommendation VII);

That the undertakings contained in the Charter whereby states are to settle their disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force in international relations in any way inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations should be incorporated in the constitutional provisions applying to Palestine (Recommendation VIII);

That the economic unity of Palestine should be preserved (Recommendation IX);

That states whose nationals had enjoyed in Palestine privileges and immunities of foreigners, including those formerly enjoyed by capitulation or usage in the Ottoman Empire, should be invited to renounce any rights pertaining to them (Recommendation X);

That the General Assembly should appeal to the peoples of Palestine to cooperate with the United Nations in its efforts to settle the situation there and exert every effort to put an end to acts of violence (Recommendation XI);

In addition to these eleven unanimously approved Recommendations, the Special Committee, with two members (Uruguay and Guatemala) dissenting, and one member recording no opinion, also approved the following twelfth Recommendation:

Recommendation XII: The Jewish Problem in General. It is recommended that:

In the appraisal of the Palestine question, it be accepted as incontrovertible that any solution for Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general.

B. Majority Proposal: Plan of Partition with Economic Union

According to the plan of the majority (the representatives of Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay), Palestine was to be constituted into an Arab State, a Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem.  The Arab and the Jewish States would become independent after a transitional period of two years beginning on 1 September 1947.  Before their independence could be recognized, however, they must adopt a constitution in line with the pertinent recommendations of the Committee and make to the United Nations a declaration containing certain guarantees, and sign a treaty by which a system of economic collaboration would be established and the economic union of Palestine created.

The plan provided, inter alia, that during the transitional period, the United Kingdom would carry on the administration of Palestine under the auspices of the United Nations and on such conditions and under such supervision as the United Kingdom and the United Nations might agree upon.  During this period a stated number of Jewish immigrants was to be admitted.  Constituent Assemblies were to be elected by the populations of the areas which were to comprise the Arab and Jewish States, respectively, and were to draw up the constitutions of the States.

These constitutions were to provide for the establishment in each State of a legislative body elected by universal suffrage and by secret ballot on the basis of proportional representation and an executive body responsible to the legislature.  They would also contain various guarantees, e.g. for the protection of the Holy Places and religious buildings and sites, and of religious and minority rights.

The Constituent Assembly in each State would appoint a provisional government empowered to make the Declaration and sign the Treaty of Economic Union, after which the independence of the State would be recognized.  The Declaration would contain provisions for the protection of the Holy Places and religious buildings and sites and for religious and minority rights.  It would also contain provisions regarding citizenship.

A treaty would be entered into between the two States, which would contain provisions to establish the economic union of Palestine and to provide for other matters of common interest.  A Joint Economic Board would be established consisting of representatives of the two States and members appointed by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to organize and administer the objectives of the Economic Union.

The City of Jerusalem would be placed, after the transitional period, under the International Trusteeship System by means of a Trusteeship Agreement, which would designate the United Nations as the Administering Authority.  The plan contained recommended boundaries for the city and provisions concerning the governor and the police force.

The plan also proposed boundaries for both the Arab and Jewish States.

C. Minority Proposal: Plan of a Federal State

Three UNSCOP members (the representatives of India, Iran, and Yugoslavia) proposed an independent federal state.  This plan provided, inter alia, that an independent federal state of Palestine would be created following a transitional period not exceeding three years, during which responsibility for administering Palestine and preparing it for independence would be entrusted to an authority to be decided by the General Assembly.

The independent federal state would comprise an Arab State and a Jewish State.  Jerusalem would be its capital.

During the transitional period a Constituent Assembly would be elected by popular vote and convened by the administering authority on the basis of electoral provisions which would ensure the fullest representation of the population.

The Constituent Assembly would draw up the constitution of the federal state, which was to contain, inter alia, the following provisions:

The federal state would comprise a federal government and governments of the Arab and Jewish States, respectively;

Full authority would be vested in the federal government with regard to national defense, foreign relations, immigration, currency, taxation for federal purposes, foreign and inter-state waterways, transport, communications, copyrights, and patents;

The Arab and Jewish States would enjoy full powers of local self-government and would have authority over education, taxation for local purposes, the right of residence, commercial licenses, land permits, grazing rights, inter-state migration, settlement, police, punishment of crime, social institutions and services, public housing, public health, local roads, agriculture, and local industries;

The organs of government would include a head of state, an executive body, a representative federal legislative body composed of two chambers, and a federal court.  The executive would be responsible to the legislative body;

Election to one chamber of the federal legislative body would be on the basis of proportional representation of population as a whole, and to the other on the basis of equal representation of the Arab and Jewish citizens of Palestine.  Legislation would be enacted when approved by majority votes in both chambers; in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, the issue would be submitted to an arbitral body of five members, including not less than two Arabs and two Jews;

The federal court would be the final court of appeal regarding constitutional matters.  Its members who would include not less than four Arabs and three Jews, would be elected by both chambers of the federal legislative body;

The constitution was to guarantee equal rights for all minorities and fundamental human rights and freedoms.  It would guarantee, inter alia, free access to the Holy Places and protect religious interests;

The constitution would provide for an undertaking to settle international disputes by peaceful means;

There would be a single Palestinian nationality and citizenship;

The constitution would provide for equitable participation of representatives of both communities in delegations to international conferences;

A permanent international body was to be set up for the supervision and protection of the Holy Places, to be composed of three representatives designated by the United Nations and one representative of each of the recognized faiths having an interest in the matter, as might be determined by the United Nations;

For a period of three years from the beginning of the transitional period Jewish immigration would be permitted into the Jewish State in such numbers as not to exceed its absorptive capacity, and have due regard for the rights of the existing population within that State and their anticipated natural rate of increase.  An international commission, composed of three Arab, three Jewish and three United Nations representatives, would be appointed to estimate the absorptive capacity of the Jewish State.  The commission would cease to exist at the end of the three-year period mentioned above;

The minority plan also laid down the boundaries of the proposed Arab and Jewish areas of the federal state. 

1. David Horowitz, State in the Making, New York: Knopf, 1953, p. 189.

2.  For firsthand accounts in English of how UN representatives understood, viewed, and changed opinions about the possible partition of Palestine, see Eliahu Elath, Zionism at the UN: A Diary of the First Days New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1976; Herbert V. Evatt, The Task of Nations, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1949; Jorge Garcia Granados, The Birth of Israel, New York: Knopf, 1949. Granados diary of events is singularly superior to all others for detail and candor.