UNSCOP and East/West Tectonic Plates
Below is the long form of the abstract that I submitted to the Israel Studies Association in a much briefer version for presentation of a paper at this June’s conference in Jerusalem. It is really the overview of the book that I never finished and have now resurrected and on which I am currently working. I include it in my blog both to keep readers posted and to invite leads for information or discussion of the topic.
The paper explores one important exogenous influence on the definition of Israel – the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that was set up by the United Nations on 15 May 1947 to investigate the causes of the conflict in Palestine and make recommendations, if possible, for a solution. Though UNSCOP’s make-up and deliberations were not only supposed to be impartial but appear to be impartial, the committee only succeeded in fulfilling the latter half of that principle of its mandate. This paper examines the thinking of each of the 11 representatives (alternates are only considered when they have specific relevance such as S.L. Ayteo of Australia), using records of the committee, the majority and minority reports, UN archives, records in the national archives of the different members, as well as other scholarly and biographical sources, in order to assess how each of the members of the committee assessed the different possible solutions to the problem in terms of the extant theories of how to resolve inter-nation and inter-religious conflicts in terms of various conceptions of the state and how this affected their votes in support of or opposition to partition.
This paper argues that the minority (federation) and majority (partition) reports were not ways of resolving the conflict. Most of those intimately knowledgeable about the problem did not expect the recommendations to affect the outcome one way or the other. And neither the UN, using what would become the idea of a peace enforcement force, or the major powers were willing to enforce a solution. The minority report’s recommendations would not have done any better. The two recommendations – federation OR partition with an economic union and Jerusalem under international auspices – were more reflections of two dominant models, and compromise solutions to inter-nation and inter-religious conflicts reflective of what I call Western and Eastern perspectives, both ill-suited to the character of this type of conflict.
This was not simply the case in Palestine, but would prove to be equally unsuitable to resolving conflicts in any area where the Western political tectonic plate rubbed against the Eastern political tectonic plate, whether in Palestine, the Balkans, Iraq, Syria, and, as to be soon demonstrated, in Turkey. Nevertheless, the recommendations set a template that would not only dominate the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but many other conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans.
In my analysis, the stakes were stacked in favour of partition given the predispositions of the members by 4-3, and needed only the conversion of two other members to constitute a majority report with 6 of the 11 members in support. The majority report received seven votes; the minority report received three votes; there was one abstention. As it turned out, the conversion of John Hood from Australia from opposing the majority recommendation to abstaining proved to be totally fortuitous. Neither he nor Dr. N.S. Blom of the Netherlands were independent thinkers on the committee, but representatives of what were perceived to be their own country’s national interests.
Representation from countries around the world was not intended to represent the specific interests of a country. Rather, the membership was intended to be constitutive of independent individuals coming from countries representative of the membership of the United Nations, excluding the five major powers, especially Great Britain, the mandate of which was under examination. Though drawn from a variety of countries from different regions of the globe, the members of the committee were not there to represent the interests of their countries.
In the case of John Hood of Australia, perhaps representing the interests of Australia is a misleading description. He was there to represent the interests of H.V. Evatt, the then Foreign Minister of Australia. Evatt’s ambition was to become President of the UN National Assembly. When he was thwarted in that ambition, he released John Hood from opposing partition, which he had instructed him to do when the vote came lest he alienate the Arab states whose support he would need to be elected President. Instead, he instructed Hood to abstain as a virtual cover for the equivocation of Hood during the discussions in the committee. Abstention for an obscure reason allowed Hood to save face and later, when the issue of the Presidency was out of the way, to allow Evatt to cast the first vote for partition, thereby becoming a hero to Australian Jews and Israel.
The case of Dr. Blom of the Netherlands is another story. He was also a toady of the Netherlands Foreign Affairs Ministry. The Netherlands, like many waning imperial powers at the time, still wanted to hold onto its overseas colonies, Indonesia in particular. To do that, Netherlands would need the support of other Muslim states, particularly the large number of Arab states. Blom was instructed to oppose partition, cautiously, diplomatically and almost surreptitiously to avoid becoming a spokesperson for the anti-partition faction. However, just weeks before the issue came to a head, the Arab League announced its support for Sukarno, the leader of the Indonesian independence movement. Blom was then instructed to support partition.
The partition side needed only one more member of the committee to support partition. The Peruvian delegation, particularly Dr. Alberto Ulloa Sotomayor, was not on the committee in his own eyes to represent his country’s interests, but rather the interests of all of Christendom, more particularly, the Roman Catholic Church. If the committee voted for a federated state, then Jerusalem would be its natural capital. If the committee voted for partition, then there was a very divisive issue of whether the Arabs or the Jews would gain control of Jerusalem, Given the conditions on the ground, and the contention between the two sides, Sotomayor was able to convince his fellow members of the committee to support making Jerusalem an international city with the Church having a major input into its governance. The conversion of the Peruvian delegation to support partition was a result of a deal to take care of their major concern, Christian power in Jerusalem.
Vladimir Simić of Yugoslavia, given the different ethnicities and the coexistence of Christianity and Islam within his state, was adamantly wedded to a federal solution. He opposed partition. Nasrollah Entezam of Iran and Sir Abdur Rahman a Muslim judge from India, began by favouring a unified state, but what they witnessed and heard, the debate within the committee and the influence of Ivan Rand from the federal state of Canada with two dominant nations each with a different language, persuaded them to support a federal solution as the only realistic option that might gain majority support.
The irony was that Ivan Rand in the end supported partition and became the 7th vote making partition the clear winner. The conversion of Ivan Rand was interesting as a bell-weather since he was a major influence on the members of the Eastern tectonic caucus to adopt a federal rather than a unified state solution. The reasons are complex and cannot be summarized here, but given that Canada is a federal state with two major national groups each then having two different religions for the majority, Canadian support of a federal solution would seem to come naturally. But Rand went on to support partition. The question of why and how that happened is one of the most interesting aspects of the tale.
There are a few side conclusions. On a day after we just memorialized Holocaust Day, contrary to a great deal of mythology, there is little evidence in the historical records that the Holocaust had any noticeable let alone significant influence on the thinking of the various member parties at the time, or, for that matter, the different states that were members of the United Nations and voted to support or oppose the partition recommendation. The issue of refugees, particularly the 250,000 Jewish refugees still in Europe whom no one at the time wanted, did. There are other important challenges to received wisdom, but this is perhaps the most important one.
The study also adumbrates why dealing with refugees, whether Jewish refugees after WWII, Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Jewish War in 1947-8, or waves of refugees from the Balkans, Iraq and Syria, turned out to be so difficult. Most importantly, the analysis has implications for assessing various two-state and one-state models, not only for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for political solutions to conflicts in the whole region and elsewhere.
The modern period in which the nation-state has emerged supreme has never been able to resolve how that nation-state can be a full democracy representative not only of all of its members, but of all the nations within it. For example, Canada has somewhat succeeded in ensuring a degree of representation for the Francophone nation but not for its aboriginal peoples. And it, relatively speaking, is a great success The study is intended to answer the question, Why? And How? and If? there can be any definitive answer to how inter-nation conflicts can be resolved within the body politic of a single state, and, more particularly, the conflict between Jews and Arabs over Palestine.
The half-thesis as abstracted and abbreviated here with respect to the historical material, rather than the issue of political theory which I have not yet discussed, can be expected to be subject to much revision. The summary above was based on research undertaken a number of years ago. It will need to be updated. Further, since I conduct my research to falsify what I believe rather than looking for evidence to support it, it is difficult to imagine that the final product will resemble what I have written above. But that is the nature of intellectual inquiry.
With the help of Alex Zisman
List of Representatives on UNSCOP categorized according to the analysis
John Hood, Australia
Dr. N.S. Blom, Netherlands
Dr. Alberto Ulloa Sotomayor, Peru
Justice Ivan Rand, Canada
- Western Tectonic Plate
Karel Lisicky, Czechoslovakia
Justice Emil Sandstrőm, Sweden
Dr. Jorge García Granados, Guatemala
Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat, Uruguay
- Eastern Tectonic Plate
Sir Abdur Rahman, India
Vladimir Simić, Yugoslavia
Nasrollah Entezam, Iran