UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine I
After completing the latest phase of my research on the role of UNSCOP in the partition of Palestine, I started writing this article on 14 May 2016, sixty-eight years to the day, 14 May 1948, on which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, and sixty-nine years after the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was established by the United Nations on 15 May 1947. One year later, in the Tel Aviv Museum, the Jewish People’s Council approved a proclamation declaring the establishment of Israel, not simply as a state, but as the restored state of and for the Jewish people.
The Proclamation of the State of Israel read: “The land of Israel [Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and the restoration of it and their political (national?) freedom.”
It was a statement of national belonging, return and restoration. Further, the assertion went further and claimed that the efforts at restoration had been continuous throughout history. “Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.”
This was historically remarkable. How did this happen? How did the Jewish people gain the support of the UNSCOP that recommended the partition of Palestine and the creation of two states, one state for the Jews from everywhere and another for the Arabs then living in Palestine? Had UNSCOP bought into the Zionist narrative of restoration and continuous national rights, of the right of the Jewish people to rebuild their national home, that such rights were recognized in the Balfour Declaration and reaffirmed by the League of Nations?
The declaration was linked to the Holocaust. But not in the way a contemporary observer would think. “Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland. In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom – and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.” Thus, the linkage was not because six million died and the world was and should feel guilty. The reason was a specifically Zionist one – the struggle to migrate to Eretz Israel – had been continuous and, secondly, Jews had fought as a nation in WWII against the Nazi menace.
This statement was a declaration of national rights confirmed by the resolution (181 II) of the United Nations on 29 November 1947 that permitted the inhabitants (not just the Jews) “to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. The UN recognized “the right of the Jewish people to establish their state.” Did the UN do any such thing? Did the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that looked into the situation of the Palestine Mandate and make proposals for resolving the conflict there, base its recommendations on the national rights of the Jewish people? If not, why did the members of UNSCOP recommend the creation of a Jewish state alongside that of an Arab state in Palestine?
The resolution (181 II) passed by the United Nations General Assembly just six months earlier (29 November 1947), based on the recommendations of UNSCOP, was much more complex. First, the resolution envisioned a transition period of about four months; the creation of the Jewish and Arab states was to take place no later than 1 October 1947. Second, the plan was based, not on contiguous areas allocated to each state, but rather on three enclaves assigned to the Jewish state and three to the Arab state. A seventh enclave of Jaffa entirely within the Jewish state was to be allocated to the Arab state.
Most interesting of all, the eighth segment, Jerusalem, was, as everyone knows, to be allocated to and governed by the United Nations Trusteeship Council. If the Jewish people’s national rights in Israel had been recognized, why was the application restricted to three enclaves and not applied to all of Palestine and not even Jerusalem, for the call for return in the Jewish sacred texts was not to Palestine or Eretz Israel but to Jerusalem? And why did Recommendation XII (with two votes against and one abstention) insist that, “In the appraisal of the Palestine question, it be accepted as incontrovertible (my italics) that any solution for Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general.”
Other than the territorial divisions, the resolution recommended an economic union, transit rights, how citizenship of the members of each of the polities was to be determined, how religious sites and minority rights were to be protected, and a transitional administration was provided to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and the assumption of UN power over Jerusalem by the United Nations Palestine Commission. That the plan read like a Rube Goldberg creation should have been no surprise since it was the product of enormous political jockeying, beginning with the make-up of UNSCOP and the proceedings within that committee. More surprising to some, however, there is no recognition of the national rights of the Jewish people to set up a state in their traditional homeland or, for that matter, the “natural” rights of the Arabs in Palestine for self-determination.
This paper does not deal with the full scale civil war that took place in the aftermath of the resolution, the rejection of the resolution by the Arab states and the Palestinian Arabs on the basis that the resolution contravened the doctrine of self-determination to replace imperial edicts, the conditional acceptance by the Jewish Agency and the abandonment of the terms of the original resolution by the Special Session of the United Nations in the month preceding 14 May 1948 and the appointment of a mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, and of a Truce Commission, and certainly not on the Jewish declaration of independence and the war that ensued.
Instead, the focus of this paper is on the machinations within UNSCOP, in particular, the role of Ivan Rand of Canada, in recommending the series of compromises that made up Resolution 181 (II). This is the first in a series to explore the rationale and decision-making of UNSCOP by analyzing the thinking of each of the eleven members of UNSCOP. Though this paper does not start with the zeitgeist of the times, the emergence of a particular kind of globalization that would march forward in the next seven decades and the East-West collisions that emerged in that process, it does explore how the new state of Israel was caught in those tensions through an examination of the minds and voices of those who recommended partition.
Why Ivan Rand? Because, as I will illustrate, Rand was a key player who resisted partition, who helped persuade certain “eastern” representatives to support a federal solution which he, in the end, abandoned. Why? The answer, I believe, will not only throw some insight onto why Israel inherited the added problem of UN precedents without any recognition of the rights of the Jewish people to national self-determination, but will also indicate why, twenty years after UNSCOP, Canada would emerge from its hundred years of sleep and emerge from it cocoon as a leader of Western democratic values.
There is another reason. Ivan Rand was a member of one of two sub-committees set up by UNSCOP. The Working Group on Constitutional Matters, as distinct from the one on Boundaries. In addition to Ivan Rand from Canada, it had three members: Justice Emil Sandström of Sweden who served as Chair of UNSCOP, Dr. N.S. Blom from the Netherlands. and Dr. Jorge Garcǐa Granados from Guatemala. All four came from Western countries. Sir Abdul Rahman, a Muslin judge from India, Nasrollah Entezam from Iran, the two representatives of Eastern countries, were not on the sub-committee or working group. Neither was Vladimir Simic, the representative from Yugoslavia, who so adamantly opposed partition for understandable national reasons.
Why did Blom resist the recommendations of the Constitutional Working Group? Why was there so much tension between Rand and Sandström? And why and how did Garcǐa Granados play such a critical role in resolving those tensions? Next: a summary introduction to those three other members of UNSCOP, their predispositions and values.