UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine – Emil Sandström IIA

UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine – Part IIA


Howard Adelman

Emil Sandström

In the introduction to my study of UNSCOP, I asked whether the commission recommendation of partition into a Jewish and an Arab state had been based on a recognition of the national rights of the Jewish people to return and restore their homeland. I implied that the recommendation had not been based on a recognition of the rights of the Jewish people to national self-determination. If not, why did the committee recommend partition? Why did the commission recommend giving Jews their own state?

Dividing Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state meant war. The Arabs, including the Arab states, were clear and unequivocal – they would not allow an upstart minority led by Jews from Europe to carve out a separate state in the heartland of the Arabs. Further, they were not deterred by the United Nations. The committee had been deliberately set up to exclude states – Russia, the United States and the mandatory authority, Britain – from any direct role in the enforcement and implementation of the recommendation. The committee was to be a commission of influence and not one of enforcement, though presumably the imprimatur of the United Nations would bring some degree of authority to the recommendations. However, as shall become clear, beginning with Sandström, most committee members gradually came to the conclusion that enforcement would be required if partition were to be recommended.

As we shall see in subsequent sections, Sandström was not so naïve as to think no force would be needed to enforce a solution. In a memorandum he prepared in early August in preparation for making the final recommendation, he wrote, “who will enforce the partition scheme? The answer is that, insofar as it is accepted by Jews, the Jews themselves will look after their enforcement in their State and that for the rest of enforcement will depend on the force the United Nations will put behind the adoption of a solution.” Absent that enforcement, war was inevitable.

As Sandström concluded “Without resorting to force, it is to fear that no solution will get through.” (Memorandum by the Chairman, p. 6) In the Minutes of the First Informal Private Meeting of UNSCOP on 6 August 1947 to begin their deliberations where the views of the members were all surveyed, Sandström, in contrast to any of the other members, insisted that, “[We] must also consider possibility of enforcing the solution and the desirability of peace in Palestine.” (p. 5) He continued, “Any solution adopted will be met with rather violent reactions from both sides in the community and will have to be enforced by outside forces.” (p. 6)

In a Memorandum of the Chairman on 12 August, he reiterated, “As the main aim, I see an appeasement. I am aware that an appeasement might not come by itself, that a solution might have to be imposed by force. It is desirable that as little force as possible will have to be used in the appeasement-action and that, after this action will have come to an end, there is a fair chance of the peace being maintained.” (p. 1) Finally, in the notes used to prepare the final report (The Essential Factor in a Solution on the Palestine Question), on p. 15 on section IV “Implementation and Enforcement of a Solution,” he wrote, “Whatever the final solution it seems apparent that enforcement measures, at least for a time, will be necessary. On the basis of Articles 10 and 14 of the Charter it would seem clear that the General Assembly may properly make recommendations on such matters in connection with the final settlement of the Palestine question.”

In clause 2 of the section, he wrote, “The Crucial issue, however, is where the responsibility for enforcement will lie and where the expense involved will rest…it would probably be advisable for the Assembly to determine the size of the units required for this purpose, the states responsible for providing them, and other necessary details such as the command, and to incorporate these matters into a draft treaty which would be appended to its recommendations.” (p. 15) Sandström then went on to suggest why the creation of this international force might be extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve and fell back on the suggestion that the UK might assume responsibility for enforcement. Given the attitudes towards Britain, Sandström concluded that this would be “an extraordinarily difficult task” and we shall soon see why.

In effect, the game was over before it started since no path seemed open to an enforcement mechanism and an enforcement mechanism was viewed as absolutely necessary. In fact, the UN had proven itself to be impotent, though in 1947 there was still some hope that a UN recommendation would be effective in keeping the peace. That had been the chief goal of all international diplomatic efforts following WWII – peace based on the rule of law and not a peace enforced by might. 1948 would dash that hope even though the International Court of Justice began hearing its first dispute since the end of WWII, even though the third UNGA session adopted the Genocide Convention as well as a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The ineffectiveness in many areas could be blamed on the outbreak of the Cold War and the absence of co-operation between the great powers, a presumed keystone for the United Nations to function. However, on the Palestine question, both superpowers supported the end of the mandate and both supported partition, though American support wavered. Can the impotence of the recommendation on partition in securing a peaceful resolution of the problem be blamed on inadequate consideration and poor reasoning of its members and not just an absence of enforcement of the recommendations?

Of the four members of the sub-committee on the constitution sub-committee, Emil Sandström and Jorge Granados, as well as Ivan Rand, were men very well acquainted with edicts from on high that carried weight through the quality of the legal and political reasoning and the authority of the institution issuing the decision. Only Dr. N. S. Blom had been involved in the actual exercise of power to implement the edicts of the Dutch imperial regime. The Jewish-Arab dispute was not an issue of power appropriate to understanding international resolutions on economic issues, for power relations failed to explain the resulting institutional recommendations once power was bracketed and surrendered as the mechanism to settle the conflict. When influence and authority both failed, the parties themselves resorted to military power to settle their conflict.

However, when the issue was referred to UNSCOP, an UNSCOP that deliberately excluded world powers (primarily the U.S. and the USSR), power from above had been surrendered as a means to settle the dispute, in part because the U.S. did not want to provide an opening for the USSR to have an influence in the Middle East. (This is particularly pertinent to the present when Russia has once again resumed its centuries-old efforts to acquire a geopolitical presence and influence in the Middle East.) Either of the major powers might have been able to settle the matter with a free hand, and certainly working together they could have, even though Britain had tied itself up in multiple knots and clearly failed to do so. Instead, the issue was referred to members of the Committee for a recommendation.

Power was bracketed because, by 1947 it was evident that the world was entering a cold war between two fundamentally incompatible economic systems with equally incompatible values. Western values were premised on the preservation of individual liberty against the encroachments of government power. In the East (loosely speaking), government coercion was the sole arbiter, not just in the use of force, but to facilitate the collectivity maximizing its economic potential. Such a conception was not viewed as the exercise of law; liberals in the West regarded this conception of law as the negation of the rule of law, for courts of law were neither independent nor impartial, but were simply instruments of the state. When all power is concentrated in the state and safeguards of individual liberty are abrogated, there is no rule of law but only the growth of tyranny. So UNSCOP was created largely on liberal premises related to the rule of law and the use of arbitration to mediate and arbitrate disputes to bring about a peaceful resolution of conflict.

In this case, that reference to the committee for this purpose failed. The intent of this paper is not to explain the failure, but the foundation for its recommendations that were presumed to be based on findings of fact, on customary international law and on the independence of the individuals on the committee. Emil Sandström , who became chair of UNSCOP, was steeped in these values aimed at using international arbitration as a solution for disputes that can result in violence and undermine international understanding and goodwill. Recommendations were to be based upon reason by men pledged to impartiality lest the alternative, war, result. But outside force was needed and it was not available.

Abdur Rahman in the Minutes of the Fourth Informal Meeting, Mr. Sandström’s Office, 8 August 1947, said that, “Partition would promote war – almost immediately – both inside and outside the state.” (p. 4) Hood said that there is, “No real evidence to suggest that partition would be easily enforced; evidence points in exactly opposite direction.” (p. 4)
Sandström was but one of a cluster of Swedish international civil servants who emerged after WWII to serve as mediators. The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia was arbitrated by a Swede. Olof Rydbeck mediated in the Western Sahara dispute, another conflict that remains unresolved seventy years later. Gunnar Jarring served as the mediator between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1957 and in the Middle East after the 1967 war. Of course, there was also Hammarskjöld, who, along with Mike Pearson of Canada, helped establish the original UN peacekeeping force following the crisis of 1956 and became Secretary-General of the United Nations.


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