The Holocaust and the Creation of the State of Israel Part V: The Individual Members of UNSCOP

Any survey of the attitudes of the representatives on UNSCOP had to appall any detached Zionist counters of votes on the committee. The views of John Hood were inscrutable since he said little initially and seemed mostly interested in not alienating the Arabs. It was only years later in the archives of Canberra that we learned that John Hood, was not, as required, an independent member of the committee. He was there to represent the interests of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Australia, Herbert Vere (H.V.) Evett, who wanted and needed the votes of Islamic countries to support his bid to be president of the UN General Assembly.

Justice Ivan Rand had a record as a fair man, but saw himself as forging compromises. After all, in Canada he was the author of the Rand formula that defended the right of dissenters not to belong to unions but requiring that they pay dues to the union that represented their interests. Further, Rand was a strong Canadian federalist who had an instinctual repulsion of partition given Canada’s two-nation federal system. Finally, given Canada’s role in the British Commonwealth, a Canadian delegate might be expected to be more sympathetic to the British position.

However, it was Ivan Rand who concluded by August that the Negev should be allocated to the Jews even though there were 100,000 Arabs living there and only 3,000 Jews “otherwise it would remain sterile and useless. The Zionists had indeed convinced the committee it was really only they who could and would redeem the land. In addition to land to absorb refugees, the selling of Jewish enterprise influenced where the border would be drawn.

Similarly, Karel Lisicky from Czechoslovakia also came from a bi-national country of Czechs and Slovaks and indicated an initial wariness of partition. Yet, in the end, he not only supported partition, but, impressed by the Zionist enterprise, concluded that the Dead Sea Works should be inherited by the Jews and that meant having territory right up to the Dead Sea. Further, “the whole sub-district of Beersheba should be included in the Jewish State.”

In contrast, Dr. Jorge García Granados of Guatemala was a traditional nineteenth century liberal who quickly came to admire the pluck, the egalitarianism and the self-discipline of the Jews in Palestine while just as immediately taking offence at the Arab boycott of the committee and the Arab commercial enterprises he visited, in particular, a cigarette factory where he witnessed children of 10, 11 and 12 employed to roll cigarettes. The use of child labour by Arab businesses appalled him.

Sir Abdur Rahman was a very interesting member of the committee. He was an eminent jurist, a Muslim who opposed the efforts to partition India. Thus, he was likely to be affected by his Islamic identification as well as a strong opposition to partition. Nasrollah Entezam of Iran openly identified with the position of the Arabs in Palestine who made up two-thirds of the population and he did not see why Jews, most of whom were new immigrants, should determine what happened to the territory of Palestine.

Dr. N.S. Blom was another puzzling figure. A former colonial officer of The Netherlands in Indonesia, he was not ill disposed to colonialism as were almost all the other members of the committee. However, given the presumed sympathies of the Dutch towards the Jews, it was believed that he would support partition. It was only after research in the Dutch archives that it was revealed that Blom, like Hood of Australia, was not an independent member of the committee but a representative of the foreign office with clear instructions not to alienate Islamic states for their votes were needed to support the Netherlands continuing occupation of Indonesia as a Dutch colony. So he equivocated most of the way through the proceedings: “we should not have the sole responsibility for enforcing a solution which is not accepted by both parties and which we cannot reconcile with our conscience.”

Dr. Alberto Ulloa had been the principal delegate, but Dr. Antonio García Salazar, the alternate, quickly became the main representative on the committee. He was a religious Roman Catholic and former Ambassador to the Vatican. His views were not immediately discernible but were eventually revealed to be a primary interest in the role of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

Justice Emile Sandström was another eminent jurist on the committee who was elected chair and who played his cards very close to his chest so it would be difficult to know how he might vote. However, given the peaceful separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, there was no reason to expect that he would be antithetical to partition.

Like Dr. Jorge García Granados of Guatemala, though not as vocal, Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat of Uruguay was another Latin American nineteenth century liberal who easily became a strong admirer of the efforts of the Zionists in Palestine. “What a decent and straightforward life those people live. Who could doubt their honesty, their sincerity, their humanity.” Further, Jewish enterprise would benefit the economic development of the Arabs, a claim subsequently reinforcing the belief that the supporters of Zionism and partition were really possessed of a colonial mentality.

This was not true of Vladimir Simic from Yugoslavia. Though he came from a communist country, it had already been expressing its independence of the U.S.S.R. that had seemed sympathetic to the Zionists. Further, Yugoslavia was a federation of different nationalities with inherited long-term fears of fracturing into ethnic nations. It also had a substantial Muslim Bosniak population. He could not be counted on to favour partition.

What was an objective initial count?

Favour Partition               Opposed to Partition          Question Mark

2                                      5                                        4

If outsiders knew what we now know about Hood and Blom, the count would have been as follows:

Favour Partition               Opposed to Partition          Question Mark

2                                      7                                        2

The Zionists needed at least six votes to support partition. How did they get to earning the support of 7 members with 3 supporting a federal rather than a unitary state and 1 member (Australia) abstaining? The task seemed not just daunting but impossible, especially since, on first glance, the propensity of the committee would seem to support either a federal state or a unitary state with a Palestinian majority.

The easiest votes to track were those of John Hood and Dr. Nicolaas S. Blom. When in early August, Evett did not win the nomination for the presidency of the UN General Assembly, he did not release Hood to vote as his conscience and intelligence would determine, but ordered him to abstain lest his actions puzzle anyone who examined his rhetoric prior to the vote. The irony of this was that when the votes of the countries for supporting the recommendation for partition came up in the General Assembly in November, Evett cast the first vote in favour of partition and immediately became a hero for Australian Zionists who, to this day, refuse to see him as other than a very strong supporter of Israel.

In the case of Blom, when the Arab League voted in early August to support Indonesian independence, the Netherlands reversed its instructions to Blom who was then free to vote for partition. In September, Blom, unlike the others on the committee, justified his support for partition on international law and the terms of the British Mandate. But, as he wrote once he was free of the fetters of the Dutch foreign office, the “most basic issue which should be of decisive influence” was the matter of Jewish immigration in general and of the refugees in particular which had to be recognized “as a problem of extreme urgency and importance.”                      

Given that lineup and some clear cases of good fortune for the Zionists, even though Hood eventually abstained, the vote might have been expected to be:

Favour Partition               Opposed to Partition          Question Mark

3 + 1(?)                                      5                               2

How did the Zionists grow their support from 3 to 7 votes? Further, why did the votes against partition support a federal state rather than a unitary state dominated by Palestinian Arabs?  Upon reading the archival notes of the committee, the answer is clear. Sandström ended up supporting partition as the only reasonable conclusion. The conclusion was based on the reality of the situation, the overwhelming evidence that the two nationalities could not cooperate in a common federal polity. At the same time, Sandström not only ignored, but dismissed out of hand the Zionist case based on historical claims and even references to international law. Further, as Sandström wrote in the Majority Report, “Jewish immigration is the central political issue…and is the one factor above all others which makes impossible any effective cooperation between Arab and Jewish communities in a single state.” There was not a single reference of the impact of the extermination of the Jews of Europe.

García Salazar of Peru, who was part of the working group on partition and favoured a two-state solution, reversed himself and announced on 27 August 1947 that he was “no longer in favour of partition.” In any case, he had favoured a Jewish state restricted to Jewish population centres and a much larger Arab territorial entity. He agreed once again to support partition, even partition that gave much more territory to the Jews, only when the agreement was made to support a tripartite partition rather than simply two political entities. Ivan Rand was the author of this compromise for he had all along held out the possibility of a “free” city of Jerusalem “as a future bargaining asset.”

A Jerusalem under international control was seen as giving the Roman Catholic Church considerably more power in Jerusalem than if Jerusalem had been divided or if Jerusalem had been subjected to shared sovereignty. Jerusalem as an international city was traded for unanimity in the working group on partition. However, it was on this compromise that the hand and mind of Ralph Bunche became evident. The size of that international city was not restricted to the holy sites, the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, Gethsemane and a link to Bethlehem. The extent of the autonomous zone from all of Jerusalem to Bethlehem was determined as a by-product of the desire to keep a conflictual area under trusteeship and used by Rand as a trading chip.

But that only yielded 5 votes in support of partition. The other two votes came from Karel Lisicky of Czechoslovakia and Justice Ivan Rand. Ironically, it was Ivan Rand who persuaded Rahman, Entezam and, much more easily, Simic, to support a federal rather than a unitary state. In the end, Rand favoured a definite solution and a partitioned state with an economic union as the most feasible practical solution. Lisicky came to the same conclusion.

A key component of the committee was the staffing, particularly Ralph Bunche of the U.S. who had headed the Trusteeship Division of the U.N. He anticipated that partition, a federal state or a unitary majoritarian state would mean war and no U.N. member with clout willing to prevent it. He strongly favoured transferring the Mandate to a UN Trusteeship using a committee of experts on the issue. However, the UNGA chose a different path.

Again, as secretary for UNSCOP, he could have played a strong role in trying to sway the members to adopt his position. (See his “Memorandum on the Palestine Problem,” 23 May 1947 based on the rights of each community, but neither on historical or legal precedents nor security concerns, that was released just before Trygve Lie convened the first formal session of UNSCOP on 26 May.)

However, Bunche was the ideal mandarin, a remarkable man dedicated to ensuring that the committee could undertake their work in an independent fashion. He was also a man committed to an international order built on goodwill and steeped in pure motives. From that stance, he had accepted the principle that resettlement of the Jewish refugees in other countries, especially in the U.S., was the way to go. It is also interesting that in his taxonomy of solutions, the two adopted, partition (majority) or a federal state (minority) were given short shrift by him in favour of a bi-national unitary state under a Trusteeship.

In considering the deliberations, there was no mention of the Holocaust nor of any guilt about the Nazi program of elimination of the Jews. The major issues were the sense of social justice among the Zionists, but most of all, the plight of the remainder of the Jewish refugees still in DP camps in Europe. The delegates, every one of them, were absolutely appalled at Britain for firing on the refugee ship, the Exodus. 

The Zionists could be said to have won 7 votes out of 11 for partition by the skin of their teeth and not because of the misfortunes of the victims of the Holocaust or guilt over their extermination.

Obviously, a much larger study on the creation of UNSCOP and its terms and conditions is needed. When the UK referred the matter of Palestine to the UN for advice, the UN failed to obtain a prior commitment from the UK that it would assist in implementing whatever recommendation was forthcoming. Many more details are needed about the minutiae of UNSCOP’s deliberations and conclusions, on developments at the UN leading to the partition decision, and on the plans for implementing and enforcing that decision.

The U.N. could have decided to use force but did not. As Dr. Jorge García Granados wrote, “the Jews were forced to set up a state by themselves with only the moral authority of the United Nations partition resolution behind them, but with assistance against armed invasion.” Most interestingly, the plans to derail the decision with a Trusteeship by the U.S., and then the turn against Trusteeship, needs to be described as well as the failure to get the U.S. to play an active role in the implementation of the resolution. However, I hope that this narrow summary provides strong evidence that guilt over the Holocaust played no role in the support for partition and allowing Jews to have a state of their own in a partitioned Palestine.

Seventy-two years later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems no nearer a solution. However, clarifying that guilt over the Holocaust in 1945 to 1948 played virtually no role in support for partition does suggest that the international community cannot be relied upon to enforce a just decision, whatever that decision might be. Guilt over the Holocaust did not count then and guilt over the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the conditions in Gaza or the security threats against Israel are unlikely to be key factors in determining any international role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Missing from the discussion in this book (an edited book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is a systematic analysis of the role of the United Nations in the termination of the mandate.” In the absence of such a systematic study, myths have been allowed to grow and displace an objective historical account.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s