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.

UNSCOP and East/West Tectonic Plates

UNSCOP and East/West Tectonic Plates


Howard Adelman

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

  1. Floaters

John Hood, Australia

Dr. N.S. Blom, Netherlands

Dr. Alberto Ulloa Sotomayor, Peru

  1. Mediator

Justice Ivan Rand, Canada

  1. Western Tectonic Plate

Karel Lisicky, Czechoslovakia

Justice Emil Sandstrőm, Sweden

Dr. Jorge García Granados, Guatemala

Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat, Uruguay

  1. Eastern Tectonic Plate

Sir Abdur Rahman, India

Vladimir Simić, Yugoslavia

Nasrollah Entezam, Iran