United Nations Palestine Commission

At 11 am on 9 January 1948 The first meeting of the United Nations Palestine Commission was held in the Economic and Social Council Chamber of the United Nations, Lake Success, New York; to devise effective and practical ways and means of implementing the solemn decision of the General Assembly of the United Nations; to take all necessary measures leading to the establishment in Palestine, not later than 1 October 1948, of an independent Arab State and an independent Jewish State, to implement the UN Partition Plan of Palestine and to act as the Provisional Government of Palestine. [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/46815f76b9d9270085256ce600522c9e!OpenDocument UN Resolution 181] ] [ [http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/2f86ce183126001f85256cef0073ccce/8f8675274b4c7e4a85256a5700687322!OpenDocument UN Doc] ] The United Nations Palestine Commission existence lasted from 9 January 1948 until dissolution by sine die on the 17 May 1948 at its 75 meeting.

Reasons for the Palestine Commission

As on 15 May 1948 Palestine; which was a legal entity administered under United Nations Mandate by His Britannic Majesty but was not a sovereign state ( it was not self-governing) yet the authority responsible for administration of Palestine on the termination of the British Mandate must perforce change. The role assigned to the United Kingdom in the implementation of the proposals put forward in the majority decision of the Ad Hoc committee were not compatible with the declared intentions of the United Kingdom Government. Also since the Mandatory Power intended to withdraw from Palestine without assuming any responsibility for the establishment of a new regime which would not command general consent in Palestine there would be no regularly constituted authority in the evacuated areas unless the United Nations recommended a way in which the gap could be effectively filled. [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/5ce900d2de34aadf852562bd007002d2!OpenDocument UN Doc 1949.I.13 of 31 December 1948] Yearbook of the United Nations 1947-48]

To allow for the smooth transition of power after the 15th May, 1948, Britain as the Mandatory Power was to hand over to the United Nations Palestine Commission as the Provisional Government of Palestine. The United Nations Commission was to be the statutory body for the Government of Palestine and the authority with which the British Mandate authority was to make an agreement regarding the transfer of the assets of the Government of Palestine. The United Nations Commission was also to be the authority for Palestine’s internal administration and for its foreign affairs. The title of the Government of Palestine was to rest on a resolution of the General Assembly.

Formation

On 18 February 1947 the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevan announced that Britain was to submit the Palestine problem to United Nations and turn the question of the future Governance of Palestine over to the UN. The General Assembly decided to set up the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate the cause of the conflict in Palestine, and, if possible, devise a solution. UNSCOP was made up of representatives of 11 nations. UNSCOP visited Palestine and gathered testimony from Zionist organisations in Palestine and in the US. The Arabs in Palestine greeted the UNSCOP with hostility and refused to cooperate. The Arab Higher Committee boycotted the Commission but demanded that the UN immediately grant Palestine its independence. [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/fb6dd3f0e9535815852572dd006cc607!OpenDocument UN Doc] See ANNEX 8 Letter dated 10 July 1947 from the Arab Higher Committee confirming its decision concerning collaboration with the Special Committee]

The UNSCOP Recommendations: Chapter V

On the 3 September 1947 the UNSCOP recommended that:-

Recommendation I; Termination of the Mandate

It is recommended that

The Mandate for Palestine shall be terminated at the earliest practicable date.

Comment

Among the reasons for this unanimous conclusion are the following:

(a) All directly interested parties the mandatory Power, Arabs and Jews are in full accord that there is urgent need for a change in the status of Palestine. The mandatory Power has officially informed the Committee "that the Mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken to the two communities in Palestine have been shown to be irreconcilable". Both Arabs and Jews urge the termination of the mandate and the grant of independence to Palestine, although they are in vigorous disagreement as to the form that independence should take.

(b) The outstanding feature of the Palestine situation today, is found in the clash between Jews and the mandatory Power on the one hand, and on the other the tension prevailing between Arabs and Jews. This conflict situation, which finds expression partly in an open breach between the organized Jewish community and the Administration and partly in organized terrorism and acts of violence, has steadily grown more intense and takes as its toll an ever-increasing loss of life and destruction of property.

(c) In the nature of the case, the Mandate implied only a temporary tutelage for Palestine. The terms of the Mandate include provisions which have proved contradictory in their practical application.

(d) It may be seriously questioned whether, in any event, the Mandate would now be possible of execution. The essential feature of the mandates system was that it gave an international status to the mandated territories. This involved a positive element of international responsibility for the mandated territories and an international accountability to the Council of the League of Nations on the part of each mandatory for the well being and development of the peoples of those territories. The Permanent Mandates Commission was created for the specific purpose of assisting the Council of the League in this function. But the League of Nations and the Mandates Commission have been dissolved, and there is now no means of discharging fully the international obligation with regard to a mandated territory other than by placing the territory under the International Trusteeship System of the United Nations.

(e) The International Trusteeship System, however, has not automatically taken over the functions of the mandates system with regard to mandated territories. Territories can be placed under Trusteeship only by means of individual Trusteeship Agreements approved by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.

(f) The most the mandatory could now do, therefore, in the event of the continuation of the Mandate, would be to carry out its administration, in the spirit of the Mandate, without being able to discharge its international obligations in accordance with the intent of the mandates system. At the time of the termination of the Permanent Mandates Commission in April 1946, the mandatory Power did, in fact, declare its intention to carry on the administration of Palestine, pending a new arrangement, in accordance with the general principles of the Mandate. The mandatory Power has itself now referred the matter to the United Nations.

Recommendation II. Independence

It is recommended that

Independence shall be granted in Palestine at the earliest practicable date.

Comments:-

(a) Although sharply divided by political issues, the peoples of Palestine are sufficiently advanced to govern themselves independently.

(b) The Arab and Jewish peoples, after more than a quarter of a century of tutelage under the Mandate, both seek a means of effective expression for their national aspirations.

(c) It is highly unlikely that any arrangement which would fail to envisage independence at a reasonably early date would find the slightest welcome among either Arabs or Jews.

Recommendation III. Transitional period

It is recommended that

There shall be a transitional period preceding the grant of independence in Palestine which shall be as short as possible, consistent with the achievement of the preparations and conditions essential to independence.

Comments:-

(a). A transitional period preceding independence is clearly imperative. it is scarcely conceivable, in view of the complicated nature of the Palestine problem, that independence could be responsibly granted without a prior period of preparation.

(b). The importance of the transitional period is that it would be the period in which the governmental organization would have to be established, and in which the guarantees for such vital matters as the protection of minorities, and the safeguarding of the Holy Places and religious interests could be ensured.

(c). A transitional period, however, would in all likelihood only serve to aggravate the present difficult situation in Palestine unless it were related to a specific and definitive solution which would go into effect immediately upon the termination of that period, and were to be of a positively stated duration, which, in any case, should not exceed a very few years.

Recommendation IV. UN Responsibility

The sub-Committee recommended that United Nations responsibility during the transitional period was to be:-.

During the transitional period the authority entrusted with the task of administering Palestine and preparing it for independence shall be responsible to the United Nations.

Comments:-

(a). The responsibility for administering Palestine during the transitional period and preparing it for independence will be a heavy one. Whatever the solution, enforcement measures on an extensive scale may be necessary for some time. The Committee is keenly aware of the central importance of this aspect of any solution, but has not felt competent to come to any conclusive opinion or to formulate any precise recommendations on this matter.

(b). It is obvious that a solution which might be considered intrinsically as the best possible and most satisfactory from every technical point of view would be of no avail if it should appear that there would be no means of putting it into effect. Taking into account the fact that devising a solution which will be fully acceptable to both Jews and Arabs seems to be utterly impossible, the prospect of imposing a solution upon them would be a basic condition of any recommended proposal.

(c). Certain obstacles which may well confront the authority entrusted with the administration during the transitional period make it desirable that a close link be established with the United Nations.

(d). The relative success of the authority entrusted with the administration of Palestine during the transitional period in creating the proper atmosphere and in carrying out the necessary preparations for the assumption of independence will influence greatly the effectiveness of the final solution to be applied. It will be of the utmost importance to the discharge of its heavy responsibilities that, while being accountable to the United Nations for its actions in this regard, the authority concerned should be able to count upon the support of the United Nations in carrying out the directives of that body. [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/07175de9fa2de563852568d3006e10f3!OpenDocument UN Doc A/364] of 3 September 1947 Untied Nations Special Committee on Palestine Report to the General Assembly] [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/fb6dd3f0e9535815852572dd006cc607!OpenDocument UN Doc A/364 Addendum. 1] of 3 September 1947]

Ad Hoc Committee Deliberations

The unanimous decision of the UNSCOP was for the termination of the mandate and two plans were drawn up for the Governance of Palestine on the termination of the Mandate. Seven members of the UNSCOP endorsed a partition plan (the Majority report) favoured by the Zionist leadership on 2 October 1947 Dr Able Hillel Silver, Chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency made the case for a Jewish State to the Ad Hoc committee on Palestine and announces on behalf of the Jewish Agency acceptance of 10 of the eleven unanimous recommendations of the UN partition plan and rejection of the minority report. Of the Majority report (the Partition Plan areas) Dr Able Hillel Silver vacillates saying that he was prepared to “recommend to the Jewish people acceptance subject to further discussion of the constitutional and territorial provisions”. [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/a62f2fe8807066038525691b00658f74/$FILE/gapal04.pdf UN Doc] Dr Able Hillel Silver address to the Ad Hoc Committee] While three members endorsed a federal state (the minority report) similar to the Grady Morrison plan that had been rejected by both Jews and Arabs and the UNSCOP found that a canton system “might easily entail an excessive fragmentation of the governmental processes, and in its ultimate result, would be quite unworkable.” No members of the UNSCOP endorsed a One-state solution as recommended by the Arab Higher Committee and on 29 September Mr Jamal al-Husayni Vice president of the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine (AHCP) acting for the AHPC announced opposition to the UN partition plan.

ub-Committee No. 1 to the Ad Hoc Committee

On 22 October the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine formed a sub-Committee to:-

1). To draw up a detailed plan for the future government of Palestine in accordance with the basic principles of the unanimous recommendations of the majority plan of the Special Committee on Palestine;

2). To incorporate this plan in the form of recommendations;

3). To consider the exercise of administrative responsibility in Palestine during the transitional period, including the possibility of application of Chapter III of the UN Charter and [ [http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/ See Chapter 3] of the UN charter, Trusteeship Council]

4. To consider methods by which recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine question under paragraph 1 above would be put into effect.

On 23 October 1947 the sub-committee held its first meeting and held 32 meeting and on 19 November recommended to the Ad Hoc committee that [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC1434.pdf 11 November 1947 UN Doc A/AC.14/34] The Palestine question Future government of Palestine Partition plan - Ad Hoc Cttee Subcommittee #1 - Report, recommendations] :- There shall be a Commission appointed by the General Assembly comprising of 5 members representing Guatemala, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Uruguay

Britain was unwilling to implement a policy that was not acceptable to both sides and so refused to share with the UN Palestine Commission the administration of Palestine during the transitional period and on 20 November 1947 British Government informed the UN of a timetable for evacuating Palestine. On the Termination of the Mandate, Partition And Independence. Britain as the Mandatory Power was to use its best endeavours to ensure that an area situated in the territory of the Jewish State, including a seaport and hinterland adequate to provide facilities for a substantial integration, was to be evacuated at the earliest possible date and in any event not later than 1 February 1948. [ [http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0080ef30efce525585256c38006eacae/2180cd51d452bccd85256e690056a2e4!OpenDocument UN Doc] ]

On 29 November the recommendations of the sub-committee having been incorporated into the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee were adopted by the United Nations General assembly as part of the Partition Plan. [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/46815f76b9d9270085256ce600522c9e!OpenDocument UN Doc A/PV.128 29 November 1947] ]

Tasks of the Palestine Commission

From the first meeting the tasks that the Palestine Commission were allotted were:-

1). The establishment of the frontiers of the Arab and Jewish States and the City of Jerusalem in accordance with the general lines of the Assembly's recommendations on partition.

2). The progressive assumption of responsibility for the administration of Palestine as the Mandatory Power evacuates the country, pending the establishment of the independent States.

3). The establishment of Provisional Councils of Government in the Arab and Jewish States and the direction of their activities in the transitional period.

4). The approval of election regulations governing democratic elections to constituent assemblies in each State; and the appointment of the Preparatory Economic Commission which is to pave the way for the Economic Union and the Joint Economic Board, envisaged in the Resolution.

Preparations for Government

For the next 5 months the Palestine Commission familiarised itself with the general affairs of the Government of Palestine [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21SR50.pdf UN Doc A/AC.2l/SR. 50] of 18 March 1948 United Nations Palestine Commission Summary Record of the Fiftieth Meeting] on Currency, [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21Agenda49.pdf UN Doc A/AC21./Agenda 49] of 8 March 1948] Railways, [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21AP15.pdf UN Doc AP/15] of 21 March] 1948 Civil Aviation, [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/9585db987d45acf38525702100516188!OpenDocument UN Doc A/AC.21/AP/11] of 21 March 1948] and was kept abreast of events in Palestine by the UK Government [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21UK64.pdf UN Archives UK Doc. 64] of 12 March 1948] [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21UK66.pdf UN Archives A/AC.21/UK/66] of 15 March 1948 Update on events in Palestine] The Palestine Commission was in consultation with the public bodies in Palestine with regards to forming a Provisional Council of Government although the postal service appeared to be a cause of delays in that process. [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21JA28.pdf UN Doc JA/28] of 15 March 1948 Letter to Dr Ralph Bunche from Aubrey S Eban]

On 27 February 1948 The Palestine Commission adopted the following statement of policy with respect to the continuity of employment of the employees of the Mandatory administration in Palestine, and requested the British Mandatory Power to publish the statement or circulate it to all employees of the present Government in Palestine:

"The United Nations Palestine Commission, being under the terms of the resolution of the General Assembly responsible for the administration of Palestine immediately following the termination of the Mandate, hereby calls upon all present employees of the Palestine administration to continue their service with the successor authority in Palestine when the British Mandate is terminated. It is the policy of the United Nations Palestine commission as the successor authority to maintain services on the same terms and with the same rights for employees as those enjoyed under the Mandatory Government. The Commission requests all present employees of the Palestine Administration to inform at the earliest possible date, the Mandatory Government for communication to the Commission, whether they would be willing to remain in the service of the successor administration of Palestine on such terms." [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.NSF/796f8bc05ec4f30885256cef0073cf3a/b8a884629259c43885256a570067c00e!OpenDocument UN Doc] ]

Establishment of the Provisional Government

On the 12 March the Palestine Commission was requested by the UK Government not to enter Palestine until 2 weeks before the termination of the Mandate. [ [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/22f431edb91c6f548525678a0051be1d/b43eadee73c904a085256c6a005a83be!OpenDocument UN Doc A/AC.21/14] of 12 March 1948. Clarification of the UK position on the Governance of Palestine]

On the 17 March the Palestine Commission received a communication from the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation informing the Palestine Commission that they will be establishing a Provisional Council of Government of the Hebrew Republic of Palestine by April even though the Palestine Commission would not be in Palestine. [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21M17.pdf UN Doc A/AC.21/M/17] of 17 March 1948 Communication Received from Hebrew Committee of National Liberation]

Communication of 26 April 1948 from the UK informing the UN Palestine commission that they are tardy for not being in Palestine to select the Jewish Provisional Government of Palestine. [ [http://domino.un.org/pdfs/AAC21SR68.pdf UN Doc A/AC.21/SR.68] of 26 April 1948 United Nations Palestine Commission Summary Record of the 68th Meeting]

Palestine Commission Adjourns Sine Die

The General Assembly adopted a resolution which relieved the United Nations Palestine Commission from the further exercise of its responsibilities, and its mandate from the General Assembly was effectively terminated on 14 May 1947. [ [http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/c5e97ed405ea5d2d802564990059fe0a!OpenDocument RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AT ITS HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FIFTH PLENARY MEETING HELD ON 14 MAY 1948, A/554] ]

On its 75th Meeting 17 May 1948 The Palestine Commission adjourned sine die.

Dr. Karel Lisicky (Czechoslovakia), the Chairman said:

"We disperse with our conscience clear. We have no fear about the judgement of history."
Dr. Lisicky added further
"in view of the fact that we legally cannot disband ourselves, we shall be dead under the legal fiction that we continue."

It was the general view of the Commission members that the General Assembly resolution of November 29 1947 remained intact and that therefore the Commission was not and could not be legally dissolved. [http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/6262fdc8e5c889a685256a5700643573!OpenDocument UN Doc PAL/169 of 17 May 1948] ]

Foot notes


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