THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE
Prepared for, and under the guidance of
the Committee on the Exercise of
the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People
New York, 1979
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Historical Perspective
The Conflicting Promises on Palestine: The Balfour Declaration
The Mandating of Palestine
The Building of the "National Home"
The Palestinian Resistance
The Ending of the Mandate
The Partition of Palestine
The Establishment of Israel
Palestine and the United Nations-1948-1967
Palestine and the United Nations-1967-1978
The Status of the Palestinian Entity
What is the "Question of Palestine" and where do its roots lie? What are "Palestinian rights" and why do they pervade every attempt to find a Middle East settlement? What is the place of the Palestine question in the Arab-Israel dispute?
These questions evoke responses ranging from the uncertain to the hostile, underlining the controversy over the issues comprising the Palestine problem. This brief study attempts to sketch the evolution of the Palestine problem, the nature of Palestinian rights and the role of the United Nations in the Palestine question.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The involvement of the United Nations in the Palestine question arises directly from that of the League of Nations, which dates from the end of the First World War. This study thus is concerned with events in or affecting Palestine over roughly the last six decades. Since the question itself involves historical claims and references, however, some historical perspective is of help.
From this historical sketch, one sees that, but for the Christian interregnum of the Crusades in the twelfth century, in 1917 Palestine had been under almost thirteen centuries of Moslem rule, first Arab and than Turk. The preponderant population over this long period had remained Palestinian Arab—both Moslem and Christian. After the Diaspora of the Jews in the second century, a small Jewish presence also continued in Palestine, keeping alive the spiritual link with Palestine. During the nineteenth century small Jewish settlements were established with the permission of the Ottoman rulers. In 1918, of a population of about 620,000, a little less than 10% were Jews. The overwhelming majority were Palestinian Arab (10% Christian, 80% Moslem) and it was their culture and their language that predominated in Palestine at the time of the First World War,
*Extracts from a report by an international commission appointed in 1930 with the approval of the League of Nations to inquire into Jewish and Moslem claims regarding the Holy Places in Jerusalem
The Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire by now sought independence. Britain sought support against the Ottomans. Anglo-Arab collaboration was a natural outcome.
The future of Ottoman Arab territories was discussed with the Allies, Palestine being a particularly sensitive subject because of its spiritual and strategic significance. A secret Anglo-French agreement of 1916 provided for the recognition of an "independent Arab state" or a "confederation of Arab states", but with an "international administration" for Palestine to be decided upon in consultation with the other Allies and the Sherif of Mecca.
The spiritual status of Sherif Husain of Mecca as Keeper of Islam's most holy cities allowed him to act as representative of the Arabs even though all were not under his political authority. He led the Arab revolt against the Ottomans, and the British Government assured the Sherif'* that "Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca". Prima facie, these limits appeared to include Palestine which the British claimed, against the Sherif' s protests, was excluded by virtue of an ambiguous reference in the course of an exchange of letters. The difference in views over what was agreed on the status Palestine was to contribute to the "Palestine problem", and it was not until 1939 that the British Government conceded that in 1917 "they were not free to dispose of Palestine…"
The question of the status of Palestine in the post First World War international order becomes important because while the Anglo-French agreement intended its internationalization and the Arabs expected its independence, the World Zionist Organization was receiving encouragement for its aim, declared in its first Congress under Theodor Herzl in Bask in 1897, "to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law"**.
Zionist writings make plain that the aim of political Zionism clearly was the creation of a Jewish State. Zionist leaders pressed the British Government for a public declaration in their support, stressing the strategic advantages Great Britain would gain by securing an ally in the Middle East that would guard the Suez Canal.. On its side, the British Government sought support in the war from all quarters, and the outcome of this convergence of interests was a statement of policy on 2nd November 1917***. Called the "Balfour Declaration", after the British Foreign Secretary who signed it, it was directed to the Zionist Organization, stating that:
A significant feature of the Declaration was that the disposition of Palestine was being decided without any reference to the wishes of its inhabitants by a government that, at that time. exercised no sovereignty over Palestine. One authority writes:
The Declaration did not receive unanimous Jewish support. Many non-Zionist Jewish communities felt themselves to be patriotic citizens of their own countries, and the idea of a "Jewish National Home" created strong conflicts of loyalty. This was personified in Sir Edward Montagu, the only .Jewish member of the British cabinet at the time, who strongly denounced the Balfour Declaration and its motives. Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the Zionist Organization, who personally spearheaded the Zionist drive for a State in Palestine, was himself to voice misgivings a decade later when the Zionist programme seemed to falter:
When news of the Balfour Declaration (which at first was kept confidential) reached Arab leaders, consternation was to be expected. To assuage this, they were given further reassurances, including one in an Anglo-French declaration on 7 November 1918 which declared that the Anglo-French goal was "the complete and definite emancipation of the [Arab] peoples . . . and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations".
Later history was to show, however, that the wishes of the indigenous peoples was to count for little.
*Principally through the "Husain McMahon" letters, Sir Henry McMahon being the British High Commissioner in Egypt.
**Anti-semitism in East Europe was one of the primary causes for the search for a "national home". The Zionist Organization also considered alternative sites in Argentina, East Africa, the Congo, and Cyprus for the national home'' but decided to insist on Palestine.
***'Britain felt some urgency in issuing a statement since Germany, also seeking Zionist support in the war, was considering a similar step.
The principle of self-determination of peoples, emphasized especially by President Woodrow Wilson, emerged in the aftermath of the war and in the context of the future of the territories of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Yet colonialism was still a part of the international system, and the victorious powers had their own plans for the colonies of the vanquished. The League of Nations, a body sui generis, reconciled these contradictions in the system of Mandates. Under it, certain territories would be placed under the "tutelage . . . of advanced nations" as "a sacred trust of civilisation". The Covenant of the League provided that in the case of the more advanced territories:
These were called 'A' class Mandates. The less advanced, the 'B' and 'C' mandates, could be subject to the Mandatory's rule much beyond "administrative advice and assistance".
The former Arab territories of the Ottoman empire brought under this system were made "A" mandates and attained independence after varying periods. The territories of Syria and Lebanon were placed under a French Mandate, Lebanon becoming independent in November 1943 and Syria in January 1944. The Palestine Mandate, which included Transjordan, was awarded to Great Britain. Under the terms of this Mandate, and with the approval of the League of Nations, Transjordan was administered separately from September 1922, when the Palestine Mandate formally came into force, and attained independence as the Kingdom of Jordan in March 1946.
During the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Sherif Husain's son, Feisal, asked for independence for all Arab territories including Palestine, although he was persuaded to give vague assurances of permitting Jewish immigration into Palestine.* The Zionist Organization presented a memorandum calling for "the establishment there of a Jewish National Home and ultimately render possible the creation of an autonomous Commonwealth".
President Wilson, however, continued to stress the fundamental importance of "the consent of the governed" and proposed that an inter-allied Commission ascertain the opinion of the indigenous population, but Britain and France later declined to participate. The "King-Crane Commission", consisting of two Americans, proposed, into alia, that Palestine could be included in the mandate for Syria, and recommended serious modification of the extreme Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State. . ." The Commission pointed out that since "the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist programme", its implementation "would be a violation of the principle [of self-determination] and of the peoples' rights though it be kept within the forms of law". The Commission warned of major violence should the Zionist plans be implemented, which would be "a serious injustice. For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a 'right' to Palestine, based on an occupation of two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered".
Nevertheless, the framing of the Palestine Mandate advanced to include the Balfour Declaration, although Lord Curzon, then British Foreign Secretary, warned that "the national home' was an euphemism for "a Jewish state" and said "I think the entire concept wrong'''. Balfour himself at this time noted that there was no intention of consulting the people of Palestine, observing that "so far as Palestine is concerned, the [Allied] Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not intended to violate".
The first step taken was to nullify the earlier agreement for the internationalization of Palestine, Britain insisted, and the French reluctantly agreed, to Palestine coming under British control. This was formalized at the San Remo Conference on 25 April 1920 and Palestine passed formally under British tutelage, in return for French freedom of action in Syria.
Under continued pressure from the Zionist Organization, a stronger version of the Balfour Declaration was included in the preamble of the Mandate, which contained the following provisions:
(a) Full legislative powers to the Mandatory authorities;
(b) Responsibility for the "establishment of the Jewish National Home . . . the development of self-governing institutions, and safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion";
(c) Recognition to the Zionist Organization as the "Jewish Agency" to assist in the establishment of the Jewish National Home;
(d) Approval to Jewish immigration and "close settlement" of Jews on the land**.
Not once did the word "Arab" appear in a document prescribing the future of a country ninety percent Arab. Instead, the Mandate referred to them in the terms used in the Balfour Declaration: "non-Jewish communities of Palestine" .
These conflicting elements of the Mandate led to what was soon termed Britain's "dual obligation" to the Zionist Organization and to the Palestinian Arabs. The first major policy statement of the Mandatory Power, made on 1 July 1922 and called the "Churchill Memorandum", appeared to attempt to balance the two, but Churchill stated, several years later, that the policy statement was meant "to make it clear that the establishment of self-governing institutions in Palestine was to be subordinated to the paramount pledge of establishing a Jewish National Home in Palestine".
*Mainly through the 'Feisal-Weizmann correspondence"' which a United Nations committee investigating the Palestine issue declared invalid since it was conditional on Arab independence, which had not been granted
**Several authorities question the legality of the Palestine Mandate, since the inclusion of the Balfour Declaration infringed the fundamental purpose. i.e. ultimate self-determination, of the Mandates system in the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Apart from the King-Crane Commission whose report received little attention, there was no consultation with the people of Palestine.
The building blocks of the Jewish National Home were land and people—land acquired in Palestine and people brought in from abroad by a programme of mass immigration. Both measures were directed by the Zionist Organization in its role as the "Jewish Agency".
The repercussions of these policies on the Palestinian Arabs were not very important in the Zionist scheme. In fact, their existence was virtually ignored, and the slogan spread abroad to spur immigration was:
The King-Crane Commission had noted that:
Large scale immigration had started soon after Balfour Declaration, long before the Mandate came into effect officially late in 1922. With its total population officially estimated at 750,000 in 1922, Palestine from 1920 to 1929 received about 100,000 immigrants, mainly from Europe, raising the ratio of the Jewish population from 10% to 17%.
Under the aegis of the Jewish Agency, several organizations financed by the Jewish National Fund embarked on systematic programmes of buying land for the settlers. Much of this land was bought from absentee landlords, and more from small owners—in both cases it resulted in the displacement of Palestinian Arab peasants. Between 1920 and 1929 Jewish land holdings doubled, the ratio rising from about 2½% to 5% of the total land area of Palestine.
The Jewish immigrants were provided capital by the Jewish Agency. They brought with them skills and zeal which they applied in developing the land they acquired. This land was subjected to racial restrictions, Jews being forbidden to employ Arab labour, or to sell to Arab buyers, although this violated the clauses of Mandate requiring that immigration should not prejudice the rights and position of the indigenous Palestinians.
The decade of the 1930s brought a new type of immigrant—not one attracted by the Zionist programme, but seeking refuge from the Nazi terror in Europe. While large numbers of European Jews fled west to England and America, substantial numbers also chose Palestine, and from 1930 to 1939 over 230,000 Jewish immigrants entered Palestine. (The arrival of refugees not being linked with land acquisition, land holdings increased by a relatively small margin). By 1939 the Jewish population numbered over 445,000 out of 1.5 million, almost 30% of the whole.
For the Palestinian Arabs, the process of building the "Jewish National Home" meant the alien colonisation of their land, in violation of their natural right to live on their ancestral land and of what they believed had been promises of independence. Having no formal political organization at the start of the Mandate, they expressed their resentment in a series of violent protests, and violence became virtually endemic in Palestine.
The first disturbances were in 1920, and the inquiry commission ascribed them to "the Arabs' disappointment at the non-fulfillment of the promises of independence which they believed to have been given them . . . [and] . . . The Arabs' belief that the Balfour Declaration implied a denial of the right of self-determination". More violence followed in 1921, the "Haycraft Commission" finding that:
A serious revolt broke out in 1929, with the "Shaw Commission" concluding:
There followed the "Hope-Simpson Commission" (in 1930) to investigate the immigration and land-transfer issues. It concluded that mass immigration was increasing unemployment, and that there was no further land available for immigrants. In the "Passfield White Paper" (issued later that year), the British Government announced its intentions of restricting immigration and land transfers, but this policy was almost immediately reversed by the "'MacDonald Letter" (of 13 February 1931) from the British Prime Minister.
Violence again erupted in 1933, the "Peel Commission" observing:
Eventually there was a full scale rebellion from 1936 to 1939. Starting with a series of strikes, it soon brought Palestine to a stand-still. The Palestinian Arabs turned to arms, and attacks on both the British and the Jews started in the countryside as well as the towns. There was sabotage of roads, railways, telegraph and telephone lines, oil pipelines, and other government property. A barbed wire fence, called the "Teggart Line" closed off parts of Palestine's borders.
The situation was influenced further by actions by the Mandatory authorities which the Palestinian Arabs regarded as provocation. The Jewish Agency was authorised to bring in several thousand new immigrants. Then the Mandatory government enrolled 20,000 Jews into the auxiliary police being used against the rebels. The Jews themselves, who in the past had exercised Havlaga or self-restraint, responded with violence, the Haganah and more extreme groups such as the Irgun and the Stern gang coming into action. British officers trained "special night squads" who launched operations against the Arabs. Zionist groups continued to establish new settlements, adding to the provocation.
Eventually, the Mandatory government exiled the Palestinian Arab leadership, and brought strong military forces into Palestine to bring the rebellion to an end.
The Palestine rebellion precipitated the termination of the Mandate. In 1937 a British Royal Commission extensively investigated the causes of the Palestine malaise and concluded:
The Royal Commission commented that the conflict was not in its essence an interracial conflict, arising from any old instinctive antipathy of Arabs towards Jews.
There was little or no friction until the strife in Palestine engendered it". The Commission noted that Judaism and its ritual were rooted in historical memories of Palestine, and that almost always some Jews had been living in Palestine. It also noted the contributions recent immigrants had made to the development of the country, but figuratively expressed the Palestinian Arab response to this argument:
While defending the British effort to reconcile the "dual obligations" under the Mandate, the Commission commented:
But, concluded the Commission, "The situation in Palestine has reached a deadlock. We cannot—in Palestine as it is now—both concede the Arab claim to self-government and secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home." The Commission's solution, in Solomonian manner, was the partition of Palestine, which "seems to offer at least a chance of ultimate peace. We can see none in any other plan". The Palestine Mandate would end.. There would be two independent states in Palestine—one Palestinian Arab, the other Jewish, with a Jerusalem enclave under a League of Nations mandate (Map at Annex I),
Events now moved rapidly. A British White Paper of July 1937 accepted the partition recommendation. The Zionist Organization, accepting the principle of the establishment of a Jewish State, rejected the partition of Palestine, alleging that it infringed the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate.
The Palestinian Arabs, on their side, refused to reconcile themselves to the prospect of a Jewish State on Palestinian soil. They, too, rejected partition and the rebellion which had subsided during the Commission's investigations, flared again.
Negotiations in London failed to bridge the rift, and in May 1939 the "MacDonald White Paper" announced the British Government's decision to rescind the partition decision. Stating that the Balfour Declaration "could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country", the White Paper declared that Palestine would become independent in 1949 as a unified State in which both Jews and Palestinian Arabs would share in government. During the transition, the Mandatory Government would strictly control both immigration and land transfers.
By the start of the Second World War the rebellion and the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement had been firmly suppressed, but the Zionists sensed the shift in British policy in Palestine away from the goal of a Jewish State in Palestine, and tried to build political support in the US With worldwide revulsion at the Nazi persecution of European Jewry at its height during the war, the Zionist Organization, in May 1942, in New York demanded, in what became known as the "Biltmore Programme", unlimited Jewish immigration into Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish State. At the same time, the Zionists began to prepare for armed confrontation against the declared British policy of a unified Palestine in which both Palestinian Arabs and Jews would govern.
The new restrictions on immigration created obstacles for the inflow of Jewish refugees from Europe, and the resort to illegal immigration increased, further adding to the tensions and hostility between all three parties. The situation was dramatized by the attempted deportation by the authorities of a large number of illegal immigrants in the vessel S.S.Patria which, according to an official report "'was scuttled at her mooring . . . as a result of sabotage by Jewish sympathisers ashore, with the loss of 252 lives."
As the war drew to a close terrorism mounted. Excerpts from an official document* give an idea of the new rise of violence:
The terror reached such a pitch that Sir Winston Churchill, a supporter of Zionism, said in Parliament:
By the end of the war the US was directly involved in the Palestine issue, and an Anglo-American Inquiry Committee was appointed to investigate and present yet another set of recommendations. The Committee recommended among immediate measures the termination of the restrictions imposed by the Mandatory government in 1939 on immigration and land transfers. It called for the immediate immigration of 100,000 more immigrants, a proposal publicly supported by the American President. Another principal recommendation was that the Mandate continue until Palestine could be transferred to the new trusteeship system of the UN, which in effect would replace the Mandate system of the League of Nations. The British Government found these proposals unworkable, and further negotiations led to the proposal of two autonomous provinces in Palestine continuing under British suzerainty, but the issue remained unresolved.
The Arab Government also were assuming an active role in the Palestine issue, and obtained assurances from the US that they would be consulted on any formula being considered for Palestine. Yet another London Conference was convened in early 1947, where the British Government proposals were found unacceptable by both sides.
A total impasse had been reached, and on 18 February 1947 Great Britain, after 30 years of rule in Palestine, made the following announcement:
*The Political History of Palestine(prepared for the UN Special Committee on Palestine).
In contrast with the years preceding the Second World War, when the Mandatory government faced rebellion from the Palestinians, after the war the British Mandatory authorities in Palestine confronted an escalation of violence mainly from the Zionist movement, to force an end to the Mandate and to establish a new state in the entirety of Palestine.
The Palestinian Arabs, although politically and militarily exhausted by their unsuccessful rebellion, were also still fighting for their elusive independence. Thus Palestine was a land of violent strife when the question was taken up by the United Nations, itself hardly two years old, in February 1947.
Faced with this crisis, Great Britain called for a special session of the UN General Assembly to consider questions relating to the future government of Palestine." When the Assembly convened for what was its first Special Session, the Arab delegations unsuccessfully requested that it consider "the termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence." The Assembly took up the British request, agreeing, after some political jostling, to hear representatives of both the Jewish Agency and the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine.
The Special Session was charged with the appointment of a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). Whether its terms of reference would allow it, like the Anglo-American Committee, to connect the European Jewish question to the Palestine question was a subject of controversial debate, the outcome implicitly leaving it open to UNSCOP to link the two, despite urging from many delegations that the plight of European Jewry should be a subject of world concern, and not a facet of the Palestine issue. This point has important implications for the Palestine question when it is recalled that, even after the war, no country was eager to accept large numbers of European Jews despite the persecution they had suffered. Another effort by Arab delegations, supported by others, to include reference to the independence of Palestine in UNSCOP's mandate again was defeated..
UNSCOP visited Palestine where it saw first-hand the violent confrontation in the land. It heard the Jewish and Arab cases, although the Arab Higher Committee itself, incensed by the linking of the Palestine issue with the question of European Jewry, refused to appear before UNSCOP. It then moved to Europe to investigate conditions in refugee camps in Germany and Austria, where it found an "overwhelming" desire for refuge in Palestine, resulting in part from "a certain element of propaganda [and] an element of self-persuasion."
On the fundamental question of self-determination, UNSCOP observed:
UNSCOP reached unanimous agreement on the early termination of the Mandate and independence for Palestine, with the UN supervising the transition. The UN was also asked to deal with the problem of European Jews "as a matter of extreme urgency for the alleviation of their plight and of the Palestine problem'''.
Beyond this, opinion in UNSCOP divided. A minority recommended a unified independent Palestine consisting of a federation of an Arab State and a Jewish State, with Jerusalem the federal capital. Jewish immigration would be subject to international supervision.
The majority fell back on the Royal Commission's concept of partition. Palestine's territory would be divided into eight parts, three linked areas forming an independent Jewish State, three others an independent Arab State, plus an Arab enclave (Jaffa) in the Jewish State and lastly, Jerusalem and its environs a corpus separatum under an international regime (Map at Annex II). Both independent States and Jerusalem would be joined in an "economic union". The Jewish State, covering 56% of Palestinian territory (even more than the Royal Commission's proposal, although the Jewish population was about a third of the total) would number almost a million inhabitants, roughly half Jewish and half Arab. The Arab State's population would be 735,000, of which 10,000 would be Jews. Jerusalem would have about 200,000 people, about evenly divided between the two communities.
Debate on the UNSCOP report was intense and lengthy—the General Assembly first convening as an Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine, and then in plenary session.. The question of the legal competence of the General Assembly to partition Palestine became a point of particular controversy. A move to refer to the International Court of Justice the question of the compatibility of the partition plan with the UN Charter failed by one vote. The Ad Hoc Committee rejected the minority report, and approved the UNSCOP majority report by a vote of 25 to 13 with 17 abstentions.
Since the Partition Resolution required a two-thirds majority for approval by the General Assembly in plenary, every vote became critical. Intensive negotiations and bargaining took place, amid allegations of weaker countries being subjected to strong pressure by the more powerful. At least three countries who in the Committee had opposed the partition proposal now changed to support it, as did some others who had declared an intention to abstain. By a vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions (including the United Kingdom), the UN General Assembly, by its resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947, approved the partition of Palestine. The resolution requested the Security Council to implement the partition plan, and also called upon the inhabitants of Palestine to take steps to put the plan into effect.
The Partition Resolution included elaborate safeguards for the rights of minorities—freedom of conscience and of religion, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race or religion, no expropriation of lands of minorities, freedom of movement and so on. The resolution also safeguarded the "existing rights" of the various religions, and guaranteed free access to the Holy Places. Further, the resolution required that these safeguards, among others, be given constitutional status by being "recognized as fundamental laws of the State".
As in the case of the Royal Commission's partition proposal, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the UN partition plan: The Zionist Organization, sensing fulfilment of its aim, accepted. The Arab countries who had pressed the Palestinian Arab case in the UN and had voted against the proposal, declared that they would not consider themselves bound by it. Any hope that the partition plan, fortified by safeguards, at last would bring peace to Palestine was to prove illusory.
While the United Nations debated the partition, in Palestine itself violence was on the rise. The Arab Higher Committee's call for a general strike in protest of the partition proposal, and the increasing defiance by Zionist para-military forces of the Mandatory's waning authority added to tension and strife. In a situation where it was fast losing control, Great Britain announced that it would complete withdrawal and terminate the Mandate on 15 August 1948, several months in advance of the date anticipated in the UN proposal. No replacement forces would be available to ensure order. The partition plan envisaged the UN in control of the transition through a UN Commission on Palestine assisted by a special armed militia, but this could not be put into practice in the deteriorating security situation.
Zionist operations were now on the offensive designed not only to establish control in the areas allotted to "the Jewish State", but to extend it into the areas designated for "the Arab State". A strategic plan called "Plan Dalet" apparently had been prepared well in advance, and was put into action as soon as British control had weakened enough to ensure success. Writers such as Ben Gurion and Begin refer to such operations, the former describing the goal as "a State made larger and Jewish by the Hagana".
On the other side, the governments of bordering Arab countries made known their intentions of supporting their fellow-Arabs in Palestine against the Zionist drive. Palestinian Arab irregulars were in active resistance by this time, but it was principally Palestinian civilians who suffered from the Zionist effort to expand control. Arab protagonists cite Zionist writers in charging that the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homes and lands was a policy of long standing, against counter-charges that they were incited by their own leaders and other Arab governments to flee temporarily. A UN report (by Count Folke Bernadotte) states that their flight was either forced or due to terror:
A particularly ferocious instance of terrorising civilians occured at Deir Yassin, a Palestinian Arab village near Jerusalem that had tried to stay clear of the fighting. It was attacked by Zionist bands, and about 250 men, women and children were killed. This brought reprisal in the form of an attack on a Jewish convoy with 77 killed. The Deir Yassin massacre became the symbol of terrorist tactics, Zionist writers citing instances when it provoked mass flights of Palestinian Arabs from other towns and villages.
By April 1948 the Mandatory authorities had practically disengaged from the maintenance of law and order, evacuation having already started, and violence sharply escalated. As the day for British withdrawal neared, and the strife in Palestine mounted, intense efforts were under way in the UN to find a way to stem the drift toward war. Security Council resolutions calling for an end to the hostilities were ignored by both sides. A US proposal to bring Palestine under temporary UN trusteeship met determined opposition from Zionist leaders, apprehensive that it might obstruct their advance toward statehood. The trusteeship proposal failed, and on 15 May 1948 the last British forces ceremonially departed signalling abdication of the Mandate after thirty years of rule in Palestine.
One day before, on 14 May 1948, Israel proclaimed itself an independent state. Its Declaration recalled that:
Violence from both sides mounted. Regular troops from bordering Arab States entered the areas allocated to the "Arab State" in Palestine. This was the first Arab-Israeli war, in which, by the end of May 1948, when a cease-fire called for by the Security Council came into effect, Israeli forces controlled the major part of the territory of Palestine, including West Jerusalem (Map at Annex II). Part of the remaining territory of what was to have been the "Arab State" in Palestine was occupied by Egypt. The rest (including East Jerusalem) was occupied by Jordan, then not a UN member.
The Palestine question was now inextricably a responsibility of the United Nations, which had assumed the international commitments to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, which had neither been secured by the Mandate nor by the Partition Resolution. The UN, still in its infancy, responded the best it could.
Any hope of orderly implementation by the Security Council of the territorial provisions of the Partition Resolution was seriously obstructed by the fait accompli of Israeli expansion beyond its assigned borders, by the Egyptian and Jordanian occupation, and by the state of war between both sides. As a first step, the General Assembly dispatched Count Bernadotte to Palestine as the UN Mediator to "promote a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine". Bernadotte established a truce, but was unable to arrange negotiations since the Arab States, still refusing to accept the partition of Palestine, rejected direct contacts with Israel. Bernadotte proposed a plan with considerable territorial adjustments to the original partition plan, but both sides rejected his proposals. The Bernadotte mission was ended in September 1948 by his assassination by men in Israeli army uniforms, believed to belong to the Stern gang. A Security Council request to the Israeli government for a full investigation was ignored by Israel..
As Acting Mediator, Dr. Ralph Bunche succeeded, through the "Rhodes talks", in negotiating firm truce agreements in early 1949 between Israel and the Arab states who, as Israel's hold on the territory under its control strengthened, showed greater inclination to cooperate with UN efforts. These agreements dealt with the military situation, specifying that they did not prejudice the political position of the various parties on the Palestine question. Thus they brought Israel no legal title to the territories occupied beyond those assigned by the partition resolution, nor any legal title for the neighbouring Arab States to the territory they occupied within Palestine.
On 11 December 1948 the General Assembly passed its second major resolution on Palestine, drawing on Bernadotte's recommendation. Resolution 194 (III):
The CCP tried to resolve the three major issues—territory, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Through separate talks with the two sides in Lausanne, the CCP in May 1949 obtained two separate protocols, each signed by one side, agreeing to use the Partition Resolution's boundaries as a basis for discussions. While the Arab States pressed for the return of refugees as a first step, Israel insisted on territorial questions being given first priority. The CCP reported that Israel's aim was to retain all the territory occupied in 1948, plus the Gaza Strip, while leaving the "West Bank" under Jordanian occupation "without entering into the question of the future status of the area".
The CCP negotiations thus ended in another inconclusive UN effort to resolve the Palestine problem..
On 29 November 1948, on the first anniversary of the Partition Resolution, Israel requested admission to the UN. The application failed to secure the votes required in the Security Council, several members criticising Israel for non-compliance with UN resolutions. On its second application, Israel was admitted to the UN in May 1949. A special relationship existed between Israel and the UN, since Israel was the only State to have achieved statehood and acquired territory through an act of the United Nations. In the words of the Israeli representative "Israel was the only State in the world which had sprung into existence at the summons of the international community".
During the debate on its admission, the Israeli representative gave assurances that Israel would observe the principles of the UN Charter and would implement its resolutions, without invoking the claim of domestic jurisdiction. The special importance of resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III) were specially stressed in the debate. On an earlier occasion, the Israeli representative had elaborated his view of the partition resolution:
Consequently, the General Assembly resolution admitting Israel into the UN made specific reference to these assurances and to the fundamental resolution, To quote:
It would thus appear that Israel's admission to the UN was at least implicitly linked to its compliance with resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III). Further, since Israeli assurances regarding these resolutions had been given at a time neither resolution was accepted by the Arab Member States of the UN, it reasonably can be argued that Israel's acceptance of these resolutions was not conditional on their acceptance at that point by the Arab States.
Israel however, extended its laws to the territories occupied in 1948, in effect indicating the de facto annexation of these territories, including West Jerusalem, which in January 1950 was declared the capital of Israel.. There was no provision in Israeli legislation suggesting that, pending final settlement of the question of Palestine and the status of Jerusalem, these measures were of a provisional nature.
In 1950 Jordan, still not a UN member, formally brought the West Bank under its jurisdiction in the face of disapproval of other Arab States, but its legislation specified that this step was taken "without prejudicing the final settlement of Palestine's just case within the sphere of national aspirations, inter-Arab co-operation and international justice". Jordan became a UN member in 1955.
From 1950 to 1967, the issue of rights of the Palestinian Arabs was treated as a "refugee problem" to be dealt with primarily through UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency in Palestine). Indeed, in early 1967, over half of the Palestinian Arabs belonging to the areas either in Israel or under Israeli occupation were refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, or neighbouring Arab countries.
In the Middle East, the Palestine issue widened into the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. The next phase of this wider dispute, the 1956 Suez war, had no direct link to the issue of Palestine. The 1967 war, however, would prove to be a reminder that at the core of the Middle East situation there still lay the Palestine question.
*This affirmation of the right of return of the Palestinians has been reaffirmed annually by the General Assembly up to the present
The Arab-Israeli war of June 1967 brought the second great Palestinian Arab exodus as Israel expanded (map at Annex III) its occupation to the remaining territory of mandated Palestine, (including East Jerusalem) until then occupied by Egypt and Jordan*. Before the 1967 war, of an estimated total of 2.7 million Palestinian Arabs, about 300,000 lived in Israeli territory, a million in the West Bank and 400,000 in the Gaza strip.. In the war almost half a million left their homes leaving 1.2 million in Israeli control. Of this number, those in the West Bank and the Gaza strip came under. Israeli military occupation.. The remaining 1.5 million Palestinians were now refugees uprooted from their homes, many for the second time, having first fled in the war of 1948. They were refugees, often unwelcome in foreign countries, their own lands under Israeli control.
The first moves by the UN were to secure a cease-fire and restore an uneasy peace. Then by its resolution 237 (1967), the Security Council called on Israel to facilitate the return of the refugees of the war of June 1967, and for the application of the Geneva Convention of 1949 in the occupied territories. Israel did not comply.,
Next the Security Council passed resolution 242 (1967) containing the following principles:
Israel has refused to withdraw without a general peace settlement, embracing all the conditions of resolution 242. The status quo of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has continued since, Israel rejecting UN resolutions calling for observance of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in the occupied territories.
The 1967 war seems to have been a catalyst and a turning point in the struggle by the Palestinian Arabs for their rights. The Palestine Liberation Organization, first formed in 1964, adopted a new Covenant in 1968, inter alia committing all Palestinians to fight for their rights since the international community had been unable, for half a century, to secure their natural as well as promised right to an independent State.
The Covenant termed Israel an illegal State, and rejected "all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine". This has led to Israel's refusing to have any dealings with the PLO. Palestinian groups under the PLO umbrella increasingly resorted to violence** to focus world attention on the plight of the Palestinians and on their determination to regain their rights.
International recognition of the justice of the Palestinian cause and its centrality in the Middle East issue soon followed. In 1969 a General Assembly resolution recognized "that the problem of the Palestine Arab refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights" and reaffirmed these rights. The resolution drew the Security Council's attention to the situation resulting from Israel's refusal to implement General Assembly resolutions, calling for action by the Security Council which continued to follow the approach of its resolution 242 (1967). In 1970 the Assembly declared that full respect for the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine is an indispensable element in the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East". Similar resolutions were passed in 1971 and 1972.
The October 1973 Middle East war had no immediate direct repercussions on the Palestine issue, but a year later a conference of Arab states in Rabat recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Jordanian support of this resolution implied relinquishment of any Jordanian claims on Palestinian territory.
In September 1974, the item "The Question of Palestine" was again included in the General Assembly agenda for the first time since 1952, and the PLO was invited to participate as an observer in the Assembly's work, a status later extended to all other UN organs.
That same year the Assembly gave full and formal recognition to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people which it described as:
The Assembly also recognised:
This recognition was followed by an address to the Assembly by the Chairman of the PLO, Mr. Yasser Arafat, who reminded his listeners that the "terrorist" label had been attached to other peoples who had fought for freedom. He called for the implementation of the Palestinian peoples' rights to self-determination and national sovereignty in Palestine, concluding:
Israel, however, insists that any establishment of a Palestinian State would have as one of its principal aims the destruction of the State of Israel, and is thus an unacceptable threat to its security. It thus continues to refuse implementation of numerous General Assembly resolutions on this subject.
Other UN bodies have also addressed the Palestine issue. Human rights violations by Israel have been investigated since 1969 by a Special Committee. Its reports have led to numerous General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel for:
The Human Rights Commission also has deplored Israel's continued violation in the occupied Arab territories "of the basic norms of international law and of relevant international conventions, in particular, Israel's grave breaches of the Geneva Convention which ate considered as war crimes and an affront to humanity, as well as Israel's persistent defiance of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and its continued policy of violating . . . basic human rights . . .". Israel has rejected all these resolutions.
The Human Rights Commission has also declared "null and void" Israeli actions taken to change the character or status of the occupied territories, and has called for the rescinding of these measures. Israel has rejected these resolutions also.
Thus by 1974, the UN had recognized:
The General Assembly in 1975 established a Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people*** charging it to produce a programme for the implementation of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. The Committee's recommendations have been regularly endorsed since 1976 by the General Assembly, which has called for Security Council action. A draft Security Council resolution in 1976 affirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in accordance with the UN Charter failed adoption due to the negative vote of the US The Security Council took up the question again in 1977 and in 1979 but has taken no action so far on the Palestine issue.
In the meanwhile, Israel has continued to consolidate its hold on the occupied territories, principally by strengthening its military presence and expanding the establishment of settlements in the West Bank, ignoring UN resolutions and international opinion as well as the fundamental issue of Palestinian rights.
*Israel's occupation of Egyptian and Syrian territory in this war is beyond the direct concern of this study
**Claiming justification from the General Assembly's affirmation of the legitimacy of the people's struggle for liberation from. . . foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means including armed struggle." (Resolution 3070 (XXVIII) of 30 November 1973)
***Known informally as the "Palestinian Rights Committee".
The decade 1967-1977, during which there were two major conflicts in the Middle East, saw an essential transformation in the status of the Palestine question. From being viewed as a "refugee problem" it has been recognized for what in reality it is—an issue that involves the fundamental natural and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and the issue that lies at the core of the Middle East problem.
That the claim of the Palestinian people to national self- determination is based on old and sound foundations is clear. Self-determination and independence are fundamental rights of any people with their own distinctive traditions and culture, rooted in their own land. It is this principle, recognized in the UN Charter, that has provided the powerful impulse that has brought other peoples under foreign colonization or alien domination their natural right of freedom. In the case of the Palestinian people their entitlement to these rights was recognized over sixty years ago in under takings by the Allied Powers during the First World War. They were given international recognition in the Covenant of the League of Nations, but the Palestine Mandate itself was inconsistent with the spirit of the Covenant. Without any attention to the wishes of the Palestinian Arab majority, Great Britain, under the Mandate, promoted Jewish immigration which, in a little over twenty years, led to the transformation of an essentially indigenous community composing a tenth of the Palestinians to a predominantly immigrant presence numbering a third of the population. The repercussions of the inhuman Nazi persecution of European Jewry became an integral factor in this transformation, which meant, in essence, that the indigenous people of Palestine were being made to pay for Nazi crimes in Europe. In this process the religious amicability and tolerance that had existed for centuries between Jew, Christian and Moslem, was destroyed, and racial animosity and religious tension appeared in its stead.
Just before the Second World War, in the 1939 Statement of Policy, the Mandatory power had recognized its inability to reconcile the conflicting terms of the Mandate and had decided to terminate it, proposing that Palestine be an independent, unified country with safeguards for the rights of minorities. The war and Zionist opposition prevented the implementation of this policy.
The UN Partition Resolution did not solve the problem. It allocated over half of Palestine's territory to a third of its population the majority of which were immigrants. War in 1948 led to the expansion of this territory to over three quarters of Palestine. Israel's territorial expansion in 1948 beyond the borders allotted in the partition resolution was opposed in principle by other countries for twenty years. but after 1967 there appears to have been international acquiescence to the fait accompli of that early expansion. However the international community has left no doubt that it regards Israeli occupation of territory since June 1967 as inadmissible and in violation of UN resolutions, and thus illegal.
The challenge of the realisation of the natural and fundamental rights of the Palestinian people acquires a critical international dimension because it lies at the core of the Middle East dispute, a major threat to international peace and security. The Chairman of the Committee on Palestinian Rights has stated:
Israel's closest neighbours are the Palestinian people—in the West Bank, in Gaza, in bordering countries. They, too, are a crucial factor in the establishment of any peace claiming justice and thus durability. The international recognition of this fact is illustrated by the quotes that follow:
(the Non-Aligned Countries)
(the Organization of African Unity)
(the European Economic Community)
(the Secretary-General of the United Nations)
The essence of the Palestine problem was summed up in 1968 by Professor Arnold Toynbee who, before becoming recognized as an eminent world historian, had dealt directly with Palestine Mandate in the British Foreign Office:
The United Nations seeks to avert this threat to world peace, and has recognized that an indispensable factor is the securing of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
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Download Document Files: 79-36136f.pdf 79-36136s.pdf
Document Type: French text, Publication, Spanish text, Study
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
Subject: Absentee property, History, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Internally displaced persons, Jerusalem, Land, Negotiations and agreements, PLO/Palestine, Palestine question, Refugees and displaced persons, Right of return, Self-determination, Statehood-related
Publication Date: 01/01/1979