UNSCOP: Solving the Problem of Palestine

Jared Kushner has come and gone. It is hardly surprising, he was accused of not bringing anything new.

Here is a thoughtful analysis of the attempt at peace negotiations:

The problem of Palestine is not one the solution of which will emerge from an accumulation of detailed information. If such had been the case, the problem would have been solved long ago. Few countries have been the subject of so many general or detailed inquiries-official and unofficial-especially during the last decade. The problem is mainly one of human relationship and political rights. Its solution may be reached only through a correct appreciation of the situation as a whole and an endeavour to find a human settlement. In this respect, the opinions of members of an international committee who represent various civilizations and schools of thought and have approached the question from different angles may be of some value.

 All the proposed solutions have aimed at resolving, in one manner or another, the Palestinian dilemma: the reconciliation of two diametrically opposed claims, each of which is supported by strong arguments, in a small country of limited resources, and in an atmosphere of great and increasing political and racial tension and conflicting nationalisms…with periods of civil disturbance, particularly in 1921, 1929-1930, 1936-1938 and 1945-1947. 

The above quote was written 70 years ago.  Say what you want about the US attempts for peace. Slam Trump and his administration. But there is “Nothing new under the sun.”  This latest attempt is far from the first to try solve “the problem of Palestine.”

Remember, 70 years ago, there was no Israel, and no settlement building. No one had heard of “the West Bank.” The Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Council cooperated with United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, UNSCOP. However, the Arab Higher Committee charged UNSCOP with being pro-Zionist, and decided to boycott its deliberations. The Arab (please note use of word “Arab” before the re-branding to”Palestinian”) leadership announced a one-day general strike to protest arrival of UNSCOP.  Arab opposition figures were threatened with death if they spoke to the UN delegates. Sound familiar?

Informational sign posted at Beit Kedima, where UNSCOP stayed in 1947As we approach a year of 70th-year celebrations, I spent an afternoon reading the UNSCOP report. The UNSCOP members lived in my neighborhood at Beit Kedima while drafting the extensive and detailed draft which became the UN Partition Plan. In August 1947, this was considered a quiet, out-of-way location, which is hard to imagine these days with apartment buildings and traffic all around.

UNSCOP was composed of delegates from eleven “neutral” countries: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. They arrived in Palestine on June 15, 1947, and submitted their report to the UN on September 3, 1947.

Before completing their report, UNSCOP not only traveled throughout Mandatory Palestine, but also to Europe to see the Displaced Persons Camps.

“Exodus” by Leon Uris, turned a generation of readers into Zionists.  Credit is also due to actor Paul Newman’s blue eyes and the stunning Eva Saint Marie in the Otto Preminger movie version with its happy ending. The real story of the sailing of the SS Exodus, with its Jewish Holocaust survivors being sent back to Europe, was nothing like the happy-ending Hollywood movie.

However, the UNSCOP members who witnessed the Exodus drama unfolding in the Haifa port were said to be deeply affected by the harsh treatment of the over 4,000 Jews on the ship. The SS Exodus is reported to have influenced their summation presented to the UN.

Feel free to check it out for yourself, the result of 3 months of intensive work and over 50 meetings, the UNSCOP report, typos and all, is public record and on-line.

In the course of the 47th meeting of the Committee, on August 27, 1947, seven members of the Committee, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Peru, Sweden and Uruguay, expressed themselves, by recorded vote, in favour of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union, presented by the Working Group on Constitutional Matters.

I am sharing a small selection of quotes, not necessarily in order, which I found thought-provoking and relevant to today’s discussions.

This is how UNSCOP described the land:

The total land area of Palestine is estimated to be about 26,000 square kilometres or a little over 10,000 square miles, but about halt (sic) of this area is uninhabitable desert.

The country was disease-ridden, under-developed, poverty-stricken; it had the scantiest facilities for education, virtually no industry, and an indifferent agricultural regime. Internally it was given to lawlessness and it was open to the predatory attention of nomad bands from the desert. To make self-advancement possible and to open the way for private enterprise, State action in all these fields had been required… Climatically, the most striking feature of Palestine is the regular recurrence of winter rain followed by a prolonged summer drought.

In the physical resources which are typically the basis of modern industrial development, Palestine is exceedingly poor, having neither coal, iron, nor any other important mineral deposit. Indeed, the only considerable non-agricultural resources are the potassium and sodium salts which are extracted from the Dead Sea.

And what did the Jewish settlers do?

The Jews have brought to agriculture in Palestine both capital and skill which together have had a profound effect on the country, transforming some of it from waste and neglected land to fruitful ground, so that it may truly be said that they have made “the desert blossom as the rose.”

What were the Arabs afraid of?

The establishment of the Jewish Home and State will, it is claimed, do no political injustice to the Arabs, since the Arabs have never established a government in Palestine.

The desire of the Arab people of Palestine to safeguard their national existence is a very natural desire. However, Palestinian nationalism, as distinct from Arab nationalism, is itself a relatively new phenomenon, which appeared only after the division of the “Arab rectangle” by the settlement of the First World War. The National Home policy and the vigorous policy of immigration pursued by the Jewish leadership has sharpened the Arab fear of danger from the intruding Jewish population.

So what did the Arabs do about it?

The Arabs have persistently adhered to the position that the Mandate for Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration, is illegal. The Arab States have refused to recognize it as having any validity.

And what did the members of the committee think about this claim?

There would seem to be no grounds for questioning the validity of the Mandate for the reason advanced by the Arab States. The terms of the Mandate for Palestine, formulated by the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers as a part of the settlement of the First World War, were subsequently approved and confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations.

It didn’t help.

The Arabs of Palestine consider themselves as having a “natural” right to that country, although they have not been in possession of it as a sovereign nation.

Arab resistance to Jewish political demands in Palestine has in part taken the form of an economic boycott of Jewish goods, decided on by a resolution of the Council of the Arab League in December 1945. [Representatives of the Arab States stressed in evidence to the Committee that the boycott would prove effective due to the dependence of Jewish industry on the market of Arab countries. Within Palestine, though it would be difficult to estimate its present effectiveness, the boycott is regarded by the Arab, leaders as an important means of furthering their political aims.] During the Arab Conference in Haifa in July 1947, Jamal Eff. el Husseini spoke of the necessity of “strengthening the boycott in order to pull down Zionist existence”, and warned Arab merchants who did not observe the boycott that they would be regarded as “traitors”, since “the nation cannot keep patient over humiliation.”

Sound familiar?

On and on, through pages of the report, I marveled at the attention to detail. However, one item the UNSCOP report was way off the mark. They estimated the projected Jewish population in 1960 to be 664,000.

In 1947, UNSCOP would never have believed that the arid, uncivilized land they encountered would be able absorb 800,000 Jews in the next few years, the Jewish refugees exiled from their homes in Arab countries with the founding of the State of Israel.

The UNSCOP report, on November 29, 1947, records that the UN General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of a planThe Plan of Partition with Economic Union in CHAPTER VI: PROPOSED RECOMMENDATIONS (II), as Resolution 181(II).

The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan and declared war.