The Special Committee on Palestine: Resistance Axis in UN

  November 20, 2021   Read time 4 min
The Special Committee on Palestine: Resistance Axis in UN
The Middle East was one of the areas most transformed by the Second WorId War. Not only had large areas been the scene of prolonged fighting or military interventions, but, in addition, wholly new states had begun to emerge (Syria, Lebanon, Libya).

The governments of others had been overthrown or disrupted by military action (Iraq, Iran and the Maghreb). And in the most politically sensitive area of all, Palestine, though little fighting had taken place and British administration remained unchanged throughout, an increasingly tense confrontation between the two main communities had built up, encouraged by the certainty that independence would be granted soon after the war came to an end. Within little more than a year of its birth, this problem was placed in the lap of the UN General Assembly.

Palestine had been administered by Britain as a League Mandate since 1922. Although the majority of the population at that time were Arabs, whose interests under the terms of the Mandate Britain was to protect, she was also, under the agreement, to place 'the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of a Jewish National Home'. These two aims were scarcely easy to reconcile.

The contradiction only reflected the equal inconsistency in the promises made by Britain herself to both Jews and Arabs during the First World War. Her policy became inevitably a compromise which alienated both parties. The heart of the problem concerned immigration: the number of Jews who were to be allowed to share the territory with the existing Arab population. Britain allowed enough Jewish immigration to antagonise the Arabs, but not enough to satisfy the Jews. In 1939 there were about a million Arabs and 400,000 Jews in Palestine. Even before 1939, there were outbreaks of fighting between the two communities and between them and the British. In that year, just before the outbreak of war, Britain once again restricted immigration and promised independence to a unitary state with an Arab majority: an action which further antagonised the Jews and their supporters, but did not satisfy the Arabs either.

After the Second World War the question became particularly explosive. Jewish immigration was officially frozen at 1500 a month. But in practice the figure was hugely exceeded, because of large numbers of illegal immigrants, seeking to escape the nightmare which their people had experienced in Europe, who landed by boat on the coast. Increasingly the Jews, in Palestine and elsewhere, and their supporters in North America and Europe, saw the creation of aJewish state in Palestine as the only solution to their age-long woes. Such people became increasingly impatient and dissatisfied with British efforts to control the flow of immigration, efforts that sometimes involved returning to Europe the Jews who were apprehended before they reached the coast of Palestine.

F or Arab opinion, however, the rate of immigration was still much too high. As between the wars, therefore, British policy satisfied neither side. Armed action, mainly by Jewish organisations against British forces, became more frequent. Many British soldiers lost their lives seeking to uphold a policy which they did not understand, which was reviled throughout much of the world, and which was quite irrelevant to Britain's own interests. Finally, during the course of 1946, British opinion became weary of the ungrateful responsibility of seeking to solve an apparently insoluble problem, at the cost of the lives of British soldiers for whom the future of Palestine was a matter of profound unconcern. As a result, in the spring of 1947, Britain decided to place the matter in the hands of the UN. Although Palestine had not, like most mandated territories, been converted into a UN trust territory, it was still a mandate and generally felt as a matter of international responsibility. Moreover, since Britain's own policies were so unpopular, and any ultimate decision she might make on the territory'S future likely to be more so, there was some advantage in sharing responsibility with other members of the international community.

Accordingly, on 2 April 1947 Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British delegate to the UN, wrote to the acting SecretaryGeneral, asking that the question of Palestine should be put on the agenda for the next regular session in the autumn: the British Government would then submit an account of its administration of the mandate and ask the Assembly to make recommendations for the territory's future. Meanwhile, because the Assembly might find it difficult to make any recommendation without preliminary study of the question, Britain proposed the calling of a special session of the Assembly to look at the question. This might then wish to establish a special committee to study the matter in detail before making a recommendation.

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