Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

English (pdf) ||Arabic||Chinese||Français||Русский||Español||

Follow UNISPAL Twitter RSS


11 December 1962

Seventeenth Session



Held at Headquarters, New York,
on Tuesday, 11 December 1962, at 11.00 a.m.


Agenda item 31:
Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the
Near East (continued)

Chairman: Mr. Leopoldo BENITES (Ecuador)


Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (A/5136, A/5214, A/SPC/74, A/SPC/L.89, A/SPC/L.90) (continued)

1. The CHAIRMAN expressed concerned at the short time remaining for conclusion of the Committee's work. He asked the members of the Committee to help him by keeping their statements as short as possible and by voluntarily limiting the exercise of their right of reply. Speakers could, in their statements, deal both with the substance of the question and with the draft resolutions (A/SPC/L.89 and L.90). He was afraid that, unless the Committee co-operated, it would be necessary to arrange for three meetings a day.

2. Mr. ADEYINKA (Nigeria), speaking on a point of order, asked when the report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine would be distributed.

3. The Chairman replied that it would probably be distributed on the morning of 12 December.

4. Mr. ROWAN (United States of America) said that his delegation had not exercised its right of reply immediately after the criticisms levelled at the United States during the debate, because it had wanted to reply by simply stating its main ideas on the problem.

5. The question of the Palestine refugees was almost as old as the United Nations. While other problems had become less acute, the problem of the Palestine refugees still existed, although the most energetic efforts had been made to find a practical solution. Each year the problem became more difficult to solve, and each day without a solution meant one more day of frustration for over a million human beings. The problem became worse as the number of refugees increased, and time only accentuated the wastage of the new generation.

6. The main responsibility for solving the problem lay with the five States directly concerned - Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the United Arab Republic. The Assembly should face that fact. Conciliation efforts by third parties, however earnest, fair ingenious and well-intentioned, would not succeed if the sovereign States on both sides of the armistice line were not prepared to solve the problem and to display genuine concern for the refugees as human beings above all else. Unfortunately, such good will had for the most part been lacking. The refugees themselves had cause to be sorely disappointed at the attitude of Governments which denied them and their offspring the opportunity to lead normal lives; it was the refugees, after all, who were the core of the problem; it was they who should be the fundamental concern of Governments and who, in a free world, should have a say in their own future.

7. As the years passed, each side adhered to the same rigid attitude, hoping, in the face of all logic, that the arguments of the adversaries would be miraculously destroyed and that it would be possible to solve the problem in accordance with its own wishes. After fourteen years of polemics, such a development seemed unlikely. The spokesmen of both parties had boasted that time was on their side. There should be an end to such self-deception. Indeed, as long as the dispute existed and aroused all the passions to which expression had now once more been given, time would be on the side of danger, and despair would increase. It was certainly not on the side of the refugees, a new generation of whom would inherit the deprivations and burdens inherent in their grievous situation.

8. Again and again new tactics were tried. Some people appeared to think that the chasm dividing the parties would suddenly be bridged, if only the Assembly invited them to sit round a conference table. The United States had always been and still was in favour of direct talks between the parties, at such time as there were real prospects of helping the refugees or reaching some other constructive solution. Unfortunately, the time did not seem ripe and, in those circumstances, such proposals were unhelpful.

9. The United States would very much like Israel and its Arab neighbours to negotiate a settlement of their differences. In view of the emotions involved, that would probably take some time. It should not be forgotten that at the centre of the problem were human beings who felt dispossessed of their ancestral lands and sincerely believed they had suffered and injustice. That was a compelling reason why a peaceful and just solution should be found. His delegation was convinced that a solution could be achieved more quickly if there was willingness to compromise on the key issues dividing the parties, such as the refugee question itself. It was obvious to any objective observer that the Arabs were still not convinced of the good will of Israel, and that it was very difficult for Israel to display good will in the face of the continued threats to its very existence.

10. It had also been proposed that a United Nations custodian should be appointed to a minister the property in Israel which the refugees regarded as theirs. That proposal, too, did not seem to offer a realistic basis for compensation or aid for the refugees. In fact, the proposal was a retrograde step, since it was clearly designed to undermine the very foundation of Israel's sovereignty.

11. From the outset, the United States had taken a deep and sympathetic interest in the Arab refugee problem. It was the United States which had borne the heaviest share of the expenditure designed to ensure the refugees' survival and minimum welfare. It was also most sincerely concerned about the rights and interests of the States involved.

12. Since the fifteenth session of the General Assembly, the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine had engaged in a new initiative to overcome the deadlock on the issue. Thanks largely to the dedication and realism of the Commission's Special Representative, Mr. Joseph E. Johnson, that had proved to be a useful endeavour. The Commission had learnt what was not feasible, at least in existing circumstances, and what might be feasible. In deference to the specific and unanimous request of all the parties directly concerned, and because the Commission had not concluded its work, it had been decided that specific details about Mr. Johnson's efforts should not for the time being be published. The United States representative urged the members of the Committee to respect the wishes of the parties and not to give credence to distorting rumours which had been circulated on the subject.

13. The representative of the United States wished to point out that his Government was profoundly disappointed by the course which the dispute had taken over the years. It was not enough to come to each session of the General Assembly and hear the same recriminations and the same conclusions on the lack of progress. For the refugees, lack of progress was not enough. The United States, for its part, did not accept the status quo. The members of the United nations should unite to find a solution. Since no solution perfect from all points of view could ever be found, each side should be prepared to sacrifice some part of its desires. Every new proposal should be thoroughly explored and every initiative offering any hope of progress should be encouraged. The United States was prepared to continue to work with other members of the Conciliation Commission in search of a solution, and it sincerely hoped that during the coming year the parties would show a spirit more co-operative than that which had so far displayed.

14. As was only too frequent in debates on the question, there had been little emphasis on the report (A/5214) of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the near East (UNRWA) in other words, on the measures being taken to provide the refugees with food, education and medical attention. Considering the means at its disposal, the Agency was doing excellent work. The United States Government wished to pay a tribute to Mr. Davis and his colleagues for the humaneness and administrative qualities they were displaying in their difficult task. The United States Government did not share all the views expressed in the Agency's latest report, but it was convinced that the Agency was able fulfilling a function of prime importance not only to the refugees but also to the five Member States directly concerned with the problem. The United States delegation was prepared to support the extension of the existing mandate until 30 June 1964. At the pledging meeting, it would speak in greater detail about the successes of the Agency and the problems involved in its work. His delegation hoped that all Member States were carefully considering whether their forthcoming pledges were in fact propositional to their means and to their expressed interest in the question.

15. The United States representative did not intend to go into more detail at the present stage. The solution of the Arab refugee problem would be found, not in repetition of the same debates, but in the quiet endeavours of men of vision and good will who were working out point by point a procedure for meeting the desires of the refugees so far as possible, while protecting the legitimate interests of the States concerned. But no plan, however ingenious, could succeed unless there was a minimum of good will and tolerance. It was precisely that good will which had been encouraged to look to the United Nations to respond effectively to that challenge.


Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter