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Source: General Assembly
14 April 1948
Department of Public Information
Press and Publications Bureau
Lake Success, New York

Press Release PAL/158
14 April 1948

Second Special Session
Background Material

April 1947 -- April 1948

It is just a year since the problem of Palestine first came before the United Nations. On 2 April 1947, the United Kingdom, mandatory power in Palestine under the League of Nations, asked that the Palestine question be placed on the agenda of the Second Regular Session of the General Assembly and that a Special Session be convened to constitute a Special Committee to prepare for Assembly consideration of the subject.

On 28 April 1947 the First Special Session of the Assembly began work.

Since then, the United Nations has tried to find a solution for this two thousand year old problem, meeting many difficulties due to the multiplicity and variety of the political views and of the interests involved. However, it seemed that a solution had been found when, at the end of the first stage of the United Nations dealings with the Palestine problem, the resolution in favor of partition was adopted by the Assembly on 29 November 1947. Difficulties became visible again with the beginning of the second stage -- that of implementation. A third stage began when another Special Session was convened at the request of the Security Council which adopted a US proposal to this effect on 1 April 1948.


Following the First World War, the League of Nations created a system of mandates, including among others the former Turkish dependencies, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan and Palestine. All except the latter acquired independence before the League of Nations was officially liquidated in April 1946.

As to Palestine its case was a particularly complex one. The mandate of the League of Nations had confirmed the right of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine (a right recognized in 1917 by Great Britain), and guaranteed at the same time the rights of the Arab population. Respect for all religious beliefs was also included.

During the mandate both Jews and Arabs entered claims for the entire country with the Jews insisting that Jewish immigration continue, and the Arabs opposing it. The mandatory power finally put immigration on a reduced quota. The situation became increasingly critical during the years just preceding the Second World War, and still more so after the war.

After the failure of numerous attempts to stop the periodic crises in the country, the mandatory power decided to ask the General Assembly of the United Nations to formulate a recommendation on "the future government of Palestine." The UK invoked Article 10 of the Charter which permits the Assembly to make recommendations to members of the Organization as well as to the Security Council on questions within the scope of the Charter or derived from the duties and functions of the organs of the United Nations.

Recommendation of the General Assembly following the deliberation
of the Special and Regular Sessions of 1947

The General Assembly met in special session last April and May and elected the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) and assigned it the task of making an on-the-spot study of the problem in Palestine. The members of this Committee were: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

In its regular session, the Assembly adopted on 29 November of the same year a plan based on the majority proposal made by this Commission.

The Assembly recommendations were for the establishment in Palestine of an independent Arab state, an independent Jewish state, and an autonomous territory, the City of Jerusalem, under the authority of the United Nations. All of them are to function within an economic union. This plan was designated to come into force not later than the 1 October 1948.

The Assembly vote was 33 for, 13 against, 10 abstentions and 1 absent.

The Assembly plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, but rejected by the Arab Higher Committee as well as by the Arab Member States of the United Nations.

The Assembly finished its work by assigning the execution of the plan to a commission, to the Security Council and on certain special questions, to the other Councils of the United Nations.

The Palestine Commission

The Commission is composed of five representatives of small powers -- Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Panama, Philippines, Bolivia. It was created by the Assembly, but it was to act under the guidance of the Security Council. Its task was to aid the transition in Palestine from the mandatory regime to the new arrangements called for by the Assembly. It would also exercise certain governmental functions during this transitional period. It would define the frontiers; establish Provisional Councils of Government in both States which would recruit an armed media from the residents of each state, set up administrative organs of government, etc.

The Security Council was invited under the plan to give directives to the Commission and to consider measures that might become necessary should the peace in Palestine be menaced.

The Trusteeship Council was asked to develop a statute for the City of Jerusalem, and to name a governor for the City responsible to the Council.

The Economic and Social Council was to name the non-Palestinian members of the Joint Economic body called for in the Assembly's recommendations on the establishment of an Economic Union.

Developments since the Assembly decision on partition

Since the adoption of this program, the situation in Palestine has seriously deteriorated. The hostility of the Arab world to "partition" has been shown with force. The Jews have shown themselves more decided than ever in favor of their national aspirations. The bloodshed in Palestine has raised the fear of still graver developments. As to the mandatory power, the United Kingdom has confirmed its intention of giving up the mandate on 15 May, and of withdrawing British troops from Palestine by 1 August. The UK has also advised that it will not share governmental responsibilities in Palestine with other authorities prior to the ending of the mandate. During this same period relations between the great Powers did not improve.

The Trusteeship Council has done the work assigned to it, although it has postponed its formal decisions on the statute for Jerusalem until late April. The Economic and Social council has taken preparatory steps to get candidates names for this Joint Economic Body. The Palestine Commission was unanimous in reporting to the Security Council that it needed an armed force. Its departure from Lake Success to Palestine was delayed and it has been able to send only an advance guard of its Secretariat to the Holy Land.

As to the Security Council, the authority with the duty of guiding the work of the Commission, and permanent guardian under the Charter of peace and security in the world, it had to face the difficulties described by the Palestine Commission.

On March 5, the Security Council asked its permanent members to consult in order to present a recommendation on the instructions to be given to the Palestine Commission with a view to implementing the Assembly recommendation. Four of the permanent members -- the fifth, the United Kingdom in line with its policy of abstaining from UN decisions on the future Government of Palestine, attended consultations of the permanent members only to reply to questions -- reached an agreement on two principles, which were presented to the Council on 19 March:

(1) the Council should make it clear that it is determined not to permit the existence of a threat to international peace in Palestine;

(2) the Council should take further action by all means available to it to bring about the immediate cessation of violence and the restoration of peace and order in Palestine.

On the same day, 19 March, the US delegate in the Security Council submitted a new proposal in Palestine. This called for a temporary trusteeship for Palestine, a special session of the Assembly to decide this, and for the efforts of the Palestine Commission to implement partition to be suspended. The US delegation stressed that partition could not be implemented by peaceful means.

Convocation of Second Special Assembly Session on Palestine

On March 30, two resolutions submitted by the US were adopted by the Security Council. The first called for an immediate truce in Palestine and for the Jewish Agency of Palestine and the Arab Higher Committee to make representatives available to the Council for the purpose of arranging a truce. This resolution was adopted by all members of the Council.

The second resolution requested the Secretary-General to convene a special Assembly "to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine". Nine members of the Council voted for this resolution, two -- the USSR and the Ukraine, abstained from voting.

As to the Trusteeship problem not mentioned in this resolutions, it was the object of informal meetings of Security Council members arranged by the US delegation, while the President of the Security Council met with Jewish and Arab representatives in order to discuss the truce proposal.

In the meantime, the Palestine Commission continued its work. On April 13, it adopted unanimously a report on its activities to be submitted to the Special Session of the Assembly. In this report the Commission stated "that the armed hostility of both Palestinian and non-Palestinian Arab elements, the lack of cooperation from the Mandatory Power, the disintegrating security situation in Palestine, and the fact that the Security Council did not furnish the Commission with the necessary armed assistance, are the factors which have made it impossible for the Commission to implement the Assembly's resolution."

The report further pointed out that "the steadily deteriorating situation in Palestine leads to the inescapable conclusion that, in the absence of forces adequate to restore and maintain law and order in Palestine following the termination of the Mandate, there will be administrative chaos, starvation, widespread strife, violence and bloodshed in Palestine, including Jerusalem."

On the eve of the Special Assembly, the Security Council convened on 15 April to discuss a draft resolution calling for immediate truce in Palestine, including a standstill of political activities. This draft was submitted by Dr. Alfonso Lopez of the Colombian Delegation who is the current President of the Council. No decision was reached.

The Council is to meet again Friday night, 16 April at 9:00 p.m. at Lake Success to continue the discussion.

(Text of the draft resolution submitted by Dr. Lopez is available as a Press Release PM/873).

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