The following is excerpted from The Rejection of Arab Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Arab-Israeli Crisis.
In 1947, Great Britain, unable to reconcile its conflicting obligations to both Jews and Arabs, requested that the United Nations take up the question of Palestine. In May, the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created by a General Assembly resolution. UNSCOP’s purpose was to investigate the situation in Palestine and “submit such proposals as it may consider appropriate for the solution of the problem of Palestine”.
At the time, the U.N. consisted of 55 members, including Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Palestine by then remained the only one of the formerly Mandated Territories not to become an independent state. No representatives from any Arab nations, however, were included in UNSCOP. Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia requested that “The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence” be placed on the agenda, but this motion was rejected. The Arab Higher Committee thus announced it would not collaborate, although individual Arab states did agree to meet with representatives from UNSCOP.
UNSCOP’s investigation included a 15-day tour of Palestine, splitting time between visits to Arab and Jewish communities. Seven days—nearly half that same amount of time spent touring Palestine itself—were spent touring Displaced Persons (D.P.) camps in Germany and Austria and witnessing the plight of the Jews there. The proposal to visit the D.P. camps passed by a vote of six to four with one abstention, despite the objection from two members that it would be “improper to connect the displaced persons, and the Jewish problem as a whole, with the problem of Palestine”. More time was spent visiting D.P. camps than the total number of days spent visiting the Arab nations neighboring Palestine and meeting with representatives there.
Public hearings were held in which 37 representatives were heard, 31 of whom were Jews representing 17 Jewish organizations, but with only one representative from each of the six Arab states. Two proposals emerged: a federal State plan and a partition plan. The latter passed by a vote of seven to three with one abstention, the dissenting votes being cast by India, Iran, and Yugoslavia, who all favored the federal state plan.
On September 3, UNSCOP submitted its report to the U.N. General Assembly. The report noted that the population of Palestine at the end of 1946 was estimated to be almost 1,846,000, with 1,203,000 Arabs (65 percent) and 608,000 Jews (33 percent). Again, the growth of the Jewish population was mainly the result of immigration, whereas the Arab growth was “almost entirely” natural increase.
Complicating any notion of partition, UNSCOP observed that there was “no clear territorial separation of Jews and Arabs by large contiguous areas.” In the Jaffa district, for example, which included Tel Aviv, “Jews are more than 40 per cent of the total population”, with an Arab majority.
Land ownership statistics from 1945 showed that Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district in Palestine. In Jaffa, with the highest percentage of Jewish ownership of any district, 47 percent of the land was owned by Arabs versus 39 percent owned by Jews. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Ramallah district, Arabs owned 99 percent of the land and Jews less than 1 percent. In the whole of Palestine, Arabs were in possession of 85 percent of the land, while Jews owned less than 7 percent.
UNSCOP mentioned in its report that Jewish groups such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang had engaged in terrorism, including the bombing of the King David Hotel. While Jewish leaders had “from time to time condemned terrorist activities, and there have been some signs of active opposition to such methods on the part of the Haganah”, terrorism was a widely enough accepted tactic among the Zionists that the British had “found it necessary to arrest and detain on grounds of public security some 2,600 Jews, including four members of the Jewish Agency Executive.”
UNSCOP also related the characterization from the British Administration in Palestine that “Since the beginning of 1945 the Jews have . . . supported by an organized campaign of lawlessness, murder and sabotage their contention that . . . nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of a Jewish State and free Jewish immigration into Palestine.”
During one of its hearings, the Arab representatives expressed their view with regard to the Zionist “recourse to terrorism”, which was that “This aggressive attitude . . . will not fail to give rise in turn to the creation of similar [terrorist] organizations by the Arabs.” The Arab delegates also declared that “against a [Jewish] State established by violence, the Arab States will be obliged to use violence; that is a legitimate right of self-defence.”
The case of the Zionist Jews, UNSCOP reported, was based on biblical arguments as well as on the Balfour Declaration, which, they contended, recognized their “right” to colonize Palestine. Their case also rested on the false claim that “immigrant Jews displace no Arabs” and upon the assertion that the establishment of a Jewish State would “do no political injustice to the Arabs, since the Arabs have never established a government in Palestine.”
In other words, the Arab right to self-determination could be denied now because that right had never been recognized or exercised in the past (logic which would prove problematic for democracies everywhere, but the delight of kings and tyrants, if the standard were actually applied to other cases).
The Zionists also argued that once a Jewish State is established and the Jews become a majority, the Arab minority “will be fully protected in all its rights on an equal basis with the Jewish citizenry.” This was not accompanied with any explanation as to why this should be acceptable to the then Arab majority, or why the Arabs should accept what the Zionists themselves had rejected.
The entire Zionist case was outrageous. Its arguments were spurious, prejudiced and hypocritical to the extreme. And yet UNSCOP took them quite seriously. It accepted without question the assumption that the British had the right to open Palestine for colonization while it was under occupation, an action that would be expressly forbidden under the Geneva Conventions just two years later.
It accepted the argument that to allow democracy in Palestine “would in fact destroy the Jewish National Home” and on that basis explicitly rejected the right to self-determination of the Arab majority.
It mentioned in passing that the Balfour Declaration had a clause stating that nothing should be done to prejudice the rights and positions of the Arab majority, commenting only that the guarantee of “civil and religious” rights excluded “political” rights and thus did not translate into a promise of “political freedom to the Arab population of Palestine”.
UNSCOP also observed that the use of the term “National Home” instead of “State” “had the advantage of not shocking public opinion outside the Jewish world”, which is precisely why it was chosen.
Furthermore, echoing the McDonald White Paper, it also asserted that the use of this term did not preclude the possibility of establishing a Jewish State; a statement that could only be maintained by prejudicing the position and rights of the Arabs.
UNSCOP also effectively accepted the biblical argument, reiterating that the 1922 White Paper had recognized the “ancient historic connection” of the Jews to Palestine and accepting this as giving Jews from Europe and elsewhere the “right” to colonize the occupied territory. (Compare this with the conclusion of the King-Crane Commission that the claim that Jews “have a ‘right’ to Palestine, based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.”)
It recognized the corollary “that all Jews in the world who wish to go to Palestine would have the right to do so.” But its only reservation about this conclusion was that it “would seem to be unrealistic in the sense that a country as small and poor as Palestine could never accommodate all the Jews in the world.” Again, the rights and position of the Arab majority simply did not factor into the equation.