FROM MANDATE TO INDEPENDENCE
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
*

 FROM MANDATE TO INDEPENDENCE

7/5/1998

 VOLUMES 1-2: 1947-1974
 
I. FROM MANDATE TO INDEPENDENCE

INTRODUCTION


On 2 April 1947, Great Britain, the Mandatory Power for Palestine, asked that the question of Palestine be placed on the agenda of the next regular session of the United Nations General Assembly to consider recommendations concerning the future government of Palestine. The summoning of a special session was sought for the purpose of constituting and instructing a special committee to prepare the recommendations (Document 1).

The request came after a long political crisis over the future of Palestine. In 1937, the British Government declared the Palestine Mandate, construed as facilitating the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, to be unworkable. It pronounced itself first in favour of establishing two independent States, following the recommendations of the Royal Commission headed by Lord Peel, but later shelved that proposal. In its White Paper of May 1939, it declared "unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State", and that its objective was "the establishment within ten years of an independent Palestinian State." Jewish immigration would be limited to 75,000 for the next five years and be permitted afterwards only if the Arabs were prepared to acquiesce in it. The Jews, who under this policy would be doomed to the status of a permanent minority, denounced the White Paper as a betrayal of Britain's obligations under the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Mandate. The majority of members of the League of Nations' Permanent Mandates Commission, in the summer of 1939, declared that the policy of the White Paper was not in conformity with the Mandate. The case did not come before the League's Council because of the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Mandate having been wrecked by the White Paper policy, and far-reaching political changes being anticipated after the War, the Jews found it imperative to define their ultimate aims clearly. Owing to war-time conditions, this was done first at a National Conference of American Zionists in May 1942. The programme adopted there was subsequently accepted by Zionist conferences and by other representative Jewish organisations in various countries and finally promulgated by the first post-war World Zionist Conference, held in London in August 1945. The programme in its original version read:

"The Conference urges that the gates of Palestine be opened.- that the Jewish Agency be vested with control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for upbuilding the country, including the development of its unoccupied and uncultivated lands - and that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world." 1

This programme was brought by the Jewish Agency to the notice of the British Government in two memoranda submitted to Prime Minister Winston Churchill in October 1944 and on 22 May 1945. The newly elected Labour Government rejected it, as well as the demand of the Jewish Agency for the immediate admission to Palestine of 100,000 Jewish refugees and displaced persons, survivors of Hitler's death camps, a demand supported by President Truman, and by the unanimous recommendation of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946. Instead, the British Government put forward several suggestions for solving the Palestine question which all had in common that the Jews should remain a permanent minority. The Jewish Agency, in its turn, rejected that suggestion as utterly unacceptable but, on the other hand, declared, in July 1946, its readiness "to discuss a proposal for the establishment of a viable Jewish State in an adequate area of Palestine"; at the same time it renewed its demand for the immediate grant of 100,000 immigration permits, immediate full autonomy in the area to be designated for a Jewish State, and exercise of the right of control of immigration into it by its Administration. This submission gained the support of President Truman in his statement of 4 October 1946. The Arabs, for their part, opposed further Jewish immigration and demanded immediate termination of the Palestine Mandate and the declaration of Palestine's independence. In this impasse with the Jews and the Arabs alike, and having failed to reach an understanding with the United States on a co-ordinated policy, the British Government decided to put the Palestine question before the United Nations. The step was not meant, at that time, to bring an end to British administration. Its purpose was described by the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Arthur Creech-Jones, in the House of Commons as follows: "We are not going to the UN to surrender the Mandate. We are going to the UN setting out the problems and asking for their advice as to how the Mandate can be administered. If the Mandate cannot be administered in its present form, we are asking how it can be amended."2

The Special Session of the General Assembly, held between 28 April and 15 May 1947, set up a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), vested with the widest powers, to ascertain and record facts, and to investigate all relevant questions and issues. The Committee was required to submit its report not later than I September 1947 (Document 3). In the debate preceding the decision to establish it, many delegates, and especially the Soviet delegate, expressed their sympathies with the Jewish case.

The Committee, under the chairmanship of Justice Emil Sandström of Sweden, proceeded to Palestine to conduct its investigation. After its return to Geneva, where it drafted its report, a sub-committee visited several camps of Jewish displaced persons in Germany and Austria, emphasising thereby how relevant was the Jewish problem to any decision. By the end of August, the Committee presented its report, which contained twelve statements of principle, all but one adopted unanimously (Document 4), the first two being that the Mandate be terminated and the independence of Palestine granted at the earliest possible date. As to the future government of the territory, there was a majority and a minority report, with one member (Australia) abstaining. The majority plan (proposed by the representatives of Sweden, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru and Uruguay) recommended the partition of Palestine into an Arab State, a Jewish State, and an internationalised Jerusalem, the three to be linked in an Economic Union. The Mandate was to come to an end, and, from I September 1947, Britain, alone or with other members of the UN, should administer Palestine for two years under UN auspices to implement the decision. The minority report (proposed by the representatives of India, Iran and Yugoslavia). recommended a federal regime, leaving defence, foreign relations and immigration in the competence of the central government.

The Palestine question was the central issue on the agenda of the second regular General Assembly which convened on 16 September 1947. The representatives of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, who were invited to take part in the deliberations of the Ad Hoc Political Committee, declared that, although the Partition Plan would involve a heavy sacrifice for the Jewish people, they were ready to accept it to achieve a peaceful solution and end Jewish homelessness. The Arabs, including representatives of the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine, as well as the delegations of the Arab States, rejected the proposal outright and demanded an independent, unitary Arab State. During the long deliberations in the Committee, a majority opinion for partition evolved, supported by the United States, the Soviet Union, most British Dominions (but not Britain itself) and the majority of European (both Western and Eastern) and Latin-American States. The Committee recommended partition with economic union to the Assembly on the lines of the UNSCOP majority report, with several alterations. The interim period until the establishment of the two States was to be reduced from two years to eight months (1 August 1948). The implementation was not to be the task of the Mandatory wobe entrusted to a special United Nations Palestine Commission acting under the guidance of the Security Council. A seaport with adequate facilities for a substantial immigration into the Jewish State was to be evacuated by the Mandatory Government not later than I February 1948. The partition map was altered in disfavour of the Jewish State by excluding from its borders the city of Jaffa, to become an Arab enclave within the territory of the Jewish State, and an area in the western part of the Negev. On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted this plan by 33 votes in favour, 13 against, and 10 abstaining (Document 8).

The Resolution was violently rejected by the Arabs (Document 9). On the day after it was passed, attacks by Palestinian Arabs on Jews were launched and soon spread throughout the country, the local Arab forces being augmented by large numbers of armed men from neighbouring countries (see Section II). The British Government announced its decision to terminate the Mandate on 15 May 1948, but refused to co-operate in the implementing of the Resolution. The UN Palestine Commission was not permitted to come to Palestine prior to 1 May, in fact it never set foot in Palestine and an advance party dispatched to prepare the ground for its work could accomplish nothing. In violation of its obligations under the Mandate, the British Administration failed to maintain law and security. It withdrew from several districts, in areas allotted whether to the Arab or the Jewish State, in some cases leaving military camps to the Arab Legion. Britain continued to supply arms to Arab States, and these arms easily found their way to Palestine. By contrast, the British Navy, Army and Police were deployed to intercept arms destined for the Jews. The port area meant to facilitate Jewish immigration was not evacuated by British forces, which continued to deport "illegal" Jewish immigrants to detention camps in Cyprus. Palestine was excluded from the sterling bloc, thus disrupting its economy; rail and postal services were largely discontinued. A state of civil war developed, countenanced and even inflamed by the Mandatory Government in pursuit of a policy which the Jews at that time named "Operation Chaos".

In spite of protracted debates, the Security Council made no effort to enforce the Resolution of the General Assembly. In a situation of mounting violence, the United States, a main supporter of the Partition Plan, reversed its policy, and, on 19 March 1948, suggested that partition be suspended and a temporary trusteeship regime instituted (Document 10). The Jewish Agency expressed instant and unreserved opposition to that proposal (Document 11). The Council on I April decided, at US prompting, to convene the General Assembly in special session, and simultaneously issued a call to Arabs and Jews to cease acts of violence. The special session met on 16 April and discussed the trusteeship idea. The majority of delegations were unwilling to support the suggested change of policy, but neither was there consensus on any action. Secretary of State George Marshall sought to persuade Mr. Sharett, Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, that it would serve the interests of the Jews if they agreed to postpone the proclamation of their State. The Jewish authorities declined to accept his advice. Meanwhile, discussions in the Assembly went on, and, when time was running out, with the Mandate due to end at midnight on 14-15 May, no new Resolution had yet been adopted. The Resolution of 29 November 1947 had not been superseded, but no steps had been taken to carry it out. The only Resolution adopted on 14 May was to appoint a UN Mediator and to relieve the Palestine Commission of its task (Document 12).

On 14 May, the (Jewish) National Council assembled in Tel Aviv to proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State, to be called the State of Israel, as of that midnight. A few minutes after the new State had come into being, the White House announced its de facto recognition by the United States. Eight other States accorded de jure recognition within the next five days (Guatemala, the Soviet Union, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia). On 15 May, the regular armies of five Arab States (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan) and a Saudi Arabian contingent invaded Palestine with the avowed aim of destroying the new-born State. (On the ensuing hostilities, Israel's War of Independence, and their termination, see Sections II and III)

Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, appointed UN Mediator on 20 May, was instrumental in bringing about cease-fire and truce arrangements. He was convinced that a truce could not be maintained indefinitely, and considered himself entitled, or even in duty bound, to seek new political solutions. In his report to the General

Assembly signed on 16 September, one day before his assassination, he suggested far-reaching changes in the Partition Plan, among them the inclusion of the Negev in the Arab State in return for the inclusion of Western Galilee in Israel, incorporation of the whole Arab State in Transjordan (in a former draft he had gone so far as to suggest the inclusion of the whole of Jerusalem in Transjordan), joint use or international control of Haifa harbour and Lod airport, international control of Jewish immigration, etc. Israel left no doubt that it would in no circumstances accept or acquiesce in an arrangement abolishing or curtailing the independence that it had won in a struggle for life or death, or endangering the viability and full sovereignty of the State.

The third regular session of the General Assembly met in Paris in September 1948. The British delegation suggested draft Resolutions aiming at the adoption of the Bernadotte boundary proposals or at least their consideration, along with the original Partition Plan, in setting the definite limits of the Jewish State. There was not enough support for the British drafts to be adopted by the Assembly, which shelved the Bernadotte scheme, but at the same time shrank from admitting Israel to the United Nations. On 29 November 1948, the first anniversary of the Partition Resolution, Israel had applied for membership, but in the Security Council meeting of 14 December could muster only five votes (Argentina, Colombia, the Ukraine, Soviet Union, and the United States); five members abstained (Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and China) and one, Syria, voted against. The Assembly evaded a decision on the substance of the issue of the political future and was content with a Resolution appointing a Conciliation Commission and enunciating several principles on the future of Jerusalem and the refugee question (Document 13).

The situation changed decisively after Israel's success in the final round of fighting on the southern front in the last days of December 1948 and the first days of January 1949. Egypt was now ready to enter into armistice negotiations and this paved the way for subsequent such negotiations with the other Arab States whose forces had invaded Palestine. Israel's military success, and a growing criticism in Britain of the Government's policy on Palestine, led to a shift in the United Kingdom's attitude. It recognised Israel de facto on 29 January 1949, and agreed to release Jewish immigrants still detained on Cyprus.

Israel was by now an established reality. General elections were held on 25 January 1949: the provisional State Council was replaced by an elected Parliament (Knesset) and the Provisional Government by a regular parliamentary Government.

In February 1949, Israel renewed its application for membership in the United Nations. On 4 March 1949, the Security Council recommended to the General Assembly that it be admitted. On May 11, Israel was admitted, to become the 59th member. Between I January 1949 and May 11 1949, Israel had been recognised by 32 States, in addition to the 20 that had accorded it recognition prior to 31 December 1948.


1 From the "Baltimore Programme", May 1942.
2 in the House of Commons, 25 February 1947.


 
 
 
Press for print versionPrint version
  
Send To Friend
  
  
  
  
  
Share