UNSCOP: The United Nations Special Committee On Palestine

Following the British example, but not learning from it, the Security Council decided to establish the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to be made up of 11 members, none of them permanent members of the Council, and most of them having little knowledge of the Middle East, let alone of Palestine. The Committee members were: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, The Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

The United Nations was born in October 1945 with 51 founding members for the sole purpose, after WW2, of maintaining international peace and preventing wars - something which its predecessor, the League of Nations, failed to do. Ironically, the UN's inaugural meeting took place in London on 6 January 1946, the birthplace of the Balfour Declaration nearly 30 years earlier. At the time of issuing its Resolution 181 calling for the partitioning of Palestine in November 1947, this body was less than 2-years old and its membership no more than 57 (in 2015, the number reached 193). 

Before UNSCOP reached the shores of Palestine on June 18 1947, the British, in a desperate attempt to ease Jewish immigration into Palestine, asked the US government to take up an initiative by Congressman William Stratton in April 1947 to allow a one-off immigration, from Europe to USA, of some 400,000 Jews. This was categorically rejected by the US Administration.

The Jewish Agency, through it Mossad arm, made sure that UNSCOP’s arrival in Palestine coincided with the arrival of the Jewish refugee ship The Exodus 1947 (dubbed 'the ship that launched a nation'). The British decision to capture and return it to Germany reinforced the link, in the minds of UNSCOP Committee members, between the survival of European Jews and their eventual settlement in the land of Palestine. 

UNSCOP visited Palestine from June 18 to July 3, 1947. They embarked, courtesy of the Jewish Agency's hospitality, on a tour of several regions in Palestine. The Agency ensured a welcome reception and arranged, through two of its prominent members David Horowitz and Aybrey Eban, to tour that Jewish settlements where they ensured that members of those settlements visited, spoke the language of the Committee members. The Arabs boycotted UNSCOP because they knew that its aim was eventually to recommend the partitioning of their country. For a detailed reading on the events of this period, please refer to The International Diplomacy of Israel's Founders (2015) by John Quigley.

UNSCOP members were so impressed by the Jewish Agency's arguments, that they invited Horowitz and Eban to join them as they left Palestine heading to Germany, Austria and finally Geneva. During their last stretch of this trip, and under Zionist insistence, UNSCOP visited some of the Nazi concentration camps - a move which no doubt swayed many of UNSCOP members and lead to the conclusion that Palestine can be he only safe haven for Jews. As the Committee retired in Geneva to write its final report, the images of the concentration camps and the Holocaust could not have been far from their mind. That link was key to UNSCOP's proposed recommendation for the partitioning of Palestine. This aspect of UNSCOP's work - the visits to the camps - was not in its terms of reference when they set out on their mission.

It is crucial to note that, as records show, the Jewish Agency, worked feverishly to ensure that Jews from the camps who wanted to immigrate were not accepted by the countries to which they desired to go. The Agency wanted them to head for Palesine.

It took UNSCOP exactly two and a half months to complete its Report. It met in the conference room on the first floor of the Palais des Nations in Geneva where they signed the official Report on the last hour of the last day of August 1947, just minutes before its term of office expired.

Please click on this link for UNSCOP Report in full:


It is in this emotional atmosphere that UNSCOP was discussing the fate of the Palestinians. The Arab Higher Committee was convinced that the independence of Palestine was not UNSCOP’s main priority.  Interestingly, we now know that the Jewish Agency provided UNSCOP, in May 1947, with a map of Palestine which showed a future Jewish state in over 80% of Palestine. This is even less than the total land that today's peace negotiators are willing to offer Israel under a two-state solution.


Jewish Agency Proposal - August 1946 (copyright George Kirk)

UNSCOP's Report included a Majority Proposal for a Plan of Partition with Economic Union and a Minority Proposal for a Plan for a Federal State of Palestine.

The general recommendation of UNSCOP stated: "In the appraisal of the Palestine question, it be accepted as incontrovertible that any solution for Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general."

Before dealing with the Majority Report which was eventually submitted to the General Assembly for a vote, it would be essential to provide a summary of the UNSCOP Committee's Minority Report which, broadly speaking, can be considered today to be the brainchild of the One State solution.

UNSCOP's Sub-Committee 2 which produced the Minority Report was chaired by Sir Mohammed Zafrulla Khan (Pakistan) who also acted as Rapporteur of the Sub-Committee 2. Its aim was to concentrate broadly on 3 main issues:

(1) The legal questions connected with or arising from the Palestine problem

(2) The problem of Jewish refugees and displaced persons and its connection with the Palestinian question

(3) The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and constitutional proposals for the establishment of a unitary and independent state.

An Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question was established by the General Assembly shortly after the issuance of the UNSCOP report. It released the report of its findings on November 11, 1947. It observed that with an end to the Mandate and with British withdrawal, "there is no further obstacle to the conversion of Palestine into an independent state", which was the objective of the Mandate in the first place. It found that "the General Assembly is not competent to recommend, still less to enforce, any solution other than the recognition of the independence of Palestine, and that the settlement of the future government of Palestine is a matter solely for the people of Palestine."

It concluded that "no further discussion of the Palestine problem seems to be necessary or appropriate, and this item should be struck off the agenda of the General Assembly", but that if there was a dispute on that point, "it would be essential to obtain the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on this issue...and that the partition plan was "contrary to the principles of the Charter, and the United Nations have no power to give effect to it."

Consequently, three resolutions were presented by the Sub-Committee to UNSCOP's Ad-Hoc committee which were:

1) A draft resolution referring certain legal questions to the I.C.J. [the International Court of Justice];

2) Draft resolution on Jewish refugees and displaced persons, and

3) Draft resolution on the constitution and future government of the State of Palestine.

Through heated debates and numerous voting sessions, these recommendations were rejected by the Ad-Hoc Committee who voted 25 to 13 with 17 abstensions, to recommend partition. Four days later, the General Assembly approved a final resolution infamously known as GA Res 181 by a vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions [1 member state was absent from the proceedings].

Thanks to UNSCOP, more committees and more sub-committees, the fate of Palestine was formally sealed. The tragic consequences are felt to this day.

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