United States Position
on Palestine Question(1)

Statement by Herschel V. Johnson, United States Deputy Representative to the United Nations

(October 11, 1947) (2)


1. The problem of the future government of Palestine confronts the General Assembly of the United Nations with a heavy and complex responsibility. The General Assembly, having assumed responsibility for making recommendations to the United Kingdom on the subject, must do everything within its power to evolve a practical solution consistent with the principles laid down in the United Nations Charter.

2. The United States Delegation feels that the urgency of the problem is so great that the General Assembly must recommend a solution at this session. The degree of urgency has been brought to our attention by continued violence in Palestine, by the context of the Special Committee's report,(3) and by the statement of the delegate from the United Kingdom regarding the recommendations of the Committee and future British responsibilities in Palestine.

3. During the past weeks this Committee has had the benefit of the views of several members of this Committee, and has heard statements by the representatives of the Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency for Palestine on behalf of the peoples primarily concerned. The United States Delegation believes that this discussion has been of material assistance and hopes that it will continue on the broadest basis.

4. It may be recalled that as a result of the First World War, a large area of the Near East, including Palestine, was liberated and a number of states gained their independence. The United States, having contributed its blood and resources to the winning of that war, felt that it could not divest itself of a certain responsibility for the manner in which the freed territories were disposed of, or for the fate of the peoples liberated at that time. It took the position that, these peoples should be prepared for self-government and also that a national home for the Jews should be established in Palestine. The United States Government has subsequently had long and friendly relations with the independent states which were created in the Near East and is happy to note that most of them are members of the United Nations and have representatives present at this meeting.

5. It may be recalled, with regard to Palestine, that in 1917 the Government of the United Kingdom, in the statement known as the Balfour Declaration, announced that it viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and that it would use its best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. In 1923 the objectives stated in this Declaration were embodied in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine which was entrusted to the Government of the United Kingdom as mandatory. As the United States was not a member of the League of Nations, a Convention was concluded between the United States and the United Kingdom in 1924 with regard to American rights in Palestine. The Palestine Mandate is embodied in the Preamble to this Convention. The United States consented to this Mandate. Members of this Committee are aware of the situation which subsequently developed in Palestine and of the many efforts which have been made to achieve a settlement. We now have before us a report of the Special Committee of the United Nations with regard to the Palestine Question.

6. The United States Delegation supports the basic principles of the unanimous recommendations and the majority plan which provides for partition and immigration. It is of the opinion, however, that certain amendments and modifications would have to be made in the majority plan in order more accurately to give effect to the principles on which that plan is based. My delegation believes that certain geographical modifications must be made. For example, Jaffa should be included in the Arab State because it is predominantly an Arab city.

My delegation suggests that the General Assembly may wish to provide that all the inhabitants of Palestine, regardless of citizenship or place of residence, be guaranteed access to ports and to water and power facilities on a non-discriminatory basis; that constitutional guarantees, including guarantees regarding equal economic opportunity, be provided for Arabs and Jews alike, and that the powers of the Joint Economic Board be strengthened. Any solution which this Committee recommends should not only be just, but also workable and of a nature to command the approval of world opinion.

7. The United States Delegation desires to make certain observations on the carrying out of such recommendations as the General Assembly may make regarding the future government of Palestine. The General Assembly did not, by admitting this item to its agenda, undertake to assume responsibility for the administration of Palestine during the process of transition to independence. Responsibility for the government of Palestine now rests with the mandatory power. The General Assembly, however, would not fully discharge its obligation if it did not take carefully into account the problem of implementation.

8. Both the majority report and the statement of the United Kingdom representative in this Committee raise the problem of carrying into effect the recommendations of the General Assembly. We note, for example, that the majority report indicates several points at which the majority thought the United Nations could be of assistance. It was suggested that the General Assembly approve certain steps involved in the transitional period, that the United Nations guarantee certain aspects of the settlement concerning Holy Places and minority rights, that the Economic and Social Council appoint three members of the Joint Economic Board, and that the United Nations accept responsibility as administering authority of the City of Jerusalem under an international trusteeship.

9. The United States is willing to participate in a U. N. program to assist the parties involved in the establishment of a workable political settlement in Palestine. We refer to assistance through the U. N. in meeting economic and financial problems and the problem of internal law and order during the transition period. The latter problem might require the establishment of a special constabulary or police force recruited on a volunteer basis by the U. N. We do not refer to the possibility of violation by any member of its obligations to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force. We assume that there will be Charter observance.

10. In the final analysis the problem of making any solution work rests with the people of Palestine. If new political institutions are to endure, they must provide for early assumption by the people themselves of the responsibility for their own domestic order. Acts of Violence against constituted authority and against rival elements of the local population have appeared in Palestine over a period of many years and have greatly increased the difficulties of finding a workable solution to this complex problem. Certain elements have resorted to force and terror to obtain their own particular aims. Obviously, this violence must cease if independence is to be more than an empty phrase in the Holy Land.

11. Mr. Chairman, we must now consider how this committee is to take the next step in dealing with this question. If the committee favors the principles of the majority plan, we should establish a subcommittee to work out the details of a program which we could recommend to the GA [General Assembly].

12. The recommendations reached by the GA will represent the collective opinion of the world. The problem has thus far defied solution because the parties primarily at interest have been unable to reach a basis of agreement. This is a problem in the solution of which world opinion can be most helpful.

Notes

(1) Department of State Bulletin of October 19, 1947, pp. 761-762. The question of Palestine was brought before the United Nations by the Government of the United Kingdom in a letter to the Secretary- General dated April 2, 1947, which requested the Secretary-General to place the question of Palestine on the agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular session. Back

(2) Statement made at meeting of the ad hoc Committee on Palestine of the General Assembly on October 111 1947, and released to the press by the United States Mission to the United Nations on the same date. Herschel V. Johnson was the United States Deputy Representative to the United Nations. Back

(3) For recommendations of this report (UN Doc. A/364, Sept. 3, 1947), see Department of State Bulletin of September 21, 1947, p. 546. Back


Sources: The Avalon Project.
A Decade of American Foriegn Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-49
Prepared at the request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
By the Staff of the Committe and the Department of State.
Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1950