Sixty-four years ago, when the United Nations was debating the future of Palestine, one country stood up in the General Assembly and condemned the determination of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to force the partition of Palestine despite the overwhelming opposition of its inhabitants and the lukewarm support of the members of the U.N.G.A. And that country was Colombia.
Even more than the denial of Palestinian self-determination, Colombia was concerned by the lack of consensus for a proposal as controversial as partition. Your representative pointed out that the only reason the proposal had reached the General Assembly in the first place was that it had two powerful backers, who could impose their will on other member states. He reminded the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that forcing a vote for partition through the U.N.G.A. wasn't the same as creating a consensus in favour of it in the world community.
Today, there is a remarkable degree of consensus on Palestine in the U.N.G.A. Today, probably 140 members of the Assembly are united in supporting recognition of an independent Palestine, alongside Israel, on the borders of 4 June 1967. Today, that consensus that Colombia was crying out for is here, but Colombia isn't on board. Because some things remain after 64 years, like the determination of the U.S. to impose on the world community its minority views on Palestine; while other things, like Colombia's ability to follow its own independent foreign policy, don't.
Address by Dr. Alfonso Lopez, representative of Colombia, to the 127th plenary meeting of the U.N.G.A; NYC, 28 November 1947. (emphasis mine)
The delegation of Colombia abstained in the Ad Hoc Committee from supporting either the constitution of a federal State in Palestine or the plan of partition with economic union which the General Assembly now has under consideration. However, we should like to explain that ours is not simply a negative position. Nor are we shirking responsibility in this most grave and difficult of all the problems that have put to a test the usefulness of our Organization. Far from it, we are very willing to do our full share in helping to relieve the present plight of the Jewish people.
We are deeply convinced that it is the common duty of all nations to cooperate hi (sic, "in") finding a prompt and adequate remedy to a situation which everybody admits is disgraceful to the civilized world and contrary to the fundamental principles and purposes of the United Nations. But we have not seen our way clear to adopt the conclusions of either the majority or the minority report of the Special Committee on Palestine, although we have wholeheartedly concurred in its twelve unanimous recommendations. Much against our wishes, we have not been able to accept the implementation finally proposed by one or the other of the two Sub-Committees of the Ad Hoc Committee which have been at work on this question since September last.
The Colombian delegation has not been voicing a dissenting opinion. It is not alone in its attitude. On the contrary, ours is only one of the many delegations which will welcome the opportunity to take positive action in this matter, but which has not found that any of the plans developed so far meets the needs of the situation or commands general approval.
This, in our view, is the obvious and inescapable interpretation of the record of the votes given for and against the various proposals and amendments submitted to the Ad Hoc Committee. We think that the General Assembly has in that record an unmistakable indication that those proposals should be carried a stage further, allowing the Committee the necessary time to work out a better arrangement—preferably a compromise arrangement which would provide a more solid basis for the economic union of Palestine and would lead much sooner, to a better political understanding between Arabs and Jews. We feel that we should invite each and every one of our fellow representatives to ponder for a moment on the conclusions to be drawn from that record.
The plan of partition was adopted by the Ad Hoc Committee by twenty-five votes to thirteen with seventeen abstentions. We hear and we read that the same vote in the General Assembly would be one short of the two-thirds majority required by our rules. However, in our view, there is no mistaking the fact that, the plan has failed to find the support of thirty-two delegations. In other words, as it stands, it is really a minority proposal. It will remain a minority proposal in our minds. It will not lose that character even if it succeeds in securing the votes of three or four more delegations; and the scanty strength of the proposal becomes all the more evident if we consider the great international importance of the problem and the distinction that this solution enjoys of having the joint backing of the United States and the USSR. It would seem to all unprejudiced observers that, but for that, all-powerful backing, the proposal would never have made its way to the General Assembly. Here it may eventually be adopted, but we submit that reluctant votes, recruited with irrelevant eleventh-hour appeals, will not improve its position in the opinion of the outside world.
From another angle, we cannot overlook or underestimate the fact that among the thirteen votes counted against the partition of Palestine, every one of the Moslem countries is included. If the Jewish problem is both religious and racial, we find that it does not forebode well for the execution of the plan that it should have been unanimously rejected by the whole Moslem world; not quietly rejected, but under strong protests; not by a small portion of mankind, but by the representatives of four hundred million people of one religious creed. No wonder that the plan has had to come across the Atlantic in search of the supporters that it has failed to find in the countries adjoining Palestine, in the eastern Mediterranean, in western Europe, or in the distant Asiatic mainland.
Politically, it appears to us equally significant that neither China nor France nor the United Kingdom should have seen eye to eye with the United States and the USSR in this case. We have never held, as some of our colleagues have done, that the veto, more than a right or a privilege of the great Powers, should be considered by them also as an undertaking to seek agreement on all questions of such worldwide import as the Palestine problem. The rule of unanimity applies to decisions of the Security Council, not to recommendations of the General Assembly. States Members of our Organization are free to accept or not to comply with the latter. The resolution of 8 December 1946 regarding the treatment of Indians in South Africa was not acted upon by the Union of South Africa. The resolution of 12 December 1946 on Spain was not accepted by the Argentine Republic. Nobody claims that, in- so doing, the Argentine Republic or the Union of South Africa ignored any provision of the Charter. Likewise, the USSR and the Slav countries have already announced that they will not cooperate in carrying out the resolutions of the General Assembly on Korea, the Greek question and the Interim Committee.
Yet, we do find it difficult to understand why, in the present instance, no determined effort has been made to bring the permanent members of the Security Council to act together, or at least to avoid giving the impression that they do not take so zealously as the small nations would like them to do,'their special responsibilities in all the world's most entangled affairs. This is the more striking when we recall that, according to the preamble of the resolution that we are now discussing and which is contained in document A/516, the General Assembly would declare that it "considers that the present situation in Palestine is one which is likely to impair the general welfare and friendly relations among nations."
The question of Palestine is as highly controversial as any other that has come before the General Assembly, and perhaps more so. The division of opinion in the Ad Hoc Committee and its Sub-Committees has been as evident among the permanent members of the Security Council as among the other States Members of the United Nations. The vote in the Ad Hoc Committee on the constitution of a federal State was twelve in favour, twenty-nine against and fourteen abstentions; on the plan of partition, twenty-five in favour, thirteen against and seven-teen abstentions. It can thus be seen that the latter plan was not accepted by thirty Member States, and the former was not accepted by forty-three. It can therefore be safely said that the collective judgment of the Organization is waiting for a more satisfactory expression of its purposes and wishes in respect of this settlement.
A similar divergence of views has made itself manifest hi (sic, "in") the voting on all other proposals connected with the various aspects of this case. Those referring to Jewish refugees and displaced persons were approved by very narrow margins with a large number of abstentions. The request to the International Court of Justice for an opinion as to whether the United Nations, or any of its Members, is competent to enforce or recommend enforcement of any proposal concerning the constitution and future government of Palestine, and in particular, any plan of partition which is contrary to the wishes or is adopted without the consent of the inhabitants of Palestine, was rejected by twenty-one votes to twenty, with thirteen abstentions. The Colombian delegation voted on these proposals affirmatively.
The legal competence of the General Assembly to set up two independent States hi (sic, "in") Palestine, without regard to the principle of self-determination, has not been established to our satisfaction. Furthermore, from the beginning of our deliberations, we have consistently adhered to the view that the countries of origin should be requested to take back the Jewish refugees and displaced persons belonging to them. We feel strongly that Jewish refugees and displaced persons who cannot be repatriated should be allowed to settle not only in Palestine but in the territories of Member States of the United Nations, according to a carefully prepared plan of quotas.
Reverting to the main point of our argument, there is hardly any room for equivocation as to the general trend of thinking and feeling among the members of the General Assembly. We should venture to say that it can be roughly summarized as follows. The plans for both the federal State and partition, as they have been drafted, have a very limited group of sponsors. One has a few more ardent and sincere supporters than the other. Member States which have not yet seen fit to accept either plan according to their own ideas are a more numerous group.
Under the circumstances, we suggest that the General Assembly would be well advised in postponing a decision and making an attempt, at whatever cost it may entail to the Organization or whatever the additional burden it may impose on its staff, to find a solution which may be more apt to command the acceptance of Jews and Arabs alike and invite the enthusiastic support and cooperation of the Christian world. We respectfully submit that it is not too late to make that attempt.
The General Assembly can refer the matter back to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question, with a special recommendation to the Committee to try to develop the work that has already been done in order to define and clarify the conflicting positions of Arabs and Jews, and to take advantage of the situation that we are confronting to bring about an understanding between them which may give the General Assembly a more promising assurance of success.
The proposal for the constitution of a federal State in Palestine has been defeated. The plan of partition appears to be short of the necessary votes for its final adoption. But the question of Palestine cannot be left unsolved. We must reach a decision without any undue delay. Arabs and Jews have the opportunity now to join us in trying to evolve a better and more workable plan. The United Nations should take this opportunity to discharge one of its essential duties as a peace-keeping Organization by helping them to approach this problem in a cooperative spirit.
A good solution, not a hasty solution, is needed and expected from us. We have limited but ample time to carry out this great under-taking. The mandatory Power will not complete the evacuation of Palestine until 1 August 1948. The Ad Hoc Committee can be given the character of an interim subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and specifically entrusted with the task of formulating more seasoned recommendations for the future government of Palestine. Should any juridical questions arise, the Committee may be empowered to request the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. It should also be instructed to submit concrete proposals as to the manner in which the Member States should give effect to the unanimous recommendations VI and XII of the Special Committee on Palestine.1 The report of the Ad Hoc Committee could be available for distribution, through the Secretary-General, on or before the end of February 1948. A special session of the General Assembly could be convened to consider the report early next spring.
The decision of the General Assembly would then represent the mature and responsible commitment, not of a minority but of a substantial majority of the Members of the United Nations as to how Member States should fulfill their obligations to provide a national home for the Jewish people and give them security and peace in other lands.
With the permission of the President, I therefore move the following resolution (document A/518):
"The General Assembly resolves
"1. To give the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine the character of an interim subsidiary organ of the General Assembly in order to carry on the discussion of the Palestinian question with a view to finding a satisfactory solution of the problem;
"2. The Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine is hereby specifically authorized:
"(a) To take all the steps necessary to try to bring about an agreement between the representatives of the Arab and the Jewish populations of Palestine as to the future government and political constitution of that country;
"(b) To request, if it deems it necessary, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the juridical questions that may arise hi connexion with the settlement of this case;
"(c) To study and formulate concrete recommendations as to the manner in which the Members of the United Nations may give effect to unanimous recommendations VI and XII of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine;
"3. The Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine shall report on its work to the Secretary-General not later than 29 February 1948. The Secretary-General shall immediately forward the report to the Member States, which shall advise him, not later than 15 April 1948, whether they wish to consider the matter in a special- session of the General Assembly to be convened at the earliest practicable date thereafter."
1 See Official Records of the second session of the General Assembly, Supplement No. 11, volume I, pages 44, 45 and 46.