When the UN Dropped the Palestinian Question
United Nations

The placing of the Palestine Question on the Agenda of the United Nations General Assembly was recently the cause of considerable publicity throughout the world. It is, however, important to note that what occurred was the reinsertion of the Palestine Question upon an Agenda on which it once existed as a fully recognized item. This was the case in the United Nations General Assembly until 1952 and the Security Council until 1967. The purpose of this article will be to examine the very questionable process by which the item was eliminated in each case from the attention of the United Nations until recent events forced it once again to the forefront.

George J. Tomeh was Syrian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1965-72, and is presently General Consultant to the Institute for Palestine Studies. The issue discussed was raised by the author in a series of articles in al-Nahar (Beirut) in June 1974.

Full text: 


The placing of the Palestine Question on the Agenda of the United Nations General Assembly was recently the cause of considerable publicity throughout the world. It is, however, important to note that what occurred was the reinsertion of the Palestine Question upon an Agenda on which it once existed as a fully recognized item. This was the case in the United Nations General Assembly until 1952 and the Security Council until 1967. The purpose of this article will be to examine the very questionable process by which the item was eliminated in each case from the attention of the United Nations until recent events forced it once again to the forefront.




There existed until recently great confusion in much world and Arab public opinion about the "Palestine Question" in the United Nations context. It was commonly believed that, whenever discussions took place and resolutions were adopted by the UN on the derivative issues of this problem, it was the basic "Palestine Question" that was discussed and concerning which solutions were recommended. This confusion was not confined to the general public, but applied to specialists as well. For instance, one reads in the "Palestine Year- book"  a chapter, "The Palestine Question at the UN," or sees an article in a journal on: "Palestine and the Middle East in the Last Session of the General Assembly at the United Nations."  In the introduction of a book about the Gulf of Aqaba, the author says:


The United Nations is still keeping the Palestine Question on its Agenda and whenever any side issue is discussed by the General Assembly or the Security Council, it is always inscribed under the "Palestine Question."

Such, however, was not the case. For a review of the Agenda of the last, Twenty-eighth Session of the General Assembly shows that only the following items relating to the issue were inscribed:


1. "The Situation in the Middle East" (item 22).


2. "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East: "


(a) Report of the Commissioner-General... "


(b) Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East... "


(c) Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine... "


(d) Reports of the Secretary-General..." (item 43).


3. "Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories" (item 45).


4. "Measures to prevent international terrorism which endangers or takes innocent human lives or jeopardizes fundamental freedoms, and study of the underlying causes of those forms of terrorism and acts of violence which lie in misery, frustration, grievance and despair and which cause some people to sacrifice human lives, including their own, in an attempt to effect radical changes" (item 94).


All these items should have been inscribed under the "Palestine Question" of which they are derivative issues, but this Question did not even appear as an item.


It may be asked at this stage, What is the importance of having a separate item on Palestine on the Agenda? What is its relation to the substance of the question since, at any rate, various aspects of the basic problem, such as indicated by the items listed above, are raised and discussed, which necessarily entails a discussion of the Palestine Question?


To these and similar questions, there are the following answers:


1. There is a basic difference between discussing the question as a separate, distinct, basic item requiring specific solutions which pertain to it per se and discussing it on the margin of any of the four items mentioned above.


2. The formulation and wording of an item as inscribed on the Agenda is equivalent to a definition of the question to be discussed and the terms of reference for any resolution to be formulated. Logically, a definition should be inclusive of all the factors that pertain to a specific question and exclusive of extraneous factors which might lead to confusion, overlapping, ambiguity and equivocation. For instance, the complaint of OAU to the International Court of Justice on the non-application by South Africa of the UN Resolution concerning South-West Africa (Namibia) is not the same as the question of liquidation of colonialism or racial discrimination or apartheid.


3. Most important is the fact that the people directly concerned, namely the Arab people of Palestine, have been absent from the process of decision- making in the UN. The role of making decisions concerning them has been delegated to others speaking and deciding on their behalf, while their real interests have been at best derived from and contingent upon the interests of other parties., Hence the relevance clearly emerges of the question of Palestinian presence and participation in international conferences and decision- making. Can any purpose be served by continuing to ignore the existence of the very problem of the people of Palestine and their rights ?


Any preliminary investigation of the rights of Palestinians as seen by the United Nations today must, however, include an analysis of the questionable ways and means by which the "Palestine Question" was suppressed from the Agenda of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1952.


On April 2, 1947, the United Kingdom Representative to the UN addressed a letter to the then Acting Secretary-General, requesting him


to place the Question of Palestine on the Agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular annual session... to summon, as soon as possible, a special session of the General Assembly for the purpose of constituting and instructing a special committee to prepare for the consideration, at the regular session of the Assembly, of the question referred to in the preceding paragraph.

In fact, the first special session of the General Assembly was held during April-May, 1947. The item inscribed on its Agenda was " The Palestine Question." A review of its inscription on the successive Agendas of the UN from the Second Regular Session up to and including the Sixth Session of 1951-52 shows the following:


Second Session:


1. Question of Palestine.


2. Report of the Special Committee on Palestine (resolution 106 (S-I) of 15 May 1947).


3. Termination of the mandate over Palestine and the recognition of its independence as a state.


Third Session:


Palestine, Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine: item proposed by the Secretary-General.


Fourth Session:


Palestine (item 18)


(a) Proposals for a permanent international regime for the Jerusalem area: report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.


(b) Protection of the Holy Places: report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.


(c) Assistance to Palestine refugees: report of the Secretary-General.


Fifth Session:


Palestine (item 20):


(a) Question of an international regime for the Jerusalem area and protection of the Holy Places: special report of the Trusteeship Council.


(b) Assistance to Palestine refugees: report of the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.


(c) Repatriation of Palestine refugees and payment of compensation due to them: implementation of General Assembly resolutions regarding this question.


(d) Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.


Sixth Session:


Palestine (item 24)


(a) Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine.


(b) Assistance to Palestine refugees: reports of the Director and of the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.


Thus, from 1947 to 1951, all questions such as the report of UNSCOP, the termination of the mandate, the report of the mediator, the assistance to the refugees, the internationalization of Jerusalem and the reports of the Palestine Conciliation Commission, were inscribed under the "Palestine Question" item.


The Seventh Session of the General Assembly (October 14 to December 21, 1952) marked a departure from the established tradition in the treatment of the Palestine Question which led ultimately to its removal from the Agenda. Rule 12 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly stipulates that the Agenda shall be drawn up by the Secretary-General and communicated to member states. His initiative in the formulation and presentation of the Agenda items, and his reports that direct the deliberations of the delegations, cannot be over-estimated in importance.


Secretary General Trygvie Lie, who held office from February 1, 1946, to April 10, 1953, symbolized the forces that were aligned against the Arabs inside the UN and outside it. He was well-known for his pro-Israeli and pro- Zionist stand,which he explained at length in his autobiography.In it he speaks of his untiring efforts inside and outside the UN for the establishment and consolidation of Israel and the furtherance of Zionist aims. When in 1948 the US government shifted its support briefly from partition of Palestine to Trusteeship over it by the UN, Trygvie Lie tells us that he threatened to resign because of his "direct and deep commitment."  In his introduction to the Fourth Annual Report to the General Assembly he wrote: "The establishment of the state of Israel was one of the epic events of history, coming at the end not merely of thirty years, but of two thousand years of accumulated sorrows, bitterness and conflict," and symbolized "historical forces besides which the present ideological conflict appears to be a transitory phenomenon." And so the Agenda which he presented to the Seventh Session included only the following item relating to Palestine


Report of the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (item 20)

deleting completely from the Agenda the "Palestine Question" under which this item should have been inscribed. The Arab delegations of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen seized the point and in a letter dated September 12, 1952 (A/2184), requested and succeeded in including an additional item on the Agenda relating to the very essence of the Palestine Question:


The Conciliation Commission for Palestine and its work in the light of the resolutions of the United Nations (item 67).

In the explanatory memorandum accompanying the request, the Arab delegations argued that


the United Nations had not fulfilled the responsibility for the Palestine Question which it had assumed in 1947 since none of its relevant resolutions had as yet been implemented. It suggested that the objective in considering the item should be to obtain a broad view of the activity of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine in the light of those resolutions and the appropriate measures and machinery for giving effect to them.

By inscribing this item, the Arab delegations aimed at a consideration of the Palestine Question as a whole; its roots, its origin, and the principal and derivative questions that arose from it; all this to be done in accordance with previous UN resolutions which Israel disregarded.


Immediately after that the Israeli delegation, in a letter dated September 14, 1952 (A/2185), requested the inscription of a third item:


Complaint of violation by Arab States of their obligations under the Charter, United Nations resolutions and specific provisions of the General Armistice Agreements concluded with Israel, requiring them to desist from policies and practices of hostility and to seek agreement by negotiation for the establishment of peaceful relations with Israel (item 68).

The explanatory memorandum does not add much to the rather lengthy wording of this item except to emphasize the importance of direct negotiations between the Arabs and Israel.


The General Assembly decided to refer the three items, 20, 67 and 68 to the Ad Hoc Political Committee. The Arab delegations were thus confronted by a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the "Palestine Question" was disappearing from the agenda. On the other, there was a demand for direct negotiations with Israel to which Israel's supporters were mobilized with all the forces they could muster.


The year 1952 might seem a faraway one. But it was a crucial year. The Ad Hoc Political Committee discussed the Arab item from November 25 to December 11, 1952. But no sooner did the Committee begin its debates than Israel and its supporters took the initiative from the Arab delegations, leaving them on the defensive. Eight member delegations, all Western and Latin Amer can (Canada, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Equador, Uruguay, Cuba and Panama), submitted a draft resolution in which it was emphasized that the primary duty of member states is to solve their problems in accordance with the Charter. The standing problems between the Arab states and Israel, it was stated, were their primary responsibility, and they were consequently asked to enter into direct negotiations to seek solutions for them. Previous UN resolutions, it was argued, could not be taken as a basis for such negotiations lest they would hamper them and create a obstacle to peace.


As the discussions proceeded, it became clear that the co-sponsors of the eight-power draft resolution completely supported the Israeli demands. The Arab delegations in turn based their defense on the previous UN resolutions and the obligation of Israel under the Charter to implement them. They recalled in particular that under the auspices of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine, a protocol was signed in Lausanne on May 12, 1949 by the Arab states and Israel, in accordance with which the 1947 partition resolution was accepted by all parties concerned as a basis for settlement for the three outstanding problems: the territorial adjustment, the refugees and Jerusalem. But Israel renounced it two days later arguing that "it could not accept a certain proportionate distribution of territory agreed upon in 1947 as a criterion for a territorial settlement in present circumstances."


Since the conclusion of the Armistice Agreements between Israel and the Arab states, the Arab delegations argued, Israel had been occupying 1400 sq. miles in violation of the territorial limits proposed by the UN partition re- solution, thus gaining control over 79 per cent of the total area of the country. Israel must, therefore, as the Arab delegations argued, permit Arab refugees, in this instance half a million of them, to return to this Arab area.


To these three basic issues - repatriation, territorial adjustment and inter- nationalization of Jerusalem - Israel said, "No". The world for over two decades paid very little attention to these three Israeli "No's" and watched passively as Israel undermined all attempts at peace on the basis of the UN resolutions concerning these problems, which are still standing to this day, but have acquired bigger and larger dimensions with the passage of years.


The attempt by Israel to secure international support for direct negotiations with the Arab states, while Israel was unilaterally rejecting and attempting to suppress the United Nations resolutions that were meant to govern any moves for peace in the Middle East, formed part of a consistent Israeli attempt to bury the problem of the Palestinians.


Typical of this stand is the statement by Mrs. Meir to the Sunday Times of London of June 15, 1969. Asked if Israel admits "a measure of responsibility" for "the Palestinians," she said categorically: "No, no responsibility whatsoever... I do not know why the Arab refugees are a particular problem in the world." (Memories arise of the 1940's when the Zionists, including ex-Prime Minister Mrs. Meir, insisted not only that the abominable treatment of Europe's Jews by Hitler made them a special problem, but - with a logic never yet explained - insisted also that it was the particular responsibility of the Arabs of Palestine to provide them and all "the Jewish people" with a state in violation of rights which these Palestinians already possessed. Small wonder that - from a position of conquest and power - the once entreating Zionist, later a Prime Minister, said in effect "who are the Palestinians and what are their rights to me?")


Israel's insistence on direct negotiations with the Arab states has often obscured its determination not to enter any negotiations that would culminate in the implementation of UN resolutions on the problem. Israel's record at the United Nations shows that it jeopardized as early as 1951 all UN machinery, such as the UN Mixed Armistice Commissions, which offered a means of negotiations with the Arabs. On Nov. 1, 1966, Secretary-General Thant reported to the Security Council that "since 1951, Israel has taken the position that the Mixed Armistice Commission is not competent to deal with issues pertaining to the demilitarized zone." He went on to say, "the last regular meeting of the Mixed Armistice Commission was held in 1951.” Furthermore, Art. 33 of the Charter lists eight recognized and accepted methods of seeking solutions to international problems. They are: "negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of [the parties'] choice." The authors of the Charter must certainly have had reasons for adding the other seven to "negotiation." Certainly, they were aware that they were not putting down a list of synonyms. Throughout the long years, the Arab position has always been within the letter of the Charter. Form must not be confused for substance; and rigidity about form should be examined carefully to be sure it is not a pretext for fait accompli diplomacy. In this context, one should ask what happened to Ambassador Jarring, the Palestine Conciliation Commission, the Mixed Armistice Commissions, to Count Folke Bernadotte, to mention only a few attempts at settlement of the conflict which foundered on Israel's refusal to implement UN resolutions.


At the close of the Seventh Session, two draft resolutions on the problem were submitted to the Ad Hoc Political Committee - an Asian one and a Syrian one - to create more balance with the Western draft resolution. When the vote came, the Asian and Syrian one failed and the Western one was passed by a simple majority. But when the vote came to the General Assembly, it too failed to get the two-thirds majority required for it, as the President of the Assembly ruled that it was an "important question" which needed a two-thirds majority in accordance with Article 18 of the Charter. Thus, of the three resolutions - Western, Syrian and Asian - submitted to the Ad Hoc Committee under the heading of the Arab - sponsored item 67 of the Agenda, not one ultimately obtained a successful passage at the General Assembly.


With regard to the Israel item, No. 68, it is stated:


The General Assembly


Takes note of the communication of 19 December 1952 from the representative of Israel to the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Political Committee, stating that the debate in that Committee on item 67 of the Agenda of the General Assembly had dealt fully with most aspects of item 68 and that the Israel delegation did not insist on the consideration of the latter item.

The only relevant resolution voted during that session was Resolution 614 (VII) of Nov. 6, 1952 under item 20 of the Agenda (Report of the UNRWA, approving its budget). The net result of the 1952 maneuvers of Trygvie Lie, Israel and her supporters, was thus the suppression of the item "The Palestine Question" from the Agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, the only related item remaining being the "Annual Report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA." The resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in connection with this item dealt with the problem of the Palestinian refugees - to which the "Palestine Question" was now reduced. After the formation of UNEF in 1956, there subsequently appeared the item, "The Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on UNEF." From June 17 to September 18, 1967, and at the request of the USSR, the Fifth Emergency Special Session dealt with a new item, "The Situation in the Middle East," which has appeared since then. None of these, however, reached the heart of the problem.


When a comparison is made with other items on the Agenda inscribed since 1947 or 1950, such as the Korean Question, or South Africa/Apartheid, all were kept on as originally inscribed. Only the "Palestine Question" was removed.


This initiative against the Palestinians in the United Nations was paralleled in the fifties by the efforts of outside powers with vested interests in the Arab countries to bury the question as well. Israel and certain Western states, contributors to the budget of UNRWA, were persistently maintaining before the refugees and the Arab governments the idea that the solution to their problem would not be achieved by repatriation to their homes or compensation (as Para. II of Resolution 194 (III) stipulated), but that it should instead be sought in the settlement and rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees in the neighbouring Arab states. The Arab countries during this period saw economic missions, such as the Clapp Mission, sent to survey the area. Simultaneously, the then Director of UNRWA7A, Mr. Blandford, was touring the Arab capitals and trying to convince the Arab governments to accept rehabilitation and resettlement of the refugees, together with economic development projects and financial aid.




In the Security Council, the item "The Palestine Question" fared better than in the General Assembly. From 1947 until 1967 all complaints and problems discussed and decided upon were under that item. These were: Israeli violations of the Armistice Agreements; complaints by Egypt, Jordan and Syria of attacks by the regular Israeli army on their borders; the complaint by Syria concerning work on the West Bank of the River Jordan; navigation through territorial waters; the complaint by Egypt against France and the United Kingdom; the complaint by France and the United Kingdom against Egypt. All in all, the Security Council adopted in the twenty years forty-two resolutions under the "Palestine Question." The departure came in May 1967. As the crisis developed and gained momentum, the Security Council convened on May 24 at the request of two member states, Canada and Denmark, with one item on the Agenda:


Letter dated 23 May 1967 from the Permanent Representatives of Canada and Denmark addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/7900)…

On May 29th, there were two additional items:


Complaint of the Representative of the United Arab Republic in a letter to the President of the Security Council dated 27 May 1967 entitled: "Israel's aggressive policy, its repeated aggression threatening peace and security in the Middle East and endangering international peace and security..." (S/7907)


Letter dated 29 May 1967 from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/7910).

There was no mention of the "Palestine Question." This was in utter dis- regard of the tradition of the Council that had been followed since 1947. Thus, the stage was set in the Council for Israel, world Zionism and their supporters to inflict the coup de grace on the Palestine Question culminating in the Six Day War. In spite of the very tense atmosphere under which deliberations in the Council were held, and the crisis that was gradually engulfing the Arab world, the deletion of the "Palestine Question" from the Agenda of the Council did not go unnoticed. Ambassador Muhammad al-Farra of Jordan, during the meeting of May 31, 1967 said the following:


I must express at this stage my astonishment at finding that, for the first time in the history of the question of Palestine, the right title was not incorporated in the Agenda of the Security Council... not only have some members deliberately refused to acknowledge the presence of a problem called "The Palestine Question," but the correct title has not been placed on the Agenda. The title "The Palestine Question" was used in every single Agenda in the past: the last one involved As Samu; the one before that was the Syrian complaint; the one before that was the Israeli complaint against Syria. I have them here, and in every single one the correct title was used.

Both Ambassador Federenko of the USSR and Ambassador Tarabanov of Bulgaria upheld the criticisms of Ambassador al-Farra. But as Israel waged its war against the Arabs on the morning of June 5, 1967 and with the tragic events that followed and engulfed the Arab Middle East, the question of the Agenda became a secondary one. Then on June 17 the Fifth Special Emergency Session of the General Assembly was held, as has already been mentioned, with the item "The Middle East Situation" on its Agenda. When the Council reconvened on October 24/25, 1967 (1369th Meeting), its Agenda carried the same General Assembly item. Thereafter, and up till the present time, all complaints and problems relating to or derived from the "Palestine Question" were also discussed in the Security Council under the same title, "The Middle East Situation." Thus, in the Security Council, the 1967 war gave a sad ending to the "Palestine Question." In "form," the Agenda dealt it a final blow. In "substance" Resolution 242 (1967) reduced the Palestine question to merely achieving "a just settlement of the refugee problem."




In spite of all the intrigues which have surrounded the "Palestine Qulestion" at the UN and reduced it to a refugee problem, yet Palestine has clung to life. Its survival and rebirth, notwithstanding all that preceded, is no less than a miracle, especially for those of us who year in and year out, had to witness not only what went on at the scene, but also behind it. Speaking always in the context of the UN, let me point to some anomalies:


-The UN Yearbooks, which are official publications of the United Nations, from 1953 to 1955 continued to have a chapter headed "The Palestine Question," as they did from 1947 to 1952, although the item disappeared in 1952. In 1956, the chapter had a different title: "Questions Concerning the Middle East," but still the sub-title to this chapter was "The Palestine Question." Again, the 1957 Yearbook had a chapter, "The Palestine Question." Then from 1958 to 1966, the title was again "Questions Concerning the Middle East," with the first subtitle, "The Palestine Question." From 1967 to 1969, a new title was given, "Situation in the Middle East," the same as appeared on the Agenda of the General Assembly and the Security Council.


- Article 1 of the four Armistice Agreements concluded between Israel and the Arab states in 1949, which are still valid from the point of view of the UN and international law, speaks of "promoting the return of permanent peace in Palestine." All of them contained stipulations to the effect that "it is also recognized that no provision of these agreements should in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of any party in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine Question. "Thus the settlement of the Palestine Question remains the ultimate objective of the United Nations.


- The Conciliation Commission for Palestine established under Resolution 194(111) of Dec. 1 1, 1948 with the function of helping to find a solution in Palestine, is still an existing body. Resolutions adopted from 1949 through 1973, including the last session of the General Assembly (3089B [XXVIII] of Dec. 7, 1973), request "the Commission to exert continued efforts towards the implementation of its function and to report to the General Assembly not later than October 1974."


From the point of view of the substance of the question, a great leap forward came during the Twenty-fourth Session of the General Assembly(1969) which broke the routine manner of dealing with the refugee problem as a substitute for the Palestine Question. It was a development which reflected inside the UN a parallel, radical change which took place outside and showed the action of forces that change history. Following the 1967 war, the Palestinian question became one of resistance, of a people struggling to regain its just rights. The image of the Palestinian changed from that of a refugee living on charity to a fighter ready to sacrifice his life for his cause. Thus on Dec. 10, 1969, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 2535B (XXIV) on the item "Annual Report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA." In this resolution the General Assembly,


Recognizing that the problem of the Palestine Arab refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...

1. Reaffirms the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine.

This is undoubtedly a resolution which reaches the essence of the question and has great political and legal implications. Still, it was not adopted under the correct item which should be "The Palestine Question."


The Arab delegations to the UN, having realized the progress achieved following the adoption of this resolution, held several meetings in June and July of 1970, in which they discussed the inscription of the item, the "Palestine Question," on the Agenda. A committee was formed of which I was a member and I was asked to submit a working paper, which I did. Without going into more details, preparations were made and steps were almost taken to request the inscription of this item on the Agenda. However, before the opening of the Assembly in September 1970 and after it, there occurred the bloody and tragic events of that month. Again, as in June, 1967, the question of the Agenda item was submerged by the sweeping power of greater events which almost led to a war in the area.


Nevertheless, the trend which the 1969 resolution started continued and developed. Between 1970 and 1973, the General Assembly adopted a number of resolutions in which Arab rights in the context of the Charter were given in detail. In fact, it can be ascertained that the sequence of the UN resolutions constitutes the nearest to a bill of Arab rights. They could be summed up as follows:


1. The Palestinian Arab refugees constitute a people who have inalienable rights under the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.


2. The people of Palestine are entitled to self-determination and equal rights.


3. The right to struggle and fight against racial settler colonialism to regain these rights.


 4. The right of the newly displaced persons after 1967 to return immediately to their homes.


5. The right of the refugees to repatriation or compensation.


6. The full respect of these rights and their realization is a condition for the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.


The factors that led to the acknowledgement of these rights by the international community, as represented in the United Nations, include the following reasons:


1. I have already referred to the most important among them, namely, the rise of the Palestinian resistance and the thousands of Palestinian young men and women who died to secure these rights.


2. The Arab countries fought four wars defending Arab rights. This vehement stand on principle, reflected throughout a quarter of a century, was faithfully interpreted at the United Nations by the Arab delegations who, year after year, presented the case of the Palestinians as that of a people subjected to a settler colonial conquest.


3. The fact that the United Nations was reminded time and again that the problem of the Arab refugees is the problem of a people dispossessed of their homeland. As an example, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. L. Michelmore, in his "Annual Report to the General Assembly" of June 30, 1965, stated:


The attitudes and feelings of the refugees, which have been described in previous reports, continue unchanged. From their standpoint, a nation has been obliterated and a population arbitrarily deprived of its birth-right.

The Secretary-General, in the Introduction to his Annual Report, submitted to the General Assembly in 1967, stated: "People everywhere, and this certainly applies to the Palestinian refugees, have a natural right to be in their homeland and to have a future."


This testimony is all the more important as it came in the aftermath of the June 1967 War. It is an affirmation of the natural rights of all peoples of the world, including the Arab people of Palestine, to their legitimate sovereignty in their homeland.


4. The expression "inalienable rights" first appeared in Resolution 237 of June 14, 1967, which stated that "essential and inalienable human rights should be respected even during the vicissitudes of war."


Since the adoption of Resolution 242 (1967), great developments have take place in the Arab Middle East and the world at large including a fourth Arab-Israeli war and the threat of a fifth. The world is now aware that the solution of the "Palestine Question" is at the heart of the Middle East crisis, not only one of its ramifications, and constitutes a threat to international peace and security. The necessary logical conclusion has been to return the "Palestine Question" to its rightful place on the Agenda of the United Nations, especially since the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly since 1969, affirming the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine, amount to an amendment of Resolution 242. The Palestinians may thus be a predominant factor in decision- making at the United Nations. The United Nations will thus reflect the new realities of the world created by the October War.


George J. Tomeh was Syrian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1965-72, and is presently General Consultant to the Institute for Palestine Studies. The issue discussed was raised by the author in a series of articles in al-Nahar (Beirut) in June 1974. 


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