About us


About Israel

Iceland & Israel

About Jews




Present at the birth 1947 - 1948
From the book: Abba Eban, An Autobiography

Chapter 5 (Pages 97 - 99)

   When the General Assembly came together on November 27, we were plunged into gloom. There was every reason to fear that if the vote was taken, we would fall short of the two-thirds majority. The day before, the odds had seemed to be in our favor. But at precisely that moment the French delegate, Alexandre Parodi, had called for a postponement of the session. In the twenty-four hours since then, we had lost ground. The representative of Uruguay, Professor Rodriguez Fabregat, embarked on a long discourse that could not uncharitably be regarded as a filibuster. As the minutes ticked away, all hope seemed to be receding. It was then that the chairman, Ambassador Aranha, revived our hopes. He discovered that the hour was late, that the decision to be made was important and that the following day was an American national holiday, Thanksgiving Day. With a firm hand, oblivious of Arab protest, he adjourned the session. It was clear we would know our fate on November 29, and that November 28 would be a day of unremitting toil.

We recaptured much ground during that Thanksgiving holiday. We now had good reason to expect a favorable Philippine and Liberian vote. The news from France was reserved but more promising than before. Yet we knew that we were at the mercy of any slight parliamentary fluctuation. Nothing was assured, even if nothing had been irrevocably lost.

The die had been cast and there was very little that most of us could do, except to accompany the forthcoming verdict with our prayers. Nevertheless, last-minute efforts had to be made to avert complications and to secure the decisive vote. The Arab delegation, led by Camille Chamoun, decided on a show of moderation in order to prevent the partition judgment from being adopted. The Political committee, in adopting the partition plan, had appointed a commission of three to see whether an “agreed solution” could be found. We knew that this was impossible. After all, if an agreed solution had been feasible, there would have been no need of an Assembly discussion at all. The members designated to explore an “agreed solution” were Australia, Thailand and Iceland. The Icelandic delegate, Ambassador Thor Thors, was to be the rapporteur. By the morning of November 29 the Thai delegate, Prince Wan, had prudently departed for Bangkok on the Queen Mary, ostensibly on the grounds that a revolutionary situation existed in his country, but actually in order to avoid having to cast a vote against partition. There was still some apprehension in Jewish Agency circles lest the Assembly seize on an optimistic remark by the Icelandic representative in order to defer a partition vote and explore the figment of an agreed solution. At any rate, Thor Thors would be the first speaker on that historic day, and it seemed urgent to ensure that he would set up a positive momentum. Accordingly, I began my day on November 29, 1947, with a visit to him at the Barclay Hotel.

           I found my position quixotic, and I thought it best to tell him so frankly. The Jewish people was at a turning point. If we succeeded, we would realize a millennial dream. If we failed, that dream might be extinguished for generations to come. The key to this turning point in the first part of the UN meeting would lie in the hands of a small island country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of less than 175,000. It is a quality of multilateral diplomacy that governments may sometimes determine great issues in which they themselves are only remotely involved, but which are of desperate consequence to others far away. Our future as a people depended on its most decisive day on the momentum or atmosphere which would be created by a representative of Iceland. I invited Ambassador Thors to reflect on the historic mystery involved.

He replied with disconcerting emotion. He said that Iceland was far less remote from Jewish destiny than I presumed. In its culture it was deeply impregnated with Biblical memories. Moreover, it was a stubborn and tenacious democracy, guarding its national particularity within its rain-swept island boundaries for century upon century – a people determined to be itself, sharing its language and literature with no other nation, and refusing to abandon its remote island outpost for warmer and gentler climes elsewhere. Such a people could be relied upon to understand the perseverance with which the Jewish people clung to its own specificity and to the recollections of its own patrimony. Ambassador Thors fully accepted my argument that what was needed now was “decision,” not the vain pursuit of “agreement.” If the decision was clear and firmly upheld, it might have the chance of securing acquiescence later on. It was only because all prospects of an agreed solution had been exhausted in the three decades of Mandatory rule that the matter had come to the United Nations Assembly. He would say that if the General Assembly made no clear recommendation, it would be failing its duty, and with that failure some of mankind’s most cherished hopes would subside.

I made for the United Nations General Assembly headquarters, which was in ferment of tension. Newspapermen, television and radio correspondents from all over the world were concentrated in the lobbies, while the delegates’ seats and visitor’s gallery were crowded as they had never been before The United Nations was facing a momentous opportunity at a very early stage of its career. On the podium, pale and solemn were the President of the Assembly, Oswaldo Aranha, Trygve Lie and the equally well nourished Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Cordier. Aranha called the meeting to order and invited the representative of Iceland to the rostrum. Thors, to my relief, was magnificent. He stated with firm conviction that despite every examination of all avenues, he and his committee were convinced that an agreement in advance was impossible. The only hope of conciliation lay in an act of judgment and decision. If the world community was firm in support of partition, then partition would come into existence and those who opposed it now would have no course but to acquiesce.

From that moment on, the debate went inexorably our way. An attempt by Chamoun to secure a postponement in order to discuss the federal proposal was firmly ruled out of order by Aranha and opposed with impressive unity by Gromyko and Hershel Johnson. By this time the United States and the Soviet Union were becoming irritated by the delaying tactics imposed on the General Assembly by the Arab and the British delegations. Here, for the first time since the end of the war, two Great Powers were reaching agreement on a major international issue, and countries of lesser responsibility were preventing their accord from coming into effect. General Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, who had spoken against partition two days before, had now disappeared, and a new Filipino delegate spoke as ardently for the partition plan as Romulo had spoken against. Liberia also had swung around in our favor. To my relief, my own “clients” – the Benelux countries – now recorded their firm intention to support the partition plan. There was still the fear that a French abstention might upset this prospect.

             Finally the speechmaking came to an end, and a solemn hush descended on the hall. Aranha announced his intention to call for a vote in alphabetical order. Some of us who were present still retain a memory of the tone in which Cordier recited the votes. “Argentina?” “Abstain.” “Afghanistan?” “No.” “Australia?” “Yes.” “Belgium?” “Yes.” “Bolivia?” “Yes.” “Byelorussia?” “Yes.” And so it went on. When France loudly said “Oui,” there was an outbreak of applause in the hall, which Aranha sternly suppressed. By the time we had gone half way through the alphabet, we knew that we were safely home. Finally, after the announcement of Yugoslavia’s “abstention,” we heard the historic words: “Thirty three in favor, thirteen against, ten abstentions, one absent. The resolution is adopted.
         From: Abba Eban, An Autobiography, pages 97-99, Random House 1977