by Ziad AbuZayyad
Did the Palestinian leadership miss an opportunity when it rejected UN Partition Resolution 181, November, 1947. The simple answer to this question is “Yes”. Can anyone hold them responsible for this failure? The serious, responsible answer from the Palestinians themselves must be “No.”
Decisions are always ruled by the circumstances prevailing at the time they are taken, not a minute after. No one could have predicted at that time the events that would happen later. Political analysts could theorise about the future, but no one could predict it for sure.
At the time of the partition resolution, the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular, felt that the British government had betrayed them. Their promise to create an Arab State as a reward for their part in the rebellion against the Turkish Khalifa at the beginning of the First World War had proved to be a lie. Instead, the British had issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to create a Jewish national homeland in Mandate Palestine.This declaration increased Jewish immigration to Palestine and threatened the national aspirations of the Palestinians, who opposed this process and feared for their national interests. This tension translated into bloody confrontation during the 1920s and early 1930s and by 1936 had grown into a Palestinian National Uprising and six month strike. But the Second World War diverted attention to the global battlefield and the canons calmed down. After the war, UN Resolution 181 represented a new step aimed at legitimising the Balfour Declaration, upgrading the land promised to the Jews to a state.
While the Jewish population celebrated the declaration of the 1947 partition plan, the Palestinians rebelled against it, feeling they had been done a great injustice. Palestinian Jews, who had lived in Palestine for centuries, were viewed as fellow citizens. But the new immigrants were considered usurpers who had come to take over the Arab homeland. Palestinians were unable to understand why they should pay for the crimes of the Nazis, or welcome foriegners who came to colonise and take over their own country. Furthermore, the Jews, who had been persecuted and suffered from anti-semitism in Europe, had lived in harmony with Arabs throughout history and were part of their cultural and spiritual contribution to human civilisation.
The partition plan was biased against the Palestinians, who saw themselves as sole owners of their own land. It is easy to understand their position when you know that at the time the partition plan was drawn up, Arabs made up two thirds of the populations and, according to British land registration, owned 93 percent of the land. The non-Arabs and Jews who made up just a third of the population owned only seven percent of the land.
The partition plan, however, gave the Arabs just 43 percent of the land, which they naturally considered unjust. How could the UN give one peoples’ homeland to another? For the Zionist movement, partition was an improvement on even the national homeland they had been promised by Lord Balfour, upgrading it to a state which would enjoy international legitimacy courtesy of the UN.
In hindsight, it is easy to say the Palestinians missed an opportunity in 1947. But any Palestinian moderate today will never know what his position would have been if he were living in November, 1947. It is easy to be wise after the event.
The question now should be how we can get out of this vicious circle of bloodshed and violence, without blaming each other for the past. It is obvious that using force and violence will only lead to more suffering on both sides than we have already seen. It is only through political realism and understanding each other that we can embark on the journey to the shores of peace.
Both sides have to agree that there are two peoples living on this land. If it is not possible to share the state, then they must at least share the land. The realities on the ground have changed enormously since 1947. Palestinians realise that demanding to go back to the partition of 1947 is unrealistic and will not be accepted by the other side. What seems realistic is the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which represents in total about 22 percent of the total area of Mandate Palestine. This is viewed by all Palestinians as a huge concession, to achieve an historic compromise between the two peoples in Palestine. No logic justifies the Israeli demand to annex additional parts of the West Bank or Gaza, which are designated for inclusion in the future state of Palestine. Other major issues like the Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem could be solved in the same spirit of realism and conciliation.