by Walid Salem
Israeli and Western historical studies of the 1947 partition plan overwhelmingly demonstrate that it was accepted by the Zionist movement and was rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab countries. But is this the real story? Aren’t there other narratives? What does a re-examination of the historical reality reveal in this regard?
Was Palestinian and Arab rejection of the plan really the primary reason for its failure to be implemented or were there other critical factors? For example, was the plan itself created only to legitimize Israeli goals, despite the fact it was never applied on the Palestinian side?
A general problem with the dominant historical narratives is that they either place the events and arguments of 1947 outside their historical context, and outside their relationship to previous events, or they connect them only to whatever complies with the writers’ biases and inclinations. This paper aims to show the reasons underlying Zionist acceptance of the partition plan, to examine whether the Palestinians and the Arabs really rejected it and, finally, to investigate whether international, Zionist and some Arab statements aided the implementation of a partition quite different from that set forth in the official document promulgated by the UN on November 29, 1947.
The Zionist Movement’s Attitude Towards the Partition Plan
Historical evidence shows the Zionist movement’s position vis-à-vis the partition plan at that time was two-sided. On the one hand, it accepted the plan because it purported to legitimize the Zionist goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine but, at the same time, leading Zionists wished to use this legitimization as a basis to acquire more land and to expel the Palestinians from the Jewish state. In addition to international legitimization, it awarded the Jewish state 15 million dunams of land, while Jewish land ownership at that time did not exceed 1,678,000 dunams (11.8 percent). “Thus, the partition plan was effectively a declaration of war against the Arabs of Palestine and a permit to the Hebrew state to occupy 88.82 percent of the area of the Palestine.”1
But, on the other hand, the Zionists sought more than was awarded to the Jewish state by the partition plan, and this meant the announcement of the partition plan, “gave the Zionists the judicial and materialistic basis which will enable them to cancel both states and to establish a third one”.2
This quotation shows how the Zionist movement “accepted” the partition plan and also clarifies what happened later, especially the implementation of Plan Dalet from the beginning of February, 1948, resulting in the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinians from their homeland. The aim of the Zionist Plan Dalet was to obtain control of the area of the Jewish state as set forth in the partition plan, in addition to the occupation of other areas outside those allocated, including a corridor from the coastal plain to Jerusalem, as well as Tulkarem, Qalqilia, Acre, Hebron, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Jaffa and other areas.3
In other words, although the Zionist movement formally accepted the UN partition plan, it had no intention of accepting its limits. Acceptance was the formal cosmetic position, while the real intention was to try to take over most of Palestine. There were three main aspects to Zionist violations of the partition plan:
1) The plan, in its written version, set up a Jewish state that would be bi-national in structure, in which Palestinians would represent 46 percent of its population4 (498,000 Jews and 407,000 Palestinians).5 In reality, however, Plan Dalet contemplated removing Palestinians from that state.
2) While the plan talked about two states, the Zionist leadership worked (with British support) to divide Palestine between Israel and Jordan and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state (see later).
3) Jerusalem, according to the plan, was to be governed as an international city (Corpus Separatum), while Plan Dalet set out a strategy for occupying half of it by Zionist forces. External evidence confirms this. In December, 1947, a few days after the UN approved the partition plan, David Ben Gurion told a meeting of the executive committee of the Histadrut (the General Federation of Jewish Labor in Palestine), that even though Jerusalem, under the partition plan, was not designated, “as the capital of the Jewish Nation ... it must be, not only a great and expanding center of the Jewish settlement, but also the center of all Jewish national and international institutions, the center of the Zionist movement, the center of Knesset Israel, which will embrace every Jew in the land of Israel, as well as those residing outside the Jewish state, the center of world Jewry.” He added, “We know there are no final settlements in history, there are no eternal boundaries, and there are no final political claims and undoubtedly many changes and revisions will yet occur in the world.”6
The Zionist position towards the partition plan can thus be seen as a step toward judaizing Palestine in order to deprive the Palestinians (in coordination with Britain and some of the Arab regimes) of their right to self determination.
The Palestinian and Arab Positions
Most Western and Israeli historians have interpreted the Palestinian leadership’s official rejection of the partition plan as a political and cultural rejection of any Jewish rights in Palestine, based on the undemocratic structure of the Palestinian leadership, which considered only its own interests and not those of its people as a whole. In fact, with the exception of the Palestinian Communists, who officially accepted the partition plan, there was a clear gap between the official and private positions of all other Palestinian groups. There is reason to believe there was much more willingness than official statements would show to deal with Israel’s existence, and try to salvage a Palestinian state in the areas that remained.
Contrary to what is generally believed, the Palestinians asked the Arab League to establish a Palestinian government on July 10, 1947, but the Arab League refused. The request was repeated in February, 1948, and was again refused.7
It might be argued that both requests to establish a Palestinian state in all of historical Palestine were made before the establishment of Israel. However, the Palestinians repeated their request for the creation of a Palestinian government even after Israel came into being. This third request was made in June, 1948. Again, the Arab League refused and decided instead to establish a temporary civil administration in Palestine.8 This third request means the Palestinians were ready to have their state beside that of Israel, which had already been in existence for a month.
The Palestinians were later able to convince the Arab League to establish a Palestinian government, and a Palestinian National Council meeting was held in Gaza on September 30, 1948. A government was elected, but was unable to extend its authority to the West Bank, which was then in the hands of the Iraqi and Jordanian military. The Egyptian government was unhappy with the idea of a Palestinian government in Gaza, and on July 10, 1948, decided to deport Hajj Amin al-Husseini, head of the Palestinian National Council, from Gaza to Cairo.9
While Gaza was put under Egyptian administration, the West Bank was annexed to Jordan as part of a British agreement made with Jordan’s Prime Minister, Tawfiq Abu-alHuda. This agreement had been concluded at the end of January, 1948, during Prime Minister Abu-alHuda’s visit to Britain, when he met with British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin.10
These events demonstrate that the Palestinians were ready to deal pragmatically with the results of partition. However, many historians still concentrate on the verbal Palestinian rejection, denying at the same time the version of history which is built on actions, not on words.
Likewise, the Arab governments were also ready to deal pragmatically with the partition plan, and although they denounced it harshly, they had essentially accepted the plan and were ready to deal with it. Arab League General Secretary Abd Al-Rahman Azzam, in a meeting with Eliyahu Sasson held on September 8, 1946, more than a year before the partition plan was promulgated, showed interest in dividing Palestine into two states.11
King Abdallah of Jordan expressed an interest in the same idea during his meetings with Sasson in August, 1946, when he presented a plan to annex the Arab sector of Palestine to Jordan and Syria. He proposed that this entity would establish a federation with the Iraqi Hashemite monarchy, with Lebanon given the option of joining.12 One of the documents published by Majdi Abdel Hadi showed the Egyptians were pro-partition and they even asked that the future Jewish state join the Arab League.13 This Egyptian position was given to the Jewish Agency Political Department during negotiations on August 29, 1946.
Conclusion: A Plan to Legitimize the Establishment of Israel Only
As illustrated above, there was a written partition plan approved by the UN but, in practice, there were also other plans. These were partly contradictory but, in the end, effectively complementary. For example, the Zionist movement’s real partition plan, as implemented in 1948, dovetailed with the Jordanian partition plan to divide Palestine between the Jordanians and the Jewish state. Jordan began discussions with the Zionist movement on that subject in 193514, and this Zionist-Jordanian coordination effectively buried any possibility of a Palestinian state, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. In the final analysis, the function of the partition plan was to legitimize the establishment of a Jewish state and not to fulfill Palestinian aspirations.
At this point, it might reasonably be asked: why did the UN accept the partition plan in the first place? We do not know if the UN realized in advance that the plan would not be implemented on the Palestinian side, but we can be certain of two things:
1) The US was pressing strongly for this plan to be passed to provide international support and legitimacy for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The fate of the Palestinian people was not an American interest at that time. Although the Americans changed their position in February-March, 1948, from supporting the partition plan to calls to put Palestine under trusteeship15, the Americans were completely supportive of the plan when it was approved and played a crucial role in deciding which states would sit on the UNSCOP committee that implemented the plan.
2) We also know that Great Britain abstained from the UN vote on the partition plan. However, the British Peel Commission had devised the first partition plan in the 1930’s, which divided Palestine between the Zionists and the Jordanians. We also know that the British used all their resources to damage the Palestinian leadership during the 1936-1939 revolt, to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Thus, in a practical sense, Britain supported the establishment of a Jewish state but not a Palestinian one. This clarifies Britain’s abstention during the UN vote.16
In 1948, the British began to move their troops to the north to assist the creation of the Jewish state. Moreover, the British did not respond to attacks against them by Zionist revisionists (Etzel [Irgun] and Lehi [Stern Gang]), because they were only interested in withdrawal. This clarifies how supportive Britain was, even at that point, to the establishment of the Jewish state.17
The partition plan was scheduled to be implemented by August 1, 1948, according to its terms, but the Zionist movement began its attacks in February, 1948, under Plan Dalet and the A, B and C plans.18 It is now clear that the actors on the ground (British, Jordanian and Zionist) were all against the part of the UN partition plan that would create a Palestinian state. However, all accepted the establishment of the Jewish state while simultaneously working toward their own private partition plans.
The US decision in March, 1948, to oppose partition effectively killed the plan, while the May, 1948, UN General Assembly resolution to freeze the partition plan, and to appoint a mediator, was the final blow. The text of the resolution states that the General Assembly of the UN, “relieve the Palestine commission from the further exercise or responsibility under Resolution 181 of 28 November 1947.” (Abdel Hadi, 1997, p:187)
This resolution was the official death certificate of the partition plan (from the point of view of the major powers). While officially, the partition plan was scheduled to be implemented (and thus expire) on August 1, 1948, developments on the ground led it to an earlier demise after it had been only partially implemented.
The Jewish state, legitimized by the partition plan and declared on May 14, was invited to join the Arab league. The next year, at the Lausanne negotiations (April, 1949), the Arab states negotiated directly with Israel, thus giving it their own legitimization, while also calling for the implementation of the partition plan.
The conclusion of this process resulted in a Jewish state being established and, in effect, accepted by the Arabs, while Israel rejected Arab initiatives for peace and the Palestinians became refugees in their own homeland. Our duty today is to continue calling for full implementation of the partition plan, through the implementation of the unfulfilled and neglected aspect of the plan, namely, the creation of a Palestinian state.
1 (Khalidi, 1999, p.90)
2 (Sanbar 1987, P.140)
3 (Khalidi 1999, p.9)
4 (Pappe 2002, p.6)
5 (Sanbar 1987, p.135)
6 (Abdel Hadi 1996, p.77)
7 (Sakhnini, 1986. p. 217)
8 (Ibid, p. 218)
9 (Ibid, p.226)
10 (Sanbar 1987, p.150)
11 (Abdel Hadi 1997. p. 138)
12 (Ibid, p.139).
13 (Ibid, p. 141-142)
14 (see Abdel Hadi 1997)
15 (Sanber 1987, p.152-154)
16 (Sakhnini 1986, p. 120)
17 (Khalidi 1999, p. 91)
18 (see Elias Sanbar for the details of these plans)
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