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Paul Scham: research development coordinator at the Truman Institute. On sabbatical at George Washington University. Walid Salem: director of PANORAMA. Benjamin Pogrund: director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem. An author and former deputy editor of Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg. Burckhard Blanke: resident representative of Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Israel and in the Palestinian Autonomy. Moshe Ma'oz: professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and former director of the Truman Institute. Ruth Kark: professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, has written extensively on the history and historical geography of Palestine and Israel. Dalia Ofer: Max and Rita Haber Professor of Holocaust Studies in Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ran Aaronsohn: a senior lecturer in geography at the Hebrew University. Meron Benvenisti: former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and respected author. Lily Galili: senior writer at Ha'aretz. Avraham Sela: senior lecturer at the Department of International Relations and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Contemporary Middle East Studies, at Hebrew University. Fatmeh Quassem: doctoral candidate at Ben Gurion University, Be'er Sheva. Anna Koehler: project assistant on the Israel Desk of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Adel Manna': director of the Institute for Israeli Arab Studies at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. Ata Khalid Qiemary: columnist, tv correspondent and general director of Al-Masdar Translation and Press Services. Aziz Haider: research fellow in the Sociology Department of the Truman Institute. Adel Yahya: an archaelogist and director of PACE, the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange. Amneh Badran: head of the Jerusalem Centre for Women.


Burckhard Blanke: Moshe Ma'oz and Walid Salem will begin our discussion by talking about the events surrounding the 1947 partition plan.

Moshe Ma'oz: We should all be aware of the serious nature of the 1947 UN Partition Resolution 181, which produced different narratives within the two national communities. In Israel there is almost a consensus - to which I object - that the Palestinians missed an opportunity. Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban used to say the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, beginning with 1947. Palestinian leaders did miss opportunities, but the generalization is extreme. According to the Israeli narrative, that first missed opportunity was replaced recently by another at Camp David II, which reinforced the thrust of the Israeli narrative.
The Palestinians have a different narrative. Walid Salem holds that all parties involved were wrong - especially the Zionists, but also the British, the Jordanians, the Arabs, the UN, the US - but not the Palestinians. That is too good to be true, or too bad to be true. Then you say that the Palestinians were ready to deal in a realistic way, not only with the results of the partition of Palestine, but also with the establishment of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the areas not annexed by Israel. What do you mean by this? Do you refer to the old Palestine government in Gaza that was not Palestinian initially, but Egyptian, or to the annexation of the West Bank, which was approved by the Palestinian leaders?
You argue that the Zionists accepted the 1947 resolution to obtain international legitimacy to establish a Jewish state and to use, or misuse, this legitimacy to take over the entire land and deport the Palestinians - the proof being the yishuv's Plan Dalet and what David Ben Gurion said about not being satisfied with part of Palestine.
Plan Dalet was formulated only in the spring of 1948. Its main objective was to confront the Arab armies' intention to invade. The Arabs were already organizing irregular forces. The idea was to defend Palestine against the Arab armies and not to deport Palestinians. Ben Gurion did have dreams about all of Palestine, including eastern Jordan. Some still hold to those dreams even today. But my point about asymmetry between the two national leaderships is that Ben Gurion was pragmatic and realistic enough to be content with the 1947 boundaries and to leave behind the "grand design," because of the constraints he was facing as a leader and a politician.
First, there was a two-thirds majority of Palestinian Arabs in the country, and he was primarily concerned, especially after World War II, with the absorption of Holocaust refugees. This was even more important than peace with the Arabs. Ben Gurion's focus was on utilizing a unique constellation that existed after the Holocaust, comprised of the UN and the two super-powers that supported the partition plan, and he was clever enough to use that to establish a state. The 1939 White Paper was crucial - it offered a Palestinian state, immigration restrictions, land purchases within 10 years - but it was rejected by the Arabs, which contributed to the Jewish narrative. For Ben Gurion, it was a sign that there could be no compromise. We had to divide the land.
According to the Israeli narrative, and I tend to agree here, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian leader, had a principled attitude - which I respect - that the majority should have sovereignty over the land. This was based on the ideological tenet of Arabism and a feel for the Islamic Arabic culture of the land. But, unlike Ben Gurion, he did not pay attention to the constraints. He just ignored them. The Palestinian community was weak and divided, unlike the cohesive and motivated Yishuv. We need to study what motivated many Palestinians - maybe the majority - to accept the partition resolution in 1947. It was not out of love. There is no love in the Middle East. It was because of interests: the economic interests of the Nashashibis, the Husseinis and many others. I have a student doing a Ph.D. on Palestinian "collaborators," who has evidence that large sections of the Palestinian community were inclined to accept the partition resolution. Another constraint is that Abdallah had his own initiative, along with the UN, the USSR and the US - and Hajj Amin al-Husseini ignored that.
I would say the miscalculation started in 1937 with the rejection of the Peel Commission that gave Jews only 20 percent of the land, and the White Paper, which again would have met many Palestinians' aspirations. If the Mufti had been a tactician he could have used the 1947 UN Resolution to the Palestinians' advantage, first by securing a Palestinian state, while the other state would have been bi-national as the Arabs in the Jewish part made up almost 50 percent of the population. People on the right say the Palestinians want two states, one in the West Bank and Gaza and one in Israel. This could have happened at the time. I'm speaking demographically, not conceptually. I respect the position that they took, but I think it was a miscalculation. And it led to violence and catastrophe; the Nakba.
One indication that this was a miscalculation was that, 41 years later in 1988, Resolution 181 was accepted by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian National Council. This time they took the constraints into account - Israeli power and control over the territories. Circumstances were different, but Arafat took a pragmatic approach. This was a big breakthrough, a bit late, but that's what we can expect in the Middle East. It is also important to highlight the desire of most Palestinians in the Territories to accept Israel. The first Intifada - and even this one - was not aimed at destroying Israel, but at getting rid of the occupation. The mandate from Arafat to accept 242 and 338 led to Oslo and the opening of dialogue. Here we see the irony of history - now it's the Jews who don't want it. The revisionist minority became the ruling majority. History changed because Yitzhak Shamir adopted the policy of no Palestinian state and no negotiations with Palestinians.

Adel Manna': The Labor Party also rejected a Palestinian state.

Moshe Ma'oz: True. Only in 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin came to power, for the first time in 100 years, there was mutual acceptance between the two national movements. The lesson I draw from this is that a permanent solution should be based on the principle of 181, or the Clinton Plan and the new Saudi-Arab League Initiative, a great breakthrough many Israelis are ignoring. This is the blueprint - a two-state solution, then maybe a confederation. The minority suggestion of 1947 spoke about federation. Now it's confederation. The British are also responsible for the disaster of 1947, because they didn't help. They could perhaps have convinced the sides - certainly the Arab side - but they didn't.

Walid Salem: The first point I want to make concerns the Palestinian rejection of the 1947 partition plan. You say the Husseini family, which was not a democratically elected leadership, rejected the plan. The rejection was not just the position of the Husseini family. There were "civil society organizations" which opposed the partition plan, including the Palestinian Student Union, the Women's movement and some of the labor unions, though others supported the Communist party, which backed the partition plan. Of course, there was no written Palestinian record. The historical period didn't allow for that. But there is evidence that whole sectors of the population opposed partition.
We should also take cultural differences into consideration. One of the problems during that period - maybe today, as well - is that we have a confrontation between a culture based on pragmatism and tactics, and another based on absolute terms of justice, human rights, etc.
The Palestinian position in that period, and today - after Ariel Sharon's visit to the al Aqsa mosque and Ehud Barak's offer - illustrates the same confrontation between two cultures. One culture says you must be realistic and the other culture looks for justice and human rights. I don't think we are completely wrong to ask for human rights and justice to play a role in the way things happen.
Although the Husseini leadership refused the 1947 partition plan, they did not have the power to demolish the State of Israel after it was established. The Arab League demanded the Palestinians be allowed to establish a Palestinian state on October 7, 1947, around a month and a half before the partition plan. They repeated this demand in February, 1948. Israel's creation on May 15, 1948, meant any state the Palestinians might establish would have to be on the territory that Israel did not annex, due to the real-politik and the abilities of the Palestinians at that moment.
You are right on one point. You say the Palestinians were unable to establish a state, because of the Zionist movement, and also because of the positions of others in the area - principally King Abdallah who got the British backing for giving Jordan the territory that was not annexed to Israel. The problem was not only the Zionist movement establishing a state, but also the Arab regimes, such as Jordan, opposing Palestinian rights to self-determination.
It was no accident that the Arab leaders rejected a demand to establish a Palestinian state in June, 1948, a month after the establishment of Israel and instead accepted the establishment of a civil administration in Palestine. They maintained that position until September, 1948, when the Arab League recognized the Palestinians' right to establish a state. And a state was actually established in the Gaza Strip for one week, from September 30, 1948 until October 7, 1948. Then the Egyptians put Husseini in solitary confinement in Egypt, and that was the end of it.
We could have a long discussion about the role of the British. Walid Khalidi says that in 1948, after the partition plan, British troops began to withdraw. I don't know if this was coordinated with Ben-Gurion, but it helped the establishment of the State of Israel. It's clear the British didn't help establish a Palestinian state, but instead worked with Jordan to annex this territory. The UN resolution was passed but not implemented. The Israeli state was established, the Palestinian state was not, and we are still trying to establish it on some part of Palestine.

Avraham Sela: Regardless of how the Husseini leadership was appointed or emerged, one thing is clear from British documents - and also from Jewish intelligence documents - that the rural Palestinian population perceived Hajj Amin al-Husseini as their unchallenged leader, though he was less popular among the urban population.
As for the pro-partition Palestinian Arabs, what we know is that a small part of the National Liberation Front - the Communists - supported it, and even they were only a minority. As a result, the party split and they had very little influence on the debate within Palestinian society. This debate was conducted in an atmosphere that delegitimized any official, open contact with the Jewish side, and did not acknowledge it as a legitimate partner for discussing the future of Palestine. There were a number of murders, terrorist actions and attacks on the lives of Palestinian Arabs who dared to go against the Palestinian consensus. In 1946 and 1947, it was principally the Husseini leadership who saw to the elimination of those people willing to go along with ideas of co-existence or compromise.
When speaking about the acceptance or rejection of a certain position, we should look at what happened at each junction of history. The Jewish Agency and the Zionist movement's acceptance of the partition plan was unconditional. But when riots began in early December, 1947, everything changed. They introduced the need to protect or attack, and to start thinking in a different way.
We have to look at how the positions of each side developed (if they developed), and how each party changed its position according to circumstances, constraints and opportunities. We are dealing here with realistic people who, first, look to protect their own needs and interests, and then to implement certain goals. With regard to Jerusalem, the Jewish Agency originally accepted its internationalization. But when the city came under siege, the need to maintain a connection dictated a new policy. That led to the creation of what we call the Jerusalem corridor, the removal of the Palestinian population from it, and Jerusalem's eventual annexation to the Jewish state.
Let's deal with these questions as historians. It can be argued that accepting partition was nothing but a ploy by the yishuv or the Jewish Agency, and then everything developed according to a plan, of which Plan Dalet was part. But Plan Dalet was not developed to capture Tulkarem, Hebron or Qalqilya. It was meant to guarantee that the Jewish state, according to the partition plan, would be secure. Local commanders were allowed to remove the Palestinian population from areas it would otherwise have been impossible to hold on to.
Plan Dalet was implemented earlier than planned because of the war on transport. We have to remember that in March, Jamal Husseini, then the prominent Arab Palestinian representative at the UN General Assembly, rejected proposals for a cease-fire because he felt the Arab hand was stronger. It was a state of despair among the Jewish political and military echelon that led to Plan Dalet's implementation - in March the Jews had lost more than 100 people from attacks on convoys. Regardless of the results - and I can feel a lot of empathy for the way you look at it - reality kept changing.
The riots that began immediately after the partition plan were a spontaneous eruption of violence, but they triggered a number of reactions on each side. Had you asked the British in April 1947, they would have said they were not sure they were going to leave Palestine. They were surprised by Soviet support of the Jewish state and were unsure how the US would react to that. They tried to bring the US into some coordination with their policy and failed.
Eventually, the Jews not only succeeded in implementing the partition plan, but went beyond it, and expelled the Palestinian population from those areas by and large. But the question is, could we think otherwise had it been different? Had the Palestinians accepted the partition plan, would the Jews still have expelled them?

Paul Scham: I feel that we have moved from the realm of history into the realm of theology. I say that because 1948 basically incorporates the doctrine of original sin in both Jewish and Muslim mythologies. The original sin in the minds of Israelis is that the Palestinians did not accept the existence of Israel when they had the chance, thus demonstrating for 50 years - perhaps forever - that they are unwilling to live with Jews. For the Palestinians, this was the year that supported the belief that, no matter what the Jews said, they actually wanted to take over the entire land. To accept that Jewish leaders could have believed in 1947-48 that there was Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state is not historically realistic. Walid also said the British didn't favor a Palestinian state. But neither did the Palestinians! You can't expect the British to support something that the Palestinians had rejected in the context of the partition plan.

Dalia Ofer: It is true that, when we look at the yishuv from an historical perspective, particularly after its successes, we see a coherent society that knew how to create a reality that would lead to achieving its goals. But it was far from a unified community. Ben Gurion was not the leader that he became after 1948. In fact, he was never as strong as our image of him. While all this is happening, we are in the midst of the greatest tragedy that ever befell the Jewish people, the catastrophe of World War II. So all the issues became very emotional, and each fight within this "cohesive" group was extremely fierce.
There was a period of time in this conflict between the Revisionists and the Labor party, and fighting against the British, that the Revisionists took actions that the Labor party declared as terrorism. The Labor party felt this approach would undermine their efforts, and even handed suspects over to the British. It was a society with deep divides. However, in spite of all that, it did succeed in building institutions during the years of the yishuv, and there were periods of united action.
When we come to 1947, there was a lot of debate about the partition. Ben Gurion was not happy about it, but he came to the conclusion that the only solution would be to have partition suggested to the Jews. He himself could not suggest it - it would have been opposed outright. Then the war started. When we look at the stages of the War of Independence - I'll say the 1948 War not to be provocative - we have to look at the changes up until April and the fear of Arab invasion.
There was an assessment that the Arabs were stronger than the Jews. I don't say they were. I say they thought so. I'm still relating to the issue of atmosphere and perception. Much of the Jewish population thought the Arabs were stronger, and there was a tremendous feeling of fear among them. This atmosphere is very important to take into account. I even agree that a lot of things were unjustified on the Palestinian side. But I don't agree with the delegitimization of the right of the Jews to have a state. I believe the Jews did have a national movement and did have a right to a state in Palestine
I want to ask you to elaborate on what you mean by cultural differences. We're talking politics here, right? I don't think Jewish culture does not cherish values, justice and human rights, just as I don't think that Arab or Muslim cultures do not cherish those values.
But here we are dealing with politics, and when you talk politics, you have negotiations, and you have a term of reference for the negotiations. It's not a matter of cultural values. It's the culture of how you solve problems. And Arab states and Arab cultures knew how to solve problems in different political situations.

Adel Yahya: The problem with Avraham Sela and Moshe Ma'oz, as well as with Benny Morris and other New Historians, is this notion of unintentional Jewish Zionist actions in the 1947-1948 war. That notion overlooks many aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and evades responsibility for actions taken by the Jewish army and underground groups, including massacres which led eventually to the expulsion of Palestinians. Even the New Historians adopt the official Israeli position excusing the Israeli army and the IDF from expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and all the actions taken against the civilian Palestinian population because they refused the partition plan.
The implied assumption is that the Palestinians were at fault. It was their sin that led to the war, expulsion and so on. The accompanying assumption is that the Palestinians have no rights. This has always been the official Israeli position. It has led nowhere, and will not lead anywhere, because the refugee problem still exists.
There has not yet been any departure from the official Israeli position of blaming the 1948 War on the Palestinians because they rejected the partition plan, because they attacked Israeli Jewish convoys, and because they invited Arab armies into Palestine to defend Palestinian rights. These underlying assumptions justify everything that took place. Israeli and Jewish actions were just a reaction to Palestinian actions.
In fact, the Jews were in a better position to plan things. The Arabs were probably reacting. When we ask Palestinian refugees about this - they express themselves very openly. They were reacting. They were fearful. All their actions were in reaction to Israeli and Jewish attacks on them. If anybody was planning at the time, it must have been the Zionist movement.

Ruth Kark: Is this position based on factual knowledge or supposition?

Adel Yahya: The Jews planned it.

Ruth Kark: Can you provide us with evidence?

Amne Badran: Let's look at the pre-1947 period and the relationship between the two sides in the context of colonization versus colonialism. One problem with history and historiography is that they don't look into questions of legality and legitimacy. They don't speak about the rights of a pre-existing nation when, all of a sudden, another group of people and their national movement want to build a state on their land.
If I understand correctly, the Palestinians didn't accept partition because they didn't believe it was right. It was not a matter of having or not having Jews there. It was a question of having a Jewish state in Palestine. This is what they thought was not legitimate and therefore they rejected it. To tell you the truth, even today, if you ask Palestinians if Israel has the right to exist, I don't expect that more than two percent will say yes. It is a fact, and the Palestinians are dealing with it, but that doesn't mean it has the right. A right is one thing. A fact is something else.

Ruth Kark: So we are back to point zero.

Adel Manna': They don't give legitimacy to the Israeli narrative.

Amne Badran: There is now a fact and you accept it. You don't want more bloodshed and don't want to go to war. At least 70 percent of Palestinians in the last poll said they supported a settlement based on 242, which means accepting a two-state solution. But Palestinians wouldn't say the establishment of the State of Israel is legitimate.
Adel Manna': Instead of speaking about sin or guilt, as a secular person with a pragmatic approach, I would rather go to the issue of narratives. I think we can accept the narratives of the two sides as the best explanation for why they agreed or disagreed to different suggestions. Without taking the two narratives into account, we will not be able to understand the history.
Israeli society in general, and also many historians are trying to explain the behavior of the Palestinians from their own narrative and perspective, without taking into account the other narrative. This is a big mistake. That's why most people don't understand what Palestinians are talking about when they present the Palestinian perspective of history. They are shocked by it because they are ignorant of this narrative.
When the Jews say this is our country because God gave it to us 3,000 years ago, this is the Israeli Jewish narrative. The Palestinians say, "Hey, we have more historical rights in this country than you because we were here before the Jews." "We" means all other ethnic groups, not nations. The Jews also, at that time, were a religion and an ethnic group, not a nation.
All the ethnic groups who preceded the Jews were incorporated into Palestinian society because, when the Palestinians came here in the seventh century, there was a process of Islamization and Arabization. Therefore, we inherited the collective rights of all the ethnic groups, including many Jews who became Palestinian Jews. I know of at least 20 cases during the Ottoman period in Jerusalem of Jewish families converting to Islam.

Meron Benvenisti: The irony is that this same argument is used by Zionists to prove just the opposite. This is exactly what Itzhak Ben-Tzvi and Ben-Gurion used to do.

Adel Manna': This is totally different. They said all fellahin were once Jews.

Meron Benvenisti: They were looking for specific families in Dura, in Yatta, who were Jews by tradition, to show that Jews were there and all the people you mentioned were converts.

Adel Manna': This is the Palestinian narrative. Once again, I don't claim that everything is factual and historical, but this is their narrative. You have those two narratives. That's why when the issue of nations and nation states and self-determination arose in the late 19th century, and the Jews said, "This is our history and we'll solve the Jewish problem by going back to Palestine and establishing a Jewish state there". The Palestinians said, "No, this is our country. We have the historical rights, even though you were probably here."
The most important intellectual among the Arabs in Palestine in the 19th century was Yusuf al Khalidi. He said in a letter to Theodor Herzl, "This is certainly your country. The Jewish people were here before us." But there are realities here. This country is important to all Christians and Muslims, so you can't just transform it into a Jewish state. Khalidi was a pragmatist. He could acknowledge the Jewish narrative because, at that time, it didn't translate immediately into a national conflict over the same homeland. But later on, those two conflicting narratives led the Israelis and the Palestinians into conflict.
The Palestinians, during the Mandate, still thought of themselves as the numerical majority. They also believed that, together with the Arab states, they could prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. This was their principal reason for rejecting the 1947 division.
Intellectually speaking, I don't think that, in order to understand history, we have to write new articles that change history and say, "No, the Palestinians didn't reject it." It is true there were the Communists who didn't reject it, but they were marginal. There were probably other Palestinians who didn't reject it, but also didn't accept it. Most of the Palestinians, and the leadership, rejected the 1947 plan. It was not just Hajj Amin Husseini, but the Palestinian people.
The principal reason the Palestinians rejected partition was because they didn't accept the idea that the Jewish side, the yishuv, had a collective right to self-determination in Palestine.
We can speak about the reasons the Palestinians didn't agree to the specific partition of 1947, about how much territory was given to a third of the population and how much to two-thirds of the population, how many Palestinians would be living in a Jewish state and not in a state of all its citizens.
Why go into these different arguments rather than just tell the truth? First of all, yes, the Palestinians rejected it. They probably had good and justified reasons for that when we take into account the narratives and the focus on justice rather than on pragmatism.
The Palestinian leadership was neither pragmatic nor realistic, and made miscalculations, as Professor Ma'oz said. As an historian, I believe that leadership has to be blamed, as well. If we don't criticize our leadership of 1948, how can we criticize our leadership now? Should we legitimize all the decisions they take, follow them like blind people and say nothing about their mistakes?

Ran Aaronsohn: I am confused. I see two separate levels of discussion here. The first is the academic and historical presentation of the papers. The second is the emotional and subjective views. I don't find any common ground for discussion if the underlying desire of people is to say, "Never mind the facts and never mind the papers."

Paul Scham: You're right. There are two levels of discourse going on. We intentionally invited both professional historians and non-historians to participate and I think we are seeing different ways of thinking about the past from people who are historically trained and from those who are lay people. We are hearing not only the academic historians, but also the unmediated views of Palestinians, which are perhaps closer to the view of the Palestinian street. This is not just a traditional academic workshop, which helps to explain why there is a discontinuity in the discourse.

Lily Galili: I speak as a "man of the street." Although I'm not an historian, I am very much aware of the fact that things are happening on two different levels. One of the mistakes the Israeli side made - it also happened a little on the Palestinian side - is that, with the help of the media, we created total confusion.
We created an equation between a political agreement, on the one hand, and the notion of reconciliation on the other. Oslo was marketed by politicians, through journalists, as a process of reconciliation. I think that was far from true and it was a mistake. Reconciliation brings with it expectations that do not necessarily follow a political agreement.
In a political agreement Amne Badran can say we accept the fact that you are here although we still don't think it's legitimate. And I can accept Israel saying we don't really like the idea of a Palestinian state, but we don't see any other solution at this point. I think we'll all be very happy to reach a political agreement at this point.
Reconciliation starts with a collision of narratives, which we have been made aware of in this discussion. This clarifies the issue for me. I am more convinced than ever that we have to divorce the notions of political agreement and reconciliation. Recently, I saw a study conducted by Khalil Shikaki on the Palestinian side and Yaakov Shamir on the Israeli side. Even now, a surprising number of Israelis and Palestinians believe a political agreement can still be reached, although they have lost faith in the idea of reconciliation for now. Maybe in another 30 years...
We should listen to these forces and reorganize our political behavior accordingly. I'm not saying what we're doing is useless. This may set the scene for the next step, which will be reconciliation. But let's not confuse the two.

Aziz Haider: In this kind of discussion, we can try to tell the truth. Moshe said that one side accepted the partition plan and the other side rejected it, but he didn't put the events in historical context. The other part of the story is about legitimacy. I think most Israelis, until the 1990's, didn't recognize the very existence of the Palestinians as a people.

Moshe Ma'oz: During the Mandate period they recognized that there was a Palestinian nation.

Aziz Haider: No. They talked about Arab states, not the Palestinian people.

Avraham Sela: We have to put it into context. From 1924, the Palestinian leadership said the Jews were no partner for anything. From then on, all contacts focused on Arab leaders of the neighboring countries, and any meetings with Palestinian figures had to be held secretly. That was the only option.

Adel Manna: You're confusing political attitudes, narratives and the legitimacy of the other side.

Aziz Haider: The partition plan is only half the story. That's the Zionist narrative. There is another narrative and we have to tell it, as well. The Zionists did not recognize the very existence of Palestinians as a people.
Adel Manna: As a people with the right to self-determination in Palestine, not just as a people.

Aziz Haider: We came here to start thinking differently and to tell both stories. This is very important.

Benjamin Pogrund: Doesn't Jewish acceptance of the UN partition plan imply the acceptance of another state?

Aziz Haider: No. It's pragmatism. What was said about criticizing our leadership is very important here. Ben Gurion was very pragmatic. The other side wasn't. This is our problem. We have to admit it.

Benjamin Pogrund: The Jewish side accepted that there was going to be another state. Wasn't it implicit that they accepted a Palestinian state?

Dalia Ofer: Not in the general perceptions. Ben Gurion, among all the leaders - and I'm not talking about Vladimir Jabotinsky who died in 1940 - was most ready to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian people and their right to a state. But it is also true that in basic perceptions after the failure of 1947, the issue vanished. You can explain it politically by saying it was because Jordan annexed the West Bank, but it was not only political. I recall from my parents and from my education that the legitimacy of the Palestinians to their own state was not an issue.

Aziz Haider: After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Israelis continued their propaganda by defining the conflict in the Middle East as the Arab-Israeli conflict, as a conflict between states and not between two nations. As historians and academics, you yourself contributed to this propaganda by writing or saying that it's an Arab-Israeli conflict and not a Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Dalia Ofer: But it was both. It was also with Egypt and Jordan. It was also Israeli-Arab, not only Israeli-Palestinian.

'Atta Qiemary: As a Palestinian, I have to say that the Palestinian people, not just their leadership, bear responsibility for what happened in 1948. Whether that leadership was elected or not, there was some kind of mechanism through which that leadership wielded power. People who came to the leader and said there was no acceptance share some responsibility for the refusal of the plan. But why shouldn't people reject a proposal which is unjust and unacceptable according to their perception of reality? The Palestinians were a majority, they were to receive the minority of the land, and those lands they were to receive were also not the best.
The best parts of Palestine went to the Jewish state. Forty-four percent of Palestine at that time went to the Palestinians, and 56 percent to the Israelis. However, the demographics were approximately equal. There were almost half a million people in each society. The logic was to give the Jews more space in which to absorb more Jews who would come later. On the basis of justice and logic, the Palestinian people could not be persuaded by this plan. It was unjust and unacceptable. The feeling was that this was clearly an international plot - the British, together with the Israelis and the Zionists, want to destroy our land and take it from us on the basis of international legitimacy.
But now, after 40 years, Palestinians can confess that it was a mistake because Britain wouldn't have given us independence even if we were in the majority in Palestine and, internationally, we would not have received legitimacy. We should learn from lessons of the past. We are still in the conflict and the same arguments can be raised by historians and laymen. "Why didn't the Palestinians accept Camp David and Clinton's plan? What's happening now is because they refused the Camp David plan." It's almost the same thing.
I reject the premise that refusal of the partition plan is the basis for what happened afterwards. Ben Gurion was ethnocentric. He had a goal in mind. He wanted independence for Israel, for the Jews in Palestine, even if it could not include all of Palestine. When he accepted the partition plan, that was what was in his mind. That does not imply that he accepted the other's right of self-determination, especially that of the Palestinians, even though, had the partition plan been implemented, it would automatically have resulted in the Palestinians having a state of their own.
As for the question of fear, I think we do have to acknowledge that there is fear among the Israelis. In spite of their strength, in spite of all their weapons, they are still a minority in the region. If they lose their military superiority, their existence could be in danger. We're at war. We're a minority. I can understand that. But at leadership level, I doubt that was the case. Those who controlled the situation at the international level - the British and the Zionist movement - knew that the yishuv would beat the armies that allegedly attacked Israel.

Paul Scham: Not at the beginning.

Dalia Ofer: Read the British-American documents of 1947.

Avraham Sela: Read George Marshall's meeting with Moshe Sharett.

Moshe Ma'oz: The question is still - how many Palestinians agreed to the 1947 partition plan?

Walid Salem: I didn't say the Palestinians accepted the partition plan. I said they were ready to accept the idea of dealing with the results of the implementation of the plan. I try to take the entire network of relations and understand how it led to what we are now facing - that the Zionist state was established and the Palestinian state was not.
During that period, Britain was the Mandatory power in Palestine. There was a need for an international role in solving the Palestinian-Israeli question. As the Palestinians rejected the plan, it was the role of the UN and the British to impose it, if they wanted to implement it on both sides. But what happened? The British abstained from voting on the plan in the UN, and that led the Israelis to establish their state in a larger area than the partition plan had given them. It also led to the fact that the Palestinian state was not established. Finally, I cannot rush to criticize the Palestinian leadership over the partition plan. Within the historical context of that period, they did what they thought was right.

Avraham Sela: The rejection of the partition plan by the Palestinian leadership and by the surrounding Arab countries' governments was not only a legitimate decision, given the perception of international and regional reality, but it was also perceived as pragmatically correct. They believed that Britain would not let the Arabs down and lacked information about the depth of Zionist influence in the US. Probably the most important thing was a misunderstanding of the new actor in the international arena, the USSR, whose military aid to the newborn State of Israel during its first few months was tremendously important. You may say it was wrong pragmatically. But if you really follow the thinking and how the Arab and Palestinian leaders perceived reality, they thought they had a very good cause, and a basis for reversing, if not entirely wrecking, the partition plan and the entire UN decision.

For the full text of UN Resolutions 181, 242 and 338, turn to p.118.

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