The Arab Palestinians rejected the project, while it was adopted by the majority of Jewish organizations and movements inside and outside Palestine. The more significant fact, however, is that Britain, as the mandate power and supposedly the country most concerned with the situation, abstained from voting on the proposal. The Arab and Islamic states, including Turkey (which later established diplomatic and economic relations with Israel) opposed the proposal. The US, most European countries and the USSR adopted it. US support was conspicuous in terms of its absolute backing of the proposal, using effective pressure on Haiti, Liberia and the Philippines to change their opposition and ensure ratification of the proposal.2
Today, 55 years after the partition resolution, an enormous number of Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, regret they rejected the partition plan - a realistic resolution that reveals the balance of power between the conflicting parties. Currently, many Palestinians and Arabs find a lot of positive elements in the resolution which could have led to an accord between the two nations. This group of people believes the partition resolution could have saved 43 percent of Palestinian land from falling under Israeli control. It also means the Palestinians, like all nations of the world, would be entitled to their own state. This would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians killed during the conflict, and would have spared millions of Palestinians the humiliation, poverty and agony they had been experiencing in refugee camps and in the Diaspora. Furthermore, the resolution included articles which would also have guaranteed a strong Palestinian presence within the proposed Jewish state.
In reality the proposed Jewish state was to be a bi-national one, simply because the Arab Palestinians constituted approximately half the population and owned much more land than the Jews. The fact that the resolution created a Jewish state, entailed a growing Jewish population and expansion of the Jewish share of land, yet it would not create a radical shift in the general situation. Demographically, the Arab Palestinians, who became Israeli citizens after 1948 made up 16 percent of the population of the newly established state. Half a century later, even after consecutive Israeli governments' efforts to modify the equation through Jewish immigration to Israel and encouraging Jews to have large families, this minority (Arab Palestinians in Israel) has maintained the same level.
One of the major factors of the partition resolution for the proposed Jewish state was that it accorded more or less equal rights to both Jews and Palestinians. Part II of the resolution, entitled Religious and Minority Rights, stated the following:
1) Freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship [...] shall be ensured to all.
2) No discrimination of any kind shall be made between inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or gender.
3) All persons within the jurisdiction of the State shall be entitled to equal protection by the law.
4) The family law and personal statutes of the various minorities and their religious interests, including endowments, shall be respected.
5) The state shall ensure adequate primary and secondary education for the Arab ... minority ... in its own language and cultural traditions.
6) No restriction shall be imposed on the free use by any citizen of the state on any language ... in commerce, in religion, in the press or in publications of any kind.
7) No expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State ... shall be allowed, except for public purposes.
8) Palestinian citizens ... shall, upon recognition of independence, become citizens of the State in which they are resident and enjoy full civil and political rights.3
It was clear the Arabs in the Jewish state had the potential to develop economically, politically and culturally, in addition to retaining their national identity, language and holy places.
Here, a question arises: why did the Zionist Movement and Jews approve the partition resolution? There were many positive aspects for the Arab Palestinians, who rejected it, whilst there were seemingly big risks to the Jewish presence in Palestine. One would have expected exactly the opposite attitudes from both parties; in the sense that the Jews would oppose it, demanding that a purely Jewish state be established even if it were on a smaller area. Is it possible the leaders of both nations didn't realize what was in their peoples' interests and acted against their expectations? What has been mentioned about the partition resolution conveys a single point of view regarding a very intricate political issue. All peaceful settlements comprise positive and negative implications for the conflicting parties. This partition resolution is similar to all political proposals in that respect. It is easy, in hindsight, to identify right and wrong in policy making during that period. We can pinpoint the policy shifts of both parties, at a time when they were unaware of the consequences of their decisions. I will therefore try to contextualize the prevailing environment of the region during that period, and the reasons behind the decisions taken.
The partition resolution, in general, favored the Jewish side, which gave them the option of approving it and working to convince the other parties to ratify it at the UN General Assembly. Palestine had not been politically or demographically Jewish for almost two thousand years. In 1947, Jewish residents barely made up a third of the population. They were scarcely enough to form a majority in the proposed Jewish State. At that time, Jews owned only around six percent of the land of Palestine and only 10 percent of the area of the proposed Jewish State. As a result, the Jewish side accepted the partition resolution, knowing they were ready to approve a resolution establishing a Jewish state on a smaller area than that stipulated in the partition resolution.4
Furthermore, the partition resolution granted the Jews international recognition of their right to establish a state on more than half the area of Mandate Palestine. Previously, the Balfour Declaration had promised the Jews a national homeland in Palestine. The ambiguous term "national homeland" created perplexity in the minds of Arabs, Jews, politicians, and researchers. Great Britain defined this concept when it declared in its 1939 White Paper that the Jewish national homeland had become a reality. It defined the term "Jewish National Homeland" as the existence of a vast Jewish minority in Palestine with a religious and cultural identity of their own and who were to be provided with favorable opportunities to enable them to achieve their political, economic, and religious ambitions and potential. The document stated that:
"During the last two or three generations the Jews have recreated in Palestine a community, now numbering 80,000, of whom about a quarter are farmers or workers upon the land. This community has its own political organs; an elected assembly for the direction of its domestic concerns; elected councils in the towns; and an organization for the control of its schools. It has its elected Chief Rabbinate and Rabbinical council for the direction of its religious affairs. Its business is conducted in Hebrew as a vernacular language, and a Hebrew press serves its needs. It has its distinctive intellectual life and displays considerable economic activity. This community ... has, in fact, "national" characteristics".5
The Jews had their own reasons to accept the partition resolution, as the Arab Palestinians did to reject it. The Palestinians were owners of the land, as they did not consider themselves the successors of the Arab Muslims, who conquered it in 636 A.D., as the Israelis claim. They believe their roots can be traced back to the Christians, Jews and Canaanites, who had lived in the country since the modern Stone Age, cultivated its land and built its cities and villages. In other words, they are the grandchildren of the Canaanites, who became Jews at the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the first millennium B.C. At the beginning of the first millennium A.D., they converted to Christianity, to convert one more time, this time to Islam, during the second half of the first millennium, replacing their Syrian-Aramaic language with Arabic.
As for the Jews, who demanded the establishment of their own national home or state in Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century, they were viewed by the Arab Palestinians as foreigners, detached from Palestine, except for a fragile religious bond - no more significant and solid than that which associates any Muslim with Mecca and Jerusalem. They were foreigners and strangers because the majority had immigrated to Palestine from Europe. In 1882, there were only 24,000 Jews in Palestine, equivalent to between five and six percent of the entire population. By 1922, this percentage had risen to just 11 percent. Official Israeli statistics indicate the number of Jews who emigrated from Europe to Palestine between 1882 and 1948 was around 550,000. In 1948, the total number of Jews living in Palestine was only 650,000 out of a total population of more than two million.6
The Arab Palestinians, as the native inhabitants of the country, formed the overwhelming majority of the population in 1882, and exceeded two-thirds of the population in 1947. Thus, granting a state to a group of immigrants, who did not even comprise one-third of the population, and depriving the native inhabitants, who comprised two-thirds of the population, of their right to self-determination, was beyond logic and natural law.
It was also irrational to expect that the Arab Palestinians would approve, easily and without any resistance, the establishment of a Jewish state on more than half of their country, forcing Arab Palestinians (half the population) to live in a Jewish state, rather than in a state for all its citizens.
In spite of all this, the main reason behind the opposition of the Arab Palestinians to the establishment of a Jewish State related to the future threat it posed to them and to the Arab world, as well as to Islamic and Christian holy places. They believed this state would eventually be able to deport the Palestinians from their own country, scattering them all over the world, in addition to plundering and confiscating their land. The Arab Palestinians also expected the Jews to encroach on their holy places, humiliate them, deprive them of their political and national rights, and deny their identity. Half a century later, we can say their fears were realized.
In a short period of time, after the outbreak of the war, the vast majority of Arab Palestinians found themselves refugees in their own country or outside it and prevented from returning to their homes and land, which had been confiscated by the Israeli government for use by Jewish immigrants. Furthermore, more than 450 villages were destroyed. Hundreds of mosques were demolished, while others were converted into museums, shops, stables, and even nightclubs. Islamic endowment property was confiscated, as were some Christian churches. Sites of Islamic importance were converted into Jewish shrines. A large section of the Abraham Sanctuary in Hebron was transformed into a Jewish shrine and various Jewish groups still demand that the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem be replaced by a Jewish temple.
The Arab Palestinians' prophecy concerning their maltreatment at the hands of the Jewish State came true. Everybody knows the Arab Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been subjected to land grabs to construct Jewish settlements, deteriorating economic conditions and deprivation of their political and civil rights. It is worth mentioning that the Arab Palestinians, who are Israeli citizens, residing in Galilee and the Northern Triangle have also suffered severe economic, social, educational, cultural and political problems. Their towns have the highest levels of poverty and unemployment, as well as the lowest percentage of students passing the "Bagroot" examinations, of enrollment in universities, and per capita income.
The partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state created a threat to the existence and future of the Arab Palestinians, and to Arabs and Muslims, in general. A quick look at the map of the proposed Jewish state shows it extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, which means that it was going to separate the Asian Arabs and Muslims from the African Arabs and Muslims, leaving no space for territorial connection. Naturally, this would hinder any kind of cooperation, coordination and unification. Moreover, this would be an obstacle to joint economic development projects between the two regions.
From the point of view of the Arab Palestinians, the Zionist project is a first-grade imperialist European one, mingled with Jewish ideas, for misleading purposes only. Napoleon Bonaparte called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine a century prior to the foundation of the Zionist Movement. The same idea had been nourished in the British incubator for a long time, before the secular Jewish leadership adopted it.7
All those who have studied history know that British, American and European support for the Zionist proposal was the major guarantee for its materialization, and led to the initiation of the partition resolution and establishment of the State of Israel - a state that is technologically and militarily superior to its enemies. Accordingly, the Arab Palestinians knew the Jewish State would be the tip of the iceberg in the region, and would operate against them. Moreover, they knew the imperialist European countries would exploit Israel to invade the Arab countries aiming to paralyze their economic, military and political capacity and potential - as a justification for imposing their control over the Arab region. The experiences and events that took place in the region during the last half century have proven the analytical projections of the Palestinian and Arab leaders as logical and prognostic.
The European-style Jewish state, legitimized by the partition resolution, reminded the Arab Palestinians and Muslims of the Crusader State established in Palestine in 1098 A.D. It is well known that this state committed various massacres in Jerusalem, Haifa, Caesarea and other Palestinian and Syrian cities, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews, demolishing villages and houses, capturing land and virtually enslaving the Muslim peasants, who stuck to both their land and homeland. The similarity between the Zionist and the Crusaders projects still lives in the minds of Muslim Palestinians and Arabs. The concept in both cases was a European initiative, materialized and implemented by Europeans, since all the support for the Zionist entity in Palestine was, and still is, Western. Furthermore, the terrorist acts carried out by the Zionist Movement during 1946-1947 served to reinforce the fears of the Arab Palestinians that the proposed state would be no different from the previous one, which was established more than 850 years ago.
With all these doubts, the Arab Palestinians found themselves obliged to oppose the partition resolution, thinking they could force the British Government and maybe the UN to reconsider the resolution and work on a more positive one, by threatening to use violence against the future Jewish state. The experiences of the Arab Palestinians proved that Britain was more responsive and supportive to their position whenever they held firm or used violence. Following every uprising or revolution conducted by Arab Palestinians, Britain had delegated fact-finding missions and issued white papers, which, in most cases, substantially responded to their wishes - an optimal example of that is the 1937 White Paper issued after the 1936 revolution.
Meanwhile, the Arab Palestinians and leaders of the Arab people believed they possessed the military power to overcome the Jewish settlers in Palestine who were supported by their European allies. Consequently, they rejected the partition resolution to justify the instigation of war against the new entity.
The Arab Palestinians did not resist reconciliation efforts with the Jews, based on the partition of Palestine between the conflicting parties without suggesting alternative solutions. They made many such efforts. Their alternative solutions always included the following broad lines:
* To grant independence to Palestine as soon as possible.
* To establish a liberal, multi-party and democratic system.
* To recognize all the Jews who lived in Palestine at that time, including the illegal immigrants, as citizens of the state.
* The Jewish minority would practice all the rights exercised by state residents, the way other ethnic groups exercise their rights in a democratic state.
* To preserve the holy places in Palestine that pertain to all religions.
* Official democratic legislation regarding the future of Jewish immigration to Palestine, as well as the transfer of land and property from Arabs to Jews.
The Arab Palestinians repeated this kind of alternative in the official document submitted to the fact-finding mission (Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry) in March, 1946. Below are some excerpts from the document that clarify certain aspects of the above proposal:
"The Arabs urge the establishment in Palestine of a democratic government representative of all sections of the population on a level of absolute equality."
"The Arabs are opposed to political Zionism, but in no way hostile to the Jews as such nor to their Jewish fellow-citizens of Palestine. Those Jews who have already entered Palestine, and who have obtained or shall obtain Palestinian citizenship ... will be full citizens of the Palestinian state, enjoying full civil and political rights and a fair share in government and administration."
"No attempt would be made to interfere with their communal organization, their personal status or their religious observances. Their schools and cultural institutions would be left to operate unchecked except for that general control which all governments exercise over education. In the districts in which they are most closely settled they would possess municipal autonomy and Hebrew would be an official language of administration, justice and education."
"The state would recognize also the world's interest in the maintenance of a satisfactory regime for the Muslim, Christian and Jewish Holy Places."
"... further immigration will be decided in accordance with normal democratic procedure."
"...matters concerning land will be decided in the normal democratic manner."8
Even though the Arab Palestinian proposal was realistic, and just, they lacked the military and political power to ensure its enforcement. The Arab-Palestinian-Islamic alliance did not provide the needed strength. The Western-European-Jewish alliance, on the other hand, had enormous political and military power, and this led to the endorsement of the partition resolution and its implementation.
Half a century has elapsed since the partition resolution, and radical changes in the demographic and economic aspects have taken place in Palestine. The Israeli occupation of all the Palestinian Territories and the consolidation of its military, political, and economic supremacy, along with that of its Western allies, has reversed the state of affairs. The Palestinians are now willing to accept Palestine's division into two states (even though their share will not be more than 20 percent of the area of Mandate Palestine) while a large segment of Israelis refuse the idea and insist on keeping the whole of Palestine (Mandate borders). However, if the Israelis insist on maintaining Palestine as a whole and depriving the Palestinians from establishing their own state on their forefathers land, both nations will have to live a series of unnecessary wars, suffering, atrocities and destruction.
After more than a century of wars, battles and uprisings, without decisive victory for either side, I believe both Jews and Palestinians have become quite convinced they should reach a radical and final resolution of the conflict - a resolution that is internationally approved and acknowledged. This was the focal initiative of the partition resolution in 1947, manifested in the partition of Palestine and the establishment of two states (Jewish and Palestinian).
The borders between these two states should be indicative of the military, political, demographic, social and religious realities that developed over the second half of the last century. In my opinion, the factors obstructing a settlement at present are the concepts that have been embedded in the minds of the leaders of both nations over the past decades. I hope a new enlightened and rational leadership, that is free of this heritage will step in to save us from the vicious circle of war and aggression so that we can enter a new era of cooperation and construction.
1 Tarabyn, 1990, pp. 1080-1086. Perez, 1978, p.284
2 Shukri, 1990, p.142
3 Laqueur, 1984, pp.120-121
4 Rolef, 1987, p.247
5 Laueur, 1984. pp.66-67
6 Statistical Abstract of Israel, no. 33, pp. 33, 134. Al- Qadiyyah al-Filastiniyyah, 1973, p. 122, 130
7 Shufani, 1987, pp.310, 312-313, 316-318
8 Laqueur, 1984, pp.100-103
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Peretz, Don. 1978. The Middle East Today. 3rd edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Al-Qadiyyah al-Siyasiyah wa-al-Khatar al-Sahyuni. 1973. Beirut: Mu'assat al-Dirast al-filastinyyah.
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Shufani, Ilyas. 1996. al-Mujaz fi Tarikh Filastin Mundhu Fajr al-Tarikh Hatta Sant 1949. Beirut: Mu'assat al-Dirasat al-Filastinyyah.
Statistical Abstract of Israel, 1982, Central Bureau of Statistics. Jerusalem. No. 33.
Tarabayn, Ahmad. 1990. "Filastin fi 'Ahd al-Intidab al-Baritani" in al-Mawsu'ah al-Filastinyyah. Beirut: part two, vol. 2. pp. 991-116. <