The fact that after over 20 years of fruitless negotiations the Palestinians have chosen an internationalization strategy to try to achieve national independence is considered by the current Israeli government and its supporters to be illegitimate “unilateral action” that bypasses the need for bilateral negotiations with Israel to resolve the conflict. What those opponents of internationalization are conveniently forgetting is the major role that internationalization has played in Israeli history.
To put it simply, just as the Palestinian national liberation movement, represented by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), is now seeking help from the international community and its institutions to achieve its goals, the Jewish national liberation movement, represented by the World Zionist Organization (WZO), also sought help from the international community and its institutions to help achieve statehood.
Herzl Sought Help from the German Emperor and the Turkish Sultan
Let’s begin with Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism and the organizer of the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. After writing his visionary book Der Judenstaadt (The Jewish State) in 1895, Herzl sought international help to carry out his plan. He considered Germany and Turkey, which controlled Palestine within the context of the Ottoman Empire, to be the two major international players who could help realize the vision. Herzl met with German Emperor Wilhelm II a number of times, including in Jerusalem in 1898, and in 1901 he met with the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II, to try to gain their support for the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. In both cases he was unsuccessful.
Herzl also attended the Hague Peace Conference in 1899, the first ever international peace conference held on the eve of the new millennium, initiated by Czar Nicholas II of Russia and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, where he promoted his ideas among the participating heads of state. He also spoke with representatives of the British government to discuss the possibility of establishing a Jewish homeland in Uganda, and met with the Russian Finance Minister Sergei Witte and Interior Minister Viacheslav Plehve to seek support for his ideas.
Chaim Weizmann and the Balfour Declaration
One of Herzl’s successors as president of the WZO Prof. Chaim Weizmann, was more successful. In 1916, Weizmann, who was at the time serving as president of the British Zionist Federation, used his position as head of the British Admiralties laboratories to discuss with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George strategies for the British campaign against the Ottomans during World War I. This helped set the stage for his major achievement, the arrangement of a letter sent by Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community and a former member of Parliament (1899-1910), now known as the “Balfour Declaration.”
The Balfour Declaration declared the following:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Written on Nov. 2, 1917, and published on Nov. 9, 1917, the letter was later officially incorporated into the post-war Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920 and in the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922, which was formally confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922. The Balfour Declaration became the internationally recognized basis for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
UN General Assembly Resolution 181: the Partition Plan
The next major international stage in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel was, of course, the passing of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, known as “The Partition Plan” on November 29, 1947. With the collapse of the pre-World War II order, the final meeting of the League of Nations took place on April 12, 1946 in Geneva. Many of its institutions and roles were assumed by the newly formed UN, which officially came into existence on Oct. 24, 1945.
The Peel Commission established by the British government in 1937 had already concluded before the war that the Mandate had become unworkable and recommended partition. After the war, at the request of the British government, the UN formed a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) on May 15, 1947 to recommend a way to end the Mandate. On Sept. 3, 1947, the majority committee members issued a report recommending the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem designated as a Corpus Separatum with special international status. And then on Nov. 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions and one absent, in favor of the modified Partition Plan.
Basing Israel’s Legitimacy on International Resolutions
On May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion, then the acting president of the WZO and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, issued the Israeli Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, he and the other drafters of the Declaration were happy to cite the importance of internationalization when they noted that the right to a Jewish state in Palestine:
… was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.
And they also were happy to cite the importance of UNGA Resolution 181 when they wrote:
On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.
Thus internationalization clearly played a very important role in the history of the establishment of the state of Israel.
The International Community’s Role in the Defense and Development of Israel
The international community also played a very important role in the early years of the State of Israel, beginning with the provision of Czech weapons, with the aid of the Soviet Union, which were critical in the ability of the young state to defend itself in 1948-49; French military support; and, most importantly, the post-Holocaust Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany, signed on Sept. 10, 1952, which provided vital economic support for the fledgling Israeli economy and its ability to absorb Holocaust survivors and the mass immigration of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
And would we have peace with Egypt if U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had not insisted that Israel preserve Egyptian honor after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and if President Jimmy Carter had not devoted 13 precious days to the Camp David negotiations in 1978 between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar El-Sadat?
Clearly the international community and internationalization tactics, initiated by the Zionist Movement and its successor, the government of the State of Israel, and in some cases by the members of the international community, have played a major role in establishment of the state and its successes.
Completing UNGA Resolution 181 — Giving the Arab State a Name
So what do we have today? One of the primary goals of the current internationalization campaign is the formulation and passing of a new UN Security Council resolution that would set internationally recognized parameters for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem, and mutually agreedupon land swaps. Essentially that is the updating and fulfillment of UNGA Resolution 181. That resolution referred to the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine. We now know that the name of the Jewish state is the State of Israel. The new resolution would give a name to the Arab state, the State of Palestine.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has stated that the resolution is aimed not against Israel, but rather at establishing a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. Such a resolution is clearly in Israel’s interest. There can be no full international legitimacy for Israel until it has clearly defined international borders, and the establishment of the future state of Palestine along the 1967 borders means that Israel, too, will have recognized borders.
When I join other Israelis in supporting the recognition of the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel and the idea of new UNSC resolution setting down recognized international parameters for an agreement, I am, in the words of former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Alon Liel, one of the people leading the Palestinian state recognition campaign, “doing it for Zionist reasons, to ensure the future existence of the State of Israel.”
The Palestinians Couldn’t Accept 181 in 1947 — Now They Do
Yes, it would have been easier if the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states had accepted UNGA Resolution 181 in 1947. I have heard a number of prominent Palestinian spokespeople say that, in retrospect, they wish the Palestinian leadership had been able to accept the Partition Plan in 1947. However, given the circumstances, the belief that they deserved to be sovereign over the entire area of Palestine, and the belief that it was unfair that an area which had a two-thirds Palestinian majority at the time was being divided with 56% of the land being given to the Jewish state and only 44% to the Arab state, they were forced to oppose the resolution.
It is also unfortunate that both the Jewish and the Arab sides opposed the Jerusalem Corpus Separatum idea. If Jerusalem had become an international city, as envisioned in UNGA Resolution 181, everything today would be much simpler.
And I would add that it is unfortunate that the majorities on both the Jewish and the Palestinian sides opposed the bi-national state idea that was submitted to the UNSCOP Committee by representatives of Brit Shalom and Hashomer Hatzair. (Full disclosure: My father, Avraham Schenker, one of the founders of the Progressive Zionist League at the time, helped Mordechai Ben-Tov, later a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and a minister in the first provisional government, submit the bi-national proposal to UNSCOP.) Today, the idea of a bi-national state has been resurrected in some proposals for a one-state solution. However, a one-state solution today is either a recipe for an Israeli-dominated apartheid-like regime or a recipe for ongoing violent conflict. A bi-national state is not a realistic proposal at this stage of Israeli-Palestinian relations. And perhaps it couldn’t have been otherwise, since it turns out that in the post-World War II era, the national impulse is much stronger than was thought at the time of the establishment of the UN in 1946. We can see this very clearly with the post-Cold War breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia into separate national components, and the ethno-national tensions in Belgium, Spain, Scotland, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere. South Africa and Switzerland are exceptions to the general rule, each with their own very specific circumstances.
Internationalization — the Only Viable Strategy for Progress
So here we are today. The Palestinians have retroactively accepted UNGA Resolution 181 and included that acceptance in their Declaration of Independence of 1988. And the neighboring Arab states, via the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, have also accepted the principles of the Partition Plan, citing UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 — “land for peace.”
Since serious bilateral negotiations between the government of Israel under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the PLO under Abbas do not seem to be in the cards, the only nonviolent way forward is via internationalization, a strategy which in the final analysis is not only based on the lessons of Israeli history, but also in the best interests of both Israel and the Palestinians.