Palestine and The Resolution 181(II) of the UN General Assembly – Historical Overview

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The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a proposal by the United Nations which recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the Plan as Resolution 181(II).

The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Partition Plan was attached as a four-part document to the resolution provided for the termination of the British Mandate, the progressive withdrawal of British armed forces and the delineation of boundaries between the two States and Jerusalem. Part I of the Plan stipulated that the Mandate would be terminated as soon as possible and the United Kingdom would withdraw no later than 1 August 1948. The new states would come into existence two months after the withdrawal before 1 October 1948. The Plan sought to address the conflicting objectives and claims of two competing movements, Palestinian nationalism and Zionism. The Plan also called for Economic Union between the proposed states for the protection of citizens’ rights. The Plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

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Arab leaders and governments rejected the partition plan by indicating an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division. They argued that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN Charter which granted people the right to decide self destiny.

A civil war broke out soon after adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly and the plan was not implemented. The British administration was formalized by the League of Nations under the Palestine Mandate in 1923, as part of the Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire following World War I which reaffirmed the 1917 British commitment to the Balfour Declaration.  A British census of 1918 estimated 700,000 Arabs and 56,000 Jews recommending establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

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In 1937, the British established the Peel Commission following a six-month-long Arab General Strike and armed insurrection to pursue national independence and secure the country from foreign control. The Commission concluded that the Mandate was not workable. The commission further recommended Partition into an Arab state linked to Transjordan as a small Jewish state and a mandatory zone.

The commission suggested a land partition and population transfer to address problems arising from the presence of national minorities in each area with measured population transfer of 225,000 Arabs living in the envisaged Jewish state and 1,250 Jews living in a future Arab state. The huge migration was ready with economic crisis for which the Plan proposed avoiding interfering with Jewish immigration for most of Palestine’s wealth coming from them. It was proposed that the Jewish state pay an annual subsidy to the Arab state and take on half of the latter’s deficit. The Palestinian Arab leadership rejected partition as unacceptable for the given inequality in the proposed population exchange and the transfer of one-third of Palestine’s best agricultural land to recent immigrants. The Jewish leaders Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion persuaded the Zionist Congress to lend provisional approval to the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiations explaining the partition would be a first step to possession of the land as a whole.

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The British Woodhead Commission was set up to examine the practicality of partition. The Peel plan was rejected. In 1938 the British government issued a policy statement by which the political, administrative and financial difficulties involved in the proposal to create independent Arab and Jewish States inside Palestine are so great that this solution of the problem is impracticable. Soon after, representatives of Arabs and Jews were invited to London for the St. James Conference which also proved unsuccessful.

British policies were influenced by a desire to win Arab world support to engage with another Arab uprising with alarm of World War II. The MacDonald White Paper of May 1939 declared that it was not part of the British government’s policy to make Palestine a Jewish State, to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine and restricted Arab land sales to Jews. The League of Nations commission held that the White Paper was in conflict with the terms of the Mandate as put forth in the past. The outbreak of the Second World War suspended any further deliberations. The Jewish Agency hoped to persuade the British to restore Jewish immigration rights and cooperated with the British in the war against Fascism. Aliyah Bet was organized to spirit Jews out of Nazi controlled Europe, despite the British prohibitions. The White Paper led to the formation of Lehi, a small Jewish organization to oppose the British.

In August 1945 President Truman asked for the admission of 100,000 Holocaust survivors into Palestine but the British maintained limits on Jewish immigration in line with the 1939 White Paper after World War II. The Jewish community rejected the restriction on immigration and organized an armed resistance. These actions and United States pressure to end the anti-immigration policy led to the establishment of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. In April 1946, the Committee reached a unanimous decision for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe into Palestine, rescission of the white paper restrictions of land sale to Jews. The Committee suggested the extension of U.N. Trusteeship for the country neither be Arab nor Jewish. U.S. endorsed the Commission findings concerning Jewish immigration and land purchase restrictions while U.K. conditioned their implementation on U.S. assistance in case of another Arab revolt. In effect the British continued to carry out its White Paper policy. The recommendations triggered violent demonstrations in the Arab states, calls for a Jihad and an annihilation of all European Jews in Palestine.

In February 1947, Britain announced its intent to terminate the Mandate for Palestine with referring the matter of the future Palestine to the United Nations. United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was formed for report on the situation of Palestine.

References are for internal record to validate the content of this Article if and when needed:

  1. “A/RES/181(II) of 29 November 1947”. United Nations. 1947. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  2. “A/RES/181(II) of 29 November 1947”. United Nations. 1947. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  3. William B. Quandt, Paul Jabber, Ann Mosely Lesch The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism, University of California Press, 1973 p.7.
  4. Part II. – Boundaries recommended in UNGA Res 181 Molinaro, Enrico The Holy Places of Jerusalem in Middle East Peace Agreements Page 78
  5. Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war. Yale University Press. p. 75. Retrieved 24 July 2013. ” p. 75 The night of 29–30 November passed in the Yishuv’s settlements in noisy public rejoicing. Most had sat glued to their radio sets broadcasting live from Flushing Meadow. A collective cry of joy went up when the two-thirds mark was achieved: a state had been sanctioned by the international community. ; p. 396 The immediate trigger of the 1948 War was the November 1947 UN partition resolution. The Zionist movement, except for its fringes, accepted the proposal.”
  6. The Question of Palestine: Brochure DPI/2517/Rev.1: Chapter 2, The Plan of Partition and end of the British Mandate
  7. Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war. Yale University Press. pp. 66, 67, 72. Retrieved 24 July 2013. p.66, at 1946 “The League demanded independence for Palestine as a “unitary” state, with an Arab majority and minority rights for the Jews.” ; p.67, at 1947 “The League’s Political Committee met in Sofar, Lebanon, on 16–19 September, and urged the Palestine Arabs to fight partition, which it called “aggression,” “without mercy.” The League promised them, in line with Bludan, assistance “in manpower, money and equipment” should the United Nations endorse partition.” ; p. 72, at Dec 1947 “The League vowed, in very general language, “to try to stymie the partition plan and prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine
  8. Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war. Yale University Press. p. 73. Retrieved 24 July 2013. “p73 All paid lip service to Arab unity and the Palestine Arab cause, and all opposed partition… p. 396 The immediate trigger of the 1948 War was the November 1947 UN partition resolution. … The Palestinian Arabs, along with the rest of the Arab world, said a flat “no”… The Arabs refused to accept the establishment of a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. And, consistently with that “no,” the Palestinian Arabs, in November–December 1947, and the Arab states in May 1948, launched hostilities to scupper the resolution’s implementation ; p. 409 The mindset characterized both the public and the ruling elites. All vilified the Yishuv and opposed the existence of a Jewish state on “their” (sacred Islamic) soil, and all sought its extirpation, albeit with varying degrees of bloody-mindedness. Shouts of “Idbah al Yahud” (slaughter the Jews) characterized equally street demonstrations in Jaffa, Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad both before and during the war and were, in essence, echoed, usually in tamer language, by most Arab leaders. ”
  9. Sami Hadawi,Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine, Olive Branch Press, (1989)1991 p.76.
  10. Article “History of Palestine”, Encyclopædia Britannica (2002 edition), article section written by Walid Ahmed Khalidi and Ian J. Bickerton.
  11. Itzhak Galnoor (1995). The Partition of Palestine: Decision Crossroads in the Zionist Movement. SUNY Press. pp. 289–. ISBN 978-0-7914-2193-2. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  12. Mansfield, Peter (1992), The Arabs, pp. 172–175, ISBN 0-14-014768-3
  13. The Palestine Mandate “the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917”
  14. Rashid Khalidi (1 September 2006). The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Beacon Press. pp. 181–. ISBN 978-0-8070-0315-2.
  15. Palestine Royal Commission report, 1937, 389–391
  16. Benny Morris. Righteous Victims. p. 139.
  17. Sumantra Bose (30 June 2009). Contested lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka. Harvard University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-674-02856-2.
  18. Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948
  19. William Roger Louis, Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization, 2006, p.391
  20. Benny Morris, One state, two states: resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict, 2009, p. 66
  21. Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 48; p. 11 “while the Zionist movement, after much agonising, accepted the principle of partition and the proposals as a basis for negotiation”; p. 49 “In the end, after bitter debate, the Congress equivocally approved –by a vote of 299 to 160 – the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiation.”
  22. Partner to Partition: The Jewish Agency’s Partition Plan in the Mandate Era, Yosef Kats, Chapter 4, 1998 Edition, Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-4846-9
  23. Letter from David Ben-Gurion to his son Amos, written 5 October 1937, Obtained from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Hebrew, and translated into English by the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut
  24. Morris, Benny (2011), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, p. 138, ISBN 9780307788054 Quote: “No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of the Land Of Israel. [A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning ….. Our possession is important not only for itself … through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state …. will serve as a very potent lever in our historical effort to redeem the whole country”
  25. Finkelstein, Norman (2005), Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, p. 280, ISBN 9780520245983
  26. Jerome Slater, ‘The Significance of Israeli Historical revisionism’ in Russell A. Stone, Walter P. Zenner(eds.) Critical Essays on Israeli Social Issues and Scholarship, Vol.3 SUNY Press, 1994 pp.179-199 p.182.
  27. Quote from a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938: “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state, we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.” in
  28. Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 107, ISBN 9780887282355; and
  29. Segev, Tom (2000), One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Company, p. 403, ISBN 9780805048483
  30. From a letter from Chaim Weizmann to Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, High Commissioner for Palestine, while the Peel Commission was convening in 1937: “We shall spread in the whole country in the course of time ….. this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years.” Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 62, ISBN 9780887282355
  31. Statement by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom. Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty. November, 1938. Cmd. 5893. “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  32. Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews, (1961) New Viewpoints, New York 1973 p.716
  33. Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry – Appendix IV Palestine: Historical Background
  34. Benny Morris (25 May 2011). “chp. 4”. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998 (Hebrew ed.). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4. Capping it all, the Permanent Mandates Commission of the Council of the League of Nations rejected the White Paper as inconsistent with the terms of the Mandate.
  35. William roger louis, 1985, p.386
  36. Morris, 2008, p.34
  37. Gurock, Jeffrey S. American Jewish History American Jewish Historical Society, page 243

Morris, 2008, p.35 (by Rabia Saghar)