Palestine and the Right of Self Determination


The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created on 15 May 1947 in response the request of United Kingdom that the General Assembly should make recommendations under article 10 of the Charter for the future government of Palestine. The British government had also recommended the establishment of a special committee to prepare a report for the General Assembly. The General Assembly adopted the recommendation to set up the UNSCOP to investigate the cause of the conflict in Palestine to devise a solution. UNSCOP was made up of representatives of 11 nations which visited Palestine and gathered testimony from Zionist organisations in Palestine and in the U.S. The Arab Higher Committee boycotted it because the Palestinian Arabs’ natural rights were self-evident and deserved to be recognized on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Committee presented its report on 3 September 1947 in the General Assembly which supported the termination of the British mandate in Palestine. The Committee suggested two plans:

  1. A majority proposal for a Plan of Partition into two independent states with Economic Union; or
  2. A minority proposal for a Plan for one Federal union with Jerusalem as its capital.

Chapter VI of the report envisaged the division of Palestine into three parts, i.e., an Arab State, a Jewish State and the City of Jerusalem, linked by extraterritorial crossroads. The proposed Arab State would include the central and part of western Galilee, with the town of Acre, the hill country of Samaria and Judea, an enclave at Jaffa, and the southern coast stretching from north of Isdud/ Ashdod and encompassing what is now the Gaza Strip, with a section of desert along the Egyptian border. The proposed Jewish State would include the fertile Eastern Galilee, the Coastal Plain, stretching from Haifa to Rehovot and most of the Negev desert, including the southern outpost of Umm Rashrash/Eilat. The Jerusalem Corpus Separatum included Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

The primary objectives of the majority members of the Committee were political division. The Plan tried its best to accommodate maximum Jews into the Jewish State. Sparsely populated areas of Negev desert were also included in the Jewish state to create room for immigration. According to the plan, Jews and Arabs living in the Jewish state would become citizens of the Jewish state and Jews and Arabs living in the Arab state would become citizens of the Arab state. Report recommended Palestinian citizens residing in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem as well as Arabs and Jews not holding Palestinian citizenship, resided in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem would become citizens of the State in which they were resident and enjoy full civil and political rights upon the recognition of independence.

The land allocated to the Arab State in the final plan included about 43% of Mandatory Palestine and consisted of all of the highlands except for Jerusalem including one-third of the coastline. The highlands contain the major aquifers of Palestine, which supplied water to the coastal cities of central Palestine, including Tel Aviv. The Jewish State was to receive 56% of Mandatory Palestine, a slightly larger area to accommodate the increasing numbers of Jews who would immigrate there. The Jewish State included three fertile lowland plains – the Sharon on the coast, the Jezreel Valley and the upper Jordan Valley. However, the bulk of the proposed Jewish State’s territory consisted of the Negev Desert. The Jewish State would also be given sole access to the Red Sea.

The General Assembly called a special session to vote on the proposal on 25 November 1947 where one vote short of the two-thirds majority was casted by the committee members.  On 29 November 1947 the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 based on the UNSCOP majority plan with slight modifications to the proposed recommendations.

Most Jews in Palestine and around the world welcomed the Partition Plan but some felt it did not settle the problem. Jews gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to celebrate the U.N. resolution during the whole night after the vote. Great bonfires blazed at Jewish collective farms in the north. Many big cafes in Tel Aviv served free champagne. Mainstream Zionist leaders emphasized the heavy responsibility of building a modern Jewish State, and committed to working towards a peaceful coexistence with the region’s other inhabitants which never been practiced. Jewish units in the United States hailed the action by the United Nations. Some Revisionist Zionists rejected the partition plan and warned that the partition would not bring peace because it will never be recognized internationally while other Zionists accepted the partition as a compromise which would expand the territory that had been assigned by the UN to the Jewish state.

Arab leaders and governments rejected the plan of partition in the resolution and indicated rejection of any other further plan of partition. The Arab states’ delegations declared immediately after the vote for partition that they would not be bound by the decision and walked out accompanied by the Indian and Pakistani delegates arguing that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny. The Arab delegations to the UN issued a joint statement the day after that vote that stated: “the vote in regard to the Partition of Palestine has been given under great pressure and duress, and that this makes it doubly invalid”.

It is right to say that the Partition Plan for Palestine was never acceptable from its beginning. It was rejected by the Palestine and other world leaders soon after its announcement because the partition can never be imposed on some state. National self-determination is the authentic and recognized right of some state guaranteed by the UN Charter to decide state’s destiny. The United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine and following The Resolution 181(II) of the General Assembly was ab-intio void due to breaking its own charter. The Palestine would have to decide its destiny at the end of British Mandate. It is the national right of Palestine to decide its destiny by self-determination for which it is waiting since long. (by: Rabia Sagar)