What happened to the 1947 UN Partition Plan?

Mahmoud Abbas is clinging to a dead letter.

The U.N. General Assembly. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.
The U.N. General Assembly. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

November 29 is the 75th anniversary of the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan—General Assembly Resolution 181—which divided the geographical area west of the Jordan River into two states: a Jewish state and an Arab state. In its essence, the Partition Plan was a fundamental breach of the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which placed that entire area under the governance of Great Britain for the sole purpose of creating a Jewish state on all of the land.

The 1922 Mandate for Palestine had already taken the entire geographical area then referred to as “Palestine” and divided it in two: The eastern part of Palestine—the Arab state—was placed under the rule of the Hashemite family and became Transjordan. The western part of Palestine was to become the Jewish state.

Despite the breach of the Mandate, the Jewish leadership of the day, represented by David Ben Gurion, accepted the plan. The Arab countries, on the other hand, rejected the plan and immediately started planning to eradicate the Jewish state before it even came into existence.

Now, 75 years later, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has told the U.N. that he has decided to accept the plan and even demand its implementation: “Therefore, I present today to this U.N. organization, the title of international legitimacy in this world, with a formal request to implement General Assembly Resolution 181, which formed the basis for the two-state solution in 1947.”

In making this demand, Abbas ignored a number of fundamental realities.

First, Abbas is demanding the implementation of a plan that has been defunct for 75 years. Living up to their promises, even before the British Mandate came to an end on May 14, 1948, the Arab countries attacked the nascent Jewish state.

Israel managed to survive and expand in a war in which 6,000 Israeli men, women and children were killed, a full 1% of the population. However, most of the areas allocated for the Arab state—Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip—were occupied by Jordan and Egypt.

In its original charter from 1965, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is now headed by Abbas, disavowed its connection to the areas provisionally allocated for the Arab state. It declared: “This Organization [the PLO] does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area.”

Indeed, while Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria from 1948 to 1967, they and the other Arab countries refrained from creating what could have been the “Palestinian” Arab state.

Israel’s War of Independence formally ended with the signing of a series of Armistice Agreements (from November 1948 through April 1949) with the Arab countries. In parallel, the U.N. established the Conciliation Commission for Palestine.

In the discussions of the Conciliation Commission, the Arab countries demanded that Israel commit national demographic suicide and agree to flood itself with hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees before they would express any willingness to accept Israel’s very existence.

Israel, on the other hand, demanded that the Arab countries first accept Israel’s existence and right to exist. Interestingly, according to the Oct. 23, 1950 report of the Commission, during the talks Israel offered to turn the armistice lines with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria into borders. Israel also offered to turn the armistice line with Egypt into a border, with the exception of the Gaza Strip, which it offered to incorporate into Israel and give all the Arabs living there Israeli citizenship.

“The delegation of Israel declared that if the Gaza area were incorporated in the State of Israel, the Government of Israel would be prepared to accept as citizens of Israel the entire Arab population of the area, both inhabitants and refugees,” the report said.

Steadfast in their refusal to accept Israel’s existence and right to exist as a national homeland for the Jewish people, the Arab countries rejected Israel’s offers.

The second reality Abbas ignores is that he is demanding the implementation of the Partition Plan in order to create a Palestinian state. While Abbas and many Palestinian supporters refer to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip as “occupied Palestinian territories,” neither the U.N. Partition Plan nor U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 from 1967 refer to the areas allocated for the Arab state as “Palestinian territories.” The term “occupied Palestinian territories” was certainly not used from 1948-1967 and its first reference in U.N. documents appeared in the late 1990s.

The third reality Abbas ignores is that resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly—such as the Partition Plan—are not legally binding and do not have the authority to recognize a new state. As Palestinian Media Watch noted before Abbas made his demand to implement the Partition Plan, such a move would contravene international law and necessitate a positive recommendation from all five of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which would have to be followed by the approval of two-thirds of the General Assembly.

In the 1922 Mandate for Palestine, the League of Nations formally recognized, in the name of the entire international community, “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

While the Partition Plan breached the legally binding Mandate, in its time, it had the potential to initiate a process that would have divided the area west of the Jordan River into two states. That option was eternally lost when it was wholly rejected by the Arab states and the Arab leadership. Abbas vainly clinging to the Partition Plan is equivalent to a passenger who bought a ticket on the Titanic and is now demanding that it take him across the Atlantic Ocean.

IDF Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is director of Legal Strategies at Palestinian Media Watch.

This article was originally published by Palestinian Media Watch.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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