As part of the rewriting of history at the UN promoted by the Palestinians and their supporters, the anniversary of partition has been turned into "Palestine Day," and is annually marked by the adoption of a series of resolutions condemning Israel. This year, the ritual is especially absurd given the lack of condemnation for the slaughters being perpetrated by Arabs and Muslims in Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. Nevertheless, 69 years after the UN voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state it is instructive to see how Arab irredentism has ensured the Palestinians will have to content themselves with a day of celebration instead of sharing with Israelis the joy of nearly seven decades of statehood.
As World War II ended, the magnitude of the Holocaust became known. This accelerated demands for a resolution to the question of Palestine so the survivors of Hitler’s Final Solution might find sanctuary in a homeland of their own.
The British tried to work out an agreement acceptable to both Arabs and Jews, but their insistence on the former’s approval guaranteed failure because the Arabs would not make any concessions. The British subsequently turned the issue over to the UN in February 1947.
At the time, the British adviser on Palestine asked a representative of the Jewish Agency why the Jews agreed to let the UN decide the fate of Palestine. "Don't you know," he said, "that the only way a Jewish state will be established is if the U.S. and Soviet Union agree? Nothing like that ever happened. It cannot possibly happen. It will never happen. A few months later, however, for the first time in history, Americans and Soviets agreed on a course of action, the partition of Palestine.
The British adviser was correct that this was by no means a foregone conclusion. The UN established a Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) to reconcile the conflicting national aspirations of Jews and Arabs and quickly concluded it was impossible. A majority of the delegation recommended the establishment of two separate states, Jewish and Arab, to be joined by economic union, with Jerusalem an internationalized enclave. The Arab demand for a unitary Arab state was rejected.
The Jews of Palestine were not satisfied with the small territory allotted to them by the Commission, nor were they happy that Jerusalem was severed from the Jewish State; nevertheless, they welcomed the compromise. The Arabs rejected UNSCOP’s recommendations.
The majority recommendation for partition was viewed as a more just solution and was adopted by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947, with 33 nations voting in favor, 13 opposed and 10 abstentions.
A few days later, the London Times wrote: “It is hard to see how the Arab world, still less the Arabs of Palestine, will suffer from what is mere recognition of accomplished fact—the presence in Palestine of a compact, well organized, and virtually autonomous Jewish community.”
Alas, the Arabs had a different view as Jewish Agency representatives David Horowitz and Abba Eban discovered when they made a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise in a meeting with Arab League Secretary Abd Al-Rahman Azzam Pasha on September 16, 1947. Azzam told them bluntly:
The Arab world is not in a compromising mood. It’s likely, Mr. Horowitz, that your plan is rational and logical, but the fate of nations is not decided by rational logic. Nations never concede; they fight. You won’t get anything by peaceful means or compromise. You can, perhaps, get something, but only by the force of your arms. We shall try to defeat you. I am not sure we’ll succeed, but we’ll try. We were able to drive out the Crusaders, but on the other hand we lost Spain and Persia. It may be that we shall lose Palestine. But it’s too late to talk of peaceful solutions.
On May 14, 1948, shortly after Israel declared its independence, Azzam's threat became a reality as the surrounding Arab states launched an invasion to strangle the nascent Jewish state. In fact, the war had begun immediately after the partition vote as Arab irregulars began to infiltrate Palestine and attack the Jewish residents.
Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman, had told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs would drench “the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood. . . .” Shortly after the vote, The Arabs declared a protest strike and instigated riots that claimed the lives of 62 Jews and 32 Arabs. Violence continued to escalate through the end of the year.
In the first phase of the war, lasting from November 29, 1947, until April 1, 1948, the Palestinian Arabs took the offensive, with help from volunteers from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe casualties and passage along most of their major roadways was disrupted. The first large-scale assaults began on January 9, 1948, when approximately 1,000 Arabs attacked Jewish communities in northern Palestine. By February, the British said so many Arabs had infiltrated they lacked the forces to run them back.
On April 26, 1948, Transjordan’s King Abdullah said:
All our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Palestine problem have failed. The only way left for us is war. I will have the pleasure and honor to save Palestine.
On May 4, 1948, the Arab Legion attacked Kfar Etzion. The defenders drove them back, but the Legion returned a week later. After two days, the ill-equipped and outnumbered settlers were overwhelmed. Many defenders were massacred after they had surrendered.
The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence. The UN Palestine Commission, which was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution, reported to the Security Council on February 16, 1948, that “powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.”
The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:
The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.
Abd Al-Rahman Azzam Pasha declared: “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”
The Arab war to destroy Israel failed. Indeed, because of their aggression, the Arabs wound up with less territory than they would have had if they had accepted partition.
The cost to Israel, however, was enormous. Its economy was decimated, military expenditures totaled approximately $500 million and, worst of all, 6,373 Israelis were killed, nearly one percent of the Jewish population of 650,000.
Had the West enforced the partition resolution or given the Jews the capacity to defend themselves, many lives might have been saved.
Overall, the Jewish State was to be comprised of roughly 5,500 square miles (about 55 percent of Palestine), and the population was to be 538,000 Jews and 397,000 Arabs. Critics claim the UN gave the Jews fertile land while the Arabs were allotted hilly, arid land. To the contrary, approximately 60 percent of the Jewish state was to be the desert in the Negev while the Arabs occupied most of the agricultural land.
The Jews were also left with a fraction of the territory they believed they were entitled to claim for a Jewish state. Nearly 80 percent of what was the historic land of Palestine and the Jewish National Home, as defined by the League of Nations, was severed by the British in 1921 and allocated to what became Transjordan. Jewish settlement there was barred. The UN partitioned the remaining 20-odd percent of Palestine into two states. With Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank in 1950, and Egypt’s control of Gaza, Arabs controlled more than 80 percent of the territory of the Mandate while the Jewish State held a bare 17.5 percent.
Israel's detractors sometimes claim that a unitary Arab state should have been created because the majority of the population in Palestine was Arab. While true that at the time of the partition resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole—1.2 million Arabs versus 600,000 Jews, the Jews were a majority in the area allotted to them by the resolution, and in Jerusalem.
Moreover, the Jews never had a chance of reaching a majority in the country given the restrictive immigration policy of the British. By contrast, Palestine’s Arab population, which had been declining prior to the Mandate in 1922, grew exponentially because Arabs from all the surrounding countries were free to come—and thousands did—to take advantage of the rapid economic development and improved health conditions stimulated by Zionist settlement.
Though conveniently forgotten by Israel's critics, the same year the UN voted to partition Palestine, the Arab members of the United Nations supported the partition of the Indian sub-continent and the creation of the new, predominantly Muslim state of Pakistan. In making demands for the return of Palestinian refugees, they also ignore that a transfer of populations took place that resulted in eight million Hindus fleeing Pakistan and six million Muslims leaving India out of fear of becoming a minority in their respective countries. Like the Palestinians, these people wanted to avoid being caught in the middle of the violence that engulfed their nations. In contrast to the Arab-Israeli conflict, however, the exchange of populations was considered the best solution to the problem of communal relations within the two states. Despite the enormous number of refugees and the relative poverty of the two nations involved, no special international relief organizations were established to aid them in resettlement as was the case with the Palestinians.
The Arab rejection of the partition plan also proved that the Palestinians squandered the opportunity to achieve statehood. In fact, they had missed two earlier chances, the first in 1937 when the Peel Commission concluded the only logical solution to resolving the contradictory aspirations of the Jews and Arabs was to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs rejected the plan because it forced them to accept the creation of a Jewish state, and required some Palestinians to live under “Jewish domination.”
A few years later, the 1939 British White Paper called for the establishment of an Arab state in Palestine within 10 years, and for limiting Jewish immigration to no more than 75,000 over the following five years. Afterward, no one would be allowed in without the consent of the Arab population. Though the Arabs had been granted a concession on Jewish immigration, and been offered independence—the goal of Arab nationalists—they repudiated the White Paper.
This pattern has continued to the present day, with the Palestinians accepting Jordanian and Egyptian occupation from 1949-1967, rejecting Menachem Begin's autonomy offer in 1979, failing to live up to their obligations under the Oslo agreements in the 1990s, turning down Ehud Barak's offer of statehood in 2000, violating the Road Map, rebuffing Ehud Olmert's peace offer in 2008 and refusing to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu for the last 7 years.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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