plan for

United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine

The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine or United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 was a plan approved by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947 to terminate the British Mandate of Palestine by August 1, 1948, and facilitate the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The plan was approved by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions. On March 5, 1948, the United Nations Security Council reached an impasse when it refused to pass a resolution which would have accepted the partition plan as a basis for Security Council action. The United States subsequently recommended a temporary UN trusteeship for Palestine "without prejudice to the character of the eventual political settlement", and the Security Council voted to send the matter back to the General Assembly for further deliberation. The General Assembly decided to appoint a Mediator, and relieved their Palestine Commission from any further exercise of responsibility under resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947.


The terms of the League of Nations Mandates had an origin outside of the organization. They were drafted in the councils of the Allied Powers. The League of Nations could not alter the terms of a mandate in any substantial way. It was the original intention of the League of Nations that the Mandatory regime in Palestine would lead to independence.

In 1937, members of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations had privately informed the leadership of the Jewish Agency that the Palestine Mandate could not be implemented according to the Agency's wishes. Faced with the prospect of remaining a minority in greater Palestine, the Jewish Agency Executive decided that partition was the only way out of the impasse. The principle of partition was placed on the agenda of the Twentieth Zionist Congress. In a 15 July 1937 editorial, David Ben Gurion implied that partition could never be an acceptable long-term solution: 'The Jewish people have always regarded, and will continue to regard Palestine as a whole, as a single country which is theirs in a national sense and will become theirs once again. No Jew will accept partition as a just and rightful solution.' During the Congress, Ben Gurion supported the proposal to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. At the same time, he delivered speeches which made it clear that he did not accept partition as a final solution: 'If I had been faced with the question: a Jewish state in the west of the land of Israel in return for giving up on our historical right to the entire land of Israel I would have postponed the establishment of the state. No Jew is entitled to give up the right of the Jewish nation to the land. It is not in the authority of any Jew or of any Jewish body; it is not even in the authority of the entire nation alive today to give up any part of the land'... ...'this is a standing right under all conditions. Even if, at any point, the Jews choose to decline it, they have no right to deprive future generations of it. Our right to the entire land exists and stands for ever.'

Ben Gurion confided privately, afterward, that he considered a partial Jewish State as only a beginning. He planned to organize a first-class army and then use coercion or force to settle in the rest of the country. The Zionist Congress continued to publicly propose that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth according to the Biltmore proposals, while at the same time admitting in private that they had a partition plan of their own that was acceptable as a basis for negotiations. During the debate on partition in November 1947, Mr Husseini (of the Arab Higher Committee) referred to Ben Gurion's previous contention that no Zionist could forego the smallest portion of the land of Israel, and suggested that the Revisionists were being more honest about their territorial aspirations than the representatives of the Jewish Agency. By December 1947, the Jewish community in Palestine let it be known that they had tens of thousands of well equipped and well trained fighters.

In the White Paper of 1939, the British Government had determined that it was under no legal obligation to facilitate the further development of the Jewish National Home, by immigration, without respecting the wishes of the Arab population. The 1939 Zionist Congress denied the moral and legal validity of the White Paper. The opinion of the Permanent Mandates Commission, which had the duty "to advise" the Council of the League of Nations "on all matters relating to the observance of the Mandates" was divided. Four members felt the White Paper violated the terms of the mandate, while three members did not. An analysis prepared by the UN Secretariat concluded: 'It remains a matter of speculation whether the Council of the League, in the circumstances existing in the summer of 1939, would have sided with the majority of four or the minority of three of the Permanent Mandates Commission. The outbreak of war in September 1939 prevented the Council from considering the question.'

When the Jewish and Arab leadership could not agree on a course of administration that would lead to a unified independent state, the government of the United Kingdom requested that the Question of Palestine be placed on the Agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. They asked that the Assembly make recommendations, under Article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine. The British proposal recommended that a special committee be established to perform a preliminary study designed to assist the General Assembly in developing recommendations. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was an advisory committee to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question. Membership on the Ad Hoc Committee was open to all the members of the United Nations. The General Assembly resolution called for the establishment of a United Nations Palestine Commission with a mandate to implement the plan of partition. The United Kingdom recognized the United Nations Palestine Commission as the successor government of Palestine. But the United Nations had not agreed to automatically fall heir to all of the responsibilities either of the League of Nations or of the Mandatory Power in respect to the Palestine Mandate. It had merely agreed to facilitate the transfer of sovereignty from the Mandatory to the provisional governments and to administer and govern a small trusteeship.

Contrary to popular belief, the Arab Higher Committee did make an appearance before the Ad Hoc Committee On The Palestine Question. They offered to cooperate in developing any plans for terminating the mandate and establishing a unified and independent state. They have been criticized for not cooperating with the subcommittee on developing plans for partition, but they were a non-governmental body with no legal obligation to do so. In similar fashion, the Jewish Agency offered only a Jewish Commonwealth or a partition plan as alternatives. Spokesmen for the Agency refused to cooperate with the subcommittee tasked with developing a plan for federal union. It was modeled after the US Constitutional system, and called for the establishment of Jewish and Arab States and democratically elected legislative bodies.

Preliminary Legal Questions

From the outset, there were important preliminary legal questions regarding the validity of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Anglo-French Declaration, the League of Nations British Mandate of Palestine, and the competence of the United Nations or its members to enforce a solution against the wishes of the majority of the indigenous population. The United States Senate had not ratified the Treaty of Versailles, in part, due to reservations about the legitimacy of the League of Nations System of Mandates. The US government subsequently entered into individual treaties to secure legal rights for its citizens, and to protect property rights and businesses interests in the mandates. In the case of the Palestine Mandate Convention, it recited the terms of the League of Nations mandate, and subjected them to eight amendments. One of those precluded any unilateral changes to the terms of the mandate. The United States insisted that the convention say that it 'consents' rather than 'concurs' with the terms of the mandate and declined to mention the Balfour Declaration in the preamble of its portion of the agreement. It did not agree to mutual defense, to provisionally recognize a Jewish State, or to pledge itself to maintain the territorial integrity of the mandate.

There were also suggestions that the Mandate should have been placed under the UN trusteeship program in accordance with the guiding principles contained in Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 of the UN Charter. All members were required to recognize the 'fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion' when dealing with non-self governing peoples. In that respect the UN system was portrayed as 'a real advance over the League of Nations Covenant and the mandate system established under it.'. All of these issues were more or less brushed aside by routine procedural decisions according to the delegate from Colombia. His observations and comments were addressed to the Ad Hoc Committee on 25 November 1947.

Article 26 of the Palestine Mandate provided that:

'The Mandatory agrees that, if any dispute whatever should arise between the Mandatory and another member of the League of Nations relating to the interpretation or the application of the provisions of the mandate, such dispute, if it cannot be settled by negotiation, shall be submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice...'
The Jewish Agency claimed that the Mandate created a binding legal obligation to establish a sovereign Jewish State. The UNSCOP report to the General Assembly said the conclusion seemed inescapable that the undefined term "National Home" had been used, instead of the term "State", to place a restrictive construction on the scheme from its very inception. The mandate had also provided that 'nothing should be done which might prejudice... ...the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.' On that basis, the 'Jewish National' Districts established in other countries by non-Zionists had a similar standing.

The UN never reached a unanimous conclusion. Nothing in the terms of the Mandate precluded the establishment of a Jewish State in all of Palestine. However, a minority felt that nothing in the terms of the post-war treaties and the mandate precluded the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish state denominated along the lines of a 'domestic dependent nation'.

In an earlier dispute involving the grant of the Rutenberg Concessions, the Permanent Court of Justice had ruled it had jurisdiction over every dispute involving the Palestine Mandate:

'The Court is of opinion that, in cases of doubt, jurisdiction based on an international agreement embraces all disputes referred to it [the Court] after its establishment. In the present case, this interpretation appears to be indicated by the terms of Article 26 itself where it is laid down that "any dispute whatsoever .... which may arise" shall be submitted to the Court.'

Colombia had been a founding member of the League of Nations. On 25 November 1947 the Colombian delegate, Mr. Fernandez, announced that he favored the first draft resolution of the minority sub-committee, which called for a advisory opinion under Article 96 of the UN Charter and Chapter IV of the Statute of the Court He stated that 'The delegation of Colombia, faithful to the principles of law, asked that a request should be made for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.' The opinion of the remaining colonial powers was summed-up in the response of the French delegation that the inherent rights of the indigenous population of Palestine were a political or philosophical question, but not a legal matter for the Court to decide. The Colombian resolution requesting an advisory opinion was defeated..

One further legal issue remained. The mandatory Power had the required legal and administrative authority to implement a partition plan. The U.N. could recommend a partition solution but, "does not seem to have any legal ground to impose a solution unless the mandate is in due order transmitted into a trusteeship with the U.N. as administering authority". The only other source of legal authority was if a threat to the peace existed. Four days later the plan of partition was approved with the provision that it be imposed by force: 'The Security Council [shall] determine as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, in accordance with Article 39 (CHAPTER VII) of the Charter, any attempt to alter by force the settlement envisaged by this resolution.'

The Turning Point

At a National Security Council meeting on 12 February 1948, US Secretary of Defense James Forrestal said that any serious attempt to implement partition in Palestine would set in motion events that would result in at least a partial mobilization of United States armed forces.

On 16 February 1948, The Chairman of Palestine Commission, presenting its first report to Security Council, declared that implementation of Partition would be impossible without an armed force.

The "Big Four' subsequently agreed that outside Arab intervention represented a threat to peace. At the same time, China insisted that the Jewish side was also bringing in outside forces and arms.

In a speech delivered on 25 March 1948, US President Truman recommended a temporary trusteeship and stated that the use of force was inconsistent with the UN Charter:

This country vigorously supported the plan for partition with economic union recommended by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and by the General Assembly. We have explored every possibility consistent with the basic principles of the Charter for giving effect to that solution. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the partition plan cannot be carried out at this time by peaceful means. We could not undertake to impose this solution on the people of Palestine by the use of American troops, both on Charter grounds and as a matter of national policy.

The British government had already refused to use force to impose a solution that wasn't acceptable to both sides. Article 12 of the UN Charter only empowers the General Assembly to make recommendations. Article 27 of the Charter provides that apart from mere procedural matters, the non-permanent members of the security council cannot decide matters without the concurring votes of the permanent members.

The representative of the Jewish Agency expressed a readiness 'to discuss at great length some of the legal arguments', and spoke again of 'historical rights', but the dispute was never submitted to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion. The Provisional Government of Israel claimed that the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November 1947, remains the only internationally valid adjudication on the question of the future government of Palestine. However, no arbitrated or negotiated settlement acceptable to each of the parties was ever reached. The resolution wasn't adopted unanimously, and several of the delegations had formally expressed reservations concerning the use of Chapter VII sanctions to enforce the resolution.

Accordingly the General Assembly adopted a resolution which relieved the United Nations Palestine Commission from the further exercise of its responsibilities, and its mandate from the General Assembly. Thus, the partition plan never legally entered into force. The UN continues to support the principle of partition on the basis of a neighborly implementation. It has cited Resolution 181 repeatedly in subsequent Mideast resolutions.

The Palestine Problem

Treaty and custom are co-equal sources of international law. Declarations may create legally binding obligations. The Balfour Declaration expressed sympathy for the Zionist aspiration of establishing a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine. On many occasions Zionist officials had publicly declared that the National Home wasn't the same thing as a Jewish State, or that the only Zionist aspiration was a National center of some kind in Palestine, not a national home. Many Jews were non-Zionists and had established their own national centers, or districts, in other countries. The Balfour Declaration had contained provisions protecting the rights of those other Jewish communities.

In Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) Theodor Herzl explained the goal of the Zionist movement: 'The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish State.' He also proposed the establishment of a Jewish Company, subject to English jurisdiction, to manage the colonial tasks related to land acquisition.At the First Zionist Congress, the goal was set forth in the Basle Program: "Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine, secured under public law." The Jewish Colonial Trust and its subsidiary, the Anglo-Palestine Bank, were founded after the Second Zionist Congress and incorporated in London. The 1911 Zionist Congress announced the complete abandonment of the project to setup a separate state in Palestine by means of a charter procured through the Sultan, and announced instead that Zionists merely desired a home in Palestine.

In November 1917, as General Allenby was preparing to conquer Palestine, the British Foreign office issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, head of the British Zionist movement. The declaration stated:

"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."

This declaration was a compromise, based on a draft telegram that Lord Balfour had asked Weizmann to submit earlier. It did not contain a formal commitment. It reflected the efforts of the British Zionist movement led by Dr.Chaim Weizmann, longstanding British sentiment for restoration of the Jews and British strategic and imperial considerations on the one hand. On the other hand, it reflected concerns of British Jewish anti-Zionists and foreign office personnel concerned about antagonizing the Arab world. These conflicting forces were to be reflected in the vicissitudes of British policy, ultimately causing Britain to express a desire to be relieved of its responsibility for administering the mandate, which in-turn lead to a recommendation for the partition of Palestine.

In 1919 the General Secretary (and future President) of the Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, published a History of Zionism (1600-1918). He also represented the Zionist Organization at the Paris Peace Conference. He explained:

The object of Zionism is to establish for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." ... ...It has been said and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent "Jewish State" But this is wholly fallacious. The "Jewish State" was never part of the Zionist programme. The Jewish State was the title of Herzl's first pamphlet, which had the supreme merit of forcing people to think. This pamphlet was followed by the first Zionist Congress, which accepted the Basle programme- the only programme in existence.'

The Eastern Committee of the British Cabinet met on 5 December 1918 to discuss the future of Palestine. Lord Curzon chaired the meeting. He observed:

The Zionist declaration of our Government has been followed by a very considerable immigration of Jews. One of the difficulties of the situation arises from the fact that the Zionists have taken full advantage - and are disposed to take even fuller advantage - of the opportunity which was then offered to them. You have only to read, as probably most of us do, their periodical 'Palestine', and, indeed, their pronouncements in the papers, to see that their programme is expanding from day to day. They now talk about a Jewish State. The Arab portion of the population is well-nigh forgotten and is to be ignored. They not only claim the boundaries of the old Palestine, but they claim to spread across the Jordan into the rich countries lying to the east, and, indeed, there seems to be very small limit to the aspirations which they now form. The Zionist programme, and the energy with which it is being carried out, have not unnaturally had the consequence of arousing the keen suspicions of the Arabs. By 'the Arabs' I do not merely mean Feisal and his followers at Damascus, but the so-called Arabs who inhabit the country. There seems, from the telegrams we receive, to be growing up an increasing friction between the two communities, a feeling by the Arabs that we are really behind the Zionists and not behind the Arabs, and altogether a situation which is becoming rather critical . . .'

The founding charter of the leftist Ahdut Ha'avodah labor movement called for the establishment of a Jewish socialist republic in all of Palestine and demanded "the transfer of Palestines's land water, and natural resources to the people of Israel as their eternal possession." The Hebrew labor movement also employed the 'Conquest of Labor', or Kibbush Avodah as a means of redeeming the land from the Arabs. It demanded that only Jewish labor could be employed on lands owned by the Jewish National Fund.

In a letter to Curzon, written 11 August 1919, Balfour said:

"The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the 'independent nation' of Palestine than in that of the 'independent nation' of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country though the American Commission is going through the form of asking what they are.

The Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,00 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

In my opinion that is right. What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonized with the [Anglo-French] declaration, the Covenant, or the instruction to the [King-Crane] Commission of Enquiry.

I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs, but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine it is not now an 'independent nation', nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those living there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.

The Palestine Mandate

After the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Allied Supreme Council met at the San Remo Conference in April 1920 to confirm the allocation of Ottoman lands under the proposed new System of Mandates. Palestine was placed under the British mandate. The final juridical date on which the mandates for the Middle East became a part of a fixed and authoritative law of nations was delayed due to difficulties surrounding the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty of Sèvres, and the Treaty of Lausanne. The League of Nations British Mandate of Palestine attempted to make the national home for the Jewish people an article of the Law of Nations, by incorporating the wording of the Balfour Declaration. The mandates were supported by President Woodrow Wilson, but the Senate refused to ratify the Covenant of the League of Nations or the mandates. Senator Borah explained his objections to the mandates:

When this league, this combination, is formed four great powers representing the dominant people will rule one-half of the inhabitants of the globe as subject peoples -- rule by force, and we shall be a party to the rule of force. There is no other way by which you can keep people in subjection. You must either give them independence, recognize their rights as nations to live their own life and to set up their own form of government, or you must deny them these things by force.

The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, together with the Italian and French governments rejected early drafts of the mandate because it had contained a passage which read:

'Recognizing, moreover, the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the claim which this gives them to reconstitute it their national home...'
The Palestine Committee set up by the Foreign Office recommended that the reference to 'the claim' be omitted. The Allies had already noted the historical connection in the Treaty of Sèvres, but they had recognized no legal claim. They felt that whatever might be done for the Jewish people was based entirely on sentimental grounds. Further, they felt that all that was necessary was to make room for Zionists in Palestine, not that they should turn 'it', that is the whole country, into their home.

Lord Balfour suggested an alternative which was accepted:

'Whereas recognition has thereby [i.e. by the Treaty of Sèvres] been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, and to the [sentimental] grounds for reconstituting their National Home in that country ...'

The Vatican, the Italian, and the French governments continued to press their own legal claims on the basis of the former Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Protectorate of Jerusalem. The idea of an International Commission to resolve claims on the Holy Places had been formalized in Article 95 of the Treaty of Sèvres, and taken up again in article 14 of the Palestinian Mandate. Negotiations concerning the formation and the role of the commission were partly responsible for the delay in ratifying the mandate. Great Britain assumed responsibility for the Holy Places under Article 13 of the mandate. However, it never created the Commission on Holy Places to resolve the other claims.

Jewish immigration to Palestine in the initial period following World War I was sparse, owing to difficult conditions in Palestine and lack of sufficient commitment to Zionism to face the rigors of pioneering life, as well as lack of funds for development.

On 24 July 1922, in London, the terms of the British Mandate over Palestine and Transjordan were approved by the Council of the League of Nations. Under the Anglo-French Declaration, and the McMahon-Hussein Agreements, certain areas had been reserved to be Arab and independent in the future. No fixed borders for the Palestine Mandate had been established in the zone controlled by the British Military, or the Occupied Enemy Territories Administration (OETA). The OETA was in effective control under the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) at the time of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement. The conventions required that the status quo be maintained until a peace treaty was negotiated. Accordingly, the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement had called for the borders to be established after the Peace Conference. The Zionist Organization submitted a proposed map at the Peace Conference, which excluded the independent Arab area east of the Hedjaz Railway. In drafting the Mandate, the British elected to use the Jordan River as a natural boundary instead of the railway line. Article 25 stated:

In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.
. Accordingly, on 16 September 1922 the League of Nations formally approved a memorandum from Lord Balfour confirming the exemption of Transjordan from the clauses of the mandate concerning the creation of a Jewish national home, and from the mandate's responsibility to facilitate Jewish immigration and land settlement in that portion of the former occupied territories.

In the 1930s, with increased anti-Semitism and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, the Fifth Aliya brought substantial numbers of European Jews to Palestine.

The Arab uprising of 1936-9 was triggered by rising Jewish immigration, and rising Arab nationalist sentiment. The uprising proved that there was no desire for compromise on the part of the rivals in Palestine. The extremists on both sides made it likely that war would decide the issue. Major General Bernard Montgomery arrived in November 1938. He was tasked to crush the Arab revolt. He gave simple orders on how to handle the rebels: kill them. Most of the leaders of the Arab national movement were either killed or deported, and the Arab populace was disarmed. The movement had not recovered by the time the UN partition was proposed. By that time, the Jewish militias were ready to do battle.

The British Peel Commission proposed a Palestine divided between a small Jewish state (about 15%), a much bigger Arab state and an international zone. The Jewish Agency rejected the borders in the British plan, but established their own committees on borders and population transfer so that they could offer an alternative plan of their own. Both of the proposals contained provisions for the forced transfer of the Arab population to areas outside the borders of the new Jewish state. The plans were developed along the lines of the Greco-Turkish transfer. After these proposals were rejected by the Arab side, the British changed their position and sought to eliminate Jewish immigration to Palestine. This was seen as a contradiction of the terms of the mandate, and an anti-humanitarian catastrophe, in light of the increasing persecution in Europe. In the prewar period it led to organization of illegal immigration. While the small Lehi group attacked the British, the Jewish Agency, which represented the mainstream Zionist leadership, still hoped to persuade the British to restore Jewish immigration rights and cooperated with the British in the war against Fascism. When the British insisted on preventing immigration of Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine following World War II, the Jewish community began to wage an uprising and guerrilla war. This warfare and United States pressure to end the anti-immigration policy led to the establishment of The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946. It was a joint British and American attempt to agree on a policy regarding the admission of Jews to Palestine. In April, the Committee reported that its members had arrived at a unanimous decision. The Committee approved the American condition of the immediate acceptance of 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe into Palestine. It also recommended that there be no Arab, and no Jewish State. The report explained that in order to dispose, once and for all, of the exclusive claims of Jews and Arabs to Palestine, we regard it as essential that a clear statement of principle should be made that Jew shall not dominate Arab and Arab shall not dominate Jew in Palestine. U.S. President Harry S.Truman angered the British Labour Party by issuing a statement supporting the 100,000 refugees but refusing to acknowledge the rest of the committees findings. The British government had asked for US assistance in implementing the recommendations. The US War Department had issued an earlier report which stated that an open-ended U.S troop commitment of 300,000 personnel would be necessary to assist the British government in maintaining order against an Arab revolt. The immediate admission of 100,000 new Jewish immigrants would almost certainly have provoked an Arab uprising.

These events were the decisive factors that forced the British to announce their desire to terminate the Palestine Mandate and place the Question of Palestine before the United Nations.

The United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, attempted to resolve the dispute between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. On May 15 1947 the UN appointed a committee, the UNSCOP, composed of representatives from eleven states. To make the committee more neutral, none of the Great Powers were represented. After spending three months conducting hearings and general survey of the situation in Palestine, UNSCOP officially released its report on August 31. The only unanimous recommendation was that Great Britain terminate their mandate for Palestine and grant it independence at the earliest possible date. A majority of nations (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay) recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. A minority (India, Iran, Yugoslavia) plan supported the creation of a federal union based upon the US Constitutional model. It would have established both a Jewish State and an Arab state. Australia abstained.

Proposed division

See also: Land ownership of the British Mandate of Palestine

The Jewish Agency contended that the Arab and Jewish portions of the plan were not integral. The Chairman of the Palestine Commission contended that they were integral. The US delegation had implied that the setting up of one state was not made conditional on the setting up of the other state.

The details of the land division were never finalized. On 25 November 1947 an amendment to the plan was passed that would have allowed the boundaries to be adjusted on the spot in Palestine by the Border Commission. The amendment was introduced by the delegation from the Netherlands due to last minute revisions of the demographic data by the mandatory administration. The proposed borders would have cut-off 54 Arab villages from their farm land. The discussion before the vote indicated that the inclusion of those villages in the Jewish state would have added 108,000 more Arabs to the population, or required in the alternative that an additional 2 million dunams of cereal farm land be included in the Arab state. The final text of the resolution read:

On its arrival in Palestine the Commission shall proceed to carry out measures for the establishment of the frontiers of the Arab and Jewish States and the City of Jerusalem in accordance with the general lines of the recommendations of the General Assembly on the partition of Palestine. Nevertheless, the boundaries as described in Part II of this Plan are to be modified in such a way that village areas as a rule will not be divided by state boundaries unless pressing reasons make that necessary.

Palestine's land surface was approximately 26,320,505 dunums (26,320 km²), of which about one third was cultivable. By comparison, the size of modern day Israel (as of 2006) is 20,770,000 dunums (20,770 km²) (Geography of Israel). The land in Jewish possession had risen from 456,000 dunums (456 km²) in 1920 to 1,393,000 dunums (1,393 km²) in 1945 and 1,850,000 dunums (1,850 km²) by 1947 (Avneri p. 224). No reliable figures of private land ownership by Arabs were available, due to the lack of centralized records under the Ottoman Land Code. The 1939 White Paper had imposed prohibitions and restrictions on land transfers to the Jewish citizenry. As a result, 94 per cent of the territory was reserved for Arab use on a de facto and de jure basis. The Zionist Organization had established a similar system under the Jewish National Fund, or JNF, which held its land purchases in trust 'for the Jewish people as a whole'. The Fund's charter specified that the purpose of the JNF was to purchase land for the settlement of Jews. This was usually interpreted to mean that the JNF should not lease land to non-Jews.

The UN General Assembly made a non-binding recommendation for a three-way partition of Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and a small internationally administered zone including the religiously significant towns Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The two states envisioned in the plan were each composed of three major sections, linked by extraterritorial crossroads. The Jewish state would receive the Coastal Plain, stretching from Haifa to Rehovot, the Eastern Galilee (surrounding the Sea of Galilee and including the Galilee panhandle) and the Negev, including the southern outpost of Umm Rashrash (now Eilat). The Arab state would receive the Western Galilee, with the town of Acre, the Samarian highlands and the Judean highlands, and the southern coast stretching from north of Isdud (now Ashdod) and encompassing what is now the Gaza Strip, with a section of desert along the Egyptian border.

The partition defined by the General Assembly resolution differed somewhat from the UNSCOP report partition. Most notably, Jaffa was constituted as an enclave of the Arab State and the boundaries were modified to include Beersheba and a large section of the Negev desert within the Arab State and a section of the Dead Sea shore within the Jewish State.

The land allocated to the Arab state (about 43% of Mandatory Palestine) consisted of all of the highlands, except for Jerusalem, plus 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 state included three fertile lowland plains — the Sharon on the coast, the Jezreel Valley and the upper Jordan Valley.

The bulk of the proposed Jewish State's territory, however, consisted of the Negev Desert. The desert was not suitable for agriculture, nor for urban development at that time. The Jewish state was also given sole access to the Red Sea.

The plan called for the new states to honor the existing international commitments and submit any disputes to the International Court of Justice. Under the Anglo-French Accords of 1922, 1923 and 1926 Syria and Lebanon had been granted the same rights of access to Lake Tiberias (aka Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret) as the Jewish and Arab Palestinians in the British Mandate territory. Under the 1923 Agreement:

"...Any existing rights over the use of waters of the Jordan by the inhabitants of Syria shall be maintained unimpaired.... ... The inhabitants of Syria and of the Lebanon shall have the same fishing and navigation rights on Lakes Huleh and Tiberias and on the River Jordan between the said lakes as the inhabitants of Palestine, but the Government of Palestine shall be responsible for the policing of the lakes.
The 1926 Accord stipulated that
"All the inhabitants, whether settled or semi-nomadic, of both territories who, at the date of the signature of this agreement enjoy grazing, watering or cultivation rights, or own land on the one or the other side of the frontier shall continue to exercise their rights as in the past."

Apart from the Negev, the land allocated to the Jewish state was largely made up of areas in which there was a significant Jewish population. The land allocated to the Arab state was populated almost solely by Arabs.

The plan tried its best to accommodate as many Jews as possible into the Jewish state. In many specific cases, this meant including areas of Arab majority (but with a significant Jewish minority) in the Jewish state. Thus the Jewish State would have an overall large Arab minority. Areas that were sparsely populated (like the Negev), were also included in the Jewish state to create room for immigration in order to relieve the "Jewish Problem".

The UNSCOP plan would have had the following demographics (data based on 1945). This data does not reflect the actual land ownership by Jews, local Arabs, Ottomans and other land owners. This data also excludes the land designated to Arabs in trans-Jordan (country of Jordan, west of the river Jordan).

Territory Arab and other population % Arab and other Jewish population % Jewish Total population
Arab State 725,000 99% 10,000 1% 735,000
Jewish State 407,000 45% 498,000 55% 905,000
International 105,000 51% 100,000 49% 205,000
Total 1,237,000 67% 608,000 33% 1,845,000
Data from the Report of UNSCOP — 1947

The UNSCOP Report also noted that "in addition there will be in the Jewish State about 90,000 Bedouins, cultivators and stock owners who seek grazing further afield in dry seasons."

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The was no reason to exclude the Bedouin from the population figures. They were settled on the land, and the Palestine Administration of the British government had long-since recognized their land and water rights. The Mandatory Administration report explained that:
"It should be noted that the term Beersheba Bedouin has a meaning more definite than one would expect in the case of a nomad population. These tribes, wherever they are found in Palestine, will always describe themselves as Beersheba tribes. Their attachment to the area arises from their land rights there and their historic association with it." A/AC.14/32, dated 11 November 1947, page 41
The Bedouin settlement and population figures were revised in a report submitted by a representative of the government of the United Kingdom on 1 November 1947. It was included in an Ad Hoc Committee report, A/AC.14/32, dated 11 November 1947. The Palestine Administration conducted an investigation and used the Royal Air Force to perform an aerial survey of the Beersheba District. They reported that the Bedouins had the greater part of two million dunams under cereal grain production [a figure that rivaled the Jewish community's entire land holdings]. The administration counted 3,389 Bedouin houses together with 8,722 tents.

On the basis of that investigation, the Palestine Administration estimated the Bedouin population at approximately 127,000. The report noted that the earlier population "estimates must, however, be corrected in the light of the information furnished to the Sub-Committee by the representative of the United Kingdom regarding the Bedouin population. According to the statement, 22,000 Bedouins may be taken as normally residing in the areas allocated to the Arab State under the UNSCOP's majority plan, and the balance of 105,000 as resident in the proposed Jewish State. It will thus be seen that the proposed Jewish State will contain a total population of 1,008,800, consisting of 509,780 Arabs and 499,020 Jews. In other words, at the outset, the Arabs will have a majority in the proposed Jewish State." A/AC.14/32, dated 11 November 1947, page 41 The Jewish Agency hoped that 100,000 to 200,000 Jewish immigrants would be arriving from the Displaced persons camps after the partition plan went into effect. The premise of the partition plan was that the two communities were completely irreconcilable, and that the best solution would be to separate them. A plan that would place as many Arabs as Jews in the Jewish state could not achieve separation. It was an undesirable result to place the Bedouins in the proposed Arab state and place the farm land they depended upon in a different, and potentially hostile, Jewish state.

Reactions to the plan

The minutes of the Ad Hoc Committee hearings for 24 November 1947 indicate that the Representative of the Arab Higher Committee, "Mr. Husseini, commented that the Arabs were not sad to see the United Kingdom relieve them of its presence. But, as a result of the Jewish terrorist campaign which had developed against the British, the Arabs asked themselves what they could expect at the hands of the Zionists as subjects or as neighbours if the Zionists were capable of being so bitter and ungrateful towards their greatest benefactors. The Zionist programme was a well-calculated policy aimed at the acquisition and domination of the greater part of the Near East and the expansion of its influence over all the Middle East, Mr. Husseini quoted statements made by Dr. Otto Warburg, President of the Tenth Zionist Congress, in August 1911, and Dr. Nahum Sokolov in 1918, in the introduction to his History of Zionism, disclaiming any desire for a Jewish State, but only for a National Home in Palestine, Yet the three spokesmen of the Jewish Agency before the Ad Hoc Committee had all claimed the right to establish a Jewish State. Revisionist Zionists had always been honest in their declarations and had proclaimed of late their determination to continue their struggle for a Jewish State in the original boundaries of Palestine.

The Jewish Agency criticized the UNSCOP majority proposal concerning Jerusalem, saying that the Jewish section of modern Jerusalem (outside the Walled City) should be included in the Jewish State. During his testimony Ben Gurion indicated that he accepted the principle of partition, but stipulated: "To partition," according to the Oxford dictionary, means to divide a thing into two parts. Palestine is divided into three parts, and only in a small part are the Jews allowed to live. We are against that.

The majority of the Jewish groups, and the Jewish Agency subsequently announced their acceptance of the proposed Jewish State, and by implication the proposed international zone, and Arab State. However, it had been stipulated that the implementation of the plan did not make the establishment of one state or territory dependent on the establishment of the others. The Jewish militias continued to make plans for the construction of airfields and carried-out offensive operations, like the one against Deir Yassin, within the area of the proposed UN trusteeship (the Corpus Separatum).

By late February 1948, the CIA had determined that implementation of the partition plan was impossible, and that: "The only alternative method therefore is for military aid to be sent to the Jews in such quantities that they will be able to suppress all Arab opposition, both internal and external, and set up and maintain an independent state. Such aid might take the form of a volunteer "international" force,... ...Thus the entire purpose of the UNGA partition resolution would be distorted from the creation of two independent States in Palestine to the organization and defense of one state -- the Jewish state. In any case, the Jewish forces were augmented by volunteer combat veterans from around the globe, like Mickey Marcus

In early May, the US State Department had already come to the conclusion that a trusteeship proposal would not be accepted. Discussions between the State Department and Moshe Shertok and Rabbi Silver of the Jewish Agency had indicated that annexation by Trans-Jordan of the proposed Arab state would be acceptable. It was suggested that a population transfer from the Jewish State to Trans-Jordan should take place and that generous financial assistance should be provided to resettle the Arabs in Trans-Jordan. It was also suggested that the problem of Jerusalem be resolved by establishing a condominium of Trans-Jordan and the Zionist State. In the past, the League of Nations had supported a number of population transfers under the terms of bi-lateral treaties. Nonetheless, the Allied Powers, acting through the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, had established that involuntary population transfer was both a war crime and a crime against humanity. In any event, it had been common knowledge for months that Trans-Jordan intended to occupy the territory of the proposed Arab State. The Palestine Post had explained on 30 November 1947 that the other Arab States would not accept Trans-Jordan taking over by itself, and that they were preparing to fight Abdullah.

A minority of extreme nationalist Jewish groups like Menachem Begin's Irgun Tsvai Leumi and the Lehi (known as the Stern Gang), which had been fighting the British, rejected the plan. Begin warned that the partition would not bring peace because the Arabs would also attack the small state and that "in the war ahead we'll have to stand on our own, it will be a war on our existence and future". The war was fought to Israel's advantage - despite an ongoing weapons embargo - with the 3000 machine-guns and 6 million bullets as well as 25 fighter planes promised to be supplied by the Jewish Agency

Numerous records indicate the joy of Palestine's Jewish inhabitants as they attended to the U.N. session voting for the division proposal. Up to this day, Israeli history books mention November 29th (the date of this session) as the most important date in Israel's acquisition of independence, and many Israeli cities commemorate the date in their streets' names. However, Jews did criticize the lack of territorial continuity for the Jewish state.

The Arab leadership (in and out of Palestine) opposed the plan.. The Arabs argued that it violated the rights of the majority of the people in Palestine, which at the time was 67% non-Jewish (1,237,000) and 33% Jewish (608,000). Arab leaders also argued a large number of Arabs would be trapped in the Jewish State. Every major Arab leader objected in principle to the right of the Jews to an independent state in Palestine, reflecting the policies of the Arab League.

The vote

On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favour of the Partition Plan, while making some adjustments to the boundaries between the two states proposed by it. Switching their votes from November 25 to November 29 to provide the two-thirds majority were Liberia, the Philippines, and Haiti. All heavily dependent on the United States, they had been lobbied to change their votes. The State Department noted that it had been shown that unauthorized U.S. pressure groups, including members of Congress, sought to impose U.S. views on members of foreign delegations.

The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal from the Mandate Territory of Palestine. Both the United States and Soviet Union supported the resolution.

The 33 countries (58%) that voted in favour of the partition were: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Ukrainian SSR, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Uruguay, Venezuela.

The 13 countries (23%) that voted against resolution were: Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.

The 10 countries (17%) that abstained were: Argentina, Chile, Republic of China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia.

One state (2%) was absent: Thailand.


The Anglo-American Committee had noted that since 1939, the immediate threats to public security had come from the illegal Jewish militias. An incomplete report cataloging only the reports of attacks by Jews, or the Jewish militias, for the years 1947 and 1948 indicates that bombings, killings, and other acts of violence were a daily occurrence both during, and after, the UNSCOP and General Assembly hearings.

The Mandatory Power provided the United Nations Palestine Commissioner with a list of casualties in Palestine for the period from 30 November 1947 to 1 February 1948. The following were the totals in killed and wounded: 869 Killed, 1,909 Wounded, for total of 2,778 Casualties: British 46 Killed 135 Wounded; Arabs 427 Killed 1,035 Wounded; Jews 381 Killed 725 Wounded; Others 15 Killed 15 Wounded. The Palestine Commissioner said that without 'the efforts of the [British] security forces over the past month, the two communities would by now have been fully engaged in internecine slaughter.'

On the day after the vote, a spate of Arab attacks left seven Jews dead and scores more wounded. Shooting, stoning, and rioting continued apace in the following days. The consulates of Poland and Sweden, both of whose governments had voted for partition, were attacked. Bombs were thrown into cafes, Molotov cocktails were hurled at shops, a synagogue was set on fire.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom refused to implement the plan by force, arguing it was unacceptable to both sides. The United Kingdom refused to share the administration of Palestine with the UN Palestine Commission during the transitional period. It terminated the British mandate of Palestine on May 15, 1948. President Truman recognized the State Of Israel within a matter of minutes, but he did not recognize a new Arab state.

By March 1949, a classified CIA report declared Palestine was a 'Long Range Disaster'. The Agency report read in part:

'The establishment of the State of Israel by force, with intimidation of the Arab governments by the US and USSR, with the cutting off of the British arms and ammunition (the Arabs only source of supply), with ample sources for Israel of munitions and finance, the Israeli battle victory is complete, but it has solved nothing.
If boundaries to an Israeli State, any boundaries, had been set and guaranteed by the Great Powers, peace might return to the area. On the contrary, we have actually a victorious state which is limited to no frontiers and which is determined that no narrow limits shall be set. The Near East is faced with the almost certain prospect of a profound and growing disturbance by Israel which may last for decades... ...Instead of restoring the boundaries of the province of Judea as they were in 70 A.D., the Israeli leaders now state freely though usually unofficially, their demand for an ever expanding empire. Their present possessions are regarded by them as only a beachead into the Arab and Muslim World -- a large part of which they plan to exploit. They are not prepared to live off what the land will yield as the Arabs do... ...Alone among the Great Powers, Britain has been working on a plan to restore a balance between the forces in Palestine, but it already appears that this plan is doomed to fail. Zionist pressure in the USA, Anglophobia in Iraq and Egypt, and above all, Russia's determination to prolong chaos in the Near East and to complete the discrediting of British and American Diplomacy, combine to work against the policy of the British Government and its collaborators --King Abdulla of Trans-Jordan and the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri al Said.

Several accounts exist regarding the discussion held between Golda Meir, representing the Jewish Agency, and the Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. The talks addressed the Jewish response to his plan to annex the area of the proposed Arab state. The Jewish Agency viewed the proposal in a favorable light, but stipulated that he not interfere with the establishment of the Jewish state, and avoid military confrontations. Classified documents that were captured by Israel indicated that the British had wanted to absorb Palestine into a "Greater Syria" that would eventually be ruled by Iraq. Historian Efraim Karsh and others assert that Britain and Transjordan planned to annex the Arab state and all or part of the Jewish state to TransJordan.

In January 1948, the Jewish Agency reported that the British had allowed the Arab Liberation Army formed by the Arab League to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. The British reported 'The contingents of the so-called "Arab Liberation Army" which, entered Samaria have now dispersed among the villages of the District. They have so far undertaken no offensive operations against the Jews and have been careful not to come into conflict with the Security Forces, They are not interfering with the activities of the Civil Administration. Thus, the "considerable administrative control" referred to in the passage mentioned above is not being exercised in opposition to or in substitution for the Government of Palestine's administration but is a supplementary system of communal organisation not unlike that existing among the Jews in the Mishmar area, which is, of course, no more and no less under British control than the District of Samaria. From the outset, the Arab Liberation Army was concerned with the inter-Arab conflict over the plans to annex the proposed Arab state to Trans-Jordan, and the effect that and the new Jewish State would have on the balance of power in the region.

Meeting in Cairo in November and December 1947, the Arab League adopted a series of resolutions aimed at a military solution to the conflict. They formed an Arab Liberation Army. The Arab League also planned punitive measures against Jews living in Arab countries, many of which were subsequently implemented by individual states.

Fighting began almost as soon as the plan was approved, beginning with the Arab Jerusalem Riots of 1947. On 1 April 1948, the Security Council adopted Resolution 44 "to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine."

Text of the Resolution

See also



  • Bregman, Ahron (2002). Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947. London: Routledge. ISBN
  • Arieh L. Avneri (1984). The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land Settlement and the Arabs, 1878–1948. Transaction Publishers. ISBN
  • Fischbach, Michael R. (2003). Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Columbia University Press. ISBN
  • Gelber, Yoav (1997). Jewish-Transjordanian Relations: Alliance of Bars Sinister. London: Routledge. ISBN-X
  • Khalaf, Issa (1991). Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration,. SUNY University Press. ISBN
  • Louis, Wm. Roger (1986). The British Empire in the Middle East,: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism. Oxford University Press. ISBN
  • "Palestine" Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition, 15 May 2006.
  • Sicker, Martin (1999). Reshaping Palestine: From Muhammad Ali to the British Mandate, 1831–1922. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN

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