75 years after the UN partition plan: Palestinians still seeking a dream deferred

Mohamed Hatem , Tuesday 29 Nov 2022

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of UN Resolution 181, which was issued on 29 November, 1947, the Israeli army continues its occupation of the West Bank and tightens its siege on the Gaza Strip, denying Palestinians a promise of an independent state in their own homeland.

Palestinians refugees
Palestinians refugees leave historic Palestine in 1948. REUTERS


The anniversary, which is marked by an international day of solidarity with the Palestinians around the world, comes only a month after Israeli President Isaac Herzog received an invitation to address congress and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Israeli state’s self-proclamation next May, which congressional leaders called a "historic and joyous milestone.''

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued the invitation to Herzog in late October.

They said that the two nations have shared "an unbreakable bond rooted in common security, shared values, and friendship.'' 

The invitation to address US Congress came at a time of increasing violence and nightly raids by the Israeli army against the Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which have been occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been surging for months as Israel continues policies of demolishing homes and displacing more Palestinians.

Furthermore, Israel's enforced checkpoints have made movement and even life a daily nightmare for more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Since the start of the year, the Israeli army has killed more than 140 Palestinians and injured dozens more, making it the deadliest year in the Israeli occupation since 2006.

Meanwhile, 19 Israelis were killed so far by Palestinians this year.

In a recent report, the Israeli army said that it had mobilised thousands of troops in the West Bank, arrested some 2,500 Palestinians and confiscated around 250 weapons since March.

Since 1970, Israel has settled more than 500,000 Israelis in tens of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israel has also built an apartheid separation wall and a Jews-only system of highways that prevents any type of contiguity among Palestinian cities and towns.

An Israeli siege of more than 2.2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip coupled with an Israeli-enforced South Africa-styled system of bantustans in the West Bank makes the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with a two-state solution extremely difficult.

Partitioning Palestine: Ignoring facts on the ground

David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, self-proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 after Great Britain announced its intention to terminate its mandate in Palestine, established under the League of Nations (LoN) in 1922.

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 spelled disaster for the one million Palestinian inhabitants of historic Palestine.

In 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) approved “UN Resolution 181” which calls for the partition of historic Palestine into two separate states, a Jewish State and an Arab State.

The decision was approved after member states of the UN General Assembly voted on the partition plan 33 to 13, while 10 states abstained from voting.

The UN partition plan stipulated that the two states be joined by an "economic union," and that the city of Jerusalem be placed under international administration.

Although Palestinians comprised about 67 percent of the population of Palestine, they were allocated far less land than their Jewish counterparts, who constituted only 33 percent of the total population and many of whom were recent immigrants from Europe.

Much to the dismay of the Palestinians, the plan allocated approximately 55 percent of the land to the Jewish state and just 42 percent to the Arab state.

Despite Jews owning only about 7 percent of the land in 1947, they were allocated more than half the area of historic Palestine.

The resolution was largely based on the findings of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Report (1946), which aimed to offer a safe refuge for tens of thousands of Jews who were displaced in the aftermath of the holocaust. 

The Anglo-American report based most of its conclusions on the principles of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, (named after its sponsor Lord Arthur Balfour, then Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom) which promised to establish a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. 

The prospect of a Jewish state in Palestine, rejected by the Arab world, led to the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war the following year.

The ensuing war led to the displacement of more than 800,000 Palestinians - about half of pre-war Palestine's Palestinian population - who were forced to leave their homes in villages, towns and cities by Zionist militias to make way for Israel's creation. To this day Palestinians refer to that event as Nakba.

Today, the number of Palestinian refugees around the world exceeds five million, according to UNRWA figures.

More than 1.5 million Palestinians, nearly a third of Palestinian refugees, are currently living in UNRWA-run refugee camps within the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and east Jerusalem as well as in UNRWA-recognized refugee camps spread across neighbouring countries in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Israel's population in December 2021 was estimated at 9,449,000 residents;  6,982,000 of whom are Jews ( constituting 73.9 percent of the total population) and 1,995,000 of whom are Arab Palestinians (constituting 21.1 percent of the total population). In addition, Israel's population included 472,000 residents who were classified others (constituting 5.0 percent of the population) and who included non-Arab Christians and residents not classified by religion.

A Palestinian state: Dream deferred

On September 13, 1993, the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiator Mahmoud Abbas signed an agreement at the White House, commonly known as the “Oslo Accords.” According to these accords,  Israel recognises the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian People and the PLO accepts Israel’s right to exist in peace.

The late Palestinian leader and Chairman of the PLO Yasser Arafat would go on to sign a follow-up treaty with Israel's Rabin in Cairo the following year.

The treaty commonly known as the 1994 Cairo Agreements obligated Israeli forces to withdraw from the cities of Gaza and Jericho in exchange for Palestinian recognition.

The agreement would also allow the PLO to create the Palestinian National Authority (PA or PNA), a limited authority government to hold sway over the West Bank and Gaza.

Today, the PA is recognized by 138 nations as the State of Palestine and by the United Nations as a non-member UN observer state.

According to the agreement, the US's role involved investing a great deal of resources and exerting strong diplomatic efforts to implement the agreement's guidelines within the framework of the peace process.

However, the peace process collapsed in 2014 after Israel kicked up its expansion of settlements, with some 14,000 settlements being unilaterally approved within nine-months of the peace talks.

In December 2017, the then US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. The US State Department announced in February 2018 that the process will be speeded up to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s self-proclamation in May.

The decision, which violated both international law and UN-backed resolutions, met with strong opposition from Palestinians and Arabs, who argued that the decision  jeopardised the peace process and America’s role as a mediator in the conflict.

The former US president Trump said in a recorded message at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018 that he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Our greatest hope is for peace," said Trump.

"The United States remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement," Trump added.

The UN General Assembly denounced President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

When the decision was put to vote, an overwhelming majority of member states (128) voted against the decision, while only 9 member states voted for it. This happened despite Trump's attempts to cow those states that would vote against the decision.

That being said, 35 of the 193 UN member nations abstained and 21 were absent.

The nine countries voting “no” (in favour of the move) were the US, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Togo. Some of the countries who abstained from voting included Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico, AP said.

29 November: International solidarity with Palestinians

In a bid of support, the UN General Assembly adopted in 1977 “UN Resolution 32/40 B” which called for the annual observance of 29 November as the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, according to Palestinian News Agency (WAFA).

The resolution encourages member states to continue to give the “widest support and publicity” to the Palestinian People and their cause.” WAFA added.

Egypt marked on Tuesday the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which the UN General Assembly calls for observing on 29 November every year since 1978.

The 29 November date is of significance to the Palestinian people, for on that day, in 1947, the UNGA adopted the Partition Plan of Palestine, Resolution 181, which endorsed establishing an Arab state and a Jewish state in historic Palestine.

“Egypt marks this day in solidarity with the steadfast people of Palestine and in confirmation of the existence of the Palestinian cause alive in international forums and in the global conscience,” the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ministry stressed that such global conscience stands in support of the Palestinian people in their just and legitimate demands as well as in support of their right to establish their independent state.

“The Palestinian cause will always remain the Arab’s top issue. As part of their historical responsibility, Egypt's government and its people remain constantly supportive of the Palestinian cause as the central issue of the Arab world,” the statement added.

The ministry also affirmed that Egypt will exert every effort until the Palestinian people obtain their legitimate right in establishing their independent state.

“The constants of the Egyptian position toward the Palestinian cause has not and will not change, and [Egypt’s] commitment to the cause of Palestine, the Palestinian people, and Jerusalem and its Al-Aqsa mosque is an authentic commitment,” the ministry said.

Egypt also stresses the necessity to put an end to the cycle of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and to stop the unilateral measures that undermine fair and final settlement efforts, the ministry said.

The most significant among these unilateral measures include conducting illegitimate settlement activities, evicting and evacuating Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem, changing the demographic nature of the city, and dividing Al-Aqsa Mosque and its vicinity both temporally and spatially, the ministry stressed.

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