Paul Scham: research development coordinator at the
Truman Institute. On sabbatical at George Washington University.
Walid Salem: director of PANORAMA. Benjamin Pogrund:
director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem. An
author and former deputy editor of Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg.
Burckhard Blanke: resident representative of Friedrich
Naumann Foundation in Israel and in the Palestinian Autonomy.
Moshe Ma'oz: professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies
and former director of the Truman Institute. Ruth Kark:
professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, has written
extensively on the history and historical geography of Palestine
and Israel. Dalia Ofer: Max and Rita Haber Professor of
Holocaust Studies in Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ran Aaronsohn: a
senior lecturer in geography at the Hebrew University. Meron
Benvenisti: former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and respected
author. Lily Galili: senior writer at Ha'aretz. Avraham
Sela: senior lecturer at the Department of International
Relations and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in
Contemporary Middle East Studies, at Hebrew University. Fatmeh
Quassem: doctoral candidate at Ben Gurion University, Be'er
Sheva. Anna Koehler: project assistant on the Israel Desk of
the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Adel Manna': director of
the Institute for Israeli Arab Studies at the Van Leer Institute in
Jerusalem. Ata Khalid Qiemary: columnist, tv correspondent
and general director of Al-Masdar Translation and Press Services.
Aziz Haider: research fellow in the Sociology Department of
the Truman Institute. Adel Yahya: an archaelogist and director of
PACE, the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange. Amneh
Badran: head of the Jerusalem Centre for Women.
Burckhard Blanke: Moshe Ma'oz and Walid Salem will begin our
discussion by talking about the events surrounding the 1947
Moshe Ma'oz: We should all be aware of the serious nature of
the 1947 UN Partition Resolution 181, which produced different
narratives within the two national communities. In Israel there is
almost a consensus - to which I object - that the Palestinians
missed an opportunity. Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban used to
say the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an
opportunity, beginning with 1947. Palestinian leaders did miss
opportunities, but the generalization is extreme. According to the
Israeli narrative, that first missed opportunity was replaced
recently by another at Camp David II, which reinforced the thrust
of the Israeli narrative.
The Palestinians have a different narrative. Walid Salem holds that
all parties involved were wrong - especially the Zionists, but also
the British, the Jordanians, the Arabs, the UN, the US - but not
the Palestinians. That is too good to be true, or too bad to be
true. Then you say that the Palestinians were ready to deal in a
realistic way, not only with the results of the partition of
Palestine, but also with the establishment of Israel and the
establishment of a Palestinian state in the areas not annexed by
Israel. What do you mean by this? Do you refer to the old Palestine
government in Gaza that was not Palestinian initially, but
Egyptian, or to the annexation of the West Bank, which was approved
by the Palestinian leaders?
You argue that the Zionists accepted the 1947 resolution to obtain
international legitimacy to establish a Jewish state and to use, or
misuse, this legitimacy to take over the entire land and deport the
Palestinians - the proof being the yishuv's Plan Dalet and what
David Ben Gurion said about not being satisfied with part of
Plan Dalet was formulated only in the spring of 1948. Its main
objective was to confront the Arab armies' intention to invade. The
Arabs were already organizing irregular forces. The idea was to
defend Palestine against the Arab armies and not to deport
Palestinians. Ben Gurion did have dreams about all of Palestine,
including eastern Jordan. Some still hold to those dreams even
today. But my point about asymmetry between the two national
leaderships is that Ben Gurion was pragmatic and realistic enough
to be content with the 1947 boundaries and to leave behind the
"grand design," because of the constraints he was facing as a
leader and a politician.
First, there was a two-thirds majority of Palestinian Arabs in the
country, and he was primarily concerned, especially after World War
II, with the absorption of Holocaust refugees. This was even more
important than peace with the Arabs. Ben Gurion's focus was on
utilizing a unique constellation that existed after the Holocaust,
comprised of the UN and the two super-powers that supported the
partition plan, and he was clever enough to use that to establish a
state. The 1939 White Paper was crucial - it offered a Palestinian
state, immigration restrictions, land purchases within 10 years -
but it was rejected by the Arabs, which contributed to the Jewish
narrative. For Ben Gurion, it was a sign that there could be no
compromise. We had to divide the land.
According to the Israeli narrative, and I tend to agree here, Hajj
Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian leader, had a principled attitude
- which I respect - that the majority should have sovereignty over
the land. This was based on the ideological tenet of Arabism and a
feel for the Islamic Arabic culture of the land. But, unlike Ben
Gurion, he did not pay attention to the constraints. He just
ignored them. The Palestinian community was weak and divided,
unlike the cohesive and motivated Yishuv. We need to study what
motivated many Palestinians - maybe the majority - to accept the
partition resolution in 1947. It was not out of love. There is no
love in the Middle East. It was because of interests: the economic
interests of the Nashashibis, the Husseinis and many others. I have
a student doing a Ph.D. on Palestinian "collaborators," who has
evidence that large sections of the Palestinian community were
inclined to accept the partition resolution. Another constraint is
that Abdallah had his own initiative, along with the UN, the USSR
and the US - and Hajj Amin al-Husseini ignored that.
I would say the miscalculation started in 1937 with the rejection
of the Peel Commission that gave Jews only 20 percent of the land,
and the White Paper, which again would have met many Palestinians'
aspirations. If the Mufti had been a tactician he could have used
the 1947 UN Resolution to the Palestinians' advantage, first by
securing a Palestinian state, while the other state would have been
bi-national as the Arabs in the Jewish part made up almost 50
percent of the population. People on the right say the Palestinians
want two states, one in the West Bank and Gaza and one in Israel.
This could have happened at the time. I'm speaking demographically,
not conceptually. I respect the position that they took, but I
think it was a miscalculation. And it led to violence and
catastrophe; the Nakba.
One indication that this was a miscalculation was that, 41 years
later in 1988, Resolution 181 was accepted by Yasser Arafat and the
Palestinian National Council. This time they took the constraints
into account - Israeli power and control over the territories.
Circumstances were different, but Arafat took a pragmatic approach.
This was a big breakthrough, a bit late, but that's what we can
expect in the Middle East. It is also important to highlight the
desire of most Palestinians in the Territories to accept Israel.
The first Intifada - and even this one - was not aimed at
destroying Israel, but at getting rid of the occupation. The
mandate from Arafat to accept 242 and 338 led to Oslo and the
opening of dialogue. Here we see the irony of history - now it's
the Jews who don't want it. The revisionist minority became the
ruling majority. History changed because Yitzhak Shamir adopted the
policy of no Palestinian state and no negotiations with
Adel Manna': The Labor Party also rejected a Palestinian
Moshe Ma'oz: True. Only in 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin came to
power, for the first time in 100 years, there was mutual acceptance
between the two national movements. The lesson I draw from this is
that a permanent solution should be based on the principle of 181,
or the Clinton Plan and the new Saudi-Arab League Initiative, a
great breakthrough many Israelis are ignoring. This is the
blueprint - a two-state solution, then maybe a confederation. The
minority suggestion of 1947 spoke about federation. Now it's
confederation. The British are also responsible for the disaster of
1947, because they didn't help. They could perhaps have convinced
the sides - certainly the Arab side - but they didn't.
Walid Salem: The first point I want to make concerns the
Palestinian rejection of the 1947 partition plan. You say the
Husseini family, which was not a democratically elected leadership,
rejected the plan. The rejection was not just the position of the
Husseini family. There were "civil society organizations" which
opposed the partition plan, including the Palestinian Student
Union, the Women's movement and some of the labor unions, though
others supported the Communist party, which backed the partition
plan. Of course, there was no written Palestinian record. The
historical period didn't allow for that. But there is evidence that
whole sectors of the population opposed partition.
We should also take cultural differences into consideration. One of
the problems during that period - maybe today, as well - is that we
have a confrontation between a culture based on pragmatism and
tactics, and another based on absolute terms of justice, human
The Palestinian position in that period, and today - after Ariel
Sharon's visit to the al Aqsa mosque and Ehud Barak's offer -
illustrates the same confrontation between two cultures. One
culture says you must be realistic and the other culture looks for
justice and human rights. I don't think we are completely wrong to
ask for human rights and justice to play a role in the way things
Although the Husseini leadership refused the 1947 partition plan,
they did not have the power to demolish the State of Israel after
it was established. The Arab League demanded the Palestinians be
allowed to establish a Palestinian state on October 7, 1947, around
a month and a half before the partition plan. They repeated this
demand in February, 1948. Israel's creation on May 15, 1948, meant
any state the Palestinians might establish would have to be on the
territory that Israel did not annex, due to the real-politik and
the abilities of the Palestinians at that moment.
You are right on one point. You say the Palestinians were unable to
establish a state, because of the Zionist movement, and also
because of the positions of others in the area - principally King
Abdallah who got the British backing for giving Jordan the
territory that was not annexed to Israel. The problem was not only
the Zionist movement establishing a state, but also the Arab
regimes, such as Jordan, opposing Palestinian rights to
It was no accident that the Arab leaders rejected a demand to
establish a Palestinian state in June, 1948, a month after the
establishment of Israel and instead accepted the establishment of a
civil administration in Palestine. They maintained that position
until September, 1948, when the Arab League recognized the
Palestinians' right to establish a state. And a state was actually
established in the Gaza Strip for one week, from September 30, 1948
until October 7, 1948. Then the Egyptians put Husseini in solitary
confinement in Egypt, and that was the end of it.
We could have a long discussion about the role of the British.
Walid Khalidi says that in 1948, after the partition plan, British
troops began to withdraw. I don't know if this was coordinated with
Ben-Gurion, but it helped the establishment of the State of Israel.
It's clear the British didn't help establish a Palestinian state,
but instead worked with Jordan to annex this territory. The UN
resolution was passed but not implemented. The Israeli state was
established, the Palestinian state was not, and we are still trying
to establish it on some part of Palestine.
Avraham Sela: Regardless of how the Husseini leadership was
appointed or emerged, one thing is clear from British documents -
and also from Jewish intelligence documents - that the rural
Palestinian population perceived Hajj Amin al-Husseini as their
unchallenged leader, though he was less popular among the urban
As for the pro-partition Palestinian Arabs, what we know is that a
small part of the National Liberation Front - the Communists -
supported it, and even they were only a minority. As a result, the
party split and they had very little influence on the debate within
Palestinian society. This debate was conducted in an atmosphere
that delegitimized any official, open contact with the Jewish side,
and did not acknowledge it as a legitimate partner for discussing
the future of Palestine. There were a number of murders, terrorist
actions and attacks on the lives of Palestinian Arabs who dared to
go against the Palestinian consensus. In 1946 and 1947, it was
principally the Husseini leadership who saw to the elimination of
those people willing to go along with ideas of co-existence or
When speaking about the acceptance or rejection of a certain
position, we should look at what happened at each junction of
history. The Jewish Agency and the Zionist movement's acceptance of
the partition plan was unconditional. But when riots began in early
December, 1947, everything changed. They introduced the need to
protect or attack, and to start thinking in a different way.
We have to look at how the positions of each side developed (if
they developed), and how each party changed its position according
to circumstances, constraints and opportunities. We are dealing
here with realistic people who, first, look to protect their own
needs and interests, and then to implement certain goals. With
regard to Jerusalem, the Jewish Agency originally accepted its
internationalization. But when the city came under siege, the need
to maintain a connection dictated a new policy. That led to the
creation of what we call the Jerusalem corridor, the removal of the
Palestinian population from it, and Jerusalem's eventual annexation
to the Jewish state.
Let's deal with these questions as historians. It can be argued
that accepting partition was nothing but a ploy by the yishuv or
the Jewish Agency, and then everything developed according to a
plan, of which Plan Dalet was part. But Plan Dalet was not
developed to capture Tulkarem, Hebron or Qalqilya. It was meant to
guarantee that the Jewish state, according to the partition plan,
would be secure. Local commanders were allowed to remove the
Palestinian population from areas it would otherwise have been
impossible to hold on to.
Plan Dalet was implemented earlier than planned because of the war
on transport. We have to remember that in March, Jamal Husseini,
then the prominent Arab Palestinian representative at the UN
General Assembly, rejected proposals for a cease-fire because he
felt the Arab hand was stronger. It was a state of despair among
the Jewish political and military echelon that led to Plan Dalet's
implementation - in March the Jews had lost more than 100 people
from attacks on convoys. Regardless of the results - and I can feel
a lot of empathy for the way you look at it - reality kept
The riots that began immediately after the partition plan were a
spontaneous eruption of violence, but they triggered a number of
reactions on each side. Had you asked the British in April 1947,
they would have said they were not sure they were going to leave
Palestine. They were surprised by Soviet support of the Jewish
state and were unsure how the US would react to that. They tried to
bring the US into some coordination with their policy and
Eventually, the Jews not only succeeded in implementing the
partition plan, but went beyond it, and expelled the Palestinian
population from those areas by and large. But the question is,
could we think otherwise had it been different? Had the
Palestinians accepted the partition plan, would the Jews still have
Paul Scham: I feel that we have moved from the realm of
history into the realm of theology. I say that because 1948
basically incorporates the doctrine of original sin in both Jewish
and Muslim mythologies. The original sin in the minds of Israelis
is that the Palestinians did not accept the existence of Israel
when they had the chance, thus demonstrating for 50 years - perhaps
forever - that they are unwilling to live with Jews. For the
Palestinians, this was the year that supported the belief that, no
matter what the Jews said, they actually wanted to take over the
entire land. To accept that Jewish leaders could have believed in
1947-48 that there was Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state is
not historically realistic. Walid also said the British didn't
favor a Palestinian state. But neither did the Palestinians! You
can't expect the British to support something that the Palestinians
had rejected in the context of the partition plan.
Dalia Ofer: It is true that, when we look at the yishuv from
an historical perspective, particularly after its successes, we see
a coherent society that knew how to create a reality that would
lead to achieving its goals. But it was far from a unified
community. Ben Gurion was not the leader that he became after 1948.
In fact, he was never as strong as our image of him. While all this
is happening, we are in the midst of the greatest tragedy that ever
befell the Jewish people, the catastrophe of World War II. So all
the issues became very emotional, and each fight within this
"cohesive" group was extremely fierce.
There was a period of time in this conflict between the
Revisionists and the Labor party, and fighting against the British,
that the Revisionists took actions that the Labor party declared as
terrorism. The Labor party felt this approach would undermine their
efforts, and even handed suspects over to the British. It was a
society with deep divides. However, in spite of all that, it did
succeed in building institutions during the years of the yishuv,
and there were periods of united action.
When we come to 1947, there was a lot of debate about the
partition. Ben Gurion was not happy about it, but he came to the
conclusion that the only solution would be to have partition
suggested to the Jews. He himself could not suggest it - it would
have been opposed outright. Then the war started. When we look at
the stages of the War of Independence - I'll say the 1948 War not
to be provocative - we have to look at the changes up until April
and the fear of Arab invasion.
There was an assessment that the Arabs were stronger than the Jews.
I don't say they were. I say they thought so. I'm still relating to
the issue of atmosphere and perception. Much of the Jewish
population thought the Arabs were stronger, and there was a
tremendous feeling of fear among them. This atmosphere is very
important to take into account. I even agree that a lot of things
were unjustified on the Palestinian side. But I don't agree with
the delegitimization of the right of the Jews to have a state. I
believe the Jews did have a national movement and did have a right
to a state in Palestine
I want to ask you to elaborate on what you mean by cultural
differences. We're talking politics here, right? I don't think
Jewish culture does not cherish values, justice and human rights,
just as I don't think that Arab or Muslim cultures do not cherish
But here we are dealing with politics, and when you talk politics,
you have negotiations, and you have a term of reference for the
negotiations. It's not a matter of cultural values. It's the
culture of how you solve problems. And Arab states and Arab
cultures knew how to solve problems in different political
Adel Yahya: The problem with Avraham Sela and Moshe Ma'oz,
as well as with Benny Morris and other New Historians, is this
notion of unintentional Jewish Zionist actions in the 1947-1948
war. That notion overlooks many aspects of the Arab-Israeli
conflict and evades responsibility for actions taken by the Jewish
army and underground groups, including massacres which led
eventually to the expulsion of Palestinians. Even the New
Historians adopt the official Israeli position excusing the Israeli
army and the IDF from expelling hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians, and all the actions taken against the civilian
Palestinian population because they refused the partition
The implied assumption is that the Palestinians were at fault. It
was their sin that led to the war, expulsion and so on. The
accompanying assumption is that the Palestinians have no rights.
This has always been the official Israeli position. It has led
nowhere, and will not lead anywhere, because the refugee problem
There has not yet been any departure from the official Israeli
position of blaming the 1948 War on the Palestinians because they
rejected the partition plan, because they attacked Israeli Jewish
convoys, and because they invited Arab armies into Palestine to
defend Palestinian rights. These underlying assumptions justify
everything that took place. Israeli and Jewish actions were just a
reaction to Palestinian actions.
In fact, the Jews were in a better position to plan things. The
Arabs were probably reacting. When we ask Palestinian refugees
about this - they express themselves very openly. They were
reacting. They were fearful. All their actions were in reaction to
Israeli and Jewish attacks on them. If anybody was planning at the
time, it must have been the Zionist movement.
Ruth Kark: Is this position based on factual knowledge or
Adel Yahya: The Jews planned it.
Ruth Kark: Can you provide us with evidence?
Amne Badran: Let's look at the pre-1947 period and the
relationship between the two sides in the context of colonization
versus colonialism. One problem with history and historiography is
that they don't look into questions of legality and legitimacy.
They don't speak about the rights of a pre-existing nation when,
all of a sudden, another group of people and their national
movement want to build a state on their land.
If I understand correctly, the Palestinians didn't accept partition
because they didn't believe it was right. It was not a matter of
having or not having Jews there. It was a question of having a
Jewish state in Palestine. This is what they thought was not
legitimate and therefore they rejected it. To tell you the truth,
even today, if you ask Palestinians if Israel has the right to
exist, I don't expect that more than two percent will say yes. It
is a fact, and the Palestinians are dealing with it, but that
doesn't mean it has the right. A right is one thing. A fact is
Ruth Kark: So we are back to point zero.
Adel Manna': They don't give legitimacy to the Israeli
Amne Badran: There is now a fact and you accept it. You
don't want more bloodshed and don't want to go to war. At least 70
percent of Palestinians in the last poll said they supported a
settlement based on 242, which means accepting a two-state
solution. But Palestinians wouldn't say the establishment of the
State of Israel is legitimate.
Adel Manna': Instead of speaking about sin or guilt, as a secular
person with a pragmatic approach, I would rather go to the issue of
narratives. I think we can accept the narratives of the two sides
as the best explanation for why they agreed or disagreed to
different suggestions. Without taking the two narratives into
account, we will not be able to understand the history.
Israeli society in general, and also many historians are trying to
explain the behavior of the Palestinians from their own narrative
and perspective, without taking into account the other narrative.
This is a big mistake. That's why most people don't understand what
Palestinians are talking about when they present the Palestinian
perspective of history. They are shocked by it because they are
ignorant of this narrative.
When the Jews say this is our country because God gave it to us
3,000 years ago, this is the Israeli Jewish narrative. The
Palestinians say, "Hey, we have more historical rights in this
country than you because we were here before the Jews." "We" means
all other ethnic groups, not nations. The Jews also, at that time,
were a religion and an ethnic group, not a nation.
All the ethnic groups who preceded the Jews were incorporated into
Palestinian society because, when the Palestinians came here in the
seventh century, there was a process of Islamization and
Arabization. Therefore, we inherited the collective rights of all
the ethnic groups, including many Jews who became Palestinian Jews.
I know of at least 20 cases during the Ottoman period in Jerusalem
of Jewish families converting to Islam.
Meron Benvenisti: The irony is that this same argument is
used by Zionists to prove just the opposite. This is exactly what
Itzhak Ben-Tzvi and Ben-Gurion used to do.
Adel Manna': This is totally different. They said all
fellahin were once Jews.
Meron Benvenisti: They were looking for specific families in
Dura, in Yatta, who were Jews by tradition, to show that Jews were
there and all the people you mentioned were converts.
Adel Manna': This is the Palestinian narrative. Once again,
I don't claim that everything is factual and historical, but this
is their narrative. You have those two narratives. That's why when
the issue of nations and nation states and self-determination arose
in the late 19th century, and the Jews said, "This is our history
and we'll solve the Jewish problem by going back to Palestine and
establishing a Jewish state there". The Palestinians said, "No,
this is our country. We have the historical rights, even though you
were probably here."
The most important intellectual among the Arabs in Palestine in the
19th century was Yusuf al Khalidi. He said in a letter to Theodor
Herzl, "This is certainly your country. The Jewish people were here
before us." But there are realities here. This country is important
to all Christians and Muslims, so you can't just transform it into
a Jewish state. Khalidi was a pragmatist. He could acknowledge the
Jewish narrative because, at that time, it didn't translate
immediately into a national conflict over the same homeland. But
later on, those two conflicting narratives led the Israelis and the
Palestinians into conflict.
The Palestinians, during the Mandate, still thought of themselves
as the numerical majority. They also believed that, together with
the Arab states, they could prevent the establishment of a Jewish
state. This was their principal reason for rejecting the 1947
Intellectually speaking, I don't think that, in order to understand
history, we have to write new articles that change history and say,
"No, the Palestinians didn't reject it." It is true there were the
Communists who didn't reject it, but they were marginal. There were
probably other Palestinians who didn't reject it, but also didn't
accept it. Most of the Palestinians, and the leadership, rejected
the 1947 plan. It was not just Hajj Amin Husseini, but the
The principal reason the Palestinians rejected partition was
because they didn't accept the idea that the Jewish side, the
yishuv, had a collective right to self-determination in
We can speak about the reasons the Palestinians didn't agree to the
specific partition of 1947, about how much territory was given to a
third of the population and how much to two-thirds of the
population, how many Palestinians would be living in a Jewish state
and not in a state of all its citizens.
Why go into these different arguments rather than just tell the
truth? First of all, yes, the Palestinians rejected it. They
probably had good and justified reasons for that when we take into
account the narratives and the focus on justice rather than on
The Palestinian leadership was neither pragmatic nor realistic, and
made miscalculations, as Professor Ma'oz said. As an historian, I
believe that leadership has to be blamed, as well. If we don't
criticize our leadership of 1948, how can we criticize our
leadership now? Should we legitimize all the decisions they take,
follow them like blind people and say nothing about their
Ran Aaronsohn: I am confused. I see two separate levels of
discussion here. The first is the academic and historical
presentation of the papers. The second is the emotional and
subjective views. I don't find any common ground for discussion if
the underlying desire of people is to say, "Never mind the facts
and never mind the papers."
Paul Scham: You're right. There are two levels of discourse
going on. We intentionally invited both professional historians and
non-historians to participate and I think we are seeing different
ways of thinking about the past from people who are historically
trained and from those who are lay people. We are hearing not only
the academic historians, but also the unmediated views of
Palestinians, which are perhaps closer to the view of the
Palestinian street. This is not just a traditional academic
workshop, which helps to explain why there is a discontinuity in
Lily Galili: I speak as a "man of the street." Although I'm
not an historian, I am very much aware of the fact that things are
happening on two different levels. One of the mistakes the Israeli
side made - it also happened a little on the Palestinian side - is
that, with the help of the media, we created total confusion.
We created an equation between a political agreement, on the one
hand, and the notion of reconciliation on the other. Oslo was
marketed by politicians, through journalists, as a process of
reconciliation. I think that was far from true and it was a
mistake. Reconciliation brings with it expectations that do not
necessarily follow a political agreement.
In a political agreement Amne Badran can say we accept the fact
that you are here although we still don't think it's legitimate.
And I can accept Israel saying we don't really like the idea of a
Palestinian state, but we don't see any other solution at this
point. I think we'll all be very happy to reach a political
agreement at this point.
Reconciliation starts with a collision of narratives, which we have
been made aware of in this discussion. This clarifies the issue for
me. I am more convinced than ever that we have to divorce the
notions of political agreement and reconciliation. Recently, I saw
a study conducted by Khalil Shikaki on the Palestinian side and
Yaakov Shamir on the Israeli side. Even now, a surprising number of
Israelis and Palestinians believe a political agreement can still
be reached, although they have lost faith in the idea of
reconciliation for now. Maybe in another 30 years...
We should listen to these forces and reorganize our political
behavior accordingly. I'm not saying what we're doing is useless.
This may set the scene for the next step, which will be
reconciliation. But let's not confuse the two.
Aziz Haider: In this kind of discussion, we can try to tell
the truth. Moshe said that one side accepted the partition plan and
the other side rejected it, but he didn't put the events in
historical context. The other part of the story is about
legitimacy. I think most Israelis, until the 1990's, didn't
recognize the very existence of the Palestinians as a people.
Moshe Ma'oz: During the Mandate period they recognized that
there was a Palestinian nation.
Aziz Haider: No. They talked about Arab states, not the
Avraham Sela: We have to put it into context. From 1924, the
Palestinian leadership said the Jews were no partner for anything.
From then on, all contacts focused on Arab leaders of the
neighboring countries, and any meetings with Palestinian figures
had to be held secretly. That was the only option.
Adel Manna: You're confusing political attitudes, narratives
and the legitimacy of the other side.
Aziz Haider: The partition plan is only half the story.
That's the Zionist narrative. There is another narrative and we
have to tell it, as well. The Zionists did not recognize the very
existence of Palestinians as a people.
Adel Manna: As a people with the right to self-determination in
Palestine, not just as a people.
Aziz Haider: We came here to start thinking differently and
to tell both stories. This is very important.
Benjamin Pogrund: Doesn't Jewish acceptance of the UN
partition plan imply the acceptance of another state?
Aziz Haider: No. It's pragmatism. What was said about
criticizing our leadership is very important here. Ben Gurion was
very pragmatic. The other side wasn't. This is our problem. We have
to admit it.
Benjamin Pogrund: The Jewish side accepted that there was
going to be another state. Wasn't it implicit that they accepted a
Dalia Ofer: Not in the general perceptions. Ben Gurion,
among all the leaders - and I'm not talking about Vladimir
Jabotinsky who died in 1940 - was most ready to accept the
legitimacy of the Palestinian people and their right to a state.
But it is also true that in basic perceptions after the failure of
1947, the issue vanished. You can explain it politically by saying
it was because Jordan annexed the West Bank, but it was not only
political. I recall from my parents and from my education that the
legitimacy of the Palestinians to their own state was not an
Aziz Haider: After the establishment of the State of Israel,
the Israelis continued their propaganda by defining the conflict in
the Middle East as the Arab-Israeli conflict, as a conflict between
states and not between two nations. As historians and academics,
you yourself contributed to this propaganda by writing or saying
that it's an Arab-Israeli conflict and not a Palestinian-Israeli
Dalia Ofer: But it was both. It was also with Egypt and
Jordan. It was also Israeli-Arab, not only
'Atta Qiemary: As a Palestinian, I have to say that the
Palestinian people, not just their leadership, bear responsibility
for what happened in 1948. Whether that leadership was elected or
not, there was some kind of mechanism through which that leadership
wielded power. People who came to the leader and said there was no
acceptance share some responsibility for the refusal of the plan.
But why shouldn't people reject a proposal which is unjust and
unacceptable according to their perception of reality? The
Palestinians were a majority, they were to receive the minority of
the land, and those lands they were to receive were also not the
The best parts of Palestine went to the Jewish state. Forty-four
percent of Palestine at that time went to the Palestinians, and 56
percent to the Israelis. However, the demographics were
approximately equal. There were almost half a million people in
each society. The logic was to give the Jews more space in which to
absorb more Jews who would come later. On the basis of justice and
logic, the Palestinian people could not be persuaded by this plan.
It was unjust and unacceptable. The feeling was that this was
clearly an international plot - the British, together with the
Israelis and the Zionists, want to destroy our land and take it
from us on the basis of international legitimacy.
But now, after 40 years, Palestinians can confess that it was a
mistake because Britain wouldn't have given us independence even if
we were in the majority in Palestine and, internationally, we would
not have received legitimacy. We should learn from lessons of the
past. We are still in the conflict and the same arguments can be
raised by historians and laymen. "Why didn't the Palestinians
accept Camp David and Clinton's plan? What's happening now is
because they refused the Camp David plan." It's almost the same
I reject the premise that refusal of the partition plan is the
basis for what happened afterwards. Ben Gurion was ethnocentric. He
had a goal in mind. He wanted independence for Israel, for the Jews
in Palestine, even if it could not include all of Palestine. When
he accepted the partition plan, that was what was in his mind. That
does not imply that he accepted the other's right of
self-determination, especially that of the Palestinians, even
though, had the partition plan been implemented, it would
automatically have resulted in the Palestinians having a state of
As for the question of fear, I think we do have to acknowledge that
there is fear among the Israelis. In spite of their strength, in
spite of all their weapons, they are still a minority in the
region. If they lose their military superiority, their existence
could be in danger. We're at war. We're a minority. I can
understand that. But at leadership level, I doubt that was the
case. Those who controlled the situation at the international level
- the British and the Zionist movement - knew that the yishuv would
beat the armies that allegedly attacked Israel.
Paul Scham: Not at the beginning.
Dalia Ofer: Read the British-American documents of
Avraham Sela: Read George Marshall's meeting with Moshe
Moshe Ma'oz: The question is still - how many Palestinians
agreed to the 1947 partition plan?
Walid Salem: I didn't say the Palestinians accepted the
partition plan. I said they were ready to accept the idea of
dealing with the results of the implementation of the plan. I try
to take the entire network of relations and understand how it led
to what we are now facing - that the Zionist state was established
and the Palestinian state was not.
During that period, Britain was the Mandatory power in Palestine.
There was a need for an international role in solving the
Palestinian-Israeli question. As the Palestinians rejected the
plan, it was the role of the UN and the British to impose it, if
they wanted to implement it on both sides. But what happened? The
British abstained from voting on the plan in the UN, and that led
the Israelis to establish their state in a larger area than the
partition plan had given them. It also led to the fact that the
Palestinian state was not established. Finally, I cannot rush to
criticize the Palestinian leadership over the partition plan.
Within the historical context of that period, they did what they
thought was right.
Avraham Sela: The rejection of the partition plan by the
Palestinian leadership and by the surrounding Arab countries'
governments was not only a legitimate decision, given the
perception of international and regional reality, but it was also
perceived as pragmatically correct. They believed that Britain
would not let the Arabs down and lacked information about the depth
of Zionist influence in the US. Probably the most important thing
was a misunderstanding of the new actor in the international arena,
the USSR, whose military aid to the newborn State of Israel during
its first few months was tremendously important. You may say it was
wrong pragmatically. But if you really follow the thinking and how
the Arab and Palestinian leaders perceived reality, they thought
they had a very good cause, and a basis for reversing, if not
entirely wrecking, the partition plan and the entire UN
For the full text of UN Resolutions 181, 242 and 338, turn to