Did the Palestinian leadership miss an opportunity when it rejected
UN Partition Resolution 181, November, 1947. The simple answer to
this question is "Yes". Can anyone hold them responsible for this
failure? The serious, responsible answer from the Palestinians
themselves must be "No."
Decisions are always ruled by the circumstances prevailing at the
time they are taken, not a minute after. No one could have
predicted at that time the events that would happen later.
Political analysts could theorise about the future, but no one
could predict it for sure.
At the time of the partition resolution, the Arabs in general, and
the Palestinians in particular, felt that the British government
had betrayed them. Their promise to create an Arab State as a
reward for their part in the rebellion against the Turkish Khalifa
at the beginning of the First World War had proved to be a lie.
Instead, the British had issued the Balfour Declaration, promising
to create a Jewish national homeland in Mandate Palestine.This
declaration increased Jewish immigration to Palestine and
threatened the national aspirations of the Palestinians, who
opposed this process and feared for their national interests. This
tension translated into bloody confrontation during the 1920s and
early 1930s and by 1936 had grown into a Palestinian National
Uprising and six month strike. But the Second World War diverted
attention to the global battlefield and the canons calmed down.
After the war, UN Resolution 181 represented a new step aimed at
legitimising the Balfour Declaration, upgrading the land promised
to the Jews to a state.
While the Jewish population celebrated the declaration of the 1947
partition plan, the Palestinians rebelled against it, feeling they
had been done a great injustice. Palestinian Jews, who had lived in
Palestine for centuries, were viewed as fellow citizens. But the
new immigrants were considered usurpers who had come to take over
the Arab homeland. Palestinians were unable to understand why they
should pay for the crimes of the Nazis, or welcome foriegners who
came to colonise and take over their own country. Furthermore, the
Jews, who had been persecuted and suffered from anti-semitism in
Europe, had lived in harmony with Arabs throughout history and were
part of their cultural and spiritual contribution to human
The partition plan was biased against the Palestinians, who saw
themselves as sole owners of their own land. It is easy to
understand their position when you know that at the time the
partition plan was drawn up, Arabs made up two thirds of the
populations and, according to British land registration, owned 93
percent of the land. The non-Arabs and Jews who made up just a
third of the population owned only seven percent of the land.
The partition plan, however, gave the Arabs just 43 percent of the
land, which they naturally considered unjust. How could the UN give
one peoples' homeland to another? For the Zionist movement,
partition was an improvement on even the national homeland they had
been promised by Lord Balfour, upgrading it to a state which would
enjoy international legitimacy courtesy of the UN.
In hindsight, it is easy to say the Palestinians missed an
opportunity in 1947. But any Palestinian moderate today will never
know what his position would have been if he were living in
November, 1947. It is easy to be wise after the event.
The question now should be how we can get out of this vicious
circle of bloodshed and violence, without blaming each other for
the past. It is obvious that using force and violence will only
lead to more suffering on both sides than we have already seen. It
is only through political realism and understanding each other that
we can embark on the journey to the shores of peace.
Both sides have to agree that there are two peoples living on this
land. If it is not possible to share the state, then they must at
least share the land. The realities on the ground have changed
enormously since 1947. Palestinians realise that demanding to go
back to the partition of 1947 is unrealistic and will not be
accepted by the other side. What seems realistic is the creation of
a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which
represents in total about 22 percent of the total area of Mandate
Palestine. This is viewed by all Palestinians as a huge concession,
to achieve an historic compromise between the two peoples in
Palestine. No logic justifies the Israeli demand to annex
additional parts of the West Bank or Gaza, which are designated for
inclusion in the future state of Palestine. Other major issues like
the Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem could be solved in the same
spirit of realism and conciliation.