Jeremy R. Hammond

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The U.N. General Assembly, November 29, 1947There is a widely accepted belief that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 “created” Israel, based upon an understanding that this resolution partitioned Palestine or otherwise conferred legal authority or legitimacy to the declaration of the existence of the state of Israel. However, despite its popularity, this belief has no basis in fact, as a review of the resolution’s history and examination of legal principles demonstrates incontrovertibly.

Great Britain had occupied Palestine during the First World War, and in July 1922, the League of Nations issued its mandate for Palestine, which recognized the British government as the occupying power and effectively conferred to it the color of legal authority to temporarily administrate the territory.[1] On April 2, 1947, seeking to extract itself from the conflict that had arisen in Palestine between Jews and Arabs as a result of the Zionist movement to establish in Palestine a “national home for the Jewish people”,[2] the United Kingdom submitted a letter to the U.N. requesting the Secretary General “to place the question of Palestine on the Agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular Annual Session”, and requesting the Assembly “to make recommendations, under Article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine.”[3] To that end, on May 15, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 106, which established the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate “the question of Palestine”, to “prepare a report to the General Assembly” based upon its findings, and to “submit such proposals as it may consider appropriate for the solution of the problem of Palestine”.[4]

On September 3, UNSCOP issued its report to the General Assembly declaring its majority recommendation that Palestine be partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states. It noted that the population of Palestine at the end of 1946 was estimated to be almost 1,846,000, with 1,203,000 Arabs (65 percent) and 608,000 Jews (33 percent). Growth of the Jewish population had been mainly the result of immigration, while growth of the Arab population had been “almost entirely” due to natural increase. It observed that there was “no clear territorial separation of Jews and Arabs by large contiguous areas”, and even in the Jaffa district, which included Tel Aviv, Arabs constituted a majority.[5] Land ownership statistics from 1945 showed that Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district in Palestine. The district with the highest percentage of Jewish ownership was Jaffa, where 39 percent of the land was owned by Jews, compared to 47 percent owned by Arabs.[6] In the whole of Palestine at the time UNSCOP issued its report, Arabs owned 85 percent of the land,[7] while Jews owned less than 7 percent.[8]

Despite these facts, the UNSCOP proposal was that the Arab state be constituted from only 45.5 percent of the whole of Palestine, while the Jews would be awarded 55.5 percent of the total area for their state.[9] The UNSCOP report acknowledged that

With regard to the principle of self-determination, although international recognition was extended to this principle at the end of the First World War and it was adhered to with regard to the other Arab territories, at the time of the creation of the ‘A’ Mandates, it was not applied to Palestine, obviously because of the intention to make possible the creation of the Jewish National Home there. Actually, it may well be said that the Jewish National Home and the sui generis Mandate for Palestine run counter to that principle.[10]

In other words, the report explicitly recognized that the denial of Palestinian independence in order to pursue the goal of establishing a Jewish state constituted a rejection of the right of the Arab majority to self-determination. And yet, despite this recognition, UNSCOP had accepted this rejection of Arab rights as being within the bounds of a legitimate and reasonable framework for a solution.

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