Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why did the 'Arabs' (and the 13 other UN signatories) say no to partition in 1947?

To get an insight into why dividing British-mandate Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and an international city was an unjust proposition, consider the following.

1. Thirty years before 87 percent of the region was not-Jewish.

Source 1 - Population demographics 

Source 2 - Letter t0 PM March 2008

2. The region had not had a significant Jewish majority for over two millennia.

3. The number of Arabs living in the Jewish state would have exceeded the number of Jews if Jaffa had not been excised and Bedouins had been included in the census.

According to the UNSCOP Report the proposed Jewish State had a slim majority of 498,000 Jews to 407,000 non-Jews (i.e the Jewish state had 55% Jews and 45% Jews). However, UNSCOP also goes on to indicate that the number of Arabs living in the Jewish state was greater than the number of Jews, given:

(a) Jaffa the largest Palestinian Arab town (with a population of 55,000 Muslims, 16,000 Christians and 30,000 Jews) was excised from the Jewish state and placed into the Arab state despite being geographically cut-off from the Arab state.

To demonstrate the precariousness of such a decision Jaffa was a prime target for the Jewish military and was surrounded and defeated by Irgun (led by Menachem Begin) and Haganah on 12 May 1948 two days before the Jewish Agency declared the state of Israel (Lapidot).

(b) 90,000 Bedouins were not included in the Jewish state despite being permitted to live in the Jewish State to graze during the dry season. This potentially underestimated the number of Arabs in the Jewish state (UNSCOP 1947).

4. The decision to partition was undemocratically decided (from the point of view of the inhabitants)

The citizens of the region (i.e. British-mandate Palestine) were not given a choice. They were left to the whim of western politicians and western domestic politics. There was no plebiscite for the region as had been initiated in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Kashmir and Korea.

Noted personalities such as Sir Isaac Isaacs acknowledged this failure of democratic principles to operate on this question. Isaacs in the 1940’s was embroiled in a ferocious debate with Julius Stone about the proposal for creating a Jewish State in British-mandate Palestine (Stone 1944). Isaacs favoured a democratic approach. Isaacs argued it was unjust to impose Jewish nationalism on a region whose inhabitants had for millennia not had a Jewish majority (Isaacs 1946).

Isaacs said let the human beings living in British-mandate Palestine decide their future. In contrast Stone favoured a Jewish nationalist approach which sought to turn back the clock two thousand years and recreate a Jewish state. Stone blinkered by the tragedy of the holocaust in Europe (like another legal giant Brandeis of the US and our own Dr Evatt a devotee of Brandeis) mistakingly believed that the creation of a Jewish state in historic Israel would help provide Jewish security for the Jewish people.

5. Unfair pressure was placed on smaller nations to back the UN General Assembly Resolution

A lot has been said about the United Nations creating Israel. Like many nation-state creation stories this is a partial truth.

There were just 33 countries who voted in favour of creating a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international city of Jerusalem. 13 countries voted against partition and 10 countries including the United Kingdom abstained.

The vote was only in the affirmative through heavy politiciking of the United States. The General Assembly Partition plan (29 Nov 1947) was initially to be voted on 26 August but the vote was postponed on two occasions until it was clear the necessary two-thirds majority (including abstentions) would be gained.

The decisive votes were obtained from Haiti, Liberia and Philippines. Each of these three countries were pushed e.g. Haiti and Philippines in terms of aid and Liberia in terms of contracts for rubber exports to Firestone Tyre company. The Philippines itself had spoken against partition but when the
vote came her delegates were told to vote in favour. (Smith 1947).

6. The UN Security Council rejected the General Assembly Partition plan, favouring instead UN trusteeship

The General Assembly then charged the Security Council with final deliberation on the partition plan. The United Nations Security Council in March 1948 rejected the General Assembly partition plan as it endangered international peace and security. So they recalled the General assembly to meet in April and May 1948. By this time the US had proposed placing Palestine under UN trusteeship. The Jewish Agency was outraged and decided that they would create a Jewish state whether or not they had the United Nations support. They did this on 14 May 1948.

[see below for a more detailed exposition]


History has shown that Stone was wrong and Isaacs was correct. Forcibly creating a Jewish state in a region which had not had a Jewish majority for over two thousand years was a disaster for world peace. Isaacs said in the 1940s:

“the Zionist movement as a whole…makes demands that are arousing the antagonism of the Moslem world of nearly 400 millions, thereby menacing the safety of our Empire, endangering world peace and imperiling some of the most sacred associations of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths. Besides their inherent injustice to others these demands would, I believe, seriously and detrimentally affect the general position of Jews throughout the world” (Isaacs p. 8-9).

Sir Isaac Isaacs was right. War was a consequence of trying to impose the Jewish nationalist ideology on peoples who were not Jewish. Sure, blame can be shared to include those within the Arab Palestinian and Arab neighbours who committed violence against the Jewish community from the 1920s until today. However, failure to acknowledge the basic injustice that forcibly establishing a state base on ethnicity to an ethnic group who had not had a majority in that region for over two thousand years was bound to lead to war.

The region will continue to be at war whilst Jewish nationalist ideology is championed as opposed to acknowledging past injustices and basing statehood on it’s citizens.


Isaacs, I. Palestine: Peace and Prosperity or War and Destruction? Political Zionism: Undemocratic, Unjust, Dangerous. Ramsay Ware Publishing, 1946.

Lapidot Yehuda, ‘The Conquest of Jaffa’.

Smith, Lawrence, US Congressional Record - House. pp.11652-11658, 18 December 1947.

Stone, J, “Stand up and be counted!” An open letter to the Rt Hon Sir Isaac Isaacs on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the Jewish National Home, 1944

UNSCOP 1947,


Of course I acknowledge and feel remorse for any racism, violence and oppression the Jewish community as felt. See for example:

However, this is not a blank cheque to forcibly create a Jewish state in a region without the democratic consent of the local inhabitants.

I realise the above reflection will be offensive to many who have grown up with the belief that Jewish security is dependent on the presence of a Jewish nationalist state based in the historic region occupied by ancient Hebrew people.

However, as difficult as it is to read please be assured that the purpose of writing this reflection is to help build a future where the 11 million human beings in the trouble region of Israel and Palestine may find creative and sustainable ways to live in peace. Peace is based on attaining fundamental needs such as justice, security, meaning, identity and autonomy. A balanced interpretation of the history of the region is essential for this.

Why did the 'Arabs' (and the 13 other UN signatories) say no to partition in 1947? (II)

The reason for this may be made clearer if one considers that two-thirds of British Palestine were non-Jewish in 1947 and that three decades before 90% of this region was non-Jewish. Also consider:

· The creation of a Jewish State had seemed counter to the status quo of the region for the previous two millennia.
· The creation of a Jewish State seemed counter to Macdonald's White paper 1939 and the Anglo-American Committee's report 1946.
· 70 % of the population was being given 46% of the land· Almost 50% of the population of the proposed Jewish State was non-Jewish (if Jaffa had not been included as part of the Arab State then greater than 50% of the Jewish State would be non-Jewish (Khan 23 April 1948).
· No plebiscite was given - as had been carried out in Greece, Kashmir, South Korea and Czechoslovakia (El-Khouria 15 May 1948).
· No mention was made in the partition plan of compensation for non-Jews in the Jewish State if they chose to leave.

Furthermore it is important to note that:
· The General Assembly Partition plan (29 Nov 1947) was initially to be voted on 26 August but the vote was postponed on two occasions until it was clear the necessary two-thirds majority (including abstentions) would be gained. The decisive votes were obtained from Haiti, Liberia and Philippines. Questionable lobbying by the US ensured their support (Smith 1947).
· The Partition Plan received 33 votes for 13 against (including from Greece, India and Pakistan) and 10 abstentions (including UK the mandatory state and China). It has been said that the British did not vote for partition as it would lead to war.


El-Khouria, United Nations Security Council Official Records, Third Year, No. 66, 292nd meeting, Saturday 15 May 1948, p. 18.

Khan, Sir Mohammed Zafrullah, United Nations General Assembly Official Record Second Special Session, April 1948, p. 70.

Palestine Government, Village Statistics, 1945-as cited in Khalidi, Walid, Before theDiaspora: A photographic history of the Palestinians 1876-1948.pp. 237.Institute for Palestine Studies. Washington DC, 1984.

Smith, Lawrence, US Congressional Record - House. pp.11652-11658, 18 December 1947.

Stewart, Desmond, The Middle East: Temple of Janus, New York: Double Day and Co., London, 1971.

You might also want to check my letter in response to Alan Dershowitz. http://palestineisra... This response to Dershowitz outlines the history of the creation of the state of Israel through two very different lenses.

When did the UN Security Council consider the General Assembly's Partition Plan?

In March 1948 the UN Security Council considered the General Assembly resolution 181 (II) --the 'partition plan'--concerning Palestine. The Security Council resolution of the 5 March 1948 indicated the time for the consultation period. The decision was made in the 1 April 1948 resolution.

Security Council Resolution, 5 March 1948
S/RES/42 (1948)S/691

Why did the UN Security Council reject the Partition Plan?

The decision on the partition plan was not made until after the consultation period, which occurred throughout March. The politicking is fascinating. Truman, George Marshall and Chaim Weitzman played interesting and conflicting roles. The end result was S/RES/44 (1948), S/714, II made on 1 April 1948. This resolution:

"Requests the Secretary-General, in accordance with Article 20 of the United Nations Charter, to convoke a special session of the General Assembly to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine."

This was the Security Council's way of saying the partition plan was unworkable. As such a special session of the General Assembly would need to be held to reconsider the options for Palestine.

What is significant is the US State Department had changed their original position and was seeking to place Palestine under UN trusteeship. This position change was made by Warren Austin (the US represntative to the UN) on 19 March 1948. This was followed by Marshall's statement a day later again in support of placing Palestine under UN trusteeship.

The State Department was fearful of the Soviets getting involved in the chaos that would follow (and was at the time occurring) if the partition plan went ahead. Truman on the other hand was in a difficult position because he had secretly agreed with Weitzman that he would support the creation of a Jewish State.

President Truman was furious with the State Department as he had met with Chaim Weizmann on 18 March and had promised support for partition. To try and assure Weizmann that he was a man of his word he spoke on 25 March 1948 in favour of a UN trusteeship, but cautioned this would be only a temporary measure.

On May 12, 1948, Clark Clifford, Robert Lovett and George Marshall presented opposing arguments in an Oval Office debate over whether the United States should recognize the Jewish State.

On April 16, 1948 the Second Special Session of the UN General Assembly met in Flushing Meadows, New York City to reconsider the future government of Palestine (i.e should it be placed under a UN trusteeship for ten years).

On April 20, 1948 the United States Delegation introduces "working paper" on Palestine trusteeship in Political Committee. The Jewish Agency and the USSR opposes any plan of trusteeship (T).

On the 13 May, 1948 the Political Committee received subcommittee reports recommending temporary regime for Palestine as a whole under a United Nations Mediator(T).

On May 14, 6 p.m. eastern standard time (12:00 midnight in Palestine) while the Special Session of the UN General Assembly was still discussing placing Palestine under UN trusteeship the Ben Gurion on behalf of the Jewish Agency declared independence [This was a day before the British mandate would have come to an end](T).

May 14, 6:11 p.m. eastern standard time: The White House on behalf of Truman issues a statement recognising the state of Israel on a de facto basis (T).

May 14, "shortly after 6:11 p.m. eastern standard time the United States representative to the United Nations Warren Austin leaves his office at the United Nations and goes home. Secretary of State Marshall sends a State Department official to the United Nations to prevent the entire United States delegation from resigning" (T).

May 15: On May 15, 1948, the Arab states issued their response statement and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq attack Israel(T).


In the fall of 1948 Israel's application for membership of the United Nations was rejected.
Most western nations did not recognise the state of Israel until January 1949 (for example United Kingdom, France, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy and Australia, to name a few). Apart from the US the first states to recognise Israel were mostly communist states e.g the USSR, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia).

On 11 May 1949 Israel was admitted as a member of the 59th member of the United Nations (General Assembly A/RES/273 (III).


This chronology suggests:
1. The UN Security Council rejected the partition plan proposed by the General Assembly in November 1947.
2. The Second Special Session of the General Assembly held from 16 April-14 May 1948 was doomed to fail as the Jewish Agency would not accept a trusteeship plan.
3. The US State Department and the White House had opposing views on recognition of the state of Israel. In the end the White House won out.

My final comment is the UN did not support the Jewish Agency's self-imposed creation of Israel until 11 May 1949. Nearly one year after Ben Gurion made his announcement.
The UN had considered a number of possibilities for Palestine. The partition plan proposed in November 1947 was shelved by the Security Council on 1 April 1948. The plan debated 16 April-14 May 1948 was to place Palestine under UN trusteeship.

However, this was not to be.
The Jewish Agency rejected the trusteeship plan, declared their own state and had the adequate military force to ensure they could chose their destiny.
The plan was that never again would the Jewish people be dictated to by another body, be they the United Nations, the Arab inhabitants of the land or the neighbouring Arab countries.


Security Council Resolution, 5 March 1948, S/RES/42 (1948)S/691 (UN).
Security Council Resolution, 1 April 1948, S/RES/44 (1948)S/714, II (UN).
United Nations and Palestine. Chronology of Major DevelopmentsPress Release PAL/166, 14 May 1948 (UN).
Ami Isseroff, `President Harry S. Truman and US Support for Israeli Statehood',(MidEastWeb Trusteeship).
Alfred M. Lilienthal, Remembering General George Marshall's Clash With Clark Clifford Over Premature Recognition of Israel, June 1999, pages 49-50.
The Recognition of the State of Israel: Chronology [Accessed 3 January 2007]
Palestine and the U.N. in RetrospectThe Fortieshttp://www.palestine...
United States Position on the Palestine ProblemStatement by Ambassador Warren R. Austin, United States Representative in the Security Council, March 19, 1948
Truman Trusteeship Statement 25 March 1948http://www.mideastwe...
Truman Adviser Recalls May 14,1948 US Decision to Recognize Israel By Richard H. Curtiss http://www.informati...
Israel's Diplomatic Missions Abroad: Status of relationshttp://www.israel-mf...
Admission of Israel to membership in the United NationsA/RES/273 (III)11 May 1949

What countries recognized the State of Israel?http://www.palestine...

Closing Comments.

As a European Australian I have a duty to ensure that the pain and suffering that my ancestors created to the indigenous people of Australia is not perpetuated to another people---whether those people were indigenous Jewish Palestinians or indigenous non-Jewish Palestinians (i.e. Muslim, Christian Druze or other non-Jewish Palestinians).

Either way I see that the only future is for each person to empathise with the other. And to not believe necessarily what they were taught as a kid. My hope is that people can look afresh at what they think is the real history, to go back over all the facts again and to see the conflict through the perspective of all the competing parties. Ultimately I hope that people can seek to see the humanity and ensure the dignity of the other.

What is the difference between a General Assembly Resolution and a Security Council Resolution?

The General Assembly's resolutions are only recommendations (Article 10,13) while the Security Council's resolutions are enforceable decisions. As such the Security Council has the authority to overide a General Assembly resolution (Article 24,25).
The format of the UN is like a bicameral system with an upper house and a lower house. The General Assembly resolutions carry moral weight, while the Security Council's Resolutions are binding on member states.

I have identified a number of relevant articles of the UN Charter.

Article 1 The Purposes of the United Nations are:
1. To maintain international peace and security

General Assembly Functions and Powers

Article 10 The General Assembly may discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter... and... may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters

Article 13
1. The General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of: a. promoting international co-operation...

Security Council Functions and Powers

Article 24
1. In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.

2. In discharging these duties the Security Council shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. The specific powers granted to the Security Council for the discharge of these duties are laid down in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII.

Article 25
The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.


Article 39 The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.


I hope this makes things a little clearer as to the difference between the Security Council and the General Assembly.

In short, the General Assembly Partition Plan of 1947 was a recommendation. They handed it over to the UN Security Council to deliberate on. Just as occurs in a bicameral system. The UN Security debated the GA resolution in March 1948 and concluded it was not workable. They recalled the General Assembly to meet in a Special Session of the GA from 16 April 1948. During this meeting the GA debated the trusteeship proposal for Jerusalem and all of Palestine. The Arab League proposed a unitary democratic state. The Jewish Agency rejected the trusteeship proposal. On 14 May the Jewish Agency declared the State of Israel following the former General Assembly partition plan and despite the Security Council having resolved that this would lead to international war. On the 15 May international war occurred.


My hope is that someday people will see that if there is ever to be peace in Israel and Palestine, each community has to acknowledge that violence will not bring a sustainable peace.
The Jewish and Palestinian people who live in this region have a legitimate right to live here. No side is without fault. My concern is that many people do not understand that the only 10 percent of the population in this region prior to 1917 were Jewish. As such the non-Jewish population were vehmently opposed to any decision to try and partition the land into a Jewish and non-Jewish state.

As a European Australian I know my ancestors did this to Aboriginal people. I cannot see how this can be justified by people of good conscience today.

I know the Jewish community has a historical (and for some a religious) connection to the land. But who doesn't. Countless peoples have lived there over the millenia. The Jewish community historically came to the region from modern day Iraq. Abram lived amongst the Cannanites.
Over the generations the Jewish community waxed and waned between having comntrol of significant parts of the land, to not having much control. What is clear is that for most of the time the Jewish Community had a significant population in historic Palestine they were subjagated by foreign rule, be that Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek or Roman.

It is tiring for me to hear such historical claims in the modern day when I look at the indigenous groups like the Biripai, Gadigal or Kamiliroi people of Australia and say what chance do they have to claim the land. Or similarly what oppprtunities do any Native American nations have of claiming their historic land. In Australia we give only what we don't want, the worst, driest land. In America, I understand it is the same.

If we don't do this for the indigenous people of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, why should we do it for a community who was physically a significant presence in the region two thousand years ago.

Is it not right to affirm the humanity of our fellow human beings in whatever form they take.
The Holocaust is a blight on our human record. In Australia we refused to take Jewish refugees. We allowed Jewish families to be returned to Germany to a certain death.
But this does not mean we have to hurt another people. It is not right to put the pain on the non-Jewish people of Palestine for the anti-Semitism of by-gone Europe.
We as a people need to protect the rights of all individuals.

Today there are 4,853,017 Jews and 1,499,099 non-Jews (mostly Arab) living in Israel. There are a further 3,889,249 Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza combined (1,428,757 (July 2006 est.) in Gaza and 2,460,492 in West Bank (2004 est).

This gives a total of 5,388,348 Arabs living in historic Palestine (i.e the Jewish community is 90% of the total population of this region).

There are too many people in this region to try and force another group to leave. And violence either by IDF occupation or by suicide bombing or rocket attacks just perpetuates the fear and anger by another. Or the violence of building a wall or fence across one's land, housing demolitions, settlement building all sow seeds of anger, fear and suspicion.

Please stop the violence.

My prayer is that people will acknowledge the wrongs of the past and seek new ways to live together as fellow human beings.


For other references, please see the following:
The UN Charter - easy to see all articles (Yale - The Avalon Project)

The UN Charter (UN) - the format is clumsy as it only arranges by chapters and not by articles

The UN Charter (Wiki)

Powers of the General Assemblyhttp://www.nationsen...

Powers of the Security Councilhttp://www.nationsen...

Security Council (Wiki)http://en.wikipedia....

How the UN works - The Security Council (UN)

The UN Security Council Home Page (UN)

Security Council Resolutions (UN)

To find a UN Depository library near you see:

Population figures
West Bank

What is the 1 April resolution really saying?

The language used in this resolution is typical of this style of resolution. A literal reading is not enough to understand the background to this resolution. Please read the documents I have posted to understand the context.

It is clear any proposal to place Palestine under UN trusteeship would have a limited life. Truman acknolwedged that in his speech on 25 March 1948.

The proposal was to place Palestine under the trusteeship of the UN for ten years. As such partition was always up for grabs after this time.

Partition has come up time and again in relation to Palestine. For example the Peel Partition Plan 1937 and the actual partition of Palestine into British mandate Palestine and Transjordan in 1923.

However, as of 1 April 1948 the Security Council had decided with the exception of USSR and the Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republics that partition was unworkable as it could only be imposed by military force.

The US State Department, in particular, did not want to escalate the conflict beyond the borders of Palestine. Take for example Warren Austin's speech on 19 March.

The State Department feared this would bring the USSR into the conflict. Their predictions eventuated indirectly with the arming of Nasser and Syria by USSR during the 50s and 60s. The 1967 war was an example of this.

Please read transcripts from the Second Special Session of the UN General Assembly (16 April-14 May 1948) to understand the reasons why the Partition Plan was rejected and why the US state department in particular favoured placing Palestine in a UN trusteeship.

These are not available on the net (as far as I can see). Try your local UN information centre or library for details. ;http://web.library.e...