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1947 UN Partition Plan
On 29 November 1947 the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, a plan to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict in the British Mandate of Palestine, was approved by the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN World Headquarters in New York. The plan partitioned the territory into Jewish and Arab states, with the Greater Jerusalem area (encompassing Bethlehem) coming under international control. The failure of this plan led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Creation of the plan
The United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, attempted to solve the dispute between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. On May 15 1947 the UN appointed a committee, the UNSCOP, composed of representatives from eleven states. To make the committee more neutral, none of the Great Powers were represented. After spending three months conducting hearings and general survey of the situation in Palestine, UNSCOP officially released its report on August 31. A majority of nations (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay) recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. A minority (India, Iran, Yugoslavia) supported the creation of a single federal state containing both Jewish and Arab constituent states. Australia abstained. On November 29, the UN General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favor of the Partition Plan, while making some adjustments to the boundaries between the two states proposed by it. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal.
The Jewish state was to receive 55% of Mandatory Palestine. This included the fruitful shore plain and the Negev desert. The desert was not suitable for agriculture, nor for urban development at that time. The land allocated to the Jewish state was largely that where there was a significant Jewish population (Map of population distribution). Much was owned by Jewish interests (about 7% of the area of Palestine) or the state.
The UN made the recommendation for a three-way partition of Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and a small internationally administered zone including the religiously significant towns Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The two states envisioned in the plan were each composed of three major sections, linked by extraterritorial crossroads. The Jewish state would receive the Coastal Plain, stretching from Haifa to Rehovot, the Eastern Galilee (surrounding the Sea of Galilee and including the Galilee panhandle) and the Negev, including the southern outpost of Umm Rashrash (now Eilat). The Arab state would receive the Western Galilee, with the town of Acre, the Samarian highlands and the Judean highlands, and the southern coast stretching from north of Majdal (now Ashkelon) and encompassing what is now the Gaza Strip, with a section of desert along the Egyptian border. The UNSCOP report placed the mostly-Arab town of Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, in the Jewish state, but it was moved to form an enclave part of the Arab State before the proposal went before the UN.
The plan was a compromise position based on two other plans, giving more or less land to each state.
Reactions to the plan
Political pressure by proponents of partition was used to get the UN to pass the partition proposal. Most of the Jews accepted the proposal, in particular the Jewish Agency, which was the Jewish state-in-formation. The more extreme nationalist Jewish groups like Menachem Begin's Irgun Tsvai Leumi and Yitzhak Shamir's Lehi (group), (known as the Stern Gang) which had been fighting the British, rejected it. Numerous records indicate the joy of Palestine's Jewish inhabitants as they attended to the U.N. session voting for the division proposal. Up to this day, Israeli history books mention November 29th (the date of this session) as the most important date in the Israel's acquisition of independence. However Jews did criticise the lack of territorial continuity for the Jewish state.
The Arab leadership opposed the plan, arguing that it violated the rights of the majority of the people in Palestine, which at the time was 67% non-Jewish (1,237,000) and 33% Jewish (608,000). They criticised the amount and quality of land given to Israel. The Jews had been offered 55% percent of the land when they owned less than 8% of it. However, it should be noted that over 70% of the land area was not actually owned by anyone (Jewish or Arab) -- it was desert under the control of the British Mandate. The population for the proposed Jewish State would be 498,000 Jews and 325,000 non-Jews. The population for the proposed Arab State would be 807,000 non-Jews and 10,000 Jews. The population for the proposed International Zone would be 105,000 non-Jews and 100,000 Jews.
Arabs also feared that the Jewish state would be a stepping stone for further advancement; this view is supported by statements from David Ben Gurion and other leaders recently discovered by Israel's New Historians and other independent scholars.
Text of the Resolution
- Text of UN Resolution (PDF)
- from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- from the Yale Law School
- Information on UN 181 from The Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center
- British Mandate of Palestine
- Balfour Declaration 1917
- 1922 Text: League of Nations Palestine Mandate
- Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948
- 1948 Arab-Israeli War
- 1949 Armistice Agreements
- Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Proposals for a Palestinian state
- Arab-Israeli conflict
- Legal Status of West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem
- Partition Map
- Maps of Palestine
- Ivan Rand and the UNSCOP Papers
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