On Saturday, November 29 1947, the UN General Assembly gathered in New York to vote on resolution 181 which proposed the partition of Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews. In 1947 the UN was still in its infancy—barely two years old; it was still full of promise and ideal. In those post war years, the UN was a more august and a more respected body than it is today, and that Saturday in November was it’s inaugural moment. In retrospect, that was the closest it has ever come to fulfilling the purpose for which it was chartered.
The historical drama unfolding captivated both the participants and the world at large; millions huddled by their radios listening to the vote and thousands congregated outside the assembly at Flushing Meadows. Reporters, paper and pen in hand, and photographers, camera’s clutched, remained at the ready. Everyone waited for word on the tally. There are many riveting personal accounts of the vote and all of them convey a surreal event. More than history being made, a myth was being born. A prophecy fulfilled.
The ambassador from Iceland, with the improbable name, Thor Thors, viewed the vote and, more specifically, his country’s critical role in it, as a matter of curious, if not ecclesiastical destiny. “How did it come about that our little island should have such a profound influence on the history of such a great people?” Thor Thors held deep religious convictions; destiny meant the hand of God, and he referred to his own support as continuing the “spiritual story of mankind.”
David Horowitz, more secularly inclined and a lead diplomat for the Zionist cause wrote that with every vote, “the excitement became a physical pain.” When the resolution passed, he moved from metaphor to myth, writing of “a feeling that grips a man but once in a lifetime. High above us we seemed to hear the beating of the wings of history.” Although this statement clearly made no pretext to biblical prophecy or textual reference, his language echoes the imagery in Exodus 19:4-6: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.”
Despite the hyperbole of the day, however, Resolution 181 was no covenant—it did not recreate the Jews as a people or a nation—and it did not create the State of Israel. In fact, the State was not even declared by Ben Gurion for another six months, on May 14, 1948, which in of itself created nothing. Only God has the power to create with words.
Ben Gurion understood this himself. He liked to remark, “Israel did not arise through the 1947 resolution.” Even Abba Eban, Israel’s preeminent and quintessential diplomat, a man of words, acknowledged that the “November 1947 Resolution created no legal obligations. It was a recommendation that those addressed by it could either accept or reject.”
However complicated the region had been historically and would prove in the future, Resolution 181 was that simple; events during the past nearly seven decades have proved it a case study. One side, Israel, embraced the UN Resolution as a path to peace and statehood; the other side rejected the UN mandate, as well as Israel’s declaration of statehood, manifest by unrelenting, both insidious and violent actions against Israel. The basic tenets of Israel’s adversaries overtly affirm the goals of dissolution of the Jewish state and extinction of its people. They do nothing towards achieving their own state.
The Arabs rejected partition. Instead, as the secretary-general of the Arab League at the time, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha put it, “There will have to be a decision and the decision will have to be by force. Any line of partition drawn in Palestine will be a line of fire and blood.”
Sadly, the Arabs haven’t wavered from this position.
The Jews accepted partition—no matter how small and indefensible their lot.
The Pasha was good to his word.
Eban agreed, regretfully, with the Pasha. “Within a few days of the Partition Resolution, scores of Jews had been killed, and it became brutally clear that Jews would not have their state ‘awarded’ them or ‘established’ by international decree.”
Five armies invaded the nascent Jewish state.
Borderlines were drawn in blood, Jewish and Arab blood alike.
Improbably, the Jews won. The Arabs were defeated.
Some might even say miraculously the Jews won.
But victory in battle, however miraculous, is not nation building.
My guess, as a Jew, is that God himself would agree—He set the precedent. Even He did not create Israel, the sovereign state. In fact, to the contrary; though He assured Joshua he would be victorious conquering Canaan, He demanded that the Jews, particularly after they beat their swords to plowshares, must do the work. No longer could the Jews rely on manna from heaven or water from a rock. Faith would play a role, but the pathway to establishing a nation not only entailed the back breaking work of reclaiming the land from the malarial marshes and shifting desert sands, but equally importantly, the creation of a educational system—both secular and parochial—and the development of an infrastructure for legal and social services to support the needs its people.
This scripted, organizational plan was instituted in the time of Joshua, and duplicated in the early 19th century when Zionism began take hold. As Heinrich Graetz, famous for his history of the Jews, put it as early as 1864, “the Jewish people must be their own messiah.” The Jews understood this practicality and more: they understood that the future couldn’t be built without regard to either historical facts or present realities. Therefore in 1948, the Jews accepted both the facts and reality of the partition, despite its significant disadvantages—story would cont. Their story would continue exactly where it left off when they first forded the Jordan. The narrative would be rooted in faith—not fantasy—and manifested in hard work. This story, replete with challenges and successes, tragedy and miracles, continues towards its dénouement.
Despite a beginning possessed of equal if not greater potential, Arab cum Palestinian history followed a remarkably different narrative. Instead of seeing their own future narrative in 181, the Arabs came to understand the resolution in an entirely different way. Ultimately, the Arabs employed it not for the betterment of their own people, but to detriment of the Jewish people.
For the Arabs Resolution 181 became its own myth; having suffered disaster on the battlefield, referred to as the Nakba in Arabic, Resolution 181 became a convenient and alternative narrative to explain the genesis of Israel. For them, an Israel imposed by outside forces was a more palatable narrative than the indignity of their own failure and defeat. Moreover, the perpetuation of this myth has proved a valuable propagandist tool.
Today the myth of Resolution 181 increasingly frustrates Israel’s identity as a nation state by perpetuating the delusion that what an assembly of nations can do with the power of the pen and the corresponding “Yes” or “No” or “Abstention,” it may similarly undo or do what it never did in the first place.
This myth has also proved a valuable tactic towards the Arab cum Palestinian obstinate goal of “pushing the Jews into the Sea.” Observing this obstinacy in the context of diplomacy, Eban once famously quipped, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” As great a diplomat as he was, in this case Eban was mistaken.
The Arabs have not missed any diplomatic opportunities in their worldview because no diplomatic opportunity meeting their demand that Israel cease to exist has ever presented itself. By understanding this thinking, one can see the strategy behind such Palestinian efforts at various international bodies (the UN) to obtain international decrees that unilaterally create a Palestine while abrogating or ostracizing Israel’s charter status among the nations (at the ICC or by encouraging such movements as BDS).
This pattern of strategic contrarianism, a veritable binary worldview, also explains the Palestinian rejection of the 1948 partition and every peace accord since, most notably in the Camp David Summit in 2000 and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarkable offer to the PA President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008.
In the end, this oppositional strategy will prove—has proved—a disaster for the Palestinians and continues to be a destabilizing force in a region fraught with factional fault lines. Whether or not the Arabs recognize Israel or recognize it but deny its right to exist, isn’t Israel’s problem. It’s an Arab problem.
Israel’s viability and existence do not depend on Arab recognition of either its right to exist, or even to acknowledge that it exists at all. The absurd practice of erasing any reference to the State of Israel from school textbooks does not erase it from reality. Mythology, no matter how compelling, is not history but story.
If there is any hope for peace in the region, the Arabs, a people who share our Abrahamic faith, must come to this understanding. Moreover, they must comprehend that the destruction of Israel is not commensurate to the construction of Palestine or constitute either Palestinian sovereignty or statehood. A nation-state is established through toil and effort, through education and economic and social infrastructure, not by destroying or demonizing another people. How can one expect to create a peaceful country when from the earliest age, children—a nation’s future—are taught that their priority in life is to kill their ‘neighbor’ at the first opportunity, even at the cost of their own life? The Palestinian’s need carpenters—in the broadest sense—and not martyrs. Carpenter’s build. Martyrs die. The work of a carpenter is progressive; martyrdom, when self-imposed, is regressive. Tyrannical states may be conceived on the foundation of such negative ethos and false pretense, but, as history attests, such states, such people, such ‘civilizations’ do not long endure.
Thus, every Palestinian effort to frustrate the Jewish story only frustrates their story. No successful narrative can begin under false pretense. False narratives may make for compelling fantasies, but in the real world they lead to dead ends. Declaring Palestine without acknowledging the existence of Israel is meaningless, achieves nothing, and is pure fantasy. Recall that over twenty years ago, Arafat himself unilaterally declared a Palestinian state. Nations around the world recognized this “entity” when Arafat spoke—and even more nations today still recognize it. Arafat himself was invited to speak at the UN. Where is that state now? In reality, what was and what has been recognized?
If the Palestinians truly desire autonomous sovereignty, they must negotiate directly with the Israelis—the people with whom they must share the land and/or borders. No other agreement may be deemed as legitimate, as the Palestinians, the surrounding Arab nations, nor the UN, individually or collectively possess the power or authority to impose their will on Israel.
As recently as 2008 (vide supra – Olmert’s proposal to Abbas) Israel offered 98% of the Palestinian prior “demands,” including sovereignty over East Jerusalem; surely, they must recognize that future negotiations may not be as generous. To achieve their goals, their worldview must be diplomatically focused. Just as Israel acknowledged the challenges and limitations by the UN Resolution in 1947, the Palestinians should recognize they are in no position to make demands, but only in a position to miss opportunities.
The reality is that Israel will not be pushed into the sea, unless the whole Levant is swallowed with it. Historical precedent teaches that even then, Jews will resurface, return to whatever land remains, and rebuild. If there is any singular history lesson concerning the people of the world, it is that Jews, unique among all nations, are an immortal people. If history is also to be a lesson, the Palestinians, should understand that their Arab brethren are interested in their welfare only as much as a puppeteer is interested in a puppet. They do not have their “back” unless putting a knife in it counts.
In conclusion, the Arabs must relinquish their myths and propagandized scripts of lies – falsehoods deeply embedded in the conscience of generations born after UN Resolution 181—if only for the benefit of its people and its survival. When they deny Israel’s right to exist—the first and only people to be independently sovereign over the land—twice—they deny the fundamental right of any state to exist, including the one they demand for themselves.