On November 29, 1947, in an afternoon filled with drama, the United Nations voted to end the British mandate of Palestine and to accept the partition plan that divided British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.
But the plan was more than just a redrawing of map lines in the Middle East. If it were passed, it would mean worldwide recognition of the Jewish people as a nation, who deserved a political state like all other nations. Herzl’s dream, which first found its voice 50 years earlier, would be transformed from dream to reality.
Jews everywhere sat transfixed in front of their radios as the General Assembly roll-call vote was broadcast live around the world. With thirty-three votes in favor, the resolution obtained the support of 72 percent of the members voting on the resolution, a supermajority in excess of the required two-thirds.
Jews around the world celebrated. In Palestine, Jews ran into the streets shouting mazal tov and singing Hatikvah. On kibbutzim across the country, huge bonfires were built; in Tel Aviv, cafes poured free champagne for the celebrants in the street. In the United States, there were toasts and hugs as families quietly recognized that a huge barrier had been broken. Celebrations broke out in Displaced Persons camps in Austria, Stuttgart and Bergen-Belson, where Jewish Holocaust survivor were housed. In the Cyprus internment camp, where Jewish prisoners who had been captured trying to cross the British blockade to enter Palestine were held, people danced a hora in the dirt streets.
Perhaps it was in Rome where the celebration was the most dramatic. Without a plan, with no announcement, Jews walked to the Arch of Titus. The arch stands across from the Forum and was built as a memorial to the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Jewish state in 70 C.E. There Roman Jews sang David Melech Israel- Chai Chai, V’Kaiyam (David the King of Israel Lives) to celebrate Israel’s rebirth.
The successful struggle to gain international acceptance by partition was a great accomplishment against formidable odds. It had been preceded, however, by a struggle to obtain internal Jewish acceptance. The plan was by no means perfect. The map the U.N. drew up divided the land into two new political states, one for the Jews and the other a new Arab state. The plan left Jerusalem out of either state and declared it an international zone.
The Jews living in what was then Palestine had to recognize that their new state would not include Jerusalem and would be made up mostly of the Negev desert and a small part of the eastern Galilee as well as a thin strip along the Mediterranean Sea. Israel would include Tel Aviv but not Jaffa; Haifa but not Akko. The new Palestinian Arab state would get the West Bank and most of the central plain, the western Galilee and the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean, as well as a thin finger into the Negev bordering the Sinai desert.
It was not an ideal map. In fact, no Israeli government or peace movement ever would accept such a map today. It was indefensible. There was almost no arable land. Yet when the votes were counted, there was dancing in the streets.
The plan promised a free and independent state. Israel could become a democratic Jewish state, accepted as a legitimate member of the family of nations.
There was no dancing in the streets among the Arab states bordering Palestine. Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon all refused to accept the plan. Their vision of national self-determination left no room for compromise or for a Jewish state. With their refusal the Arab state of Palestine was stillborn.
The areas that were to be this new Arab state were lost to the disengagement lines drawn up at the end of the War of Independence. A Palestinian state was not discussed again until June 1967, at the end of the Six Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, then part of Jordan, and the nearly one million Arabs who lived there. Most in Israel assumed that the West Bank and Gaza would become trading cards in a land for peace deal that would happen in the very near future.
It has been 50 years, and that very near future, like the messiah, has yet to appear.
And to paraphrase a line from Ani Ma’amin, “and even though it may tarry” most Israelis and most Palestinians still believe in a two-state solution, a trade of land for a new Arab state and the end of the conflict. Every American and Israeli government also had seen the two-state solution as the only acceptable resolution to the ongoing conflict. It could provide the Palestinians with the state that never was because of the Arab refusal to accept the partition plan, while at the same time giving the Israelis the kind of security that would allow them to thrive as a Jewish and democratic state.
Although there were dissenting views, it was clear to every Israeli government coalition and to every U.S. administration that the other option, a one-state solution, could offer no real security from terror and would force Israel to abandon either its Jewish character or its democracy. Since the Arab population has grown from just under one million people in 1967 to just over 4.5 million people as of the last census, in 2014, a one-state solution, where the West Bank would be annexed, would force Israel to make a choice. They could grant the Palestinians full citizenship and watch as the new citizens vote the Jewish elements of the state out of existence, or they could refuse them the right to vote and become an apartheid state, considered rogue among the family of nations.
That was true until February 15, 2017, when, at the meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, the president seemed to back away from a two-state solution, saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” On the Israeli side, you could get whiplash trying to keep up with Netanyahu’s stated positions. He accepted the two-state solution in a landmark 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, renounced it shortly before Israel’s 2015 general election, and then renounced his renunciation a few days later, after he had secured a fourth term. In December, he told CBS that he was still committed to “two states for two peoples.” In January, he told members of his Likud party that he would offer the Palestinians only a “state-minus,” and on Monday afternoon, boarding his plane for his meeting with Trump, he ducked the question altogether.
What makes these views significant isn’t just the lack of any clear alternative but their joint negation of the concept of partition and with it the notion of separate states for the two nations between the Jordan and the Sea. That rejection further endangers the democratic Jewish future of Israel and its long-term security.
If he is given the choice between a Jewish state or a democratic one, it is clear which the prime minister would choose. Netanyahu’s fear-mongering at the end of the most recent Knesset election campaign, and his government’s actions since then, demonstrate his distaste for the rights Israel now gives to its non-Jewish citizens. He will certainly not extend those rights to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. And President Trump, during his one month in office, has made clear through his flirtation with the alt-right, his public statements, and his executive order, his prejudice against Muslims, his preference for autocrats, and his contempt for civil society and democratic norms.
This new either/or position supports a political program to preserve the occupation, promote more seizures of Palestinian land, and a further marginalization of the non-Jewish population living in both the State of Israel and the occupied territories.
To oppose a two-state future, President Trump could not have picked a better U.S. ambassador to Israel than David Friedman, whose contempt for democracy, denial of the demographic issues and the issue of Palestinian peoplehood, make him a ready partner for that program. He appears to be unencumbered by facts. He continues to support moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem even after President Trump has been convinced that the move is more complicated than just unscrewing the sign from one building and attaching it to another. His history of financial support to the settlement enterprise prevents him from being recognized as an impartial player.
The most recent surveys show that an overwhelming majority of American Jews envision Israel as a democratic Jewish state, want a peace process to reconstruct Israel’s relations with Palestinians and the Arab world, and understand that a framework for long-term stability and peace requires an end to the occupation. In connection with these aspirations, the largest Jewish denomination, the Reform movement, opposed the nomination of David Friedman. In this, the Reform movement has been joined by many secular Jewish and Zionist organizations.
In pursuit of continuing the occupation and abandoning a democratic two-state future, Israel is leading itself into dangerous international isolation. In 1947, 72 percent of the voting nations supported partition and the creation of Israel. Last December, 69 years later, the U.N. passed resolution 2334, which was the international response to the Netanyahu administration’s reckless pursuit of settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity.” It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. It affirmed previous U.N. declarations about the illegitimacy of those settlements and reasserted established forums for a negotiating process. The resolution did not include any sanctions or coercive measure against Israel and was adopted under non-binding Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter.
Israel was shocked by the U.S. abstention, which allowed the resolution to pass.
In February 2011, during Barack Obama’s first administration, the United States used its veto power to block a similar U.N. Security Council resolution. Until the U.S. abstention led to the passage of this resolution, Obama had been unique among American presidents for not allowing any resolution critical of Israel to pass through the Security Council. How could it be that Israel’s long time BFF could abandon it in its time of need?
It was clear to the State Department that settlement activity had grown substantially; at least 100,000 new settlers had moved to settlements in the West Bank since Obama had taken office. Israel looked at the U.S. abstention as a betrayal. The State Department saw it as a warning. The U.S. abstention was a gentle rebuke when compared to the actions of all the other states on the Security Council. Each one, including all the other permanent members, voted in favor of the resolution. It was clear that the settler enterprise was tainting Israel’s standing in the eyes of the rest of the world.
The new Trump administration may choose to veto similar resolutions in the future, thinking that they will be supporting Israel. In fact, in doing so, it will join Israel in international isolation. This situation isn’t good for Israel, and it isn’t good for the United States either. The legal foundation for the creation of the state of Israel lies in the partition plan. That same plan laid the foundation for a Palestinian state as well. To ignore one is to weaken the other.
No one will be dancing in a binational state.