UN Partition Plan: The first step towards normalizing Israeli-Arab relations

It is an irony of history that one of the most important days in the modern life of the Jewish people is associated with the United Nations, a body that has been involved in some of the most egregious anti-Israel activities over the decades. The important day was the United Nations vote on November 29, 1947 deciding that the British mandate over Palestine would come to an end on May 15, 1948, and that two new states would emerge through a partition of the land into a Jewish entity and an Arab entity.

This was an historic day for the Jewish people – even as the partition plan provided for a small Jewish state without Jerusalem – as it followed the nadir of Jewish life resulting from the murder of six million, including one and a half million Jewish children. Hope for the Jewish future was reborn.

At the same time, the UN Resolution could have provided a chance for Palestinian Arabs to build an independent future of their own, but unfortunately, in their determination to prevent a Jewish state from emerging and goaded on by the Arab states, they committed themselves to war, terrorism and rejectionism, all of which has led to dead-ends for the Palestinian people.

And so today, 75 years later, the UN, through its Human Rights Committee, is waging its own war against Israel, not only passing a predominance of anti-Israel resolutions while other parts of the world burn, but now moving to have Israel demonized and penalized by the International Court of Justice.

And the Palestinians, instead of engaging in self-examination about the consequences of rejecting the compromise of November 29 and other efforts at solutions ever since, remember May 15, 1948 as a day of tragedy, the Nakba.

The UN Resolution, which garnered the required two thirds vote in the General Assembly, guaranteed only one thing: that the British Mandate would end the following spring. As to following up on the partition plan, that was up to the parties. It was clear early on that the Palestinians and Arabs would not only reject it, but that they would actively oppose it, by military force if necessary. The pressures on the Zionist leadership as the months passed not to go forward with independence was tremendous. Particularly active in this regard were the British catering to their interests in the Arab world, and the State and Defense departments in the US who were advocating moving away from the idea of a Jewish state to a trusteeship following the end of the mandate.

As Jeffrey Herf has pointed out in his important study, “Israel’s Moment,” the two key players in resisting efforts to dismantle the impact of November 29 were American President Harry Truman and irony of ironies, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, who only a few years later would initiate a vile antisemitic conspiracy theory, the Doctor’s Plot, and would become the international leader of anti-Israel troublemaking.

Truman resisted the influences that saw the founding of Israel as a threat to American interests, seeing Israel as a legitimate expression of Jewish identity and survival instincts after the Holocaust. And the Soviets saw the opportunity through the founding of Israel to undermine Western influence in the Middle East.

The combination of international pressures and fears of Arab attacks should Israel move forward with independence led to hesitation by the Zionist Executive Committee, the governing body of the pre-State community. But future Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was able narrowly to win a majority for independence to be announced on May 14.

As today significant parts of the Arab world are normalizing relations with Israel, it would be appropriate for the UN to revisit its commemoration of November 29. Rather than using it as a weapon to attack the Jewish state, it’s time to see November 29 as the beginning of normalization for the region, starting with Israeli independence, but eventually for relations between the Arab world and the State of Israel that will in time encompass the Palestinians as well.

November 29 should ultimately be remembered as a moment of opportunity for all and a force for uniting the region rather than one of division and conflict.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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