Since the early days of the Zionist endeavor the international legitimacy of the Jewish State has been linked to the idea of partition in Eretz Yisrael-Palestine. Even the Balfour Declaration did not recognize an exclusive Jewish right to all of Palestine. The British declaration of support for the idea of a “Jewish national home” in Mandatory Palestine, was tied to the condition that “nothing shall be done” to prejudice the “civil and religious rights” of the non-Jewish communities in the country.
The San Remo Conference of the victorious allied powers in April 1920 bestowed broad international recognition on both parts of the Balfour Declaration recognizing the idea of the Jewish national home in Palestine as well as the essential protection of the rights of the Arab population. It is true, as Zionists have regularly pointed out, that these documents recognized “national rights” in Palestine for the Jews alone, while the Arabs were only to enjoy “civil and religious” rights. That, however, was not a position that the British and the international community would hold for much longer.
Haim Weizmann famously declared in 1919 that with mass Jewish immigration Palestine would eventually become “as Jewish as England is English.” The British flatly rejected Weizmann’s assessment. The White Paper of June 1922 noted in reference to Weizmann’s prediction, that His Majesty’s Government had “no such aim in view.” Moreover the British government had never contemplated “the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language or culture in Palestine.” The British reiterated that the Balfour Declaration did not “contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded ‘in Palestine.’”
The Arab Rebellion in Palestine in 1936 convinced the British, as noted in the Report of the Peel Commission in 1937, that there were two national movements in the country. The Rebellion forced the British to recognize the Arab national movement, which they had not done in the Balfour Declaration. Recognizing two national movements was but a stepping stone away from the logic of partition into two states, which Peel in fact recommended. Under the pressure of Arab rejection the British dropped the idea of partition, and in the White Paper of 1939 they chose to abandon the Zionist movement altogether.
But after the Second World War the idea of partition was revived and virtually became an international consensus. The new consensus led to the UN Partition Resolution of November 1947 that laid the international foundation for the declaration of Israel’s independence in May 1948. The Partition favored the Zionist cause and reflected the identification of most of the international community with the plight of the Jewish people in the wake of the Holocaust and the concern for the Jewish survivors in the DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Europe.
The borders of the partition plan were determined with the Jewish predicament in mind, and considering the urgent need for the immigration of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees to Palestine. Even though the Jewish community in Palestine was only one third of the total population, the partition borders awarded the Jews 55 percent of the territory. The Arabs were left with only 45 percent despite the fact that their population was twice the number of Jews in the country.
The international community recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, their right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, and their right to self-defense in their sovereign state. The international community, therefore, acquiesced in Israel’s territorial expansion beyond the partition boundaries in the War of Independence in 1948, to include 78 percent of Palestine in the newly founded State of Israel, even though the war had turned half of Palestine’s Arab population into refugees.
The international community also regarded the Six Day War as a just war of self-defense. Resolution 242, passed by the UN Security Council in November 1967, therefore, did not require Israel to withdraw forthwith from the territories it had occupied. Withdrawal was only to take place in exchange for peace treaties in which Israel’s neighbors would accept its right to exist in secure and recognized boundaries.
In December 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlements as “a flagrant violation” of international law and “a major obstacle” to the attainment of a two-state solution. The Resolution called upon all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” Thus, in one breath, the resolution condemned the occupation while reasserting the unequivocal recognition of Israel’s legitimacy in its 1967 boundaries.
A few days after the Resolution US Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the details of what had become the international consensus on the two-state solution, on the basis of the 1967 boundaries. Generally speaking Kerry supported the Palestinian position on Jerusalem, settlements and borders. But it was especially noteworthy that Kerry did not support the Palestinian position on refugees. On the refugee question Kerry supported the Israeli position, which required that any solution to the refugee problem must not negatively affect Israel’s character as the nation state of the Jewish people. In other words, there should be no “right of return” to Israel proper.
But for post-1967 Israel, a Jewish State in 78 percent of Eretz Yisrael-Palestine, with no refugee return, was no longer sufficient. Israel also wanted some, if not all, of the 22 percent that remained in the hands of the Palestinians. Nonetheless, the position of the International community has remained unchanged. It was not prepared to ignore the rights of the Arabs just as it would not in 1920, not in 1947, not in 1967, and not in 2016.
The international community by and large does not question Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, but it will not accept Israel’s disregard for the civil, religious and national rights of the Palestinians. After all, the recognition of Israel’s right to exist had always been tied to an Israeli willingness to accept some form of sharing of the country between Jews and Arabs. Presently that means a two-state solution.
Any unilateral annexation deliberately designed to prevent such a solution is bound to be seen as an intolerable affront to the international community. If and when such annexation leads to sanctions or diplomatic isolation the Israelis should not blame, as they often do, the built-in prejudices of an anti-Semitic world. They should for a change, recognize the responsibility of their own government for its ill-considered, illogical and unjust decisions.