After World War I, Great Britain was given a mandate by the League of Nations to govern Palestine which at the time was about 80 percent inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. The remaining 20 percent were largely European Jews who had been immigrating to Palestine since the 1880s to escape the horrors of the pogroms and persecution of Jews in Russia and eastern Europe. By 1947, Britain was faced with growing violence among the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, as well as increasing Jewish terrorism in the form of bombings and assassinations directed not only at Arabs, but at British soldiers, civilians and government officials. Faced with this chaos, Britain decided to abandon its expensive and unsuccessful mandate over Palestine and transfer jurisdiction to the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations.
The UN decided to permanently partition the Palestine Mandate into two separate countries or states, an Arab State and a Jewish State. An examination of UN Resolution 181, the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, demonstrates that Israel has no valid legal claim to the West Bank or East Jerusalem, as both areas were specifically set aside in the resolution for the intended “Arab State”.
Israel considered the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine such a vital foundational document that it is cited in its own declaration of independence as providing compelling, irrevocable authority for the establishment of a “Jewish State” in Palestine:
“On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.”
Obviously, the UN Partition Plan also provided equally compelling, irrevocable authority for the establishment of the “Arab State” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem areas of Palestine allocated to it in the same resolution. Israel now prefers to ignore the creation and allocation of an Arab State in the resolution, and instead argues that the West Bank is “unallocated” and must be disposed of through negotiations between Palestinians and Israel. That argument finds no support under international law nor from any country, including the U.S.
At the time of the U.N. partition, in 1947, about one third of the inhabitants of the British Mandate of Palestine (roughly the area west of the river Jordan) were Jews who owned and lived on about 7 percent of the Palestine Mandate land. The remaining 93 percent of the land was owned and occupied by Arabs who then comprised about two thirds of the total population of the Palestine Mandate. Despite the clear predominance of Arab land ownership and population, the UN Partition Plan set aside roughly the western 57 percent of Palestine for the intended Jewish State and the remaining eastern 43 percent for the intended Arab State.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan, UNR 181 was adopted by a two thirds majority of the UN General Assembly including the US, the USSR, Canada, France and Australia. The Partition Plan was the UN’s attempt to reach a resolution to a conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine that had arisen with the British Balfour Declaration of 1917 which had created a homeland for Jews immigrating to Palestine with little regard for the rights of the existing Arab inhabitants of Palestine.
THE ARAB-ISRAELI WARS OF 1947-48
The Arabs were infuriated by the proposed partition plan and rejected it not only because of the unequal division of the land, but also because they felt the Jewish state was a creation by the colonial powers on Arab lands they had no legal right to give away. Arab and others’ attempts to have the matter legally adjudicated by the UN Permanent Court of International Justice which had ruled it had jurisdiction over the matter, were rejected by the UN Security Council whose members were committed to the partition plan as the only reasonable and viable solution to the problem.
From November 1947 through May 1948, the Arabs and Jews of Palestine fought a civil war which resulted in an overwhelming defeat of the Palestinian Arabs and the loss of much of the land promised them for the intended Arab State under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The British departed Palestine on May14,1948 and Israel proclaimed its independence the next day. The following day Arab armies invaded Palestine and attacked Israeli positions. However, the Israeli army quickly established its supremacy and by July of 1948, just two months later, was clearly winning the war. After a series of cease fires and negotiations, followed by further Israeli triumphs, Israel signed an armistice agreement with Egypt in February 1949, followed soon after by armistice agreements with Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The armistice line separating the Arab and Israeli sectors of Palestine became known as the 1947 Green Line.
During the wars between the Arabs and Israelis (1947-48) Israel captured an additional 50 percent of the intended Arab State, and at the time of the 1949 armistice agreements, controlled and occupied 78 percent of British Mandate Palestine. Some 730,000 Arabs, or 85 percent of the Arab inhabitants of Israeli-occupied Palestine, had fled their homes because of fear of Israeli atrocities or were expelled from the Israeli occupied areas of Palestine and became refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Most remain refugees to this day as Israeli has refused to allow them to return to their ancestral homes and lands. 400 out of 500 Arab villages were destroyed, Arab property was seized by the Israeli government and much of it was then appropriated by individual Israeli Jews.
During the armistice talks in early 1949, the Arabs were prepared to accept the terms of partition set forth in UNR 181. However, Israel refused and insisted that it be allowed to keep all the land it had conquered during the war and also refused to allow any readmission of the 730,000 Arab refugees who had either fled or been forced off their lands. As a result, no permanent settlement or peace treaty was concluded.
While the armistice agreements resulted in the end of hostilities, the borders were considered temporary and not de jure although they lasted as the de facto borders of Israel until the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel invaded and occupied all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Sinai region of Egypt, Gaza, and Syria’s Golan Heights area. Thus, by the end of the 1967 Six Day War, Israel controlled not only the 57 percent set aside for it in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, but had also conquered and occupied the entire remaining 43 percent set aside in the plan for the proposed Arab State in Palestine. The end result of the 1967 Six Day War was that Israel had conquered and occupied the last remaining 22 percent of British mandate Palestine that had been set aside for the Arab State in the 1947 Partition Plan set forth in UNR 181 that simultaneously created a Jewish State that became Israel.