The Partition of Palestine – What is It?

The partition of Palestine refers to a 1947 plan by the United Nations to create two new states in Palestine, one that would be the world’s only national homeland for the Jewish people, and one that would have been the world’s 24th Arab state.

The plan is cited in the Israeli declaration of independence, and the Arabs’ rejection of it was the catalyst for the first Arab Israeli war in 1948.

The historical background of the plan for the Partition of Palestine

In 1917, the Balfour Declaration announced Britain’s support for a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. After World War I, the League of Nations gave Britain the Mandate for Palestine, which meant it was supposed to help create a Jewish national home in the area.

Instead, in 1921 Britain handed over control of 76% of Palestine to a Saudi Arabian family – the Hashemites – and established the Emirate of Transjordan. (In 1946, the area became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, and it was renamed Jordan in 1949, when its forces occupied the west bank of the Jordan river.)

Whereas Arabs and Jews had lived pretty peaceably in the area until then, the British continued to foment friction and discord among the local Arab and Jewish populations in what was left of Palestine. This friction occasionally boiled over into violence, such as in the 1929 Hebron massacre, during which mobs of Arabs slaughtered most of the Jewish population – with whom they had been neighbors for generations.

The U.N. vote

Unable to solve the problem, the United Kingdom asked the United Nations to deal with “the Question of Palestine.” Thus, on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181(II) Future Government of Palestine. The resolution called for the creation of two states and the internationalization of the city of Jerusalem. It passed with a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions.

The 33 countries in favor were: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussia, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Ukraine, United States of America, Soviet Union, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Against the partition of Palestine were: Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.

Argentina, Chile, Republic of China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom and Yugoslavia all abstained.

Consequences of the UN vote on the partition of Palestine

The Jews accepted the UN vote, even though under the plan, they received only a minute fraction of the territory that was promised them by the League of Nations, they would have no control over Jerusalem and the city would have been completely surrounded by territory granted to the Arabs.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence over the territory granted to the Jews by the UN plan for the partition of Palestine.

The Arabs, however, were determined there would never be a Jewish state and overwhelmingly rejected the plan.

On May 15, 1948, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq in launched the first Arab Israeli war and attacked the fledgling state of Israel.

Thus, the UN plan for the Partition of Palestine was never implemented but its consequences still reverberate in our present.