JERUSALEM (Nov. 24)
As Israeli politicians are grappling with how to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state, another jubilee event is passing by almost unnoticed.
On Nov. 29, 1947, there was dancing on the streets here when, crackling over the radio, the news came from the United Nations that the then-fledgling international organization had approved the creation of a Jewish state.
By a vote of 33 in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absent, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the partition plan, dividing British Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international sector that included Jerusalem and its environs.
The partition vote set the stage for Israel’s independence — and for the Israeli-Arab conflict.
David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine, knew what lay in store that November night.
“They are dancing now,” he remarked, looking down sadly on the rejoicing crowds from the balcony of the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. “But this means war.”
He knew that the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states would reject the partition plan, as indeed they did.
When the 1948 War of Independence was over, Israel occupied considerably more land than it had been allocated by the United Nations. Both Jordan and Egypt occupied much of what was supposed to be the Arab state.
Almost 20 years later, as a result of another war launched by the Arabs against Israel, the 1948 borders became recognized by the international community – – and gradually by most of the Arab states, too — as the Jewish state’s rightful boundaries.
But by then, Israel was unwilling to relinquish new lands gained in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Now, 30 years after that war, the question of land-for-peace remains disputed within the country and in the diplomatic arena.
Because of this history, and because of the small allocation of territory the United Nations made to the Jewish state, the 1947 partition resolution has inspired mixed reactions over the years.
There are streets in Israel named “29th of November,” implying that this date was focal — and favorable — in the saga of national renaissance.
Yet the partition plan is often referred to with anger and contempt, as though it sought to choke off the Jewish aspiration to viable sovereignty.
Moreover, the basic rationale of partition — dividing this small territory between the Jewish and the Palestinian national liberation movements — has never been popular with any but the extreme left of Israeli opinion.
Doves and those in the political middle regarded it, then and now, as an unavoidable necessity — the only pragmatic way to reach peace.
Rightists and religious hard-liners saw it then as a temporary setback imposed by a cynical world and wrongly acquiesced to by what they regard as a cowardly Jewish leadership — a wrong to be corrected when the time came.
For many in this camp, that time came in June 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
Their struggle through the subsequent decades was to avoid a repetition – – albeit along different geographical lines — of what they regarded as the historic error of 1947, the relinquishing of land they claim as integral to Eretz Israel.
It is against this backdrop that the effect of the present Likud-led government’s espousal of the basic logic of partition is so significant.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he signed on to the Hebron Agreement in January, accepted that Israel would hand over to the Palestinians parts, although minuscule, of the West Bank.
With that move, he broke with the Likud orthodoxy regarding the integrity and sanctity of Eretz Israel.
To this extent, therefore, the 1947 partition plan can now be said to articulate a principle that is accepted, however reluctantly, by both of the mainstream forces in Israeli political life.
This perhaps accounts for a discernible moderation in the pejorative comments that the very words “partition” or “1947 resolution” used to elicit from people on the right of the Israeli political divide.
But the resolution is not out of the woods yet in terms of universal Israeli public acceptance. This is perhaps why the jubilee anniversary of the partition plan is passing with little fanfare.
Partition has always meant more than just the loss of part of the historical homeland.
It meant acquiescence to the creation of a separate Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.
There is still strong opposition to this in Israeli politics, not only from government circles, but also from the left-of-center opposition.
This opposition is voiced even though, as the polls clearly demonstrate, most Israelis — including those most opposed to Palestinian statehood — concede that such a state is likely or even inevitable.
Just the same, the prospect of a Palestinian state is largely contemplated without enthusiasm — and hence the lack of excitement with which people here recall the tense debate and U.N. vote that was the first formal act in the drama of Israel’s birth.
The United Nations, moreover, has had a patchy and largely negative image in Israeli minds for much of the five decades that followed the partition vote.
During the long decades of the Cold War, bloc voting in the General Assembly and Soviet bully tacties in the Security Council resulted in Israel’s perpetual isolation in the United Nations.
As a result, generations of Israeli youth were brought up to sneer at and despise the international organization as hypocritical.
A lot of this changed with the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian accords, which, coming after the collapse of the Soviet empire, ushered in something of a honeymoon period for the Jewish state at the United Nations.
But, with the Netanyahu government’s adoption of a tougher stance in the peace process, Israel is unpopular again in the international arena.
Once again, anti-U.N. feeling is running high in Israel, especially in right- wing circles. And this naturally colors the sentiments that surface when people think back to that historic vote in the General Assembly 50 years ago.