Behind the Headlines: Israelis Contest Palestinian Drive to Revive U.n.’s 1947 Partition Plan

When the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state on Nov. 29, 1947, the Arabs rejected it.

Now, it is the Israelis who are reiterating their long-held position that U.N. Resolution 181–also known as the Partition Plan — is “null and void.”

The resolution has crept into international discussions concerning Israel and the Palestinians with increasing regularity during the past year, prompting concern among Israeli officials.

The fear is that the Palestinian Authority will try to resurrect the partition plan to legitimate its right to statehood, especially if it decides to put off a unilateral declaration of statehood on May 4, the end of the interim period under the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The 1947 resolution divided the land under the British Mandate of Palestine into two states: a Jewish one, comprising roughly 60 percent of the land, including most of the Negev Desert; and an Arab one, mostly composed of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and a swath of land in northern Israel. Under the plan, Jerusalem would become an international city.

At the time, Israel accepted the plan, but neighboring Arab states and the Palestinians vigorously rejected it, precipitating Israel’s 1948 battle for independence.

As a result of the Arab aggression and subsequent U.N. resolutions, Israel deemed Resolution 181 “null and void.”

Israel is now re-emphasizing that position to “set the record straight,” Israeli officials say.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat recently completed a world tour seeking support for Palestinian statehood. Israel contends that under the Oslo accords, the question of statehood is subject to negotiations and any unilateral declaration would be a violation of the accords.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have stalled repeatedly over the past several years, and Israel sees May 4 as a “target date” for negotiations, rather than a deadline.

The United States and the European Union have suggested a one-year extension of the peace negotiations to appease the Palestinians, who have said they will not agree to open-ended talks.

The Palestinian Central Council is scheduled to meet on April 27 to decide whether to unilaterally declare a state on May 4.

In an April 19 letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ko?i Annan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, condemned the Palestinian effort to revive Resolution 181.

Their practical aim, Gold said in an interview, was to justify a Palestinian state “in principle” and not through “negotiating a final-status outcome.”

A reinvigorated partition plan could also pave the way for questioning Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem in the future, Gold and others say.

In the letter to Annan, which was obtained by JTA, Gold reiterated Israel’s position that Resolution 181 has been superceded by later resolutions and developments in the Middle East.

“The only relevant U.N. resolutions governing the peace process,” Gold wrote, “are U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338,” which called for negotiations between the parties based on an exchange of land for peace.

But Arafat and other Palestinian leaders appear to have made a point of inserting Resolution 181 into their vocabulary as they continue their quest for statehood.

Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recently, Arafat said that after May 4, “we have the right to determine our future, to shape our destiny on the basis of international decisions of legal force, first of all Resolution 181 of the United Nations” which, he said, provided the Palestinians the right to create a state beside Israel.

Last month, as part of his world tour, Arafat met with Annan in New York.

He emerged to tell reporters that Annan “is supporting all the United Nations resolutions, including 181.”

Annan’s spokesman, Fred Eckhard, confirmed that “the secretary- general acknowledges that Resolution 181, together with other U.N. resolutions, is applicable” today.

The Palestinians admit their past rejection of Resolution 181, even referring to the plan — and the establishment of the State of Israel — as “illegal” in the Palestinian National Charter.

But “since the strategic decision to forge a peace on the basis of coexistence, Resolution 181 has become acceptable,” the Palestinian representative to the U.N., Nasser al-Kidwa, wrote to Annan on March 25, two days after Arafat’s visit.

Al-Kidwa’s counselor, Marwan Jilani, explained the change of heart in a recent telephone interview.

“Indeed, we did reject the partition of Palestine in 1947 for a number of reasons,” he said, adding that “we saw an injustice in the resolution at that time,” in part with regard to the way the land was allocated.

Since then, the Arab world and the Palestinians have recognized the State of Israel “within internationally recognized borders,” he said. “Those would be the pre-’67 borders.”

He said the Palestinians’ motive in citing Resolution 181 has only to do with their right to statehood.

“The Jewish state is there. The Arab state still awaits the implementation of this part of the resolution, 50 years after its adoption,” he said.

But Israel’s Gold is not convinced.

By referring to the partition plan, the Palestinians “are saying that the dispute is no longer over the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone, but extends to the Western Galilee and the Jerusalem corridor,” he said in an interview.

“That’s the clear implication of a territorial demand based on 181.”

In response to such concerns, Jilani said he believes “it is crystal clear” that as far as territory is concerned, the Palestinian people and leadership “seek the establishment of a Palestinian state in those territories occupied in 1967 — the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

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