1948 – Benny Morris 2/11 UN Partition Resolution

This is my post on the second chapter of Benny Morris’s book “1948 A History of the First Arab-Israeli War”. I hope to cover each of the other chapters in turn.

This chapter deals with the handing over of the Israel/Palestine issue to the UN, the UN special committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) which came up with the plan, the vote on the resolution in the UN general assembly and the reaction of the Arab states.

In February 1947 the British who could no longer afford and were no longer interested in maintaining their mandate in Palestine handed the issue over to the UN.

The UN gave the issue to a specially formed committee UNSCOP composed of representatives from Holland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Canada, Australia, India, Iran, Peru, Guatemala and Uruguay. So no Arab, Zionist or Great Power members.

The members of the committee visited Palestine for five weeks that summer. The Palestinian leadership boycotted UNSCOP (though the committee met with some Palestinians privately), and the committee members generally got a favorable view of the Zionist settlers as opposed to the Palestinians, especially the poor peasants.

Also the chair of UNSCOP came to believe that if there was a partition and it led to war, the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine) would win the war against the Arabs and gain control of most of Palestine.

They witnessed the Exodus affair, where the British turned away a ship of 4,500 Jewish immigrants, who were sent to France in three separate ships. France refused to unload the ships by force against the wishes of the migrants. The British then took them to Germany and put them in camps. Sending the Jewish holocaust survivors back to Germany of all places, made the British look particularly bad.

Two UNSCOP members witnessed the transfer of the migrants to the three ships in Haifa and had a chance to talk to them and this has a profound effect on them.

The UNSCOP members then went to Europe and voted 6 to 4 in favor of visiting the Holocaust survivors in displaced persons camps. All of the survivors they met wanted to immigrate to Palestine.

They then came up with their proposal. Two suggestions were made, one the majority view supported to states one Jewish the other Arab joined in an economic union, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem being part of neither state but under international trusteeship. This was from the representatives of Sweden, Holland, Canada, Uruguay, Guatemala, Peru and Czechoslovakia.

The minority plan supported a single democratic state with an Arab minority and with Jewish immigration limited to maintain an Arab majority. This was from the representatives of Yugoslavia, Iran and and India.

The following map shows the partition plan as finally voted on in the general assembly. The green map shows the borders as originally given by the majority proposal (slightly different, giving the Jewish state 62% rather than 55%).

UN Parition Plan 1947

The Zionists didn’t want to give citizenship to the Arabs that would be left in the Jewish state (the Arabs were to be more than 40% of the population), because then they could not expel them, but merely jail them, and it would be according to Ben-Gurion better to expel than to jail.

This was presented in September 1947. The British considered the majority proposal as grossly unfair to the Arabs, and were surprised that there were no angry demonstrations in the Arab world. But they committed to leave and let the Arabs and the Jews sort it out. They didn’t want it to be their responsibility.

There was lobbying to gain votes in the general assembly. A two-thirds majority was needed for the plan to be accepted. There was lobbying of the UN delegations and of their countries at home. The Americans refused to pressure other countries until November 25th, a few days before the vote, when Truman basically decided to support the Zionists diplomatically.

The final vote was on 29 November 1947. The final count was 33 yes, 13 no and 10 abstentions. And so the resolution passed with the required two-third majority.

Resolution 181 called for partition into two states one Jewish the other Arab. The Jewish state on 55% of the land, the Arab state on 42% of the land, and the rest being international Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Both sides thought that war would ensue. The Arab states got together and decided on war, but couldn’t come up with any real plans. They ended up agreeing not to invade until after the British withdrew because they didn’t want to fight the British. They also didn’t like the Husseini the Palestinian leader, and didn’t really want a Palestinian state to be established under his rule. In any case they couldn’t back down because they were unpopular and undemocratic regimes that didn’t want to go against the wishes of the people in their respective countries who felt strongly about the matter.

There was rioting and violence against Jews and against British/Western targets in the Arab world following the general assembly vote and the passing of the resolution.

In December 1947 the British decided to pull out, while not helping to implement the partition plan which they considered to be unjust.

And this leads to the first stage of the civil was between the Zionists and the Palestinians which is described in the next chapter.

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