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UN Partition Resolution remembered after 60 years

UN Partition Resolution remembered after 60 years

by David Zwartz

At the end of November 1947 the Royal Wedding dominated the overseas news pages of all our newspapers, but there was still space for bold headlines and extensive coverage of events unfolding at the United Nations in New York.

There, the Palestine Committee of the UN was discussing a plan to settle the future of the British Palestine Mandate – established in the wake of the first world war, with the League of Nations recognising ‘the Jewish people’ and ‘the grounds for reconstituting their national home’ in their ancient homeland.

After the British informed the UN in February 1947 that they intended to relinquish their League of Nations Mandate, held since 1922, an 11-member committee, the UN Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), travelled there to seek a solution.

They found what had been obvious for a long time: the national aspirations of Jews and Arabs couldn’t be reconciled. UNSCOP’s recommendation was similar to that of the Peel Royal Commission in 1937 – partition into two states.

Seven nations (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, The Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay) recommended separate Jewish and Arab states joined by economic union, with Jerusalem as international territory. Three nations (India, Iran, Yugoslavia) recommended a unitary state with Jewish and Arab provinces. Australia abstained.

With this report, the ad hoc UN Palestine Committee began its discussions, which went on for 34 meetings. There were many twists and turns, and changes of support. One surprise was the agreement between Cold War opponents United States and the Soviet Union on what became the final form of the resolution.

During the committee discussions, New Zealand’s UN representative Sir Carl Berendsen spoke out strongly on the need for implementation provisions.

New Zealand voted for partition. The Yearbook of the United Nations records that the representatives of New Zealand, Canada and Denmark “held that the Partition Plan, although not a perfect solution of the Palestine question, represented the most equitable solution attainable under the circumstances.”

Partition was on the basis of demographics, with each proposed state having a majority of its own population. The Arab State was to have 804,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews; the Jewish State (of which over half was the arid Negev Desert) was to have 538,000 Jews and 397,000 Arabs.

Resolution 181, the Partition Resolution, was passed on 29 November 1947 by 33 votes to 13 in the General Assembly, with 10 abstentions – more than the required two-thirds majority. The Arab UN delegates walked out of the Assembly in a body, saying they would have nothing to do with the result, and spoke of bloodshed to come.

The Jews of Palestine, and Jews around the world, expressed great joy at the result of the vote. Without it, the State of Israel could not have come into being in May 1948.

Arab opposition to a Jewish state persists to this day. Only two weeks ago, on 13 November 2007, on the eve of renewed peace talks at Annapolis in the USA, chief Palestinian negotiator Mr Saeb Erekat declared: ‘We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.’

It was as if the United Nations, 60 years ago, had never passed its momentous Resolution 181, asserting the will of the international community that a Jewish State as well as an Arab State should now legitimately be established.


David Zwartz is Honorary Consul of Israel in New Zealand

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