Die Resolution 181 der UN-Vollversammlung:
UN General Assembly Resolution 181
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
The first milestone
by Ghassan Khatib
The essence of 181 is that the establishment of a Palestinian state is
necessary for the legitimacy of the Israeli state.
181 means no right of return
by Yossi Alpher
What remains valid is the heart of 181: the establishment in Mandatory
Palestine of "Independent Arab and Jewish States
Lessons from the past
by Naim Al Ashhab
Acceptance of UNGAR 181 was the only way to have avoided what became the
The myth says we compromised
an interview with Meron Benvenisti
In 1948 people like me were for partition, and now we support a
federated state--just to show how things have changed.
The first milestone
by Ghassan Khatib
UN General Assembly Resolution 181 is one of the most significant
milestones in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle and one of
three baselines used by different Israeli or Palestinian politicians in
evaluating what are the rights of this side or that in the conflict.
One baseline used by some on both sides is historical reality and rights
arising from this. Some use the relatively recent Jewish immigration to
Palestine to conclude that Palestinians have the right to historical
Palestine. Others, both Jews and Palestinians, will dig deeper into history
and go back thousands of years to find justification for their rights to the
These conflicting claims ultimately led to the involvement of the United
Nations. The first UN resolution that dealt with disputed rights in
Palestine was the 1947 partition plan, UNGAR 181, which was posited as a
compromise between two peoples disputing the whole land of Palestine. That
compromise was based on dividing Palestine and legitimizing the
establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine in historical Palestine.
The reality of the day, the prevailing balance of power and subsequent
wars, eventually led to a situation whereby another landmark was established
with UNSCR 242, which calls for an end to the Israeli occupation in the
areas of historical Palestine occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e. the West Bank
including east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
That resolution drew another baseline for what is legitimate and what is
not legitimate and created a new basis for compromise, the borders of 1967.
It is difficult to think of other bases for compromise. Some Israelis,
including the current government, downplay the significance of the borders
of 1967, and try instead to move the borders further east. But when Israelis
try to move the basis for compromise east, Palestinians will do the
opposite, and try to move the basis for compromise west, by, for example,
invoking UNGAR 181.
An important conclusion here is that the less legal and political weight
we give to the 1967 borders as a basis for compromise, the more weight is
given to 181, at least among Palestinians and Arabs. That's why the
international community, represented by the Quartet countries and vocalized
in the roadmap, stipulated that the final resolution would require Israel to
"end the occupation that began in 1967".
Borders and points of compromise are not the only significant aspects of
UNGAR 181. The other and maybe more significant factor is the establishment
of a legal foundation for the principle of two states. In the Palestinian
and Arab perception, and probably from a legal perspective as well, the two
state concept is not a half measure. Having an independent Palestinian state
is the other face of the coin of having an independent and legitimate
Israeli state. In other words, the establishment of a Palestinian state is
necessary for the legitimacy of the Israeli state. That is the essence of
UNGAR 181, which was the source of legitimacy for the creation of the state
One should look at international legality vis-a-vis the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its entirety and not in a selective way.
UNGAR 181 legitimizes the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine,
while UNSCR 242 in addition to the most recent UNSCR 1397 which adopts the
roadmap, determine the specific, realistic and legal borders between those
two states.- Published 13/9/2004 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of
labor and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
181 means no right of return
by Yossi Alpher
In 1990, when the thaw in relations between Israel and the Soviet Union
(soon to be succeeded by Russia) was just beginning, the Jaffee Center
hosted a groundbreaking visit to Israel by a delegation of very senior
Soviet intelligence officers. In the course of the visit I guided one of
them, deputy head of Soviet military intelligence (GRU), on a tour of parts
of the country. Driving down from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley/Dead Sea
area, we pulled over at a good vantage point so I could explain the terrain.
My guest removed a map from his briefcase and asked that I point out for him
where we were standing.
I stared at the map in total disbelief. The borders outlined on it in
heavy purple lines, crisscrossing Palestine/Eretz Yisrael in roughly
triangular shapes, were not Israel's borders; yet they looked vaguely
"Where did you get this map?" I asked.
"I removed it from the wall of my office in GRU headquarters in Moscow",
replied the affable lieutenant general. "This is our standard map".
"But these are the 1947 partition borders", I protested. "They were never
operative. Where are the 1948 armistice lines, the green line?"
He found them for me, etched onto the map in a near invisible dotted
line. I recovered my composure and asked for his map as a souvenir, offering
to buy him a new, up to date one in return. Except that I couldn't find an
Israeli map that showed the green line. In the post-1967 era we had blotted
out the armistice lines, the effective border between 1948 and 1967, in
order to show all of Palestine under our control, from the Mediterranean to
the Jordan River.
What can we learn from this joint exercise in the politicization of maps
of Israel's borders? For years Soviet intelligence apparently based its
assessments of the Israel-Arab situation on jaded and inoperative concepts
like the 1947 lines--which may explain why it was so frequently wrong and
misleading in its behavior toward its Arab allies, as in the 1967 Six-Day
War. Israel, on the other hand, elected after 1967 to ignore the
extraordinary permanency of the 1948 armistice lines. Only now, some 37
years later, are legal and international pressures and the vicissitudes of
yet another Jewish-Arab war reminding us of the enduring relevancy of the
The 1947 lines are indeed dead. So is almost everything else outlined in
UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947. A large part of
UNGAR 181 is devoted to an Arab-Jewish two-state economic union (that
includes an abortive third entity, the "Special International Regime for the
City of Jerusalem"); rereading it today reminds one of the failed economic
integration provisions of the 1993 Oslo Accords and brings a wry smile to
one's face. Another major segment describes in great detail what those
impossible 1947 borders would look like--borders so impractical and
unrealistic that they never saw the light of day.
What remains valid is the history-making, all-important heart of UNGAR
181: the establishment in Mandatory Palestine of "Independent Arab and
Jewish States". And not just any Jewish state. For while at the outset
Israel would have roughly equal Arab and Jewish populations, UNGAR 181
clearly demands that the British hasten to evacuate a "seaport and
hinterland" to facilitate "substantial [Jewish] immigration", thereby making
clear its intention that the Jewish state indeed be Jewish in nature.
This explains why UNGAR 181 has in recent years regained a place of
distinction in the Israeli collective consciousness. In May 1948 Jews danced
in the streets of Tel Aviv to celebrate the first Jewish state in nearly
2000 years. Some 57 years later Israelis confront the dramatic failure of
the Oslo process, and particularly the ongoing Palestinian insistence that
Israel recognize the right of return of the 1948 refugees, and sense that
the current crisis is largely connected to the inability of the Palestinian
national leadership, then as now, to come to terms with the real meaning of
the partition of Palestine and the creation by the international community
of separate Jewish and Arab states in the two peoples' historic homeland.
Were Israel to recognize the right of return of those refugees to its
sovereign territory, even "in principle" as Palestinian moderates insist, it
would be implicitly acknowledging that in 1947 a Jewish state was born in
sin, and implicitly agreeing that there be one and a half Palestinian states
and only half a Jewish state. That is not what UNGAR 181 intended.
Everything in the logic of UNGAR 181 points to the "Arab state" in historic
Palestine as the place where Palestinian refugees should be absorbed, just
as UNGAR 181 deliberately laid the foundations for the absorption of Jewish
refugees in the Jewish state.
What remains is for Israel to remove settlements and withdraw more or
less to the 1967 lines, thereby ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state
and that a viable Palestinian state can emerge. Only then will there truly
be "Arab and Jewish States" here.- Published 13/9/2004 (c)
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center
for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to
PM Ehud Barak.
Lessons from the past
by Naim Al Ashhab
UN General Assembly Resolution 181 was passed in November 1947. The
first internationally accepted partition plan of Palestine apportioned the
land in about equal measure to a future Palestinian-Arab state and a Jewish
state, both of which were to have consisted of three cantons, Jerusalem
would have been under international administration, and the two states would
have economic unity, including a common currency.
The British government called in the UN to settle the "question of
Palestine" in 1947. The British took the issue before the General Assembly
as a conflict between two communities, the Arab Palestinians and the Jews.
In doing so, they presented the British Mandate Authority as neutral. In
fact, their hope throughout this period was that the General Assembly would
prolong the British mandate.
The UN decided to hold a special session devoted to the issue in April
1947, a meeting that resulted in the advent of the UN Special Commission on
Palestine (UNSCOP). UNSCOP was comprised of representatives from 11 member
states and came to Palestine in July 1947 to meet all the concerned
political parties. The Palestinian side boycotted the commission, a position
imposed by the then Palestinian leadership under Haj Amin al Husseini. As a
result, no single Palestinian faction met the commission, although the Arab
Liberation League (ALL), the forerunner of the Palestinian Communist Party,
had intended to. Under pressure, the ALL changed its mind on the pretext
that it did not want to cause any split in the national ranks at that
critical time. The party did, however, send a memorandum to the UN entitled
"The Way to Freedom for Palestine" describing the situation as it saw it.
At the beginning of September 1947, UNSCOP came out with its
recommendations. The majority suggested partition, while the minority
opinion wanted a single democratic Palestinian state for Arab Palestinians
and Jews. On November 29, the General Assembly adopted the majority
Not long after the resolution was adopted, violence erupted between the
Palestinian and Jewish communities. This violence was provoked and
encouraged on the one hand by the British Mandate Authority, still hoping to
prolong its mandate, and by a well-prepared and well-equipped Zionist
movement on the other. The Palestinian leadership played its own not
The British took certain measures to intensify the clashes. On January
15, the British Mandate Authorities shut down Al Ihtihad newspaper, the
paper of the ALL. Al Ihtihad was the only newspaper that had foreseen the
likely outcome of the violent confrontations. In its articles and
editorials, the paper worked to prevent the Palestinian people from taking
part in the confrontations, and advocated acceptance of the partition plan.
Even though Palestinians felt the plan to be unjust, the paper reasoned that
to have an independent democratic state in part of Palestine would be better
than to have no state at all. It also saw acceptance of UNGAR 181 as the
only way to avoid what was to become the Palestinian catastrophe: the exile
of over half the Palestinian people from their homeland.
The party the paper represented only followed belatedly. In February
1948, the Arab Liberation League changed its long-standing position in
support of one democratic state for Jews and Palestinians alike, and adopted
the partition plan. It was the only Palestinian party to formally accept
UNGAR 181. The rest of the Palestinian factions were under the tight control
of a conservative and autocratic Haj Amin al Husseini, who had always
advocated an independent Palestinian Arab state, where the Jews present
before 1918 and their descendants had a right to stay because of their
ancestry while those who arrived later would have to return to their
countries of origin.
It came down to pragmatism. The Zionist project was a colonialist
project. The 1917 Balfour declaration and the subsequent immigration into
Palestine had as its explicit aim to create an alien entity in Palestine at
the expense of the indigenous population. In principle it was wrong for
Palestinians to go along with it in any way, shape or form. In practice it
might have avoided the Nakba that Palestinians are still suffering from
But despite its pragmatic stand, the British authorities took
administrative measures to shut al Ihtihad down, and only five days later,
on January 20, the British government declared it would give up all its
security responsibilities, urging both sides to take measures to defend
their respective communities. It was a clear indication that the British
would not stand in the way of the violence. The British were hoping that a
conflagration of the violence would force the UN to extend the British
On September 16, 1948 Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been mandated by
the UN to mediate a solution between the warring factions based on UNGAR
181, publicized his report. He proposed to redistribute the territory, with
the Negev becoming part of an Arab state, crucially not a Palestinian state,
but a greater Jordanian one, while the Galilee would become part of a Jewish
state. It was a plan that would have suited the British well, providing
territorial contiguity between the Suez Canal and Jordan all of which was
under British control. But the plan never came to fruition and Bernadotte
was assassinated the very next day, apparently by Jewish terrorists under
the leadership of Yitzak Shamir, a later Israeli prime minister. UNGAR 181
finally died with the Swedish envoy.
While no one talks of UNGAR 181 any longer, lessons have been drawn from
the experience. Most importantly, during the 19th session of the Palestinian
National Council in Algiers in 1988 the Palestinian leadership adopted the
so-called declaration of independence envisaging a state on the land
occupied in 1967. Considering that that land is less than half of the land
promised a Palestinian state by UNGAR 181 the decision was a very serious
compromise in favor of peace.
The Palestinian people have also learned from the period that their
greatest weapon is their presence. Israel has always wanted the land without
the people. That is the single most important reason the territories
occupied in 1967 were not annexed. Only east Jerusalem was annexed, at a
time when the Palestinian population of this "unified Jerusalem" constituted
27 percent of the total population. Despite the best attempts of the Israeli
authorities and the influx of new Jewish immigrants, Palestinians now
constitute 33 percent of the city.- Published 13/9/2004 (c)
Naim al Ashhab is a former leader of the Palestinian Communist Party
and a former member of the PLO's National Council. He is now a writer and
The myth says we compromised
an interview with Meron
bitterlemons: In retrospect, was
UNGAR 181 a wise decision in your view?
Benvenisti: From my point of view it was an inevitable decision.
It was in line with the solutions current in that period, the British
tradition of partition to resolve ethnic conflicts in India, Ireland, etc.
It was fashionable. It was inevitable because it was a legitimate way of
declaring war. The British left, knowing partition would not be implemented,
so UNGAR 181 legitimized the beginning of hostilities, enabling the Jews to
profit and get more than their share of Palestine. Nothing of UNGAR 181 was
implemented, not the borders, not the economic union, not the provisions
that safeguarded the interests of Palestinian inhabitants on a par with
Israelis; we tend to forget that within the 181 Jewish state there was an
almost equal number of Arabs and Jews. There were provisions to forbid
confiscation of land. So UNGAR 181 was a dead letter from the beginning.
Later a myth developed that the Jews accepted it and the Arabs rejected it.
But the Jews never accepted to! honestly implement it. The main aspect of
partition rejected by the Jews was the internationalization of Jerusalem.
bitterlemons: Still, the Arab states officially rejected UNGAR
Benvenisti: This was their mistake. But this has become a myth to
buttress the justice of the Israeli clause, like the myth that Barak offered
the Palestinians everything at Camp David and they rejected it and caused a
war. So UNGAR 181 is an example of historic compromise only in principle,
not in reality.
bitterlemons: Are you arguing that the idea of partition into two
states was a mistake?
Benvenisti: With hindsight the answer is no. Let's assume the
United Nations enforced the federation solution, the minority
recommendation, instead of partition. That would have been disastrous for
the Jewish people, there would have been no Jewish state, there would have
been one-man, one-vote.
Thinking about it today, with the failure of the idea of partition, now
that the demographic/ethnic proportions are the opposite of then (at present
Jews are a majority, then the Arabs were a majority), it's safer to think in
terms of a federated state or at least to give it a try. The fashion is no
longer partition. Then, after WWII, world borders were fluid. Now the
international borders are rigid, and the international community is more
prone to think in terms of soft internal boundaries and federated states. So
today maybe we should reopen the dilemma of 1947 and adjust it to the
bitterlemons: Were the 1947 borders--the Bosnia-like partition map
of interlocking cantons--viable?
Benvenisti: They were not meant to be implemented. Especially in
Jerusalem, Jaffa, western Galilee--the triangles and points where the
cantons merged. Bosnia is a good example of a successful decision to
maintain old rigid international boundaries but with soft borders inside.
Had UNGAR 181 been implemented like at Dayton by the international community
after a terrible war it could have worked. But this did not happen. Instead,
the Jews saw UNGAR 181 as an opening to legitimize their state and expand.
Ben Gurion said as much: this is what we take now.
So if you think in terms of bi-zonal confederation as in Bosnia or Cyprus
the answer is yes, the borders were viable. For this you need an atmosphere
of cooperation and agreement to demographic status quo and this was not the
case. Instead, one side (the Arabs) was weak and militarily aggressive,
while the other was dynamic, wanting to bring millions of Jews to Israel,
based on the UNGAR 181 foothold. The raison d'etre of the Jewish acceptance
of the partition plan was a Zionist plan to expand. We should be proud that
we strategically won that diplomatic battle and made it the foundation of a
state. But we did not, as the myth says, accept a compromise while the other
side rejected it. The objective of UNGAR 181 was not to solve the conflict
from the Jews' point of view, but rather to create a Jewish state as a safe
haven for victims of the Holocaust. The rest is commentary.
bitterlemons: UNGAR 181 has returned to Israeli parlance in the
last few years, in the context of the peace process, because it provides the
international legal foundation for Israel as a Jewish state. Suppose the
Arabs had accepted it in 1947.
Benvenisti: If we suppose the Arabs embraced UNGAR 181, this would
mean an internationalized Jerusalem, the 1947 borders, equal rights for
Palestinians in the Jewish state, near demographic parity, and Jews
forbidden to expropriate Arab lands. This is a typical ahistoric question,
because it is trying to invoke something that was meant to deal with an
entirely different situation of 57 years ago, so much so that in 1948 people
like me were for partition, and now we support a federated state--just to
show how things have changed.- Published 13/9/2004 (c) bitterlemons.org
Meron Benvenisti is former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, an historian,
and a columnist for Haaretz.