...When Chaim Weizman finally obtained the Negev’s inclusion into the proposed Jewish state, he did not imagine that Israel’s sovereignty over that desert would be challenged six decades later. And today’s Israeli leaders, who seem to believe that Israel will be left alone once it retreats to the 1949 armistice lines, would be well-advised to take note of the fact that Israel is being accused of “occupation” within its pre-1967 borders.
01 December '13..
Sixty-six years ago, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to divide the British Mandate between a Jewish State and an Arab State (Resolution 181). There are many myths around this resolution, as well as a particular side effect that Israel did not expect at the time but which has recently become more palpable.
After the vote's results were announced, members of the Jewish delegation at the UN fell on each other in tears and across the pre-state mandate, Jews burst into celebrations. By contrast, Arab League Chairman Azzam Pasha was enraged and vowed that “any line of partition drawn in Palestine will be a line of fire and blood.”
In truth, however, Resolution was 181 legally meaningless. Like all General Assembly resolutions, it was a non-binding recommendation. The claim that the UN “created” Israel on 29 November 1947 is absurd. The General Assembly has no authority to “create” states. The Syrian ambassador to the UN was 100% right when he declared after the vote that “The recommendations of the General Assembly are not imperative on those to whom they are addressed. I fail to find in this charter any text which implies, directly or indirectly, that the General Assembly has the authority to enforce its recommendations by military force.”
A second myth around Resolution 181 is that the Arabs were justified to reject it because it was unfair to the Palestinians. For a start, the UN Partition Plan did not mention the Palestinians, nor did it recommend the establishment of a Palestinian state. There was a reason for this: nobody had ever heard of such a people at the time. Resolution 181 recommended the partition of the British Mandate between an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State.” But if anyone got discriminated against it was the Jews, not the Arabs.
“Palestine” did not exist in the Ottoman Empire. There were administrative districts called “Sanjaks” (such as the Sanjaks of Jerusalem, of Gaza, and of Nablus). The British revived the Latin word “Palestina” and re-created an administrative entity that had ceased to exist with the demise of the Roman Empire. In July 1922, Great Britain was entrusted by the League of Nations to implement “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” What the League of Nations meant by “Palestine” was the legal entity created by the Treaty of Sèvres (which covers today’s Israel and Jordan). In September 1922, Britain informed the League of Nations that it had decided to exclude the East bank of the Jordan River (otherwise known as “Transjordan”) from its legal commitment to the Jewish People.
This was a de facto partition of the League of Nations Mandate, a partition that amputated from the Jews 77 percent of the territory on which the Jewish national home was supposed to be established. The 1947 UN partition plan was an additional partition on the remaining 23 percent. In the second partition, the Jews were granted 56 percent of Western Palestine and the Arabs 43 percent --hence the claim that the 1947 partition was unfair to the Arabs (the remaining one percent was the Jerusalem region, which was to become a “corpus separatum”). But, in fact, the 1947 partition plan left the Jews with 12 percent of Mandatory Palestine – hardly an unfair deal to the Arabs.
The reason why the second partition plan attributed 56 percent of Western Palestine to the Jews was because it included the Negev Desert. Chaim Weizman, who later became Israel's first president, fought very hard to have the Negev included in the Jewish state, even though it was a bare and uncultivable area. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine accepted his argument that the Jewish state needed enough space to absorb Holocaust survivors and Jewish immigrants.
Israel’s sovereignty over the Negev, however, was challenged in the 1950s by the US and British governments. The 1955 “Alpha plan,” promoted by the Eisenhower Administration, advocated territorial contiguity between Egypt and Jordan, and hence Israeli territorial concessions in the Negev.
Today, Israel’s sovereignty over the Negev is being challenged by European NGOs and elected officials, who deny Israel’s sovereign right to implement the Prawer Plan dealing with the resettlement of the region's Bedouin population. In July 2012, the European Parliament passed a bill calling upon Israel to stop the Prawer Plan. On October 17, 2013, the “Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats” in the European Parliament took part in a seminar in Brussels on the Bedouins in the Negev. The event displayed a large poster that read: “Stop Prawer-Begin Plan, no ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouins.”
When Chaim Weizman finally obtained the Negev’s inclusion into the proposed Jewish state, he did not imagine that Israel’s sovereignty over that desert would be challenged six decades later. And today’s Israeli leaders, who seem to believe that Israel will be left alone once it retreats to the 1949 armistice lines, would be well-advised to take note of the fact that Israel is being accused of “occupation” within its pre-1967 borders.
Dr. Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.