Sonja Karkar: Partition of Palestine Ushers in Apartheid

By Sonja Karkar
Special to

On 29 November 2007, it will be sixty years since the United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine.  It was a treacherous decision forced through by the United States after pressuring delegates of several member states to reverse their earlier vote against partition, in order to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to pass the resolution. [1] The decision betrayed the majority Palestinian population of the day who had no say in the partition of their land. Instead, they saw 55 per cent of Palestine go to the minority foreign Jewish immigrant population, who a few months later became citizens of the newly-created state of Israel in the Palestinian heartland.

Almost immediately after the General Assembly resolution was passed, the US State Department changed its mind. After all the politicking that had gone on to force the resolution through, the US realised that partition would destabilise international peace and security, particularly if Russia became involved. The then US ambassador to the United Nations, Warren Austin recommended to the Security Council that Palestine be placed under UN Trusteeship.  But, unbeknownst to him and the US State and Defence Departments, US President Truman had already promised support for partition to Chaim Weizmann, president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the World Zionist Organisation. [2]

Realising that the partition of Palestine was in jeopardy – despite Truman claiming Trusteeship was merely a temporary measure – the Jewish Agency took matters into its own hands.  On 14 May 1948, it proclaimed the State of Israel in contravention of the UN Security Council resolution requesting the General Assembly “to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine.” [3]   Moments later, President Truman recognised the state of Israel on a de facto basis.  By its presumptuous act, the Jewish Agency had set the course of the conflict that sixty years later still threatens the peace and stability of the region.

This year, Israel has organised a re-enactment of the United Nations  decision to approve the partition plan and has invited the ambassadors of  the 33 nations who voted in favour of partition to participate in the event.  Coinciding with this occasion is the much-touted peace summit in Annapolis, USA, which will look to end once and for all the grievances of the Palestinian people who never got their state as originally intended by the United Nations.  A cynic would say that the summit is a deliberate attempt to foreclose on rightful Palestinian claims to their land so that an announcement recognising Israel as a Jewish state can be made to coincide with Israel’s celebrations for the anniversary of the partition.  There are good reasons for believing this to be so as Israel’s demand for such recognition appears to be a pre-condition for moving forward on negotiations with the Palestinians.

Even before the state of Israel was created, its architects had intended to take by force and by subterfuge all of the land, and expel its inhabitants. David Ben Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister stated during internal discussions in 1938 that “after the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”[4] Whether he meant this to happen “through mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement” as noted by Alan Dershowitz, [5] in no way mitigates the intention to take all of the land.   Two years later, the director of the Jewish National Land Fund, Joseph Weitz wrote ‘It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country . . . [6] 

Many other statements have been made since, insinuating or blatantly  insisting that expulsion or compulsory transfer is the solution, no doubt  spurred on by Ben Gurion’s words that “with compulsory transfer we have a  vast area . . . I support compulsory transfer.  I don’t see anything immoral in it.” [7] According to Israeli Professor Israel Shahak “no Zionist politician has ever repudiated Ben-Gurion’s idea that Israeli policies must be based (within the limits of practical considerations) on the restoration of Biblical borders as the borders of the Jewish state.” [8] Over time, these views have contaminated the collective Israeli consciousness and justified for them the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that has continued uninterrupted since the creation of Israel.

Not only did Israel force the expulsion of three-quarters of a million people in 1948 – a mass exodus in anyone’s language – it was determined to make the exile permanent by levelling hundreds of towns and villages, so much so that their prior existence would be unrecognisable to anyone wanting to return.  This wanton destruction deeply affected the Palestinians whose heritage and livelihood were inextricably linked to the land and the generations of Palestinians who had been living on and working that land for centuries.  As a further safeguard, Israel put in place complex systems, laws and restrictions that have in fact made it impossible for the Palestinians to return or be repatriated, despite the UN General Assembly passing resolution 194 which affirmed the inalienable right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property.   This right has been endorsed by the United Nations annually since 1948 without effect.

For forty years, the Palestinians had refused to accept the manipulated political realities until their leader Arafat made the momentous decision in 1988 to recognise Israel’s existence on 78 per cent of the Palestinian homeland. That was the two-state solution moment that should have brought peace to both peoples.  Instead, Israel’s Prime Minister Shamir regarded the gesture as “a monumental act of deception” because “Arafat did not announce that he recognises Israel’s right to exist.” [9]

The difference is critical: for the Palestinians to accept Israel’s “right to exist” as an exclusively Jewish state, effectively means that they accept their own dispossession. Some four million Palestinian refugees would no longer have the right to return home and those Palestinians who did not leave when Israel was created would find themselves under threat of transfer. And Israel still has not recognised the right of Palestinians in the occupied territories to have a state of their own. All the rights the Palestinians have under international law would suddenly become irrelevant.  Edward Said saw it clearly when he stated “only the Palestinians explicitly recognised the notion of partition. Israel never has.” [10] In the days leading up to the current peace summit, Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert made it very clear that progress towards a two-state solution will only happen if there is Palestinian recognition of Israel’s “right to exist”.  So far, Palestinian refusal has thwarted US hopes of an Israeli/Palestinian joint statement of principles.

Even though the current manoeuvres for peace are a timely reminder of the world’s dreadful neglect of the Palestinians, no just solution is likely to emerge. In all this time, there has not been a single genuine attempt to redress the grievous injustice done to the Palestinians, despite the fanfare that has accompanied every peace summit.  To hear the empty rhetoric yet again is painful.  Israel’s usual pattern of operation is to blame the Palestinians and to put the onus on them to make peace work. Israel claims it is ready to meet its obligations provided that the Palestinians stop their violence and keep law and order. But, it is Israel’s violence that continues unabated; Israel that is still illegally building settlements and  the Apartheid Wall; Israel that is appropriating yet more Palestinian land;  Israel that continues to arrest Palestinian civilians as it announces the  release of 800 prisoners out of some 12,000 still in Israeli prisons; Israel  that continues to steal precious Palestinian water; Israel that builds more checkpoints and roadblocks as it announces the removal of 25 out of now more than 546 checkpoints [11] that strangle the movement of Palestinians in the  West Bank; Israel that is still punishing 1.4 million people in Gaza with  draconian sanctions to bring them to their knees; and the list goes on.

All of Israel’s gestures are window-dressing. And the parties so far, are only committed to some esoteric notion of re-establishing a peaceful solution. The core issues – boundaries, settlements, Jerusalem and the right of return – are not even on the table for discussion. On those issues, Israel is intransigent and worse still is doing everything to increase its boundaries, to entrench the Jewish settler population on Palestinian land, to permanently isolate the Palestinians from Jerusalem and to create a Jewish-only state that will prevent Palestinian refugees from being able to return home. No other state would dare to parade itself on the  international stage in a show of peaceful pretensions while continuing to  break every agreement and deliberately exacerbating what should have been  the status quo pending agreements between the parties.

If, however, this summit can extract from the Palestinian leadership official recognition of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, then it matters not for Israel if the paltry fragments of land remaining from the original partition are given over for a quasi-Palestinian state.  It is a small sop to pay for normalising relations with the Arab states, particularly if their support can be counted on in any conflict with Iran. And more insidiously, it would be the easy national solution for all Palestinians as suggested by Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the past week. [12] Not only would it solve the refugee problem, but it would open up the transfer plan for the Palestinians living in Israel. It would only be a matter of time before 1.2 million Israeli-Palestinians found themselves transported out of Israel into the reservations or Bantustans masquerading as a Palestinian state.

None of this was intended by those who voted for the original partition.  Or was it? Despite the umpteen UN resolutions supporting the Palestinian right  of return and Israel’s deliberate flouting of international law, not a word  of protest, condemnation or demand for Israel’s compliance has been voiced  by the world’s leaders in these past years. In 1947, the world knew that partition without the approval of the people to whom the land belonged was monstrously unfair, but it had suited powerful interests. Ignominious as the 45 per cent left to the Palestinians then was, it is hard to imagine that the world community would have accepted the further diminishing of Palestinian land whereby the Palestinians would be left with less than 8 per cent of their historic homeland.  However, it did and still does.

Whether for its own interests or because it is humiliatingly bound to please Israel out of guilt for its own abhorrent deeds, the world has spent 60 long years buying into a narrative that seeks to bury the shameful truth of its part in dividing Palestine.  Any two state solutions that emerge now will simply validate Israel as a Jewish state and seal the fate of the Palestinians in a massive prison state. Partition then will become full-blown apartheid and give rise to the inevitable mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians already favoured by 40 per cent of Israel’s Jews. [13]

Sixty years on, we are very close to seeing the fulfilment of Ben Gurion’s plan for Israel: “we shall abolish partition and expand into the whole of Palestine.” It is a dismal future for the Palestinians if the world again refuses to act. The peace summit in Annapolis may well be the last chance to change direction: we can only wait and hope.    


[1] Congressman Lawrence H Smith in addressing the US Congress said “ . . .  the pressure by our delegates, by our officials, and by the private citizens  of the USA constitutes reprehensible conduct against them and against us.”   US Congressional Record, 18 December 1947, p 1176)
[2] Statement by Ambassador Warren R Austin, United States Representative in  the Security Council, March 19, 1948 (UN Doc. S/P.V.271, March 19, 1948)
[3] United Nations Security Council Resolution 44 of 1 April 1948 (S/RES/44  (1948), S/714,II)
[4] Tom Segev, “One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British  Mandate”, Metropolitan Books, 14 November 2000, p 403
[5] Alan Dershowitz, The Israel Lobby” New Statesman, 15 September 2007
[6] quoted in A Bober’s “The Other Israel”, ed 1972, Doubleday, NewYork,  p 13
[7] Benny Morris, “Righteous Victims”, Knopf, 1st ed, 31 September 1999, p  144
[8] Israel Shahak, “Jewish History, Jewish religion: The weight of 3000  years”, Pluto Press, 1 December 1994
[9]  415. Reaction by Prime Minister Shamir to Arafat’s speech – 13 December  1988, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Historical Documents, Volume  9-10: 1984-1988
[10] Prof Edward Said, “What Israel has done”, The Nation, 18 April 2002 (6  May 2002 issue)
[11]  UNOCHA Report of May 2007, states that as of March 2007 physical  impediments to movement had increased to 546.  This was an increase on top  of the 44 per cent increase that had occurred since the Agreement on  Movement and Access had come into effect in November 2005.
[12] “Did Livni mean what she said?” by Jawad Boulos, Haaretz, 26 November  2007.
[13]  “41% of Israel’s Jews favour segregation” by Chris McGreal in  Jerusalem, The Guardian, 24 March 2006

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