Vijaya Rajiva: Res. 181: What’s in It for Palestinians?

By Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
Special to

The infamous Oslo Accord signed in 1993 by Yasser Arafat settled for 22% land and many commentators considered his actions at best as an admission of defeat and at worst his acceptance of his role as Israel’s policeman and ally. Palestinians saw it for what it was, a betrayal.

Oslo was followed by the momentous events of the second Intifada and Arafat himself, in his last years returned to the demands of the PLO Declaration of Independence(1988) which called for a return to the Partition Resolution 181, the right of refugees to return (Res.194) and the change to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. It is well known that Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi (who passed away in September this year) did not sign Oslo.

Since the emergence of Hamas as the new player in Palestinians politics, Hamas had moderated the demands of its original Charter: the creation of a unitary Islamic state in historic Palestine. Some commentators called this acceptance of a 2 state solution an historic compromise. But with the continuing vile siege of Gaza and the Abbas government’s refusal to resume relations with Hamas, they seem to have returned to their original demand for the unitary state (judging from the recent speeches by their leaders in Gaza).

Reports are that they have also called upon the UN to rescind Resolution 181. Many Palestinians (though not all) both inside Palestine and in the Diaspora (and their supporters) favour the one state of citizens, as do some prominent Israeli Arabs such as Azmi Bishara.

Israel continues to adhere to the idea (and practice!) of the Jewish State, and the Abbas delegation at Annapolis continued to adhere to the Green Line (the Armistice Line of 1949 by which Israel grabbed 22 % more land than was allocated in the Partition Resolution 181 of 1947.

In this context what does Res. 181 have to say to Palestinians?

In 1947 the Arab states rejected it outright as a betrayal. At the UN the newly liberated countries voted against it (India being one of them) because they saw it as an extension of colonial policy.

In 1967 Arthur Lall, the Indian rep. at the UN called for Israel’s withdrawal from ALL occupied territory. This meant a return to the Partition Line of1947, not the armistice line of 1949. The Partition Line of Res.181 is considered by one well known authority in International Law as the only legally authorised border between Israel & Palestine (Anthony D’Amato in ‘Israel’s Borders Under International Law). And it is endorsed by that other well known as expert in International Law, Francis Boyle, in his book Palestine, Palestinians and International Law (2003).

Dr. Boyle who teaches law at the University of Illinois was also legal advisor to the Middle East Delegation (1991-19930) and worked closely with Dr. Shafi who strongly advocated the return to the Partition Line.

The logic was obvious. The Partition Line gave 44% land to Palestine. One imagines that the further consideration would be that the Palestinians who were driven from their homes, towns and villages could return, not only because of the requirements of Res.194 but because it would not be an act of charity from Israel. In combination with at least East Jerusalem as capital it would be an acceptable 2 state solution.

Dr. A’mato comes to the question from the standpoint of Trust Law. A brief summary of the main points of his novel article ‘Israel’s Borders Under International Law’ is given here:

1. The General Assembly of the United Nations inherited its powers from the League of Nations.

2. Palestine was a Mandate under Art.22 of the League of Nations Covenant. It was a Trust. The beneficiaries were the people living in Palestine. Great Britain, the mandatory power, the trustee, was responsible for itswelfare.

3. The League of Nations dissolved in 1946.Its duties regarding Mandates was assumed by the UN.

4. Great Britain informed the UN of its intention to relinquish its trusteeship. A great deal of common law had developed during the years of the League of Nations. Great Britain could only relinquish its trusteeship responsibilities if it left the people of Palestine in a viable self governing position.

5. In consultation with the Trusteeship Council of the UN, Great Britain proposed the 2 state solution: the division of Palestine into an Arab state & a Jewish state.

6. On Nov.29,1947 the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181,the Partition Resolution, thus ratifying the British proposal. This fixed once and for all the border between Israel & Palestine.

In view of the recent attempt by Qatar, member of the Security Council to get the UN to lift the vile siege of Gaza (scuttled by the Abbas faction) and the reported attempt by the Abbas faction to persuade the UN to condemn the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the still more recent aborted U.S. resolution to get the Security Council to validate the Annapolis conference statement, it would seem that the UN has once more become the venue of the Palestinian struggle.

It is, of course, not the only venue or the only means. The ongoing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns are important. Dr. Boyle in his book and in his paper New Directions for Palestine, has strongly advocated working for the suspension of Israel from the UN for non compliance of UN resolutions but especially181 & 194, as happened in the case of former apartheid South Africa. In this context a revival of interest in Resolution 181 may provide an avenue for those who still advocate a 2 state solution.

– Dr. Vijaya Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at a university level.

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