Monday, August 11, 2014

Palestine, Israel, and U.N. Resolution 181

When tempers are high people tend, even more than normal, to discard any evidence that anything is wrong with the side they have chosen. They rally around the flag.

Add that to the tendency for history to be treated as propaganda, rather than a true record of the past, and it is not surprising that many people are confused by the history of Palestine as told by its partisans, which appears have very little in common with the history of the modern nation of Israel, as told by its partisans. Voices in the middle tend to get drowned out.

Here I want to take a look at the myth that the United Nations (U. N.) sanctioned the creation of the nation of Israel, and that the non-Judaic Palestinians were opposing a fair and just plan to create that nation. To do that I will be referring to the original 1947 document, available from Yale University at this link:

I highly recommend you read the document first, and think about it, before I walk you through how I see it. You may not agree with my analysis.

The key word to look at, in distinguishing historical propaganda from what actually happened, is the word "state." The document uses the word "state" frequently. It is a word that can mean "nation" or a government. But as we know from our own United States, the word "state" can mean a level of government different from (usually subordinate to) a national government.

Everyone agrees that a majority of non-Judaic citizens in the British Mandate of Palestine, possibly a majority of all citizens, rejected the U.N. resolution. They preferred the better-established international standard for transitions from imperial dominance to local freedom: national self-determination. Under that system all the voting-age citizens would elect representatives, mainly by geographic units, and those representatives would then write a Constitution for the nation, then have another election, and start writing the laws of the nation.

The Zionist Palestinians and their foreign supporters (but not all Judaic Palestinians) preferred a Jewish-majority, explicitly theocratic and ethnically defined Nation of Israel. They did not want to have a merely Jewish-majority "state" within a Palestinian nation.

How do we know that the U.N. did not intend to set up a sovereign Nation of Israel through Resolution 181?

In propaganda Resolution 181 is usually called the "United Nation Partition Plan for Palestine" which implies a two-nation solution. You can see that it is actually an attempt at a a one-nation solution from the text in the very first paragraph, which bears repeating: "for the consideration of the question of the future Government of Palestine."

The word Partition comes from the phrase "plan of partition with economic union" which first occurs in paragraph 6. Some relevant U.S. history is the partition of the various areas taken from Native American Indians and partitioned into a variety of states. Partition does not, in itself, imply nation. If historians focussed on the word "union" and minimized the word "partition," people would think about the events of 1948 dfferently.

The words "Jewish State" first appear (Part I, A., para. 3) in the context of withdrawal of British troops. After that the terms Jewish State, Arab State, and City of Jerusalem are used frequently, and they are described as "independent."

But Palestine is not really granted independence. Instead a U.N. commission is to take over the power formerly exercised from the British. The commission is empowered to make the final lines of demarcation of the Jewish, Arab and Jerusalem sectors.

Rather than holding elections, the commission is to appoint Provisional Councils for each of the "states". Among other responsibilities, each Provisional Council is to recruit an "armed militia." Even then "general political and military control, including the choice of the militia's High Command, shall be exercised by the Commission."

Then there are to be elections, and illegal immigrants (who would be mostly European Jews) can vote simply if they "have signed a notice of intention to become citizens of such State."

Neither elected government is supposed to discriminate based on religion or ethnic origin. There is to be freedom of transit, and you can see that a peculiar lapse in language consistency by a referral to "the other State in Palestine, " where elsewhere the term Arab State is used.

The three States are to establish "the Economic Union and Joint Economic Board." Recall that the original call in the United States to go beyond the Articles of Confederation was for an economic union between the 13 states, to be planned at the Annapolis Convention.

Resolution 181 even provides for Arabs living in the Jewish State and Jews living in the Arab state to have the option to vote instead for representatives in the state they are ethnically aligned with, and to be considered citizens of the State which they have opted to vote for. (Section C., Chapter 3)

You can see both the ambiguity of the word "state" and that the Resolution did not intend to create a Nation of Israel most clearly in Section C. Chapter 3, Subsections 2 and 3 where the overall state is again called "Palestine." The phrasing, "These obligations shall be fulfilled through participation in the Joint Economic Board in respect of those obligations applicable to Palestine as a whole, and individually in respect of those applicable to, and fairly apportionable between, the States" is particularly telling.

I'm figuring that is about as much information as anyone can be expected to absorb in one blog post.

I conclude that while Resolution 181 is somewhat ambiguous on the question of whether it authorized a Jewish nation in Palestine, the ambiguity results from the complicated political balance it seeks to impose. The most reasonable reading is that the intention is that a Nation of Palestine is to have three subordinate States, and that each state is to guarantee the usual generally accepted freedoms to all of its inhabitants. It is an attempt to guarantee some protection for minorities, in particular the Jewish minority, rather than to set up two or more racially supremacist or theocratic nations.

My own opinion is that the United Nations had no right to impose a solution on Palestine. The people of Palestine should have been allowed to go through the usual national self-determination process without United Nations (or any other outside) interference.

Although it begins a more complex topic (the history of the conflict), I would also add that the evidence is that a majority of Palestinians would have rejected the dictation from the U.N. had they been allowed to vote on it. However, the actual armies that opposed the creation of the Nation of Israel in 1948 were not Palestinian. The Palestinians had no army. The opposing armies were from other, pre-established Arab nations. In addition, the State of Israel, really a new nation, was declared on May 15, 1948, well before the August 1, 1948 expiration of the British occupation.

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