Since our last Digest, it has become more evident that Yasser Arafat is seriously attempting to resurrect UN General Assembly resolution 181, thus sabotaging the only legal framework mutually agreed upon to date for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Camp David, the Madrid Conference, and the Oslo Accords are all anchored in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, to the exclusion of resolution 181. The territorial rationale behind Arafat's move is apparent when viewing the map of the UN's Partition Plan below. Here, too, is a brief glance back at the violent Arab reaction to passage of this UN decision.
In February 1947, Great Britain declared its Mandate in Palestine "unworkable" and referred the matter to the youthful UN. Eleven member states were appointed to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, the first truly independent tribunal to examine the Palestine question. Committee members were especially moved by the plight of desperate Holocaust survivors denied entry to Palestine. UNSCOP's majority concluded the pledge of a Jewish national home had never been fulfilled, as Jewish immigration and land purchases had been artificially restricted. They recommended partition into separate Jewish and Arab states with economic ties, with a separate regime for Jerusalem.
> Arab leaders were enraged when UN resolution 181 (the Partition Plan) was adopted on November 29, 1947 (the vote was 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions). One after another, Arab states registered immediate objections with the UN. Amb. Jamali of Iraq: "In the name of my government, I wish to state that it feels that this decision is anti-democratic, illegal,… Iraq does not recognize the validity of this decision." Amb. Amir Arslan of Syria: "My country will never recognize such a decision. It will never agree to be responsible for it."
When news of the decision reached Palestine, Arab rioters wreaked carnage in the Jewish commercial center in western Jerusalem in plain sight of British forces. Such hostilities continued until the British left six months later, leaving a vacuum of power Arab states hoped to fill. The Arab League thought a mere show of force would be sufficient to ensure the intervention of the major powers and prevent the birth of a Jewish state.
The UN Palestine Commission reported to the Security Council on 16 February 1948: "Organized efforts are being made by strong Arab elements inside and outside Palestine to prevent the implementation of the Assembly's plan of partition and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including armed incursions into Palestinian territory... This Commission now finds itself confronted with an attempt to defeat its purposes, and to nullify the resolution of the General Assembly."
With diplomacy stalled at the UN, Britain announced plans to leave on May 14. By that time, several thousand Jews already had been killed or wounded. But Arab-Jewish fighting had resulted in de facto partition and the Jewish people were poised to declare statehood.
As the British Mandate ended on 14 May 1948, seven Arab armies illegally attacked the nascent Jewish state. UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie termed this act "the first armed aggression which the world had seen since the end of the [Second World] War." The Arab League actually included rejection of resolution 181 as a formal justification for its invasion, the first blatant breach of the UN Charter. Arab League Secretary-General Azzam Pasha vowed: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."
And in the words of the foremost Palestinian leader at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem: " I declare a holy war, my Muslim brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!"
SOURCES: UN Records; Israel Foreign Ministry; The Birth of Israel, by Jorge Garcia-Granados; Myths and Facts, by Bard and Himelfarb.