Kerry’s Speech References to 1947 UN Partition Resolution Omit Decades of Palestinian Rejectionism

Patrick Goodenough | December 29, 2016 | 12:53am EST
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Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon holds up a blown up frontpage of the New York Times from Nov. 30, 1947. It reads in part “Assembly votes Palestine partition … Arabs walk out … ” (Screengrab: U.N. Webcast)

( – In his keynote Mideast speech Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that both Israelis and Palestinians had “incorporated into” their respective “foundational documents” a 1947 U.N. General Assembly resolution that divided the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River into a Jewish state and an Arab one.

While perhaps technically accurate, the bald assertion provides far from the full picture of the two sides’ response to UNGA resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, nearly seven decades ago.

While Jewish leaders accepted the measure, Arab and Palestinian leaders angrily rejected it.

“Representatives of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, four of the six Arab member states, announced that they would not be bound by the Assembly’s decision and walked determinedly out of the Assembly Hall at Flushing Meadow,” the New York Times reported the following day. “The Egyptian and Lebanese delegates were silent but walked out, too.”

Immediately after the State of Israel was declared the following spring, five Arab armies attacked it in what head of the Arab League described as “a war of annihilation.” The effort failed, but at the cost of the lives of some 4,000 Israeli soldiers and 2,000 civilians, amounting to one percent of the then population.

In Wednesday’s speech, Kerry did refer to the fact that the Palestinians and the Arab world did not recognize the newly-declared state of Israel, and that the fledgling state “had to fight for its life.” (“Palestinians also suffered terribly in the 1948 war,” he added.)

But Kerry did not explicitly say that the Palestinians – backed by the Arab world – had also at that point rejected the UNGA resolution, thereby effectively denying themselves statehood from the outset.

“Both Israel and the PLO referenced resolution 181 in their respective declarations of independence,” he said. Later in the address, Kerry added that “resolution 181 is incorporated into the foundational documents of both the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Israel in its May 14, 1948 “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” did indeed invoke resolution 181: “We … by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

But it would take another 40 years before the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), in its Nov. 15, 1988 “Palestinian Declaration of Independence,” would do the same, saying that UNGA resolution 181 “still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty.”

For decades before then, however, the PLO’s actual “foundational document” – the  PLO Charter (adopted in 1964, amended in 1968) – not only did not incorporate resolution 181, it explicitly rejected it:

“The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time,” the document states, “because they were contrary to the will of the Palestinian people and to their natural right in their homeland, and inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations; particularly the right to self-determination.”

When the PLO in 1999 launched a bid to revive resolution 181 as a legal basis for statehood in 1999, it won support from the top U.N. human rights body.

Israel’s then-ambassador the U.N., Dore Gold, in a letter to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, argued that the Arab parties had nullified resolution 181 through their actions back in the 1940s.

“The fundamental act of international illegality was the invasion of the nascent State of Israel and the attempt to overturn a resolution of the General Assembly with armed force,” he wrote. “[I]n fact, resolution 181 was made irrelevant by the actions of the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership in 1948, whose refusal to accept the resolution altered the circumstances in the Middle East on which it was originally based.”

Gold called the attempt to resurrect 181 “a transparent effort to belatedly derive benefit from a resolution which the Palestinian leadership itself violently rejected 50 years ago.”

In 2011, Palestinian Authority and PLO head Mahmoud Abbas finally acknowledged publicly that the Arab states had erred in rejecting resolution 181 in 1947.

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