In today's dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Arab Palestinians are struggling to form their own country from territories still partially controlled by Israel. But Palestinian statehood wasn't always so controversial. The 1947 U.N. plan that helped create Israel also called for the creation of an Arab Palestinian state alongside it, but the plan for the two new states floundered after Arab leaders rejected the terms.
In the decades before the creation of Israel, the region then known as Palestine was controlled by Great Britain, which had taken over from the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I. Local Arabs and a growing Jewish population both wanted their own independent countries, and Britain referred the problem to the United Nations, which came up with an official plan to split the territory between the two groups. Local Jewish leaders reluctantly accepted the partition, but the plan was rejected by Arab Palestinian leaders, as well as by neighboring Arab countries and Britain itself.
Most Arabs opposed the partition because it gave more land to the Jews than to the Arab Palestinians, even though Jews formed only about a third of the region's population and most of them had only arrived over the past 70 years. The area assigned to the new Jewish state made up about 56 percent of the territory and, although a big part of it was the sparsely-populated Negev Desert, the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine’s resolution states that “the Jews will have the more economically developed part of the country embracing practically the whole of the citrus-producing area which includes a large number of Arab products.” The Arabs were given 43 percent, and the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem was to become an international zone.
Moshe Ma’oz, professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, says the rejection of the plan was mostly about Arab feelings of nationalism. Supporters of Arab nationalism demanded that, like other recently formed countries in the Middle East, Palestine should be a country by and for the majority Muslim Arabs. Most Arabs felt it was unfair to have to give up any political or territorial control to the recently arrived Jewish minority. Nearby Arab countries also hoped they might be able to take the parts of region for themselves.
Moderates and Hardliners
Not all Arab Palestinians opposed a compromise. A moderate Palestinian faction known as the Nashashibis was in favor of working alongside the Jews for a mutually agreed solution. But former British and Jordanian support for the Nashashibis evaporated after the partition plan arrived on the scene, and the group was brushed aside by the more powerful Husseini family, an unelected Palestinian leadership that was backed by the League of Arab States.
Soon after the General Assembly adopted the Resolution on November 29, 1947, war broke out between Jewish and Arab militaries in the territory. The Jewish forces gained control of the area assigned to them in the partition plan, and in May 1948 declared an independent State of Israel. In response, neighboring Arab countries launched their own invasion, but by the war's end Israel was even bigger than it would have been under the partition plan. Jordan and Egypt did capture some parts of the Arab Palestinian area for themselves, but lost them in another war 20 years later.
Evan Centanni specializes in world cultures and human geography. He grew up in Oregon, but has since lived in two other countries and traveled to many more. Centanni is editor of Political Geography Now at www.polgeonow.com. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and linguistics from the University of Oregon.