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60 Years Later, Partition Still Seems the Best of All Solutions

December 6, 2007 By:
Naomi Chazan
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The Annapolis conference held last week in Maryland coincided with the 60th anniversary of the ratification of the U.N. Partition Plan. The principle of two states for two peoples laid down then is -- despite the time that has elapsed, the changes that have occurred in the interim, the missed opportunities and the continuation of violent conflict -- as valid today as it was when adopted in 1947.

Israelis and Palestinians have traditionally marked the date of Nov. 29 in very different ways.

For Israel, the historic vote on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. The tension accompanying the ballot and the exhilaration in its aftermath are part and parcel of the national heritage. For Palestinians, the date is a tragic reminder of a decision that, from their perspective, led to the Palestinian nakba -- the "catastrophe" of destruction and dispersion that ensued.

These two diametrically opposed narratives have become so deeply embedded that they blur the essence of Resolution 181 and underplay its ongoing significance. The concept behind the partition plan was -- and continues to be -- all about the establishment of two sovereign entities living side by side in peace. The key ingredients of this dense, nine-page document still deserve close scrutiny 60 years later.

The termination of the U.N. mandate for Palestine was to be accompanied by the emergence of independent Arab and Jewish states (along with a special international regime for Jerusalem). Israel owes its existence to the prescience of David Ben-Gurion, who insisted on agreeing to the plan in the face of immense opposition within the Jewish community there (and in his own party). Its legitimacy derives from this internationally binding document. The Palestinian right to self-determination in their own free state -- the Arab rejection of Resolution 181 notwithstanding -- derives precisely from the same source. The one claim cannot be asserted without recognition of the other.

Indeed, all key subsequent U.N. resolutions on the Arab-Israel conflict rest on the conceptual foundation ingrained in the 1947 plan. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) call for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories for exactly this reason. The Annapolis conference has once again reaffirmed -- on a much broader, consensual basis -- the very core of the original plan.

The complexity of the relationships between Jews and Arabs in 1947 was not lost on the drafters of Resolution 181. The most intriguing and, sadly, forgotten aspects of the plan relate to the character of the proposed states, and to their guiding values.

The Nov. 29, 1947 vote called for the creation of emphatically democratic Arab and Jewish states. The new governments were to be constituted via the ballot box in elections based on proportional representation (with women pointedly guaranteed the right not only to vote, but to be elected). The respective leaders were charged with the task of drafting democratic constitutions that would safeguard equality, human rights "and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, language, speech and publication, education, assembly and association."

In fact, although each state was conceived of as predominantly Jewish or Arab in composition, it was required to protect minority rights: "No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the grounds of race, religion, language or sex."

Specific provisions were also made to ensure the freedom of conscience, education, language, and culture for Jewish and Arab minorities. These precepts were to be enshrined in fundamental laws that could not be contravened by any subsequent legislation or dictate. A spirit of openness and tolerance thus permeates the resolution of the conflict as envisaged in the Partition Plan.

To be sure, certain components of the partition proposal are completely anachronistic today; others are simply inapplicable.

Nevertheless, the substance of the plan (a two-state solution), its vision (sovereign entities cooperating with each other) and its normative underpinnings (equality and mutual respect) have outlived even its fiercest detractors.

Basically, the parameters laid down in an entirely different era -- and in much different circumstances -- are as apt today as ever before.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. The successful completion of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following Annapolis may, finally, complete the process that began with the adoption of the Partition Plan 60 years ago. Truth be told, no better alternative exists.

Naomi Chazan is a former Knesset member from the Meretz Party.

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